Prior to last week's preseason opener versus the Ravens, I cautioned readers not to get too excited about the game, one of the chief reasons being the Eagles would utilize a "vanilla" offensive strategy. As much as it pains me to do so, we need to issue a retraction on that statement.
No offense being run by Michael Vick could possibly be termed vanilla.
The Eagles played their starters for just one series against Baltimore, and Vick marched them straight into the end zone. It didn't seem to matter much what kind of plays were called, or even that the offense was without DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They went right down the field with a series of big plays and accurate passes. It was very satisfying to watch.
With DeSean Jackson back in the lineup for tonight's nationally broadcast meeting against the Steelers, and the starters expected to participate for a full half, we are hoping for more of the same.
They are faced with a slightly greater challenge tonight though as they face off against last year's AFC Champions on their home turf. Vick, in particular, has a lot to prove tonight versus the greatest zone blitzing team of this era. That's right: Mike Vick is going on the watch-list.
It will be interesting to see how much blitzing the Steelers actually do in an exhibition game, but where Vick is at with his ability to read and react to defensive pressure is one of--if not the biggest--keys to this season. We need to see if he can identify where the pass rush is coming from, and whether he knows where the ball goes and if he can get out quickly enough to beat the blitz.
The offensive line took a ton of heat last season, and the right side in particular was not great, but a big problem was Vick holding on to the ball too long and not feeling the pressure. For all the big additions the Eagles have made, if their quarterback doesn't improve and take the next step in that aspect of running the offense, we're not sure how far they can ultimately go.
Here are the rest of tonight's player to keep an eye on:
Last week, we had Ryan Harris on our watch-list, but he's out tonight with a back injury. First of all, Harris was not super impressive against the Ravens, so the job is still very much up for grabs. Second, Harris had a history of back problems in Denver, so he could be falling out of favor very quickly.
We'll see if Dunlap can seize the opportunity. He showed some improvement in relief efforts last season, but was far from the stabilizing force the Eagles are searching for on the right side. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd also typically favors smaller linemen for zone blocking system, which works against the 6-9, 330 lbs. Dunlap. He could help himself out quite a bit though with a solid outing against one of the NFL's best defenses at pressuring passers.
Winston Justice remains on the PUP list.
Major props to Jim Washburn and every member of the defensive line last week. From the opening snap until the final gun, their unit was by far the best on the field, showing tenacity and getting consistent penetration. The difference between last Thursday and the past several years was remarkable.
A big part of that was Tapp, who in one preseason game nearly matched his sack total for all of last season. The Birds sent DE Chris Clemons to Seattle last year in exchange for Tapp, and while Clemons amassed 11 sacks in 2010, Tapp accounted for merely three. The Virginia Tech product is off to a torrid start in August though, getting to Ravens QB's twice last week, as well as three tackles, one for a huge loss.
Maybe guys like Tapp and Jason Babin will prove the problem here the past two seasons was coaching and schemes all along.
For the second straight week, Matthews makes our watch list, which says something how important his development is to the defense. We also didn't see much of the rookie from Oregon last week, just eight snaps in fact, so another reason is we're still waiting to actually see him. However, Bleeding Green Nation put together a nice round-up of reviews on Matthews' brief performance, and it was mostly positive stuff, including CSN's own Ray Didinger.
So far Matthews hasn’t looked out of place. He has been good in camp and he was good again in limited snaps on Thursday. It appeared Matthews might have been fooled on a Joe Flacco to Ray Rice screen pass that gained 23 yards on the opening drive, but it was his tight coverage on the tight end that forced Flacco to hold the ball and allowed Trent Cole to record his first sack later in the first quarter.
Having said that, eight plays is about the smallest sample size there is, so we'll hold off on the excitement for at least one more post.