Game Rewind: Preseason Week One

Jake Louden, blogger at Eagles Fan 4 Life and on Twitter @EaglesJake, made some great videos where he highlighted every play of a few key Eagles in last week's first preseason game. Let's go through them with some notes.

Here's the first one, starting with King Dunlap:

Overall, my impression of Dunlap is mixed, as he's playing mostly against second-teamers. In pass protection, he doesn't let up much of any pressure, although the Steelers rarely seem to put much energy into attacking.

His run blocking was suspect. Especially compared to Jason Peters rampaging through the second level, blowing up defenders, Dunlap looks passive out there. He rarely finished blocks to the whistle and often finds himself in the middle of the field just half-heartedly looking for a defender close enough to block. If Dunlap gets his long arms on someone, that person probably isn't getting by him, but too often he just seems to let guys go.

Also, the rest of the second-team offensive line does not inspire confidence. Not that I'm expecting much from rookies like Dennis Kelly, but Julian Vandervelde? Yikes. He gets beat and/or knocked on his butt multiple times.

A look back at DeMeco Ryans's combine numbers shows that he was never a particularly fast or strong guy. Today, he certainly doesn't look like the best athlete on the field. He's not a dominating presence in the middle. In fact, there are a number of times where I expected Ryans to get to the ball faster or get off a block that he's tied up on. 

Still, it's easy to see that he's going to be a major upgrade in the middle for the Eagles. Comparing Dunlap to Peters may not have helped, but Ryans gets points for looking so much better than Jamar Chaney. His biggest asset seems to be diagnosing plays quickly and knowing where he needs to get to. Ryans doesn't always make it there in time, but you can see he's knows what hole he's supposed to plug or which receiver is his responsibility. Those simple things will go a long way.

Finally, we get to the rookie Mychal Kendricks. On second viewing, Kendricks looked just as good to me as he did live. He's fast and can be a sure tackler in space. Not everything is clicking yet, but he looks a mile ahead of where Casey Matthews was a year ago. I hope he's soaking in the lessons from Ryans next to him. Kendricks's physical talent plus Ryans's veteran acumen could make a powerful combination.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

Eagles Offensive Line

What the Eagles did: In Howard Mudd we trust.

That sentence basically sums up where the Eagles stand in relation to their offensive line right now, in the post-Jason Peters 2012 continuity. (I like to think that somewhere out there is an alternate timeline where Julian Vandervelde, not Peters, tore his Achillies. Asante Samuel fetched a first round draft pick, too.)

Peters had one of the best seasons for an offensive lineman that I’ve ever seen. He was dominant in every phase of the game. It will not be possible to replicate his performance, and the Eagles offense will undoubtedly suffer significantly from his absence. Either King Dunlap or Demetress Bell, most likely the latter, will try to step into Peters’s shoes, but we shouldn’t hope for anything more than average play.

On top of that 6’4”, 340 lb. hole, Mudd also has to turn Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins into good offensive linemen. I’m not sure that any topic inspired more argument among fans last year than the Eagles rookie linemen. There are lots of people who insist that Kelce and Watkins were above average, even worthy of Pro Bowl considerations. That’s just not true, as far as my eyes and stats could tell.

Finally, there are the two starters I’m not worried about: Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. Neither player is particularly dominant, but continued solid performance will be of paramount necessity with the rest of the line questionable.

What I would have done: Despite my reservations about the Eagles line, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. After Peters’ injury, Howie Roseman pounced on Bell and made sure to retain Dunlap. Neither is a sure thing, but at least there are two reasonable options in the wake of that shocking development. Long term, assuming Peters recovers, the line is locked up, so a high draft pick wasn’t strictly necessary.

Way-too-early prediction: Do I trust Howard Mudd? At the end of the day, the answer is yes, so I’m willing to be optimistic about Kelce, Watkins, and even Bell. I wouldn’t be surpised, however, if Mathis falls back to earth a little bit without a dominant tackle at his side.

Photo from Getty.

Yikes: Jason Peters Injured His Achilles?

Geoff Mosher reporting up a storm on Twitter today, after King Dunlap returned to the Eagles on a one year deal:

I’m hearing that one BIG reason that the Eagles re-signed King Dunlap today is that Jason Peters may have an injury. Working to confirm…

I’m hearing its an Achilles injury. But again, working to confirm from more sources, so hang with me.

League source tells me Eagles had no dialogue with King as of last week re: contract and suddenly “a lot of dialogue” this week.

Also told by a different source that Peters sustained the injury during a workout.

Update: The Eagles confirmed Mosher’s story. Just a devastating blow to the team’s 2012 hopes.

Bring Back the Brian Westbrook Offense

I have always chided fans and commentators for calling on Andy Reid to run ball more. First of all, such pleas fall on deaf ears within the Eagles organization; Reid has his offense and it doesn’t change much. Second, Reid is right - statistics show that passing is now a much more effective way to win football games.

However, at the risk of reading too much into Thursday night’s third preseason game, it might be time to shift the scales back more to the Brian Westbrook-centered offense we saw from 2006 through 2008. It’s not that the Eagles ran so much more during that span, but their entire offense largely went through Westbrook with runs, screen passes, dump offs.

