Friday, August 13, 2010

Akers, Eagles edge Jags in preseason opener

By John McMullen

Philadelphia (The Phanatic Magazine) - The Kool-Aid was flowing freely in Lincoln Financial Field Friday night as the curtain opened on the Kevin Kolb-era in Philadelphia.

Kolb was the story but David Akers was the difference. The Pro Bowl kicker booted five field goals as the Eagles opened the preseason with a 28-27 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A fanbase wearied from the drama-filled Donovan McNabb years seemed rejuvenated watching an animated new signal called under center for the first time in a decade.

Kolb showed flashes on his first possession, throwing a strike to DeSean Jackson for 21 yards to open the game and following that four plays later by finding a wide open Jeremy Maclin in the middle of a soft Jaguars' zone for 29 more.

He also showed his inexperience nearly getting picked by Jags safety Gerald Alexander while trying to force the ball into Jason Avant in the slot, and throwing it a tad behind Brent Celek on what should have been a touchdown.

Kolb continued his up-and-down play during his second possession, moving the ball but also forcing it into coverage on two occasions.

"We know we are talented," Kolb said. "We know there is talent on the field all over the place. We just have to execute. We're doing our own thing. We don't need to force anything. We're a young bunch. We're excited about the way we started things today and we just need to keep moving forward next week."

Few questions were answered as the new Eagles quarterback finished 6-of-11 for 95 yards in parts of three series during the first quarter and led the team to a pair of Akers' field goals but it was a positive first step, one that made you confident Kolb has a better chance to be the next Ron Jaworksi and not the second coming of Bobby Hoying.

"It was good. Obviously, when you get down into the red zone you want to score points but both drives were successful," Kolb said. " We racked up some yards there and put six points on the board, then had a chance there with our third one. Overall, I thought it was good, but we've got to get better in the red zone."

"They got a couple of drives on us," Alexander said. "When you're on defense you don't want them to score touchdowns. You need to give your offense a chance With only three points, that's a win on defense, but them driving it doesn't feel good."

Michael Vick took over for Kolb in the beginning of the second quarter with the Eagles leading 6-0. The controversial Vick finished 11-of-17 for 119 yards with an interception, while also rushing for 50 yards and a TD on the night but the Birds coughed up the lead while he was in the game.

After Akers' third field goal, Jacksonville struck when backup quarterback Luke McCown found Troy Williamson behind Joselio Hanson for a 73-yard score.

"I was happy to see Luke [McCown] come in and hook up with Troy [Williamson]," Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio said. "Things didn't go well early for us."

Vick answered with a 10-yard scoring run with 2:26 left in the half but McCown continued to prey on the Eagles' reserves in the secondary, finding John Matthews for a 30-yard score. After a Vick interception, Josh Scobee put the Jags in front for the first time, 17-16, by booting a 36-yard field goal at the second quarter gun.

"Not the kind of start we want but I like the way we finished the half," Del Rio said.

After Scobee and Akers traded field goals in the third quarter, McCown gave the Jags some breathing room by going deep again. This time Geoff Pope was the victim as former Rutgers star Tiquan Underwood hauled in a 55-yard TD to make it a 27-19 game.

Rookie QB Mike Kafka took over for the Eagles late in the third quarter and helped get the team back in the game early in the fourth. An underthrown pass drew a big pass interference call, helping set up a 3-yard Martell Mallett TD run. Philadelphia attempted to deadlock the game with a two-point conversion but Kafka underthrew a swing pass in the flat.

After a Jags three-and-out, however, Kafka was able to move the Eagles enough to put Akers in position for what turned out to be the game-winner, a 36-yarder with just over nine minutes left.


BIRD DROPPINGS:

*S Quintin Demps suffered a left knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. Meanwhile, S Antoine Harris suffered a left foot injury in the third quarter and did not return.

*RB Mike Bell, RB J.J. Arrington, WR Hank Baskett, OL Nick Cole, OC Jamaal Jackson, OT Fenuki Tupou, OG Todd Herremans, DE Victor Abiamiri, DT Antonio Dixon and CB Macho Harris all sat out with various injuries.


STATE OF THE EAGLES:

QUARTERBACKS: Give the Eagles credit, they have sold just about everyone, including the beat guys who cover the team, on Kolb.

