Foles sharp, defense not as Eagles fall

Posted: August 17, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - For all the discussion about what transactions the Eagles' front office made, the progression of players during the offseason, or how Chip Kelly will be different in his second season, the Eagles' performance in a 42-35 loss to the New England Patriots on Friday night appeared similar to many of those from Kelly's first season.

The offense was proficient at a breakneck pace engineered by quarterback Nick Foles. The defense struggled in pass coverage and could not get off the field on third down, yet benefited from an opportune turnover. Alex Henery even missed a field goal.

This should not necessarily be alarming, considering the Eagles won the NFC East last season. The second preseason game is also too soon to determine just how the new additions will pay of, how players progressed, or what differences Kelly will bring in the second season.

But the second dress rehearsal of 2014 looked familiar, and could give an indication of what's ahead in the coming months.

After Cary Williams intercepted Tom Brady on the opening drive and brough the ball back for a 77-yard touchdown, the Patriots proceeded to score on their next three drives. They converted their first seven third downs in the first half. For an Eagles defense that allowed the Bears to go 10 of 17 on third downs last week and was No. 24 in the NFL in third-down defense last season, this was a troubling sign. In 10 pass attempts, Brady was never sacked and was knocked down only once.

The defensive starters played only one quarter, mostly because of their abundance of plays. By the end of the first quarter, the Patriots had 23 offensive plays and the Eagles totaled six. Ifeanyi Momah's fumble on the Eagles' first offensive play didn't help.

By the second quarter, though, the offense started to resemble what the Eagles expected. Foles led the Eagles 51 yards before Henery hooked a 47-yard field goal wide right.

After the Eagles forced a three-and-out and Arrelious Benn blocked a punt, Foles needed only three plays to bring the Eagles 31 yards for a touchdown. He started the drive with a 22-yard pass to Brent Celek and finished it with a 6-yard pass to Zach Ertz for a score. The two plays were notable because of the role both tight ends play in the passing game this season, and especially the presence they needed on Friday with wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper absent.

That drive was all Kelly needed to see from Foles, who followed last week's two-interception dud by reverting to his 2013 form. He finished 8 of 10 for 81 yards and one touchdown, which should quiet any alarmists.

Mark Sanchez relieved Foles and led a perfect scoring drive to end the half, capped by a 6-yard pass that Benn pulled in after it deflected off Momah. Sanchez threw a second-half interception, which was the only blemish on an evening in which he finished 11 of 12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

Rookie receiver Jordan Matthews also gave cause for more optimism. After two drops in the preseason opener, the second-round pick caught whatever was thrown in his direction. He finished with nine catches for 140 yards.

Constant flags slowed the flow of the game. There were 10 accepted penalties between the two teams in the first half, and 16 total flags. Part of the reason is the league's areas of emphasis this preseason. The officials were present at the joint practices throughout the week, so both teams had an idea of how the game would be called.

The game capped the Eagles' four days in New England. They return to practice in Philadelphia on Sunday and will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday for the third preseason game.


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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