That wasn’t, I think, by choice. Reid realized that the Eagles had few other offensive weapons. Of course, that certainly isn’t the case now. But that doesn’t mean the strategy won’t still work. Here are three reasons it makes sense:

  1. After last season’s coming out party for Vick, it seems clear to me that defenses are going to load up in the secondary to prevent the deep ball from beating them. Unless I missed one, Vick hasn’t completed a single one of his signature downfield bombs this preseason. Right now, opponents would rather let Vick complete dink and dunk passes underneath than beat them with one quick, demoralizing touchdown. And especially as Jeremy Maclin may not be 100 percent, the Eagles offense doesn’t have a full complement of downfield weapons.

  2. The offensive line is still in a state of flux. With King Dunlap at right tackle and two rookies starting in the interior against the Browns, pass blocking was a nightmare. Unless that line improves rapidly, Vick is not going to have time to sit back and let deep routes develop. The quick passes, the dump offs underneath, and the run game will likely continue to be more consistent options.

  3. LeSean McCoy, the new Westbrook, is making a quietly persuasive case to be the number one offensive threat. He never got the headlines last year, even though his production was very impressive for a second year running back. Recliner GM found that in 2010 McCoy became only the ninth RB to post more than 1,670 yards before his 23rd birthday. And if the preseason can be trusted for anything, it has shown that McCoy might be ready for even more now. For a player who came into the league in Westbrook’s shadow, he’s already close to surpassing his mentor.

The offense from the third preseason game wasn’t pretty, but it hinted that a McCoy-centric system could win football games. With defenses gearing up to stop the deep passing game and a leaky offensive line, why not use DeSean Jackson more as a decoy in the early going? Do the unexpected and run the football right at these over-aggressive defensive tackles. Take what they give you and ram it back at them. If you’re successful, defenses will have to respect McCoy, and the long balls for DeSean and company will surely open up.

Photo from Getty.

Overreacting to the Problem at Right Tackle

There’s an important, if often overlooked difference between critic and cynic. The critic questions the current situation thoughtfully and wonders what other options exist. He might second-guess decisions and rethink conventional wisdom. But the cynic overreacts to the most recent information. He might call a good team a “house of cards” or demand that they shake everything up for one questionable improvement.

That’s where we stand at this moment with the Eagles. Some of us are willing to criticize and question, and others are quick to call for changing everything immediately. You can watch this dichotomy play out in the debate about right tackle.

The calls are out for Andy Reid to move Todd Herremans away from his normal left guard spot to shore up the right tackle position. Admittedly, right tackle could be a problem for the Eagles. Winston Justice’s knee injury hasn’t fully healed yet, his replacement Ryan Harris now has back problems, and temporary starter King Dunlap hasn’t proven he can hold his own at this level yet.

But moving Herremans over to tackle is a desperate move, one that many in the media have been pushing for days. They ask Reid whether he’d consider moving Herremans and Andy says the same thing every time: he know that’s a possibility if he needs it, but he has other options right now. To me, that quotation is clear. Herremans can be a last resort if no one else is even adequate, the way a salad is a last resort for Reid after every possible cheesesteak and hamburger option has left the building.

And why would Herremans at right tackle be anything more than that? He hasn’t taken a snap at tackle in almost two years, and hasn’t gotten regular playing time at the position since his rookie year in 2005. We know he can slide over in a pinch, but you don’t sacrifice the only solid thing the Eagles offensive line has going for it - the left side - for a questionable upgrade.

Like every other team in the NFL, the Eagles have problem spots. Injuries at right tackle, a rookie middle linebacker, and a few more. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that with these offensive weapons, pass rushers, and cornerbacks, the Eagles on paper rival any team of the Andy Reid era.

Criticism is always good. Cynicism gets old.

Photo from Getty.

Eagles First Preseason Game: What to Watch For

The Eagles have their first preseason game on Thursday night. Yes, it is that soon. Despite free agency still underway for a number of players and a grand total of a week and a half in camp, the Eagles will take on the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night.

For many teams and players, these preseason games are meaningless. For example, I don’t expect to see much from LeSean McCoy, who’s primary goal should be to stay injury free. And Andy Reid has already intimated that none of the starters will play deep into the game. However, there are some things I’ll be looking for:

How is the defensive line embracing Jim Washburn’s attack-first scheme?  I’ll be interested to see what kind of pressure the front four can get in the early going tomorrow. The defense probably wont be blitzing much, so the game will be an interesting first test of Washburn’s system. Even with a number of defensive linemen banged up, hopefully they’ll be able to cause some chaos in the backfield.

Who plays center and right tackle? Rookie sixth round pick Jason Kelce has shared repetitions with injured incumbent Jamaal Jackson in practice, and seems like a leading candidate to usurp the job Jackson once took from Hank Fraley. Keep an eye on that position. Also, check out Ryan Harris, Austin Howard, King Dunlap, and anyone else who gets a shot at right tackle. With Winston Justice on the Physically Unable to Perform list, it would be nice to see that the Eagles have an adequate insurance policy.

How reliable will the new kicking specialists be? While special teams coverage units will be hard to judge, given the ephemeral nature of the roster’s bottom half during free agency, the kicking game itself is basically the same from preseason through the playoffs. I’ll be watching rookie punter Chas Henry and rookie kicker Alex Henery closely.

Will Casey Matthews and the rest of the unheralded young linebacker corps avoid mistakes? As I said yesterday, the best I’m realistically hoping for the linebackers is for them to be average. But even that low level of expectations requires that they play smarter and more experienced than they actually are. The base defenses and relatively simple offenses deployed in the game on Thursday will be a good first test.

Photo from Getty.