And in the third week of preseason, the Philadelphia Eagles gave their fans several reasons to sit back, relax and get excited for September.
The first-team offense and defense were dominant in the first half, with quarterback Nick Foles leading a pair of touchdown drives and the defense holding the Pittsburgh Steelers to just 96 yards. The Birds took a 17-0 lead into the locker room and the backups played a strong second half in a 31-21 Philadelphia win Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Foles was solid in the first half, but not spectacular thanks to a few off-target deep throws. He went 19-of-29 for 179 yards, one touchdown and one unfortunate interception when running back Darren Sproles fell down on an attempted screen pass.
Most impressive was their second touchdown drive, a 13-play, 77-yard march that consumed more than six minutes of the clock. Foles hooked up with wide receiver Riley Cooper to convert an early third down and later found tight end Brent Celek, who hauled in an 18-yard pass down the seam and held onto the ball after taking a punishing hit.
After Cooper was flagged for a questionable offensive pass interference call in the end zone, the Eagles came back to move the chains on another completion to a tight end, this time Zach Ertz for 12 yards. Two penalties against the Steelers moved the ball to the 1, and Sproles finished the drive from there to give the Birds a 14-0 lead with 12:39 left in the half.
As good as the offense looked, the Eagles defense made their forgettable past preseason performances disappear. The Birds were solid on third down, allowing the Steelers to convert just 3-of-7 chances in the first half, got an interception from cornerback Nolan Carroll and were in control on all six Pittsburgh possessions.
The Steelers best opportunity came after the Foles interception, when they took over at the Philadelphia 31. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks made one of his several impressive open field tackles and safety Malcolm Jenkins nearly intercepted Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, forcing a 46-yard field goal try from Shaun Suisham, who pulled the kick well wide.
The game was not without its drama, which thanks to the outcomes became an afterthought for the Eagles. After scoring on a 22-yard screen pass, running back LeSean McCoy went to the locker room for an X-ray on his thumb. The Eagles later announced the X-rays came back negative, but McCoy did not return to play. He finished with 50 yards on six total touches.
Later, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, returning from a torn ACL in 2013, went down with what initially appeared to be a gruesome right knee injury when he tried to cut on a pass route. After receiving attention on the field, Maclin was back on his feet and returned on the next series. He caught six passes for 43 yards.
Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez led a pair of touchdown drives in the third quarter with crisp passing and the solid running of Matthew Tucker, who capped each drive with 1-yard runs. Both drives came against the Pittsburgh starting defense.
Sanchez was 7-of-9 for 85 yards, while Tucker rushed 10 times for 46 yards.
The starting Steelers offense, meanwhile, didn’t get on the board until late in the third quarter, taking advantage of a Philadelphia defensive unit comprised of backups and roster hopefuls. The drive included a completion to wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was being covered by rookie linebacker Marcus Smith, and a touchdown to tight end Heath Miller, who was shadowed by safety Chris Maragos.
QUICK SIX OBSERVATIONS:
– Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Allen Barbre struggled early, but seemed to settle down as the game went on. With Lane Johnson suspended four games for failing a drug test, the Eagles will count on Barbre to anchor the right side early in the season. So far, the results have been mixed.
– Linebacker Brandon Graham had himself a nice game, especially on the final drive of the first half. He had a good pass rush on first down and then sacked Roethlisberger and forced a fumble on second down. A lot of people have been down on the Michigan man, but he’s had himself a promising preseason.
– If running back Matthew Tucker hasn’t yet locked up the third backfield spot, the kid has to be wondering what he must do to beat out Chris Polk, who has yet to even play a down. Tucker has been very impressive. He gets north-south and runs hard.
– The penalty situation was again quite annoying for both sides. Here’s to hoping this “emphasis” on defensive penalties is relaxed when the regular season arrives. There were 27 penalties for 202 yards combined. The flags make football almost unwatchable.
– Rookies: Marcus Smith made some plays and looked more comfortable on the field. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews made a couple of catches and looked solid blocking downfield. Corner/safety Jaylen Watkins had another rough outing. Tough to evaluate nose tackle Beau Allen, who registered one tackle, but considering the Steelers never got anything going in the running game, that has to be a positive.
– It was really tough to judge the kicking competition tonight because opportunities were not balanced. Both incumbent Alex Henery and newcomer Cody Parkey booted their kickoffs into the end zone, with Parkey sending one that carried the Steelers’ return man across the end line. Henery made a 36-yard field goal and then was given a chance to convert a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Incredibly, he missed. This will probably be the biggest storyline when the Eagles take on the New York Jets to close the preseason next Thursday at 7 p.m.
Tags: Philadelphia Eagles