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.
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.