A couple of things transpired to make this game less enlightening than it otherwise might have been. The Eagles decided to act as if this was their third preseason with next week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, on their schedule in Week 1. Complicating things was the fact that Michael Vick suffered a rib injury early on, making it much more difficult to evaluate their offense.
In contrast, the Patriots have three exhibition games within the space of 10 days meaning they decided to rest many of their starters, including Tom Brady. Also out were Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork … and that’s not even the complete list (twenty-six total sat out). Still, let’s get down to some individual performances, both good and bad.
Philadelphia Eagles – Three Things of Note
1) The New Leader
DeMeco Ryans is one of the Eagles’ most important players this year. They were plagued with poor play at middle linebacker in 2011 and need Ryans to step in to be a leader. Not only that, but he also needs to perform on the field. He did a decent job on a first quarter run, stuffing the Patriots fullback in the hole, but was unable to scrape off to make the tackle. The very next play was more impressive; he knifed past an approaching offensive lineman and forced a holding call.
The next series wasn’t so good however, as he looked lost on one pass play, leaving the tight end wide open for a first down. He was then successfully blocked away from a run play by Marcus Cannon, giving the runner enough room to pick up a first down.
He had a better start to the next series as he held his ground against an offensive lineman and tackled the runner after about a three yard gain. He made another nice play against the run later on, getting off the block of a guard and making a sure stop after a gain of two. Marcus Cannon got the better of him on another play however, sealing him outside for Shane Vereen. Clearly upset with himself, Ryans came back and slashed into the backfield on the next play for a tackle for loss. Inconsistency then plagued Ryans throughout the rest of the quarter. He was beaten easily on a pass play only to be saved by a drop.
After starting slowly in coverage, Ryans improved as he went on. He did a good job getting physical with a slot receiver and then was able to get a hand in to break up the pass. Ryans made another nice play just a few minutes later, coming up in zone coverage and tackling a crossing receiver after only a short gain on third down.
2) Emerging at Safety
The one thing that stood out (in a bad way) for the Eagles in their first preseason game was poor safety play but Nate Allen’s return remedied that. He showed nice recognition against the run on one play, coming up to tackle the runner for just a one yard gain. Even though he was unblocked, it was a decent play nonetheless. Fundamentals have been a big focus for Juan Castillo’s defense after struggling with tackling especially in 2011. It was nice therefore to see Allen make a good open field tackle on Julian Edelman, even if it was somewhat of a routine play.
On another series he took a pretty poor angle against the run, which allowed the runner a cutback lane. He redeemed himself somewhat as the second quarter began as he attacked the line of scrimmage and brought the runner down for a yard. His best play was probably a pass deflection on a deep ball targeted for Donte Stallworth. On the same series he did a good job reacting to the run, but he lost the contact and the back was then able to pick up a first down.
3) A Wise move to Start King
King Dunlap did well in the run game, showing off his underrated athleticism. On one snap he made a successful double team before then sealing off a linebacker at the second level. The very next scrum saw him excel on a play the Eagles used to always run behind Jason Peters, the sprint draw. He showed nice strength opening the hole for McCoy. There were few hiccups in pass protection but he was fortunate a penalty negated a hit applied by Jermaine Cunningham and he false started late in the second quarter. Although it was a little unconventional, he was able to seal a defensive tackle away from the play when FB Stanley Havili had his big run. Overall, Dunlap was perfect in pass protection on 20 snaps.
New England Patriots – Three Things of Note
1) Nate Solder in Year Two
With both Matt Light retired and Sebastian Vollmer out, Nate Solder drew the tough task of facing the Eagles’ defensive line at left tackle. He started the game well, making a nice block on Brian Rolle on a run in the first quarter. Solder did look a little shaky in pass protection, allowing Trent Cole to pressure the QB on a speed rush. He’ll be very disappointed with his performance on one run play, although it didn’t cost his team. Daryl Tapp easily beat him to the inside and came ever so close to making a tackle for loss on a run over right guard. The next play was another he won’t be proud of as Cole easily beat him off the edge to hit the QB. Cole was at it again, this time in the run game, beating him inside on a draw and tackling the runner for just a gain of a couple.
The following series was more up and down. He made a pretty terrible attempt to cut block Brian Rolle who fought it off easily and got in on the tackle for a short gain. Dunlap was then steamrolled by a Cole bull rush and was fortunate not to be called for holding. However, the Patriots ran behind him on their successful two point conversion where he successfully double teamed Cole and pushed him well into the end zone.
The Cole-Solder battle continued well into the second quarter, with the Patriot winning the first battle in the next series. He was able to push Cole upfield and maintain the hole for the RB between him and the RG. Solder did enough on the next run play, just ensuring Cullen Jenkins couldn’t make a play (although he was fortunate to get away with a hold). He then left himself vulnerable to an inside move which Daryl Tapp took full advantage of to add another pressure. There was more bad news on the very next play as Cole once again got the better of him with a speed rush move. He was subsequently stood up in the hole on one run play, and, although Cole didn’t make the play, he ensured pursuing tacklers could. Overall, Solder allowed six pressures and a hit in 30 rushes. He had a tough matchup but needs to improve considering Light’s retirement.
2) How’s Hightower Looking?
The rookie from Alabama had a mixed night. Dont’a Hightower was a little slow to diagnose one play, being fooled into covering a tight end and running out of position against a draw. However, he flashed his potential in coverage as he drove on an underneath throw and forced an incompletion on third down. Hightower also did something a lot of NFL players don’t; tackle McCoy in the open field. After a short reception, McCoy tried to cut back and Hightower was there to make the play for just a short gain. Unfortunately, he only saw a handful of plays because the Patriots gave their backups a lot of playing time.
3) A Tougher Test for Chandler Jones
Fellow rookie linebacker Chandler Jones was up and down in the run game, over committing to the rush against a draw and finding himself out of position. He was also quiet in the pass rushing department. On one play he was able to bull rush Dunlap and get him off balance but the 6-foot-9 giant was able to reset and prevent the pressure. Jones was later punished by Brent Celek on a run play when he tried to jump inside him. The Eagles’ tight end sealed him off and created a big hole for LeSean McCoy. Overall, Jones was shut out but keep in mind he only rushed the QB nine times.