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Eagles vs. Steelers Preseason Review: WINNING! Defense and offense show up

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A win for the Chipper!

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After giving up tons of yards and points on defense and not surging on offense for two weeks, the Eagles "dress rehearsal" calmed some nerves on Thursday night. The first-team units played very well in the first half while taking a 17-0 lead to the locker room. Even after the Steelers kept in their first team in the second half with the Eagles backups in the game, the team held their own.

While there was a lot to like about the team's performance, like in most preseason games, there were definitely some mishaps in the 31-21 win (Recap). From penalties to missed opportunities to Alex Henery, the team has a lot to improve upon. Still, you have to be at least a little bit more at ease following the first game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Let's get to the notes!

Foles Is Okay

Let's get this out of the way: I have a lot of faith in Nick Foles as the Eagles starting quarterback. That said, I have been pretty unimpressed by his performance this preseason. While he has unquestionably gotten better with his decision-making (throwing the ball away and getting it out quicker), Foles has yet to look completely in control. He was okay last night. I have read a lot of reviews that said he had a "good performance" or had his "best outing" against the Steelers. The latter may be true, but to the former, I say nay.

Foles had at least a handful of passes that he overthrew or just completely missed his target. The redzone throws to Darren Sproles and Brent Celek come to mind as big misses. While he bounced back from going 1-of-4 on his first drive, after re-watching the game, I came away thinking it was just an okay performance.

Don't get me wrong, in no way was Foles bad on Thursday night, but I wouldn't classify his performance as good. The interception that he had was not his fault, as Sproles fell, but there were just a lot of poorly-thrown balls. He did seem more comfortable and got rid of the ball quickly, but I'd like to see him look sharper. I'd say my grade for his preseason is about a C+.

The Trojans

Mark Sanchez is the best backup quarterback in the league. There, I said it. Go out and buy that T-shirt! Anyway, Sanchez was once again lights out on Thursday. This is the right offense for him and you can understand why some fans are getting anxious about his starting possiblities. That said, he is where he needs to be as a backup. If Foles falters, you have the Sanchize. The backup extraordinaire formed a connection with Dan Klausner favorite Trey Burton on two straight passes. The second throw was literally perfect. You may be uncomfortable with a lot of things on the offense, but the backup quarterback should not be one of them.

After two weeks of middling performances, I felt like Matt Barkley really asserted himself in his short period of play. He was accurate and got the ball out quickly. He seemed very comfortable.

Return of the Mac and Hanging With Riley Cooper

Both starting receivers returned on Thursday. Maclin looked terrific before and after suffering a scary moment. Maclin went down with an apparent knee injury, but eventually returned and had a solid performance. Cooper on the other hand looked pretty rusty. He dropped two very good passes in the end zone and another one that was a bit high that he could have easily grabbed over Ike Taylor. Cooper finished with three catches for 25 yards and Maclin had six catches for 43 yards.

This Just In: Brent Celek Is a Badass

We all know about Celek's toughness, but this preseason has been ridiculous. This guy has taken almost as many helmet-jarring hits as he has catches. The most impressive part of all of that is that he can take them. Celek is the heart of the offense and really is one of the hardest workers on the field. He finished the game with two catches for 41 yards and two massive hits that he shook off like a backup dancer in a Taylor Swift music video.

The Offensive Line

Outside of a Jason Worilds pressure that was surrendered by Allen Barbre, the starting line was solid. Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans stood out in particular. The pair was fantastic on the LeSean McCoy screen touchdown. The entire unit allowed Foles to go through his reads and it helped the offense get in rhythm after the first drive.

The second team offensive line continued to impress. Dennis Kelly had a monster block on a 15-yard run by Matthew Tucker. Matt Tobin was everywhere with screens and just sacrificed his body. Tobin was the driving force behind the second of Kenjon Barner's two first down runs. He also collapsed his side of the line with Andrew Gardner to get Tucker in the end zone for his first of two touchdowns. At this point, the Eagles may keep nine offensive linemen. It will be hard to cut either Gardner or Kelly.

Shady Being Shady

LeSean McCoy was on fire early in the game. While he injured his thumb midway through the first quarter, McCoy was able to rack up four carries for 24 rushing yards and two catches for 26 receiving yards and a touchdown. He really hadn't shown this type of effort in the first two games, but it is safe to say that he saved the best for last. I doubt he plays, even if the other starters do, against the New York Jets.

Defense Improves Big Time

The first team defense pitched a shut out during its run in the game. Nate Allen and Mychal Kendricks stood out with great tackling and both brought tremendous pressure when asked to blitz. Kendricks really has improved and was a menace to the Steelers offense. Allen has greatly improved his tackling without question and he was very vocal during pre-snap looks on Thursday night.

