Eagles Return to Primetime Football Versus the Steelers

Eagles Return to Primetime Football Versus the Steelers

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:

King Dunlap
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.

Darryl Tapp
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.

Casey Matthews
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.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint in a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 2015 first-round pick deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.