Week 1 of the Philadelphia Eagles’ preseason is in the books. They fell to the Chicago Bears 34-28. After a day of analysis and opinions, it’s obvious the Birds have work to do. The game itself wasn’t pretty at times, but also had a few moments of hope for a team looking to take the next step towards a Super Bowl championship. Let’s examine the Top 5 focus areas for the Eagles as they prepare for their Week 2 preseason game against the New England Patriots.
- CLEAN FOOTBALL – the Eagles and Bears combined for a whopping 23 accepted penalties totaling 192 yards. With the Birds accounting for 89 of those yards, it was a sloppy display on the field by both sides. This is an area that the team must clean up and fast, as the first team offense committed its fair share of the penalties. Call it rust from the offseason and six months of no real football, but these penalties kill drives and make it harder for the explosive offense to do its thing.
- Finishing Drives – out of 15 drives, the Eagles converted four of those for touchdowns, a dismal 26% conversion rate. While they converted their only 4th down attempt, going 4 for 11 on third down is not a good sign. Again, putting this into perspective – it is the first preseason game. However, this is another area the Birds must focus on and improve.
- Quarterback Consistency – Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw two interceptions, equaling his total for the ENTIRE 2013 season. Fortunately for everyone, the preseasons ones don’t count. That being said, the starting offense struggled to get anything going. Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez took the second team offense down the field for two rushing touchdowns, while quarterback Matt Barkley tossed the only passing touchdown of the game. It was clear that Sanchez had a solid command of the offense (and potentially the permanent backup job), but the QB play overall wasn’t up to head coach Chip Kelly’s standards.
- Pass Protection – this is another area the Eagles’ defense struggled with last season, and some of this is still present. The team still gives up big plays to their opponents. Whether it is an out of position defender, or a missed block on press coverage, the defense must focus on this area during practice. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had to like what he saw for the most part, with his defense picking up two interceptions courtesy of strong safety Nate Allen and rookie cornerback Jaylen Watkins. These were highlights in a unit that still has trouble defending the pass.
- Offensive Rhythm – going hand-in-hand with consistent QB play, the offense has to start out fast and start out strong. What transpired on Friday night showed spurts of cohesiveness, which can be expected to a degree given the loss of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and the temporary loss of left tackle Lane Johnson. Rookie receivers Josh Huff and Jordan Matthews gave us glimpses into what this offense can be, even with the loss of Jackson. Both provided some highlight reel footage (see Huff’s 102-yard kick return for touchdown) and some cringe worthy moments as well (multiple dropped passes).
Most of these are correctable in practice, and Kelly no doubt already has a plan in mind to address them. The Eagles can ill afford to allow these mistakes to continue to plague them, and we should expect to see a much cleaner football game against the Patriots. Foles needs to start the game strong, leading his offense down the field confidently and consistently for a score. The penalty bowl we all witnessed on Friday night should be long gone from the players’ memory. It should serve as a “knock the rust off” game, nothing more, nothing less.