Everyone is buying the aforementioned Kool-Aid and the comparisons to Aaron Rodgers are starting to ramp up. Here's the thing about Rodgers, however. Sure he put up some nice numbers in his first season starting in Green Bay but he took over a team that went to overtime in the NFC Championship Game and turned
them into a 6-10 club. Everyone and I mean everyone that takes over an NFL club has some hiccups and Kolb will be no different. He's seen significant playing time in all of three NFL games with two starts. I'll be the first to admit I don't know if he can play but expecting him to perform at Donovan McNabb's level is folly.

That leads us to Vick. From Day 1, Vick seemed like a strange fit for an Andy Reid-led offense but the Birds have bent over backwards making excuses for the guy and his off the field behavior. It's likely he will get an opportunity sometime this year and we will finally see what Leavenworth has taken out of him. He ignited the crowd by finding rookie receiver Riley Cooper on a 46-yard gain but then turned it over a few plays later. The notorious lack of accuracy was also present at times.

Kafka is strictly a developmental guy but he brings nice size but his arm looked shaky tonight.


RUNNING BACKS: Shady McCoy is another player the Eagles have put their stamp of approval on a little too soon. The former Pitt star certainly has talent but the jury is still out on whether he's the type of guy that can give you consistent production with 20-to-25 touches on a week in, week out basis. McCoy is certainly a Reid-type back with solid receiving skills but his durability and pass-blocking skills will tell the tale on him.

Bell was a strange signing since he's the type of traditional back that Reid rarely has use for. That said, if you are leading in the fourth quarter and need a first down, I would turn to Bell over McCoy each and every time. A hamstring has slowed him in camp and kept him out tonight.

Eldra Buckley doesn't offer much upside as the third back but he seems to be holding off the more talented Arrington, a player that has never really recovered from a serious leg injury. Martell Mallett likely be headed
back to Canada in a few weeks.


FULLBACKS: Leonard Weaver is one of the better two-way fullbacks in the game and there is only room for one on the roster, meaning rookie Charles Scott is fighting for a spot on the practice squad.


WIDE RECEIVERS - Kolb won't fail because of his receivers. You can't question Jackson's explosiveness but the Cowboys exposed him a little bit at the end of the last season. It would be nice if Jackson could develop into a more complete receiver but he just doesn't have the size or strength to excel inside. The Eagles will certainly live with it, however, since D-Jax is the biggest home run hitter in the game.

"We've been working so hard at training camp," Jackson, who caught two balls for 47 yards and added another 17 yards rushing, said. "We are just having fun. It's good to be able to come out here and finally play a game and stop beating up against our defense."

Maclin actually has the chance to be the more complete receiver. There is nothing Maclin can't do. He can beat you deep, get off press coverage, work the slot and move the sticks. The only thing holding back Maclin from being one of the NFL's best is experience.

The Eagles rave about Avant's hands and he's become one of the better third down receivers in football from the slot. His biggest weakness is speed and sometimes he struggles to get separation but that can be masked since Jackson and Maclin often clear the trash out underneath with the attention they draw downfield.

Baskett is back this season but you have to wonder if the organization will hold his wife's reality show against him. Baskett is a solid special teams player and a good receiver with solid hands that lacks speed.

Cooper has impressive size but faltered when the lights were on for the first time at Flight Night. He made up for it tonight and likely has the inside track for the fourth receiver spot.

Veteran Kelley Washington is a better pure receiver than either Baskett or Cooper but signed late. Meanwhile, a fourth of fifth receiver has to help on special teams and that's not Washington's strength anymore.


TIGHT ENDS: Celek is one of the best pass receiving tight ends in football but don't buy into the hype with his blocking. On his best days, Celek is average at the point of attack.

Cornelius Ingram had the talent to be a top-tier tight end at one point but two ACL injuries have robbed the Florida product of his explosiveness in both phases of the game.

Rookie Clay Harbor is a small school project with receiving skills while veteran Nate Lawrie has a chance since he is the one blocker the Eagles have at the position.


OFFENSIVE LINE: This could be the major problem area. Jason Peters is one of the more talented left tackles in the game but forget about taking a play off here and there, Peters is apt to take a week off. That said he's by far the Eagles most talented lineman.

Todd Herremans remains on the PUP list and that's a concern since he's the team's most consistent lineman. Max Jean Gilles can handle things in the run game but has never really caught on as a pass blocker, a key component since Reid loves throwing the ball.

