Those of you who follow my twitter feed — or, perhaps more accurately, those of you who have recently unfollowed my twitter feed — know that I’m a big football guy. Covering the Phillies for the Daily News, I don’t get much of an opportunity to write about the sport for my day job. So more than anything, this is an outlet for me. If you enjoy what you read, all the better.
I just finished re-watching the performances of the Eagles first team offense and defense in Thursday night’s preseason opener against Pittsburgh, and it doesn’t look much prettier the second time around. The good was essentially limited to Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle and the play of the defensive ends. But let’s start with the negatives. Because, as a high school classmate once said to me, “Murph, you are the most cynical mother bleeper I know.”
1) Jaiquawn Jarrett: The only conclusion I can come up with is that the MAC offenses during Jarrett’s time at Temple were so piss-poor that he really did look good on tape when the Eagles decided to burn a second-round pick on him last year. Yeah, it’s early. But the stuff you saw out of Jarrett yesterday is stuff that is so fundamentally flawed that it is hard to believe that a couple more weeks of practice will fix it. We’re talking about a complete lack of basic football instincts at a position that is among the most instinctual on the field. Safety is a position where the casual television viewer should not be able to watch your decision-making process unfold, yet that is exactly what thousands of people across the Delaware Valley were able to do on Thursday night. Take the Steelers first touchdown, on a 3rd-and-2 from the 2-yard line early in the second quarter. The Eagles were clearly in a zone with Nnamdi A. (as he will henceforth be referred) responsible for the right quarter of the end zone and Jarrett responsible for the second quarter. As Emmanuel Sanders shot in between the two defensive backs, you could almost see a thought bubble appear above Jarrett’s helmet that said, “Oh shit. That’s an open receiver. I should probably. . .Oh shit. He just caught the ball.”
This was not a one-time thing. Chances are, if you saw a white jersey flying wildly out of control past the ball during the first quarter-and-a-half of play, it was Jarrett. Instead of wasting money on an end zone camera from here on out, Eagles Television Network should just rely on Jarrett to provide views from behind the play, because that is where he always seems to end up.
-Third and 11 at the Eagles 44-yard line on the first drive. Nnamdi. Eagles are in a zone, with Nnamdi A. in press at the line of scrimmage. He lets Sanders go to the second level, where he settles into a wide patch of open grass, checks his watch, whistles a little diddy, and waits for a scrambling Ben Roethlisberger to find him. Jarrett? He’s too busy watching the action 25 yards to his northwest to notice either Sanders or Chris Rainey, who also happens to be in the area. Roethlisberger scrambles forward, throws a dart, and Sanders makes the easy catch for the first down.
-Earlier in that drive, Jarrett gets sucked in on play action far enough to get chipped, preventing him from making any meaningful attempt at preventing the first down.
-Steelers second drive, Pittsburgh with the first down after Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie’s thoughtful attempt at providing the NFL with footage for its next “Don’t Be A Dumbass and You Won’t Get Fined” DVD that it shows to players every training camp. Antonio Brown beats Nnamdi A. on an inside move, Jarrett is late in reacting to it, then overpursues and misses a tackle on the 14-yard gain.
-Same drive, 3rd-and-13 at the 50-yard line. Steelers are in a shotgun, run a draw, apparently content to let its punt team practice pinning an opponent deep in its own end. Except the Eagles apparently want to work on their red zone defense, because everybody plays this thing wrong. DeMeco Ryans gets behind his blocker, takes a shot, but misses, which would be fine, except Mychal Kendricks in all his youthful exuberance flies past the play and gets swallowed up, opening up a huge lane for Chris Rainey on the cutback, which should still be fine, because the Eagles have a safety on that side of the field, whose responsibility in this case is accurately summed up by the name of his position, except Jarrett ends up flying past Rainey as if the football field suddenly titled on an axis. Open field. First down. Kurt Coleman ends up coming from the other side of the field to make the tackle.
-Next play. Second team defensive line is in there. Fletcher Cox tries to shoot the gap to his right, taking himself out of the play. All three interior lineman end up in the second level without any resistance and the linebackers are engulfed by blockers. But what should have been an eight-yard gain ends up as a 33-yard gain because Jarrett once again takes a horrible angle and is so wildly out of control that he ends up disrupting an attempted tackle by his own teammate, allowing Jon Dwyer to get free in the secondary. This sets up the touchdown that caps off Jarrett’s woeful night.
2) DeMeco Ryans: Again, first preseason game, new scheme, new teammates, but he looked like just a guy in his Eagles debut. Nothing worth condemnation, but certainly did not show anything special yet. That could change, of course.
3) Cromartie: He was one of the most overrated Pro Bowlers in the game in 2009, and I’m not completely buying the “Well he isn’t comfortable playing the slot” argument. We’ll see. Ton of physical talent, but I’m not sure the synapses fire well enough. Sixth play of the game, he’s playing man on Brown. Lollygags while shadowing his motion, ends up inside of Nnamdi A. and Sanders on the snap, which allows Brown to make his cut three or four yards in front for an easy eight-yard catch.
4) Demetress Bell: Again, first preseason game. But footwork is footwork, and Bell is more than a few Zumba classes away from moving with enough ease to keep Mike Vick from getting annihilated. On the play where Vick hurt his thumb, it was Bell getting beat to the outside by Chris Carter that forced him to step up, which resulted in him following through right into the helmet of Jason Kelce (who still needs to show that he can get any sort of regular push). Apparently, all Chris Carter does is beat Demetress Bell, because that was the story throughout the game, Carter or Larry Foote beating Bell to the spot time after time.
5) Vick: The play to keep in your mind came on the Eagles’ third play from scrimmage. Pittsburgh shows man, safety high, everybody else crowding the line. Vick calls timeout. Eagles come back out with a play that has three potential receivers and everybody else in to block. Except just before the snap, Polamalu drops back, as do a couple of linebackers, and the Steelers end up rushing just four. Desean Jackson has a corner and safety on the right side, Damaris Johnson has a corner and safety on the left side, and Jason Avant is double covered over the middle with a linebacker free to monitor Vick, who steps up and can’t find anybody. Vick’s pre-snap decision making is not the greatest, and the Eagles cannot afford to burn a timeout and allow their opponent to counter every time the quarterback sees something he doesn’t like at the line of scrimmage.
Now, the good. . .
1) Kendricks: Guy showed incredible closing speed all night.
2) Rolle: Thought he had a solid night sideline-to-sideline.
3) Defensive ends: Phillip Hunt obviously had a nice night, but so did Brandon Graham, whether he was moving outside or inside.
4) Derek Landri: Thought he was one of the more underrated members of the defense last year. Got good push all night.
These two teams play in the first half of the season, and the Eagles will be coming off a bye, so it is really tough to say anything that doesn’t pertain to individual physical skill. Cullen Jenkins spent much of the night lining up at defensive end, but it is impossible to say anything about that given the absences of Trent Cole and Jason Babin and the paranoia that no doubt went into the play-calling.
Until next time. . .