Chip Kelly Era Begins: Recap of Preseason Game 1 vs. Patriots


Aug 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly along the sidelines during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If there was ever a time when a team needed the release of a preseason game to break the training camp atmosphere, it was this year’s Eagles team. Between the injuries, the controversy, and just the fact that the team wasn’t tackling each other in practice, it would be difficult to imagine a group of football players not craving the game-day atmosphere, even if it was preseason. Lincoln Financial Field had a solid, humid August night energy to it with everyone anxious to see the coaching debut of Chip Kelly. While it was certain that only a sliver of the Kelly playbook and philosophy would be on display in the exhibition game, there was an element of mystique shedding away from the Eagles new head coach. Personally, after hearing all week about how badly Tom Brady had been shredding the defense apart, I was not entirely all smiles and optimism about this one. Acknowledging that Chip Kelly is an offensively geared coach, it is tough to be legitimately excited about a team’s future if their defense is a sieve.

Aug 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) under center during the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Still, skepticism aside, this was probably, with the exception of the first preseason game with Terrell Owens, the most I’ve looked forward to a preseason football game. I was actually excited that the Eagles did not win the toss. There were two sure things about this game. The first one was the Tom Brady is really good at what he does. The second was that the Eagles defense, well it is not the Tom Brady equivalent. So my sentiments were at least half correct on the Patriots first drive, the Eagles defense was really bad. However, it was Stevan Ridley and the Patriots run game that drove them down for their first touchdown, the highlight being a gashing 65-yard run to open the game. We’ll get back to the defense later but, needless to say, they need some work.

Aug 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the New England Patriots at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With the Patriots scoring, the wait for the main event was over. We were finally going to see what the Eagles offense looked like. Michael Vick, as announced, was going to take the first round of snaps and supposedly hand the reins over to Nick Foles on the next drive. Let’s just say, if that were the case for Vick as far as his knowledge went, he made a great impression. He threw two big-time passes on the drive: one, a third down rope to Jason Avant to pick up the first; and the other, a beauty of a 47-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson, who took Patriots CB Aqib Talib on the score. The early reports on DeSean at training camp have been overwhelmingly positive and it was promising to see him make a contested touchdown catch against a very talented defensive back. We didn’t necessarily see anything out of the ordinary as far as offensive playcalling goes in the NFL, but the Eagles’ first offensive drive was a success and, at least for a moment, it took the attention away from the defense.

That was until the Patriots got the ball back, and decided to use the other part of their playbook, where they let Tom Brady throw the ball. Outside of his first dropback, where the Eagles pass rush forced an incompletion, Brady was surgical in his scoring drive. Rarely were the Philadelphia defensive backs / linebackers in terrible position, but Brady was firing the ball past outstretched hands and moving his team down the field like it was December. His fluttering touchdown pass to Shane Vereen, who was matched up with Mychal Kendricks was a thing of beauty and put the Patriots up 14-7.

Aug 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) makes a pass past the reach of New England Patriots defensive tackle Marcus Forston (98) during the first half of a preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The next focal point of the game would be how Nick Foles would perform in his appearance. Contrary to his pregame declaration that he would alternate quarterbacks during the first two drives, he allowed Vick to return with the first team offense for another drive, during which he hit Riley Cooper for a first down. Yet Foles was given his shot late in the first quarter. Things did not start well for Foles, as a breakdown by the offensive line led to a Patriots sack and a Foles fumble, recovered by the Patriots. After a missed Stephen Gostkowski missed field goal, Foles would be given another chance. Foles, perhaps more so than Vick, exposed the ‘uptempo’ aspect of Kelly’s new offense and lead a rhythmic, impressive drive to counter Vick’s impression. Foles made a couple of difficult throws with a free rusher, kept the team organized and composed at the line, and even mixed in a 10-yard first down run with which he was greeted with a chorus of cheers. Ultimately, Bryce Brown, who had to be feeling the heat with the praise surrounding third-string running back Chris Polk, capped the drive with a barreling 8-yard touchdown run to knot things at 14.

Neither Vick nor Foles would return to the game, as Matt Barkley took over in the 2nd quarter. As far as results go, both quarterbacks were impressive. Neither distinguished themselves on the stat sheet and, save for Foles fumble (which was a blindside hit) there were few noticeable errors. Perhaps its the captivating nature of his throws, but there is something tantalizing about seeing Michael Vick in the passing game when he has protection. Save for Allen Barbre, who is filling in for the injured (hopefully briefly) Jason Peters, the offensive line was spectacular and there were very few instances where there was a noticeably threatening pass rush on Vick. Not that it matters, but if I had to do a stock report on the quarterbacks, between Vick and Foles, I’d give the early nod to Vick.

I wanted to pay attention to Lane Johnson in this game in particular. Realistically speaking, I had not watched Lane Johnson play in a competitive scenario, with any vested interest, ever. All I knew about him was his eye-opening workouts and individual drill performance at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine sent him skyrocketing up the draft boards and that he may have been a risky pick. Considering the situation, I came out very happy with Lane’s performance. More so than other positions, I think one can gain a solid amount of evaluation on offensive lineman in the preseason. They are engaged every play and there’s no way to fake it when it comes to the one-on-one battle between a blocker and a rusher. Johnson appeared light on his feet, composed, and confident when it came to matching up with the Patriots defenders. He had to deal with Rob Ninkovich a fair amount on the scoring drive led by Vick, and Johnson came out on top in that duo, substantially in my opinion. There was another play in particular, which only turned out to be a short completion to Brent Celek, that I was very impressed with Johnson. Pass-rushing ace Chandler Jones had pushed Johnson, and a chipping Celek back into the pocket nearing the territory where sacks usually occur. Rather than give ground, Johnson rooted himself and exploded through Jones, preventing him from reaching the quarterback. First game in the books, I’d say the team’s first round pick looked pretty good.

