10 observations from Eagles-Patriots

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10 observations from Eagles-Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Curtis Marsh, Allen Barbre, Beau Allen, Brandon Graham, Alex Henery, Mark Sanchez and much more in 10 observations from the Patriots’ 42-35 preseason win over the Eagles Friday night at Gillette Stadium (see Instant Replay):

1. Yeah, I’m concerned about the starting defense. I know it was Tom Brady, and I know he does this to a lot of people, and I know the Eagles aren’t dipping too deeply into Billy Davis’ playbook. But still. Not good. I really would just like to see a higher level of competition from this group, especially on third down. Cary Williams’ INT was a good sign, but I just don’t see anything special yet in terms of pass rush, run defense or coverage. The first unit has been on the field for six drives in two preseason games and allowed three touchdowns. I expect the starters to play well into the third quarter next week against the Steelers, and they need to stop somebody and just put together a consistent game against somebody.

2. I still think the Eagles are going to be deadly on offense. Nick Foles, playing without either of his starting wide receivers, bounced back from that Chicago debacle with a crisp 8-for-10, 81-yard performance, including a touchdown pass. He looked really sharp. The first offense still lacks consistency, but I’m not concerned. They’ll be fine.

3. I am growing increasingly worried with Barbre. Based on the way he played against the Packers in place of injured Jason Peters last year, I thought he’d be performing at a much higher level. I’d consider getting Dennis Kelly some work at right tackle with the first group. I like the way he battled at the end of 2012. Barbre is scaring me.

4. Was encouraging to see Jordan Matthews really raise his level of play after a disappointing debut in Chicago last week. Matthews caught nine passes for 104 yards after a two-drop, 14-yard debut against the Bears. Matthews just didn’t look comfortable in Chicago, which is understandable considering it was his first NFL game. Looked like a different guy Friday night. The kid’s got all the tools. The kid is going to be special.

5. He’s the longest of longshots, but was really happy to see Henry Josey with a big game. The undrafted rookie missed all of 2012 at Missouri after tearing his ACL late in 2011 but bounced back with a big 2013 season. You always root for those kind of guys. Josey thought his career was over a couple years ago, but there he was Friday night with a huge game -- 8 for 56 rushing along with a shifty 27-yard touchdown reception. That’s 83 yards from scrimmage, all in the third quarter. With three other backup running backs hurt, Josey earned a long look, and granted it was against the Patriots’ backups, but he looked really good. Hey, get him on the practice squad. Keep him around. Maybe the kid can play.

6. Was just excruciating to watch Marsh. He has been better at practice this summer, but he looked absolutely lost out there against the Patriots, allowing three touchdowns (to three different quarterbacks) and committing two penalties. Got to the point where you just felt bad for him. I mean, he was worse than Roc Carmichael, and that’s not easy to do.

7. Let’s talk Allen. This kid shouldn’t just make the team, he should play. He’s a beast. He’s strong, tough, quick, physical. Every time I watch him, he’s blowing somebody up. Davis has to find a role for him.

8. It’s a shame that two of the Eagles’ best pass rushers -- Vinny Curry and Graham -- just don’t fit into Davis’ scheme. Graham isn’t going anywhere, just because the Eagles can’t afford to give up depth at outside linebacker. But it would be nice to see the Eagles trade Curry to a 4-3 team where he could really contribute. I would think he’s put enough good film together that a team would give up a conditional late-round pick for him. Curry can get to the quarterback, but he just can’t play in a 3-4. Hope he can find his way to a team where he’s a better fit.

9. He did have a bad interception Friday night, but overall I really like what I’ve seen from Sanchez in the two preseason games. With his 11-for-12, 117-yard, two-TD performance Friday night, he’s now a combined 18 for 22 this preseason for 196 yards. That’s 82 percent accuracy. And he’s generated four touchdowns in seven drives so far. He just looks confident, in control, accurate. If something happened to Foles, the Eagles are in good hands with Sanchez. He’s been impressive.

10. I wish I could tell you the Eagles will be able to find a better option that Henery, but they can’t. His miss Friday night was from 47 yards, and those are the tough kicks he has to make. He’s not the worst kicker in the league. He’s still 11th in NFL history in accuracy at 86 percent, and he’s 85 percent for his career in that key 40-to-49 range. The numbers look fine, but I don’t think anybody trusts him on a big kick, late in the game, beyond about 42 yards. I just don’t think there are any better options.

Worst to first? Eagles' years of nightmares in secondary appear over

Worst to first? Eagles' years of nightmares in secondary appear over

A year ago, Rodney McLeod was a St. Louis Ram, Ron Brooks was a Buffalo Bill, Jalen Mills was an LSU Tiger, and Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll were part of a secondary that allowed the seventh-most touchdown passes in NFL history.

Now look at them.

This disparate group of holdovers, free agents and one late-round draft pick has come together to become the hottest secondary in the NFL.

The Eagles are 3-0, and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has garnered most of the attention for the quick and unexpected start, but the defense has been astonishing, and the secondary has been a remarkable surprise.

