There’s nothing like a dominant preseason game to improve a fan’s outlook heading into the regular season. The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-21 on Thursday night. The score doesn’t truly reflect how impressive a win it was for the Eagles, as the Steelers scored a couple of late garbage time touchdowns.
My concerns with the Eagles defense are well documented. The Eagles D ranked 17th in the league in points allowed and 29th in total yards allowed in 2013, with much of those yards given up through the air by the 32nd ranked Philadelphia secondary. I believe the 37 sacks generated by the defensive line was the Achilles heel of Philadelphia’s season, and if second year defensive coordinator Bill Davis can’t fix that lack of pressure, the Eagles defense could struggle.
But against the Steelers, Davis and the Eagles generated plenty of pressure against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sacking him twice, hitting him once, and forcing him into an errant throw which generated an interception. Big Ben never looked comfortable in the pocket, which is exactly what Philadelphia would like to do to every opponent.
On the Roethlisberger forced interception; early in the second quarter Pittsburgh had a 1st and 10 at Philadelphia’s 40 yard line a couple of plays after an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty on safety Malcolm Jenkins. However, Bill Davis called a blitz which sent linebacker Mychal Kendricks after Roethlisberger where he threw a bad pass into the awaiting arms of Eagles cornerback Nolan Caroll II.
Outside linebacker Brandon Graham continued his impressive preseason with a sack-fumble against Roethlisberger late in the third quarter. Graham also forced an interception grabbed by safety Nate Allen against the Chicago Bears a few weeks back, showing he can cause disruption in opponent’s backfields. Defensive end Vinny Curry tallied the second sack against Roethlisberger early in the third quarter for a four yard loss.
The Philadelphia defense continued their positive momentum from last season holding the Pittsburgh rushing attack to just 58 yards and a 3.4 yards per rush average. The Eagle’s defensive front has been impressive stuffing the run this preseason holding every opponent under 100 yards per game. Philadelphia gave up 76 rushing yards with a 4.2 yard per rush average against the Chicago Bears, and yielded 89 total rushing yards with a second 4.2 yard per rush average versus the New England Patriots.
The only blemish in the dominant defensive effort for the Eagles was that they gave up too many penalties. An optimistic linebacker Trent Cole told reporters after the game,
“We’re going in the right direction. Things look good. I think everybody’s playing sound.” Cole continued, “The only thing we have to do is get rid of the penalties. The refs told us that they are going to call more penalties this year. We’ve just got to learn to play within the rules. There’s no way to get around it. If we get rid of the penalties, I think we’re golden.”
The Eagles defense showed substantial improvement against the Steelers. If the unit can continue to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, force turnovers, and decrease their penalties; Philadelphia’s D has a chance to be outstanding this season.