Center is another problem since Jamaal Jackson won't be ready at the bell due to his season-ending knee injury last year. His replacement, Nick Cole, is ok as a guard but was an abject failure in the pivot. Mike McGlynn might be a better option but he took his first real snap at center in the NFL tonight.

The Eagles hope Stacy Andrews is now totally back from a 2008 knee injury and ready to lock down the right guard spot but he has shown no signs to this points and seems to lack the lower body explosion to knock the opposition off the ball.

Before last season right tackle Winston Justice was a bit of a pariah among Eagles fans. Now, he might be the closest thing Reid has to a sure thing on his line.

Rookie free agent tackle Austin Howard is the one young guy that has stood out a bit in training camp.


DEFENSIVE LINE: The Eagles are hoping first round pick Brandon Graham teams with Pro Bowler Trent Cole to give the team a consistent outside pass rush. Sounds good on paper but relying on two undersized ends to hold the edge in the running game over 16 games might be a bit much.

They certainly think a lot of Graham, even letting him drop into coverage in a zone-blitz that resulted in Jacksonville's second TD of the night.

Inside it's the exact opposite. Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson excel stopping the run but don't offer much of an inside pass rush. The team envisioned replacing them with Juqua Parker and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the nickel but putting four undersized players on the field will really exposes the defense to draws and misdirections.

I thought Te'o-Nesheim was a reach when they took him in the third round in April and I'm even more convinced of it now. Expect veteran end Darryl Tapp, who was acquired from Seattle in the offseason, to get a lot of playing time while Graham gets his feet wet and Te'o Nesheim spends his time on the sidelines.

The twin Notre Dame disappointments, Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws, are also still around but it might be the end of the line for Abiamiri, a talented player that can't stay healthy, while Laws is also getting looks in the nickel but just doesn't have the speed or strength to stand out.


LINEBACKERS: The Eagles acted like Dick Butkus went down when Stewart Bradley tore an ACL at Flight Night last year. While, I don't hold Bradley in the same high-regard, his return makes this group much better. Bradley makes a lot of tackles but he gets pushed around too much and many of them, are off the
line of scrimmage. He's also just average in the nickel. He played just six snaps tonight and led the defense to a couple three-and-outs.

"I felt really good out there," Bradley said of his first game action since 2008. "We didn't really have that many snaps; we only had six plays. It was short lived, but two three-and-outs is what you want to do as a defense so we feel really good about this."

The real improvement here will be on the weak side where Ernie Sims takes over. A superlative talent Sims was misused in Detroit's read and react system. The former first round pick should excel now that he has a chance to let loose and attack the football.

The team wanted Moise Fokou to win the strong side job but he just makes too many mistakes and lacks a real strong football IQ so Akeem Jordan, an average player in both phases, will be the guy.

Depth is a big problem here with Omar Gaither and Fokou the only real options.


CORNERBACKS: Yeah, left cornerback Asante Samuel can't tackle but he might be the best pure ballhawk in the game so you have to deal with it.

Ellis Hobbs will man the right side as long as he is fully recovered from the neck injury that cut short his first season in Philly. Hobbs isn't a star but he understands the game and won't make a ton of mistakes.

"I feel better than ever man," Hobbs said. "I feel like I had the best camp of my career. I'm in the best shape of my life right now and I definitely have a lot to prove. You're going to see a blue-collar hard worker out there."

Joselio Hanson is a decent nickel back but can't hold up outside and was torched by the speedy Troy Williamson on a 73-yard TD tonight.

The Eagles have moved Harris from safety back to his more natural cornerback position. Whether he has the speed to play at this level is another question. Meanwhile, rookie Trevard Lindley looks like a project to me,


SAFETIES: Rookie safeties scare me and rarely tackle well. The best hope for freshman free safety Nate Allen is to upgrade the team in coverage while he feels his way in run support.

Quintin Mikell has turned into the team's second best defensive player behind Cole and excels in run support. He's not the best in man-to-man coverage but that's the nature of the NFL strong safeties these days.

Rookie Kurt Coleman has an upside and it won't surprise me if he turns out to be a better player than either Te'o-Neshiem or Lindley.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Akers was his usual solid self tonight and there is no reason to think that won't carry into the regular season. Sav Rocca has never impressed me but Ken Parrish has virtually no chance to win the job.
Post a Comment