We try not to get too excited over results of exhibition games on the whole, and with a very limited training camp and scant opportunities for live scrimmages, the Eagles' first preseason game was little more than a very glorified practice under the big lights at Lincoln Financial Field. Still, in watching the ones take the field and move the ball efficiently against a respected NFL defense, even for only a few minutes, it was absolutely impossible not to get caught up in it.
On both sides of the ball, the Eagles' top units looked sharp, with Michael Vick leading a scoring drive on his only series of the game and the defense looking hungry and nasty. Vick completed four of six passes for 74 yards, including a 42 yarder to Riley Cooper that perched the Eagles near the Ravens goal line. One of Vick's two incompletions came on a near TD to Jason Avant, who was shown to lose the ball out of bounds on a play that Andy Reid would challenge. He just had to throw that flag… you knew it was coming as soon as the close play was called an incompletion.
But the offense answered with a quick TD strike to Brent Celek from three yards out, and that was it for for the V unit on the night. He wasn't the only one who looked great in limited or extended action though, with quite a few Eagles stepping up, and just about every unit playing as well as we could hope in such early action.
Although we started with a look at the offense's TD drive, the Eagles defense was the big story of the night on the whole. The units combined to limit the Ravens to just a pair of field goals on the way to a 13-6 Eagles win.
The defensive line was everything a Jim Washburn-led unit was advertised to be. They bottled up the run and got after the quarterback with explosiveness from the opening snap, making the Ravens offense look lost for stretches of the game, forcing field goals at best and turnovers at worst. On the night, Ravens QBs were sacked six times, with the Eagles owning the ends of the line in particular, but also getting good pressure up the middle. The rotations and unit replacements came, but the pressure remained constant.
The completely revamped unit, from coaches to on-field personnel, looked to be on the same page, and that page was "straight at the point of attack." There's still a lot to prove, and all this came against an offense just getting its bearings, but Juan Castillo aced his first test as Eagles defensive coordinator. Darryl Tapp had his name called out quite a few times, and "Chef" Jaiquawn Jarrett enjoyed a huge moment on his college home field, hauling in an interception on what I think was his first ever series as an Eagle. Safety Jarrad Page also came up with a big pick in the end zone.
Vince Young played parts of the first and second quarters, making plays with his legs when the Ravens seemed to have him cornered and connecting on a 32-yarder to Chad Hall. Much of the offense when VY was on the field seemed to center on handing the ball off to Ronnie Brown, who was bottled up for the most part, but looked sharp.
Mike Kafka had the reins of the offense for much of the night, and despite an awful interception when he tried to go long and came up quite short, looked pretty crisp in running a more complete offensive package than Young was understandably given. Kafka finished the night 13 for 19 for 132 yards.
Alex Henery lined up for two field goals in his debut as the replacement for Birds legend David Akers, and I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that he hit both. His first, a 35-yarder, was a bit tight toward the right upright, which provided for the Don "Tolly Sunshine" Tollefson moment of the night, when Tolly called the kick "perfect." I kinda love that guy.
Although the Birds managed only one touchdown, it was encouraging to see how it happened. A few small completions and one big play, followed by a narrow miss in the red zone (which we've seen plenty of), and a quick strike to one of the weapons this team has had for a few seasons but is a bit overshadowed with some of the other names on the field. If Jeremy Maclin's health doesn't keep him from the field, the combination of him and DeSean Jackson on the outsides, Jason Avant or Steve Smith on the inside, and a backfield that includes LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown, and oh by the way, MICHAEL VICK… defenses are going to have trouble containing everyone, and Celek could be one of the biggest beneficiaries. With improvements on the O-line, he may not have quite as much blocking responsibility as last year, leaving him free to find a seam for Vick to hit underneath.
Just thinking about all that this offense can throw at a team—so long as most of its personnel stays healthy—is enough to make us want to watch that opening drive a few more times this morning. The work the twos and beyond put in last night was encouraging in the event they need to step up and become starters, which at some positions will surely happen.
Perhaps best of all, no key players got hurt last night. The NFL is a war of attrition as you've no doubt heard, and while the preseason games don't count for anything in the standings, the injuries that happen in them are very real. I don't know that anything serious actually wound up on the injury report last night, although Cooper came up a bit hobbled after being pulled to the ground hard on his big first-quarter catch, and that's an even bigger win than the 13-6 score line.
Overall, the opening preseason game was a great appetizer. We didn't get to see the ones in action for long, but what we did see made us want a lot more.