Through three games, the Eagles have not allowed a touchdown pass, have allowed only 13 completions of 15 yards or more and have yet to allow more than 85 net passing yards in the second half of any game.

The Eagles, who allowed a staggering 36 touchdown passes last year — most in franchise history and seventh-most in NFL history — are the first team since the 2009 Broncos to not allow a passing touchdown the first three games of the season. (The Seahawks haven’t either.)

They’ve allowed just one pass play over 20 yards in the second half of their three games and only five pass plays longer than 13 yards after halftime.

They’re also one of only 10 teams since 1978 — nearly 40 years — to record three or more interceptions while allowing no touchdown passes through three games.

The three starting quarterbacks the Eagles have faced — Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger, all Pro Bowlers at some point in their lives — are a combined 16-for-41 for 193 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the second half. That’s a 33.9 passer rating.

Don't forget, from 2009 through last year, the Eagles became the only team in NFL history to allow 25 touchdown passes in seven straight years.

Now they’re at zero.

How can a secondary that just formed this spring be playing at such an astounding level?

Obviously, they benefit greatly from the best defensive line in football. When there’s that much pressure on the quarterback, it makes life simple for the back end.

But this goes way beyond that.

Credit goes to Howie Roseman for putting this group together, holdover secondary coach Cory Undlin for giving them their swagger, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for finding the best ways to use them, and to the players themselves for making up for their lack of experience together with tireless work on the practice field and film room.

The Eagles may have just gone from the worst secondary in football to the best.

“It’s just guys out there trusting other guys and having confidence in each and every guy in the secondary and knowing that the guy next to you is just going to line up and do his job,” Mills said.

“We over-emphasize communication at practice because we know when we get into the Linc it’s going to be crazy loud, the fans are going to be on their feet yelling and screaming and giving us all their energy, so we know our communication has to be on point.  

“Our preparation also comes off the field. Extra film study as a group. Going out and eating together. Having more than just football time. Just learning guys and getting close to guys.”

The Eagles have allowed just 27 passing first downs, fewest (on a percentage basis) in the NFL. Opposing QBs have a 66.1 passer rating, third-lowest in the league (behind the Cards and Chiefs). And the Eagles have allowed the eighth-fewest passing yards, which is nuts considering the Eagles have had early double-digit leads in all three games, forcing teams to throw.

“I still think we have a lot of room to grow,” Carroll said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s three games, but I feel like every single week we keep improving, keep fixing our mistakes.

“We really play with a different type of attitude. I think we need to continue to do that every single week and just focus on one game at a time and it’s going to help us down the road.”

We are seeing cornerbacks playing aggressive and tight to the ball, which has resulted in a few pass interference calls but also has dramatically limited big plays. We’re seeing exceptional tackling, which has tremendously reduced yards after the catch. And the safety play has been outrageous. McLeod has playing at a Pro Bowl level, and Jenkins has been off the charts.

Consider this: Roethlisberger has the eighth-highest yards-per-attempt of any quarterback in NFL history at 7.9.

On Sunday, he averaged 5.8 yards per attempt, and in the second half he averaged 4.2.

The Eagles are off this weekend before playing four of their next five games on the road.

They’ll face a huge challenge a week from Sunday from Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, one of two quarterbacks who threw five touchdowns against the Eagles last year.

Then it’s Washington and Kirk Cousins, undefeated Sam Bradford at the Linc, record-setting Dak Prescott in Dallas and two-time Super Bowl-winner Eli Manning at the Meadowlands.

So things sure don’t get easier. It will be fascinating to see how this group, which should get corner Leodis McKelvin back for Detroit, responds to the challenge.

“I don’t think we have a ceiling,” Mills said. “As long as we stay focused and keep grinding every day, I don’t think we have a ceiling.”

Can this defensive backfield go from worst to first in one year? Remains to be seen. There’s a lot of football left to be played.

But it sure seems like years of secondary nightmares — from Nnamdi to Cary Williams to Byron Maxwell — are over.

“I can’t speak for anyone else or on anything else that happened before,” Brooks said. “But we are just playing ball, having fun, and kicking ass while doing it.”

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Another award: Carson Wentz named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

Another award: Carson Wentz named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

Three games into his NFL career, Carson Wentz might need a bigger trophy case.

The 23-year-old, who picked up his first NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance against Pittsburgh, has been named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.

Yes, Wentz's first NFL month was a special one.

The No. 2 pick from North Dakota State has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. And his 102 straight passing attempts without an interception is also a rookie record.

It's hard to believe that a little over a week before the season began, Wentz was scheduled to be the Eagles' third-string quarterback and have a redshirt year. That all changed when de facto GM Howie Roseman traded away starter Sam Bradford and the team decided to start the rookie.

While many thought the decision to start Wentz was the beginning of a long rebuilding year, the rookie has the Eagles off to a fast 3-0 start. Wentz has played very well, but has also been aided by a stout defense, led by NFC Defensive Player of the Month Fletcher Cox.

This week, Wentz is spending some time hunting while the Eagles are on their bye week. He bagged another trophy on Thursday.

The team will be back in action on Oct. 9 in Detroit to face the Lions.

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