Another player who impressed in this game was Vinny Curry. The noted Philadelphia Eagles fan and 2012 2nd round draft pick became a fan favorite and feel-good-story that never happened appeared to be a bad fit in the direction that the Eagles are taking on the defensive side of the ball. I don’t know if it will become a common occurrence, but Curry played like it was the Super Bowl and the results showed. Curry was active on the pass rush, tallying a 1/2 sack and a couple of QB hits. More impressively, he gravitated toward the ball. For a guy that had a tough time sniffing the field in 2012, it was a great scene to see the young man making plays and having fun.

It will probably be a bit easier to make legitimate evaluations on the se players as the preseason continues. The Eagles have to be happy with what they saw from guys like Bennie Logan and Damion Square on the defensive line. There was a noticeable push from the front men throughout the first half, even if the Patriots were turning in positive plays. Russell Shepard, although not showing up big on the scoresheet, has an aspect of his game that is tough to quantify or measure. He just seems to be in position to make plays in the passing game all the time. Had it not been for errant throws from his quarterbacks, I would not have been surprised to have seen him turn in a few electric plays before nights end. I mentioned Bryce Brown on his touchdown run. He also made a couple catches in the passing game that turned out to be big plays. One of the knocks on Brown in this year’s training camp has been his tendency to drop balls. When he was targeted in the passing game, Brown was natural and fluid in his receiving and did not sacrifice much as far as explosiveness transitioning from catch to run. With all respect to Chris Polk, who I feel is a solid player, Bryce Brown made a serious statement as far as the competition for the second string running back. Damaris Johnson was not involved in the passing game to my knowledge, but had a very impressive 62-yard punt return in the 2nd quarter. Johnson is another player drawing solid reviews at camp, and his abilities in the return game were on display well before this season.

While the game was entertaining and by no means was there any point where I told myself, this isn’t going to work, there were still some glaring negatives in this game. The defense was pathetic for pretty much the whole evening. No matter what defense they were facing, there were either lapses in judgement, lack of effort in the tackling game (which doesn’t have to be practiced at all), and way too many untouched runners. Everything we heard about Tom Brady shredding the defensive backs was on display and it’s clear to see that the team has light years to go on that side of the ball.

Brent Celek had a drop and a fumble in the passing game and, although it isn’t his job, had a muffed snap as the team’s temporary long-snapper. On that note, Jon Dorenbos is as valuable to this team as anyone, save Jason Peters, on the roster. If the long-snapper is out for an extended amount of time, Eagles fans will have to know, for the first time in almost a decade, what it feels like to have the possibility of a bad snap on a punt or field goal. While Riley Cooper and Jason Avant had nice catches, none of the wide receivers jumped at the opportunity to make a statement with Jeremy Maclin on the shelf. It will be very interesting to see if the Eagles make more of a point to utilize the tight ends, such as Zach Ertz, who was split out wide a fair amount in this game, to compensate for the thin group of wideouts.

Aug 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley (2) passes the ball during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, and perhaps most disappointing, Matt Barkley did very little to show he belongs in the team’s quarterback competition. I did not expect the 4th round pick from USC to step on the field and carve up the opponent in his first action. However, he showed very little capability of driving the ball and did not show, at least consistently, any sort of notable rhythm or control in his time. He did demonstrate some of his athleticism, and you can see the confidence he displays in the huddle and at the line. Yet, especially at the professional level, confidence and leadership must be supported by talent and ability. There was a late silver-lining for Barkley, as he went 5/5 on an impressive touchdown spanning the 3rd and 4th quarter. He found Clay Harbor up the middle a few times, and put a well placed ball in Greg Salas’ chest for the touchdown, which Salas navigated his way in for from 12 yards out.

Fortunately for Matt, he will not be expected to start this season and he can work on, in a low pressure situation, the areas of the game that he has to. Still, a part of me expected Barkley to channel Russell Wilson and take the starting job by horns. There are certain areas of the game that Matt Barkley is light years ahead of most rookie quarterbacks. Unfortunately, they are moot as far as contending for a starting job unless he develops some of the other areas of his game.

All in all, I enjoyed watching the team’s first preseason game a great deal. The Patriots won the game, and in doing so showed how much further ahead of the Eagles they are. Let’s not forget they were in the AFC Championship game last year. As far as projecting forward, the limited appearance of Chip Kelly’s first unit, regardless of quarterback, only tantalized me more as a fan. Yes, it was preseason, but there were a few moments where you could actually see the confusion and frustration of the Patriots defense. Hopefully, the days where you can hear opponents call out the ‘shovel pass’ through the game broadcast are done. When it was clicking, Kelly’s offense was a treat to watch and, at least on first glance, it looks like things might work out in that area. Because it is the Patriots, there must be some slack, but to see the defense perform the way it did was difficult. There were very few things that reminded us of the waning days of Andy Reid, but to see the defense surrendering big plays and chunks of yardage was one of them. Adjustments will most certainly have to be made. It’s always nice to come out with a win. I’ll take a long-term consolation prize of seeing the first team offense actually score against an NFL defense, and we’ll wait until the next preseason game to worry about the result. Welcome back football. Patriots win 31-22