Brandon Graham, running back depth, Todd Herremans, Travis Long, Darren Sproles, Brandon Bair and much more in tonight’s 10 observations from the Eagles’ 31-21 preseason win over the Steelers Thursday night at the Linc (see Instant Replay).
1. Was encouraging to see the first-team defense raise its level significantly after a terrible day in Foxborough Friday night. The Steelers netted 96 yards and no points on six drives against the Eagles’ starters, who played the entire first half. Most impressive was a stop in Eagles territory after a turnover gave the Steelers possession at the Eagles’ 31-yard line. The defense needed to take a big step forward, and it definitely did. We’re still not seeing enough pressure -- no starter has a sack in three games this preseason -- but the defensive backs were aggressive, active and physical without being over the line Thursday night, and the linebackers were sound against the run and in coverage. The Steelers were just 1 for 3 on third down against the Eagles’ first group and didn’t have a run longer than six yards. Good stuff.
2. LeSean McCoy looked like he was in mid-season form, didn’t he? Only eight players in NFL history have registered consecutive seasons with 2,000 yards from scrimmage, but I’ll be shocked if Shady doesn’t add his name to the list this year. McCoy effortlessly recorded 50 yards on just six touches (4 for 24 rushing, 2 for 26 receiving, with a 23-yard TD). He’s so fast and tough and strong and elusive, I just don’t know how you stop him.
3. I’m not sure how Chip Kelly is going to find room for Bair on the roster, but the overaged defensive end -- 29 years old, a first-year pro, never played in an NFL regular-season game -- has done enough to warrant strong consideration. He’s a pure two-gapper and isn’t going to get any pass pressure, but he’s tough against the run and really looks like a playmaker.
4. Brent Celek is as tough as any Eagle I’ve ever seen.
5. Was good to see a couple big blocks from Herremans, who did not have a great season last year. Herremans sprung McCoy on two big plays, including the 23-yard TD reception.
6. In his first game in an Eagles uniform, Nolan Carroll showed what all the fuss has been. His diving interception is the kind of play he’s been making all summer. I’m still not convinced he won’t be starting in place of Bradley Fletcher at some point along the way, but for now, he provides great depth at a position the Eagles were sorely lacking last year.
7. OK, crazy prediction -- Graham gets 10½ sacks this year. I know, I know … he’s a 4-3 defensive end playing out of position in a scheme he isn’t suited for. All I know is every time he’s on the field he gets to the quarterback. The Eagles have five sacks this preseason, and he has two of them. Trent Cole is the only player the Eagles have drafted in the last 20 years to record 10 sacks in a season for the Eagles. I’ve got Graham doing it this year. I don’t care if he only plays 20 snaps a game. Seriously.
8. OK, the 31-yard miss sealed it for me. The Eagles can’t afford to go into the season with Alex Henery kicking. I don’t know a whole lot about Cody Parkey, but I know his kickoffs were deep, and that gives him an edge over Henery before we even consider field goals. I don’t care how sharp Henery has been in practice. If he can’t make a 31-yard kick in perfect conditions fully aware that he’s battling for his job, how can you count on him in the fourth quarter of a tie game in bad weather in December? I don’t know if Parkey is the answer, but I’m convinced now that Henery isn’t.
9. The Eagles’ running back depth is ridiculous. Behind Shady and Sproles you have Chris Polk, who when he can stay healthy looks like a big-time player; Matthew Tucker, who runs very hard -- 6 for 42 last night, 14 for 82 this preseason; Henry Josey, who keeps making big plays (15 touches for 143 yards this preseason); and recent acquisition Kenjon Barner. Going to be some very interesting and very difficult roster decisions.
10. It’s tough not to notice versatile linebacker Long, who keeps showing up and is making a pretty compelling case for a spot on the 53. Long lined up Thursday night mainly at outside linebacker but also at inside linebacker and even at 4-3 end in nickel. Long is big, quick and active, and considering the Eagles’ lack of youth at linebacker, he could be a key guy in the near future. Promising talent.