Eagles dominate Steelers 31-21 to win preseason home opener

Now the first thing that all people who didn’t watch the game will be thinking when they see the score is “31-21? That doesn’t sound like domination to me.” Well, that’s because you didn’t watch the game. The Eagles turned it around after two poor defensive performances in the preseason to bounce back and get a really nice win for the PA bragging rights. The Eagles’ backups were scoring even when the Steelers kept their starters in, proving just home deep the Eagles are and how much the Steelers struggled. It may have only been a 10 point win, but the Steelers got two garbage touchdowns in the fourth quarter. This game really should’ve been 31-7, which is true domination.

As expected, the Eagles gave their starters a lot more action. Nick Foles went 19/29 for 179 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. All in all it was a pretty good performance, although it wasn’t his best outing. The one INT came on a botched screen pass in which he tried to pass it to Darren Sproles, who had tripped and allowed Troy Polamalu to grab the ball out of the air at the last second. I expect Foles to improve once the regular season starts. Sanchez also looked good for the couple series that he was out there, going 7/9 for 85 yards, but no TDs tonight. Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne combined for a nice 5/5 for 45 yards. I was surprised to see Kinne get time at all, and it was even more surprising to see him get more time than Barkley (two drives as opposed to one). Kinne looked pretty poor though, tripping on an option play and getting sacked on another. I think Barkley is the clear #3 guy here.

LeSean McCoy was supposed to play a lot more, but he suffered a thumb injury on his 22 yard TD reception to open the scoring for the game. He combined for 6 touches for 50 yards…not a bad average at all. He left the game and didn’t return after the injury though. Darren Sproles was more a part of the offense in this game, getting 7 touches (6 runs) including a 1 yard TD run in the second quarter. He was targeted four times but only had one catch. Matthew Tucker continued his dominance this preseason with another pair of TDs, matching his total from the first game. He looks like the favorite for the 3rd RB position after Chris Polk missed his third game in a row. Henry Josey and the newly acquired Kenjon Barner also got some carries…Josey looked great with 48 yards on just 4 carries.

Jeremy Maclin returned after a one game absence and led the team in receiving, bringing in 6 catches for 43 yards. He had a scare where he went down grabbing his right knee after cutting funny on a route, but he managed to return to the field on the very next drive. Considering it was the same knee he had injured last year, that would’ve been terrible to see him go down again. Brent Celek had two big catches for 41 yards, losing his helmet on the first one and almost losing it on the second. He always seems to do that, doesn’t he? Lots of other guys got catches such as Trey Burton, Damaris Johnson, and Riley Cooper. Jordan Matthews had just 2 catches for 16 yards after recording over 100 yards last week. He obviously saw a smaller role with Maclin and Cooper back, so nothing too worrying.

As for the battle for the 6th receiver, it doesn’t seem any clearer. I think Damaris Johnson is jumping up to the top spot for 6th WR after his performance, and he’ll be more important because of his returning skills now that Josh Huff is out with a shoulder injury. Jeff Maehl had 4 catches, but for only 19 yards. Neither Ifeanyi Momah nor Arrelious Benn had a catch, moving their stock down a bit.

Defensively, the Eagles were SO much better this week than either of the past two weeks. They essentially stopped the Steelers to just 7 points before giving up a couple of garbage TDs at the end of the game. But the fact that the starters and key backups only gave up one TD in three quarters is really a huge step forward this preseason. That was my biggest concern going into this game, and they certainly delivered. And they didn’t improve only to see the offense falter…both sides of the ball played well and they got the win.

I was stunned to see Roc Carmichael lead the team in tackles in the first game, and now Curtis Marsh led them in tackles this week. I do admit that Marsh played a lot better in this game, not giving up any TDs or getting called for bad penalties. He did have one play where he got burned in coverage, but luckily the throw was over the receiver’s head. The rookie Marcus Smith also looked good, getting 4 tackles, including a TFL. Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham each had a sack which was good, but the starters still have not recorded a sack this preseason which is a bit unsettling. They obviously aren’t showing a lot of their complicated blitzes and are playing a lot of different guys, but you’d think they’d get at least one. At least these two depth guys got sacks, they’ll both be important in the defensive line rotation. Nolan Carroll also looked good in his first game in an Eagles jersey, grabbing an INT early on in the game. He’ll be key to their secondary, especially if Brandon Boykin misses more time.

In terms of special teams, they moved back to the regular length extra point. Alex Henery made all three of his XPs, but he missed yet another FG, this one just 31 yards. He’s lucky the extra points were moved back up because that’s a shorter FG than the 33 yard XPs they were kicking before. He’s trying really hard to lose this job, but I don’t think even the guy they just traded for, Cody Parkey, will be able to beat him out. Henery will likely be the starter yet again.

So the Eagles now move to 1-2 in the preseason, although record doesn’t matter at all. What matters from this game is that the defense greatly improved in the most important game of the preseason, the one where the starters play the most. The Eagles’ backups on D even did well when the Steelers elected to keep their starters in. Overall, this is the type of game I expect from the Eagles once the regular season starts. They have one more game left this preseason which will be at home against the Jets. Boy will it be weird to see Sanchez and Michael Vick playing for opposite teams…

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