The Eagles won their first preseason game, but it was nearly a disaster.
The only thing that prevented the first half of Thurday’s emotional 24-23 victory over the Steelers from being a disaster is that x-rays of Michael Vick’s thumb came back negative.
Vick was only supposed to play during the first quarter. But, after the Steelers completely controlled the quarter, limiting the Eagles’ offense to three plays, Vick and the first-team offense received another shot in the second quarter.
Nobody would dare question any move by Andy Reid, who was warmly welcomed by the Lincoln Financial Field crowd just two days after the funeral for his son, Garrett, who was found dead Sunday at Eagles training camp. But the decision to leave the first team in the game was almost disastrous.
On an incomplete third-down pass, Vick’s throwing hand bounced off center Jason Kelce’s helmet on his follow through. Vick immediately recoiled and starting wringing his hand in pain. There were some nervous moments during the remainder of the half as Vick had his thumb examined and stuck it in a cup of ice, but the Eagles could breathe a huge sigh of relief after x-rays at halftime were negative.
Vick’s x-rays weren’t the only things that were negative. Many of the same problems the Eagles had last season were evident Thursday, particularly during the first half.
The first-team offense went three-and-out on its two possessions. The first-team defense couldn’t get off the field.
The Steelers frequently ran right up the middle, an area in which the Eagles were vulnerable last season. The Steelers also displayed the ability to convert on third down, another problematic area for the Birds last season.
Inopportune penalties also hurt the Eagles last season. On Thursday the Steelers’ second scoring drive was kept alive when cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie launched himself at the head of Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich. Not only did the 15-yard penalty keep the Steelers’ drive alive, but Rodgers-Cromartie may also be fined for the hit.
The situation didn’t get much better when the second team got in the game. Mike Kafka made a blind throw on a screen pass while under pressure. The throw went right to defensive tackle Al Woods, who rumbled 54 yards to the Eagles’ 4-yard line. Only good hustle by running back Bryce Brown prevented a touchdown.
The Steelers had to settle for a field goal, earning them a 13-0 lead in a half that they thoroughly dominated.
The Eagles’ performances weren’t all bad. There were some highlights, particularly during the second half.
- The defensive ends generated consistent pressure on the quarterbacks. Phillip Hunt twice forced fumbles. Brandon Graham, trying to remain on the team after two injury-plagued and unproductive seasons, also was effective rushing the passer. Rookie Vince Curry played well during the second half.
- Defensive tackle Derek Landri generated good pressure and penetrated the backfield to disrupt running and passing plays. Defensive tackle Antonio Dixon stacked up well against the run deep in Eagles territory.
- Rookie quarterback Nick Foles looked sharp, completing touchdown passes on successive offensive plays during the third quarter. He escaped the pocket and found wide receiver Damaris Johnson wide open inside the 30 for a 70-yard touchdown. “That was a big-time play,” Reid said. On the first play of the Eagles’ next possession, Foles connected with Mardy Gilyard for a 44-yard touchdown pass. Trent Edwards was effective late in the game, leading the Eagles to one touchdown and running a two-minute drill to set up Alex Henery’s game-winning 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.
- Johnson and Brandon Boykin both displayed quickness while returning kickoffs. Johnson also looked good on punt returns, although he had a 40-yard return wiped out by a blocking-in-the-back penalty.
- Rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks seemed to have a nose for the football and good lateral quickness.
On the other hand, the following observations aren’t quite as positive.
- Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, starting in place of Nate Allen (hamstring), missed tackles and was involved in a goal-line mixup with Nnamdi Asomugha that contributed to the Steelers’ first-half touchdown.
- Asomugha twice allowed receptions during plays on which he seemed to be expecting inside coverage help from a safety or linebacker.
- Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans didn’t make any noticeable big plays. While he was in the game, the Steelers ran right down the middle of the Eagles defense for big gains on several occasions
This was only one game. And it was a preseason game. But Vick’s injury scare and the poor performance by the first-team offense and defense might serve as warnings to hold off on making reservations on the Super Bowl express.