Here's some notes and observations on the Philadelphia Eagles' third game under Chip Kelly, as they took on the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.
They Get an A:
Four days after losing the quarterback battle, Nick Foles looked far more comfortable on Saturday night, leading a 99-yard, lead-taking touchdown drive. Granted, Jacksonville's backups were in, but Foles also did it with back-ups around him. The touches on his throws were there, and his ease in the up-tempo offense bodes well if he becomes starter down the line.
On the wide receiver front, DeSean Jackson drew lots of zone coverage his way, and hauled in three grabs with good effort in breaking off of rookie Dwayne Gratz. Jackson's as effective as the tight ends in terms of spreading the field so that the QBs can punch with short passes. Jason Avant, as usual, came through with clutch plays, namely a highlight-reel one-handed catch off of a tipped pass.
Brent Celek was the most reliable offensive player in the end, coming through as the safety valve when Vick was in trouble. He had four catches in all, and fought hard after the catch for more yards. The notion that he'll yield grabs with the crowded tight end corps diminishes when Chip Kelly sees his dependability under pressure.
For all of the bad plays by the D, there were a number of silver linings. Fletcher Cox had a strong showing, consisting of finishing plays and making an aggressive lunge to prevent Chad Henne from running for a first down. Cox is also improving at adjusting to the run. Can someone explain why Vinny Curry is whittling away with the second team? Nobody on the Eagles explodes off the line, and toward the ball, like him. What is the holdup?
Connor Barwin demonstrated the playmaking skills he was known for in Houston, both as a pass rusher and on the tip-pick. Mychal Kendricks continues to impress, both as a pace-changing pass rusher, and racing out into the flat to make stops.
They Get a B:
Out of all four running backs that saw action, Chris Polk impressed most. No mistakes on a consistent workload, scoring the winning touchdown. Polk also served Dave Fipp's special teams well with key blocks. In limited fourth quarter action, Matthew Tucker added tough running to the winning drive, demonstrating exceptional awareness of the sideline.
Not much was seen from Riley Cooper, but the pressed-in starter got open in a crowded endzone for the team's first touchdown. Hard to gauge him further, given the pressure Vick was under. Russell Sheppard received more time than Greg Salas, and made the most of that space with some great cuts after reception.
The tight ends continue to impress in general. James Casey provided good special teams play and was able to help stretch the field at times on offense. Zach Ertz shows ability to get open, even in man coverage. His blocking his gradually improved as well.
Though the offensive line had trouble against Gus Bradley's esoteric scheme, Jason Peters and Jason Kelce held up the best of the starters. Kelce's lone blight was a bad snap near the end zone at one point, while Peters hasn't lost a step in his first game action in over a year and a half.
The specialists had a good night. Alex Henery went three for three in field goals, and Donnie Jones skied a number of punts.
When the defense adjusts into a 4-3, Cedric Thornton plays strongly, especially wrecking the interior. Brandon Graham is adjusting well to his linebacker role, and shows the awareness that goes along with it. DeMeco Ryans looked mostly good, helping adjust the D after a disastrous opening drive.
The strongest defensive reserves were Casey Matthews and Everette Brown. Matthews is showing flashes of instinct that his bloodlines indicate, and Brown brought consistent havoc in the fourth quarter as a pass rusher.
As has been the case this preseason, Patrick Chung has been a nothing-fancy, finish-the-play safety, and is a breath of fresh air. Cary Williams made up for his poor showing last week, this time keeping Justin Blackmon occupied with tight coverage. He made better use of bump-and-run, as Blackmon's less likely to punch him in the mouth than a riled-up Steve Smith is. Colt Anderson assured himself a roster spot with the special teams play that Dave Fipp expects.
They Get a C:
Michael Vick fell hard onto old habits, making bad throws off of his back foot. Granted, he was forced to scramble frequently with Gus Bradley bringing unconventional lines of pressure, though he did fare well with his instinctive running. A peculiar interception thrown ten yards away from any of his receivers was his roughest moment.
The best run for LeSean McCoy was a 15-yard dash, but poor line play, and a lack of called runs in the first quarter, limited his night.
Bryce Brown was a split personality. He stood out with missed blocks and an ill-timed fumble-turned-touchback. Beyond his fundamental errors, he had a number of dominant runs, and worked feverishly to overturn his mistakes.
In the same boat with Brown is Damaris Johnson, who had some brilliant returns, but a very sloppy run-and-catch style on a few punts. One of them led to a costly fumble, as he didn't have the ball secure. On the obscure receiver front, Oregon alum Jeff Maehl will likely be cut Tuesday, but he laid a nice block on the winning drive.
It remained to be seen how Lane Johnson would handle a line that emphasizes Jason Babin's heavy-rush style, and struggles were there. Vick felt considerable pressure from the right side, but Johnson's still adjusting to schemes that are new to him. Evan Mathis also had an off-night, which included a needless holding penalty. From the backups, Danny Watkins showed solid run-blocking; he may survive as a backup.
Clifton Geathers dominated the right side of the game early, but wore down in the run as the game wore on. He's fine as a rotational player. Bennie Logan had his moments, but didn't always hold up against the first team. Of course, many of Jacksonville's bursting runs went to the outside. Trent Cole is good when he plays at the line, but struggles to react fast enough when in coverage. Maybe Graham should get more of the 3-4 calls, and save Cole for true pass-rushing downs?
Bradley Fletcher was fine when covering Cecil Shorts, but found it a daunting task covering the considerably-larger Blackmon. Williams is the more aggressive of the two; let him handle the bigger receivers. Brandon Boykin provided good special teams play, but had a couple rough patches in coverage late. Jordan Poyer looked too aggressive at times, but gamely worked to deflect passes.
They Get a D:
Todd Herremans got bullied around, and was the weakest link of the starters. Jacksonville's supercharged blitz had him playing a step late in pass protection. Out of the backup linemen, Allen Barbre and Julian Vandervelde were largely inconsistent. Barbre got called for a needless hold, and Vandervelde didn't always hold up against the run.
Earl Wolff is seen as some to be a likely starting safety down the line, if not this year, but some bad angles plagued him through the night. On special teams, he looked much better, but any chance he had of displacing Nate Allen wasn't seized Saturday. Corner Eddie Whitley suffered a leg injury, and will likely be a Tuesday cut. He whiffed on a few tackle attempts.
They Get an F:
Isaac Sopoaga was pushed around way too much for a veteran nose tackle. The Jaguars line largely made him a non-factor. In a 3-4, most of the pressure comes from the outside, but Sopoaga's not holding up his end at the nose.
Nate Allen and his poor tackling form reared their ugly heads again. He does nothing on bubble screens, and plays softer than any safety I've seen. Only David Sims played worse, showing inattentiveness when lining up, and lagging behind wide open receivers.