Honest question: when is the last time a Week 1 preseason game wasn’t viewed as a harbinger of doom for the Philadelphia Eagles? Seriously. Every year, the Delaware Valley works itself into a fervor over the results of a glorified dress rehearsal.
While it would be nice if the offense went right down the field for a touchdown or two, while it would be reassuring if the defense worked a couple of quick three-and-outs, the fact that those things didn’t happen in under a quarter’s worth of action isn’t necessarily indicative of anything. Remember, Friday’s tilt against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field was the first live football game most of these guys have played since January, and even then, the play-calling is vanilla and there is little-to-no game-planning for the opponent.
You can understand why it might be a little difficult for players to excel under those circumstances.
None of which is to say the many sloppy performances by the Eagles’ first-team offense and defense didn’t matter. We always say preseason is “meaningless,” and it is to an extent in that it’s a time to make mistakes because the outcomes don’t matter. However, both clubs are still trying to take something positive away from the work they put in on the field.
So rather than lecture you, the reader, on why there’s nothing to see here, instead, let’s take a closer look at what went wrong and try to determine which aspects of Friday’s game are actually of grave concern, as opposed to the things that were really no big deal.
Don’t be alarmed by…
Foles completed six of nine passes for 44 yards, but with two interceptions, of course. A third incomplete pass was nearly picked off as well. Naturally, this is a sign that 2013 was a fluke or he’s headed for a down season.
In the third-year quarterback’s defense, he was under pressure on all three of the errant passes. Bears defensive end Willie Young appeared to get a finger on the first interception as it left Foles’ hand—just enough to turn the pass into a wounded duck. On pick No. 2, Foles had a free pass-rusher in his face, while there appeared to be some confusion with the receivers’ routes.
Foles ultimately accepted the blame for both turnovers, both because that’s the kind of guy he is, and also the decisions were still questionable. He also had quality passes called back for penalties, which by the way, the resulting infractions didn’t do the offense any favors.
I think the problem here boils down to there’s just that much skepticism surrounding Foles right now that people are willing to read too much into three series in an exhibition game. Last season, he set the Eagles franchise record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception, so given some of the extenuating circumstances here, I suggest forgetting about these for now.
The Offensive Line
All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis had two positive gains called back by holding penalties, putting the Eagles in impossible down-and-distance situations. Center Jason Kelce turned a pass-rusher loose right up the middle on one play. Allen Barbre, still getting acquainted to playing right tackle, battled Beats defensive end Lamarr Houston. Overall, not the best performance by the offensive line, whether grading as a unit or individuals.
All of those mistakes contributed to the offense’s dysfunction and inability to put points on the board. Pressure on the quarterback played a role in two giveaways. Penalties backed the offense up, potentially killing drives. Missed assignments prevented plays from working as intended.
That being said, with the exception of Barbre—who wasn’t a disaster, mind you—we know what all of these guys are capable of.
The Eagles managed to force Chicago to go three-and-out on their first possession following a turnover. That’s good. On the Bears’ next series, however, they were able to march 69 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown. That includes not one, not two but three third-down conversions.
Third-down defense was a major issue for Philadelphia last year. Opponents moved the sticks 40 percent of the time against the Birds, which ranked 24th in the league. On Friday, the Bears converted from 11, 10, and seven yards out, the latter of which went for a touchdown. That’s really bad.
One big problem on these plays was the pass rush, or lack thereof, and that too was a concern in ’13. However, why it wasn’t necessarily a problem here is the Eagles weren’t substituting personnel. Cedric Thornton is a dominant run defender, but he doesn’t get much pressure on the quarterback, yet the Eagles left him on the field for all of these plays.
The simplicity of the scheme may have been a contributing factor as well. The Eagles signed safety Malcolm Jenkins in part because of his prowess in man coverage, yet they had him sitting back in zone on a couple of these plays.
I just didn’t get the feeling this was an example of how the Eagles will defend teams in third-and-long in a real game. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has talked about how there will be different personnel packages in 2014, yet the same group was on the field for every play. As much as getting off the field would’ve instilled some confidence, Davis wasn’t throwing his fast ball at the offense.
Matthews finished with four receptions for 14 yards in his NFL debut. The second-round pick out of Vanderbilt was an active run-blocker, too. All of that was overshadowed by three drops, though. We didn’t see a lot of mishandled passes at training camp, but hands were mentioned in his scouting report.
Regardless, I’m not nearly as bothered by this as some people. In order to have drop three passes, Matthews had to be open first, right? I look at that as a positive.
One of the dropped passes was broken up by a defender, and while you want to see him come up with those, it wasn’t simply a lack of concentration. The other two plays, Matthews would like to have back, but they weren’t “easy” per se—a back-shoulder throw he spun around and had to jump for, and a pass in traffic between two defenders.
The biggest issue I have with needling Matthews for this it’s such a small sample size. If he continues to have issues with drops on a regular basis, then you have a problem. When a rookie drops a few passes in his first-ever professional football game, that’s probably something you can overlook.
Be alarmed by…
Listen, the subpar performances do place added importance on the next two preseason games. There were a lot of calls to write off the Eagles’ rocky preseason in 2012, but the first-team offense and defense didn’t build any momentum in August, rust that carried over into the regular season. You do want to see something from these games that indicates the team is moving in the right direction at least.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first game, though. Keep in mind, the Eagles haven’t practiced with a live pass rush or tackling to the ground. This was the most extensive contact most of these players have seen all summer. Nor can you simulate the speed or intensity of an actual game at practice.
The Eagles get something of a pass for what happened on Friday, because what happened was probably to be expected. That gets lost in the excitement. If you thought the Birds were going to be in mid-season form for a Week 1 preseason game, the fact of the matter is that was always going to be unrealistic.