Didinger: Eagles-Ravens first impressions

Didinger: Eagles-Ravens first impressions
August 12, 2011, 2:31 pm
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Here are my first impressions of the Eagles first preseason game, a 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night.

Michael Vick downplayed the hype for the first preseason game, saying it would be little more than a glorified scrimmage. Thats true which is why he played only one series but the Eagles quarterback put on quite a show.

Vick completed four of six pass attempts and he really couldnt be faulted for the two that were not complete. One pass was batted down by defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and the other was a pretty fade to the corner of the end zone that Jason Avant couldnt quite keep in bounds. Avant made the catch but couldnt get both feet down inside the line.

Vick has been very sharp at training camp and he carried that into the game against the Ravens. On his one possession, he drove the Eagles 80 yards in eight plays and capped it off with a touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek.

We were hoping to get a clue about how the Eagles would deploy their three Pro Bowl cornerbacks, but it was hard to tell much with such a brief sampling. The starters were out there for the first series then sat down.

But it was interesting that Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel lined up at the corners and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played the nickel role. Whether thats how they will play during the regular season remains to be seen, but I think it is the right alignment.

I dont understand why you would sign the best press corner in the NFL and ask him to change positions, which is basically what you would be doing by putting Asomugha in the slot. If you are the Eagles, you want Asomugha outside where he can shut down the likes of Hakeem Nicks (Giants) and Dez Bryant (Dallas). Why would you want him in the slot covering Mario Manningham? Its almost a waste.

Samuel is not built for the role of slot defender. He would not be as effective playing in those tight quarters and getting bumped around. Rodgers-Cromartie probably is the best fit in there. We only saw it for one series, but thats how the Eagles played it against the Ravens.

We saw the influence of the new assistant coaches, Jim Washburn (defensive line) and Howard Mudd (offensive line). The Eagles got consistent pressure on the quarterback, recording six sacks. And when they ran the ball, particularly on the second series, they ran stretch plays with Ronnie Brown behind zone blocking. Thats a Mudd trademark.

Among all the celebrated additions to the Eagles roster this year, the hiring of Washburn and Mudd ranks right up there with any of the player signings in importance. When you see the teaching the two veteran coaches do on the practice field every day, you see how much the Eagles have improved in that area since last season and that should carry over to the actual games.

For years, Andy Reid had a veteran coaching staff led by his top lieutenant Jim Johnson, the defensive coordinator. Tommy Brasher was a crusty old defensive line coach. John Harbaugh had been around. Reid trusted them enough to let them do their thing. But with Johnsons death and the loss of other assistants (many of them to head coaching jobs) the staff skewed very young last season and it showed.

Reid recognized that and realized he needed some old-school types, guys he could trust in the same way he trusted Johnson and the others. With Washburn and Mudd, Reid appears much more comfortable and confident.

Speaking of coaches, it was a good first night for Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator. The communication from the sideline to the field went smoothly, the right players got on the field when they changed defensive packages (which they did often) and, bottom line, they kept the Ravens out of the end zone.

I scratched my head when Reid gave Castillo the job. I thought it was a huge leap of faith on the part of Reid considering Castillo was a career offensive line coach and we still dont know how it is going to work out over the long haul, but for the first night, it looked good with three interceptions to go along with the six sacks.

Im starting to think the coaches are really serious about rookie Casey Matthews being the starting middle linebacker. When they put him with the first unit at the start of camp, I thought they were just getting him some reps to speed his development but they really were shopping around for a veteran to fill the position, at least for this season.

But after watching practice and watching the interaction between Castillo and Matthews, I think it is more likely that the fourth-round draft pick will be the guy when they kick off the regular season. And so far Matthews hasnt 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.

Overall, I thought the Eagles were very good. I expected a sloppy mess of a game with the players having less than two weeks to prepare and it did become that in the second half when the coaches cleared the bench but in the first half when the ones and twos were on the field, the Eagles were much sharper than I thought they would be.
E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

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