Eagles Bounce Back -- Are They Ready?

Eagles Bounce Back -- Are They Ready?

It wasn't always pretty, and the road was paved in part by a few favorable breaks. Still, seeing the Eagles gradually separate from the Browns, then deliberately put them away, should provide the Delaware Valley some relief.

The Birds' defense pitched a shutout for three quarters, while Michael Vick overcame a turnover and some shaky play from his offensive line to guide the offense to 17 points. That was more than enough for the reserves, who rolled to a 24-14 victory.

However, there were plenty of questions remaining after the game. Vick took a beating, and while the Browns might surprise people this season, they are, after all, the Browns.

The number one thing that stood out on Thursday night was the play along the interior of the offensive line, particularly rookie center Jason Kelce, who was making his first NFL start.

On one hand, Kelce was visibly effective when run blocking, getting to the second level on several occasions. In fact, he had one of the key blocks downfield on Ronnie Brown's 13-yard first quarter touchdown run to put Philly up 7-0.

On the other, Kelce had several hiccups in pass protection, most of them leading to the quarterback getting maimed. He and fellow rookie Danny Watkins did not seem to be on the same page at all during the first few series, which lead to a bunch of missed assignments.

Unfortunately, it's the quarterback who pays the price for those, and pay he did--early and often. Vick coughed up the ball in their own zone on his first pass attempt when 334 lbs. defensive tackle Phil Taylor came steamrolling through the line of scrimmage, nearly leading to a Cleveland score.

As terrible as that sounds, butterflies may have been partly to blame. Kelce eventually settled down, allowing Vick to establish a rhythm. The quarterback went 7-for-11 for 71 yards on his final three series, adding an eight-yard touchdown run of his own.

Considering the rough start, we're not sure Kelce showed enough to win the job over veteran starter Jamaal Jackson, but he was impressive in some ways. King Dunlap has also been fine at right tackle each of the past two weeks, which should alleviate some concerns at the blind side.

But... It's the Browns...
The Browns didn't do themselves any favors in this one either. Cleveland muffed two punts--including a particularly hilarious play in the first quarter where one of their own guys knocked the returner over and the kick subsequently fell on him--both leading to touchdowns.

The Eagles' special teams also blocked a field goal, preventing the Browns from getting on the scoreboard after Vick's fumble.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came untouched off the edge, giving the club their second blocked kick in consecutive weeks. Bobby April's unit is setting up nicely as long as Alex Henerey and Chas Henry's promising preseasons carry over once the real thing starts.

Even the refs got in on the act of gift wrapping the game for the Birds. Vick's touchdown run was set up by a questionable penalty.

Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson had a free break to the quarterback--a missed assignment by LeSean McCoy at first glance--causing a Vick pass attempt to sail away for an interception. Jackson was flagged for roughing the passer, apparently for driving his helmet into Vick's chest, though it was at least debatable. Nonetheless, the play was reversed.

Defense Carries the Night
Despite everything that went wrong for the Browns, we're not sure it would have mattered anyway. The Eagles' run defense was vastly improved over last week's performance against Pittsburgh, including the verbally maligned Casey Matthews.

Of course, it helped Cleveland seemed intent on throwing the ball for whatever reason. QB Colt McCoy found little room on the edges, and was picked off by Asante Samuel to open the second quarter. Pressure was an issue as well, with Mike Patterson, Trent Cole, and former CFLer Philip Hunt notching sacks.

Meanwhile, Matthews saw action in all four quarters as they try to prepare him for Week 1, though seventh round rookie Brian Rolle replaced him in some obvious passing situations. Matthews was a factor in the passing game too, and it looked like he started making strides against the run as well.

Also of note, Jamar Chaney had an excellent pass breakup to prevent a possible score. He showed off some excellent cover skills, flanking running back Peyton Hillis to the end zone where he was in perfect position to knock the ball away.

Wrapping Up
As for the backups, Vince Young had his best outing yet in an Eagles uniform, going 9-for-12--albeit for only 58 yards--and added a 10 yard scramble for six points. On the down side, Nate Allen ran with the second team all night, and it's beginning to look like he may not be a big factor once this season begins.

Once again, if you're looking at the big picture, this game didn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme. If you were hoping for clear cut answers at potential problem areas, I don't think you got many. If you wanted to see a dominant effort against an opponent perceived to be weaker, this probably didn't quite satisfy you.

The greatest takeaway from these three games: the Birds survived them without any significant injuries. With many of the starters likely finished for the preseason, and the real deal a little more than two weeks away, they could have their full complement of players when they head to St. Louis on September 11.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to TeamRankings.com, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”