The defensive line seemed to bounce back as well, getting a bit more pressure. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole seemed to be going a lot harder as well. The cornerbacks played well with Nolan Carroll in the lineup and he got an interception off a Kendricks pressure.

The run defense really is impressive, as the team had a few 3-and-outs, mostly do to long conversion lengths on the most important down.

Sixth Wide Receiver

Well, this got interesting. Ifeanyi Momah won Round One in Chicago, but fumbled away his good graces in New England and went unnoticed against the Steelers. Arrelious Benn injured himself in Chicago and then had a nice showing against the Patriots but hurt his head on Thursday. Jeff Maehl finally showed up but had just four catches for a horrid 19 yards.

Those three have been the publicized names, but others seemingly got on the list in Week 3. Quron Pratt had two nice catches for 20 yards, Damaris Johnson had two impressive grabs for 29 yards and B.J. Cunningham made his presence known as well. Of those three, Cunningham is probably the most appealing, while Pratt is an obvious practice squad signing.

The fourth preseason game is going to be huge for all six of these guys. It's also possible that the team could choose to keep just five receivers or they could look elsewhere for their final pass catcher. Good luck, gents!

The Backup Runners

McCoy and Sproles are set in the lineup. Behind them though, is a wealth of running back talent. Chris Polk obviously has his hamstring injury and hasn't really participated at all since last month. Then there's Matthew Tucker, who sandwiched a missed game (due to injury) in between a double dose of two-touchdown performances. Oh, and then we have Henry Josey, who seems to be a perfect fit for the offense and has been a revelation over the last two weeks. The Eagles also have former Oregon Duck Kenjon Barner, who they traded for just days ago.

At this point, it seems like the Eagles will keep at least four running backs. Could they keep five with Sproles playing so much wide receiver? It's definitely possible, no matter how improbable it is on paper. I could see a situation where they short-term injured reserve Polk and keep Tucker and Josey. I can also see the team dealing Tucker to a team with injuries. Josey will be hard to give up and chances are that Tucker and Josey would be claimed if they hit the waiver wire. Barner showed some potential with seven carries for 32 yards, but he is probably a practice squad candidate at this point. Tucker has 18 carries for 86 rushing yards, four touchdowns and one catch for 15 yards this preseason, despite missing the second game. Josey has 143 combined yards and touchdown on 15 touches in three preseason games.

The Rookies

  • Marcus Smith: He had four tackles and one stood out as he dropped a Steelers running back at the line of scrimmage. He allowed a big catch to Antonio Brown, but that was to be expected when that matchup somehow got fused. He tackled well but didn't get any pressure.
  • Jordan Matthews: He got some first team work with Brad Smith out, so he worked with Foles. They connected for a pedestrian two catches for 16 yards. He had an impressive catch and run on a screen for 14 yards on one catch.
  • Josh Huff: He missed the game due to injury (AC Sprain).
  • Jaylen Watkins: He got first team reps with Brandon Boykin out and looked like a rookie. He wasn't terrible but he did allow some catches. He had one really nice tackle after a short catch.
  • Taylor Hart: He didn't really stick out either way. It looks like he is still kind of learning. He got in on a run stop in the third quarter.
  • Ed Reynolds: He saved an inevitable touchdown in the fourth quarter, but missed a couple of tackles earlier in the game. He recorded at least one special teams tackle.
  • Beau Allen: He got some pressure on a pair of plays but wasn't as active as he was in the first two games. He's a lock for the roster.

Quick Hits

  • These penalties are starting to become a joke. There were 27 between the two teams. That is more than twice the average of last year.
  • Alex Henery is bad. You can make excuses and talk about numbers all you want, but there is a reason people are constantly down on him. He may need a change of scenery, but it has become almost laughable at how predictably he misses the average kick. Chip Kelly's press conference was really telling for Henery's future. It may make sense to give Cody Parkey all of the field goal attempts against the Jets, as you know what Henery is at this point. If Parkey does well, you make a decision on Henery. If he does poorly, you may cut both.

  • Brandon Bair is probably going to make this team. He is old, but that doesn't seem to matter to Coach Kelly, as he wants to win now!
  • Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry may not "fit" the defense, but they are certainly welcomed to continue sacking quarterbacks. My issue with their "non-fit" is that Trent Cole doesn't fit either, but he is somehow given a pass at times. It is about time we see more of these guys in a much heavier rotation. Graham was particularly splendid on Thursday.
  • I felt that no one really saved themselves from "the chop" of the predicted group of first 15 cuts. More on that coming at BGN soon.