Eagles' first team impresses in 31-21 preseason win over Steelers

Eagles tight end Brent Celek's helmet is knocked off by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons after a first-quarter catch in the teams' third preseason game Thursday, at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles survived injury scares to two stars and won, 31-21. Coverage in Sports, Section C.
Eagles tight end Brent Celek's helmet is knocked off by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons after a first-quarter catch in the teams' third preseason game Thursday, at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles survived injury scares to two stars and won, 31-21. Coverage in Sports, Section C. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 23, 2014

By the time the second half of the Eagles' 31-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers started on Thursday night, Nick Foles was wearing a baseball cap and studying the game on a tablet. His evening was complete. It was the same for the rest of the starters.

Coach Chip Kelly took his top players out after their two best quarters this month.

Preseason games can be unconvincing and deceiving, but they provide glimpses on the way to the regular season. And the outlook of Eagles fans may have understandably improved from alarmed (after the preseason opener) to encouraged (following the second preseason game) to outright excited (after Thursday's first half).

That's because the Eagles went into halftime at Lincoln Financial Field with a 17-0 lead, and the starters appeared ready for the Sept. 7 opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The first-team offense produced points on just one of seven drives in the first two games. It scored on three of six drives on Thursday.

Foles played his best game yet, in his first outing with both of his top two receivers, finishing 19 of 29 for 179 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. If Foles' preseason is complete, his final numbers were 33 of 48 for 304 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions in nearly four quarters of work.

It was not perfect for Foles, but he oversaw the offense with the command he showed last season and distributed the ball effectively. Eight players caught passes in the first half, with Jeremy Maclin leading the starters with six catches for 43 yards.

There was a brief scare when Maclin fell to the turf on one of his routes and grabbed his right knee, but he returned to the game and immediately caught a pass.

The only starter to leave the game with an injury was running back LeSean McCoy, who scored the first touchdown when he took a screen pass 22 yards to the end zone on third-and-10 in the first quarter to complete an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive. X-rays on McCoy's right thumb were negative, and he did not return.

The offense followed with a 13-play, 77-yard scoring drive on its next possession. Foles was 6 of 6 before Darren Sproles dove 1 yard for the score.

Sproles was the target on Foles' interception on the next drive, although the running back tripped to prompt the turnover.

The Eagles closed the half with a nine-play, 50-yard drive that finished with Alex Henery's 36-yard field goal. Henery, who is being watched closely by the coaches, missed his second field-goal attempt of the preseason when his 31-yard attempt in the fourth quarter sailed wide right.

The Eagles' first-team defense struggled in the first two preseason games - especially on third downs. It improved on Thursday and kept the Steelers scoreless. Pittsburgh went 3 of 7 on third downs with the Eagles starters on the field. The pass rush could use improvement, but the opportunistic plays that characterized the defense last season showed up Thursday, when Nolan Carroll intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger was 8 of 17 for 60 yards in the first half. Those numbers are much better than what the Bears' Jay Cutler and the Patriots' Tom Brady did vs. the Eagles in the first two preseason games, when they combined to go 15 of 23 for 231 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez continued his rejuvenation, going 7 of 9 for 85 yards when the reserves entered the game in the second half. Running back Matthew Tucker also impressed, rushing for two touchdowns to increase his total to four scores in two preseason games.

Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, a pair of high draft picks from the Andy Reid era who are not ideal fits in the Eagles' defensive scheme, both recorded sacks.

The Eagles have a week before their final preseason game on Aug. 28 against the New York Jets. The roster must be trimmed from 90 players to 75 by Tuesday. Kelly did not commit to sitting his starters, like he did in the fourth preseason game last season.

After Thursday's game, there likely isn't much more that Kelly needs to see from them. They improved over the last two weeks and appear ready for the regular season.


Eagles' first team impresses in 31-21 preseason win over Steelers

By the time the second half of the Eagles' 31-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers started on Thursday night, Nick Foles was wearing a baseball cap and studying the game on a tablet. His evening was complete. It was the same for the rest of the starters.

Coach Chip Kelly took his top players out after their two best quarters this month.

Preseason games can be unconvincing and deceiving, but they provide glimpses of what's to come in the regular season. And the outlook of Eagles fans may have understandably improved from alarmed (after the preseason opener) to encouraged (following the second preseason game) to outright excited (after Thursday's first half).

That's because the Eagles went into halftime at Lincoln Financial Field with a 17-0 lead, and the starters appeared ready for the Sept. 7 opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"They're not shooting themselves in the foot," Kelly said. "They're executing in a way that they're capable of executing. . . . I've seen improvement."

The first-team offense produced points on just one of seven drives in the first two games. It scored on three of six drives on Thursday.

Foles played his best game of the preseason, in his first outing with both of his top two receivers, finishing 19 of 29 for 179 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. If Foles' preseason is complete, his final numbers were 33 of 48 for 304 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions, in nearly four quarters of work.

It was not perfect for Foles, but he oversaw the offense with the command he showed last season. Eight players caught passes in the first half, with Jeremy Maclin leading the starters with six catches for 43 yards.

"I felt like we improved every week as a unit, and as a team," Foles said. "We went out there and got in a rhythm faster and started moving the ball."

There was a brief scare when Maclin fell to the turf on one of his routes and grabbed his right knee, but he returned to the game and immediately caught a pass.

The only starter to leave the game with an injury was running back LeSean McCoy, who scored the first touchdown when he took a screen pass 22 yards to the end zone on third-and-10 in the first quarter to complete an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive. X-rays on McCoy's right thumb were negative, and he did not return.

"A helmet hit it," McCoy said. "It definitely hurts. But there have been times I've been banged up and it turns out fine."

The offense followed with a 13-play, 77-yard scoring drive on its next possession. Foles was 6 of 6 before Darren Sproles dove 1 yard for the score.

Sproles was the target on Foles' interception on the next drive, although the running back tripped to prompt the turnover.

The Eagles closed the half with a nine-play, 50-yard drive that finished with Alex Henery's 36-yard field goal. Henery, who is being watched closely by the coaches, missed his second field-goal attempt of the preseason when his 31-yard attempt in the fourth quarter sailed wide right.

"I wish I could put my finger on it," Kelly said. "Obviously, you've got to make a field goal like that."

The Eagles' first-team defense struggled in the first two preseason games - especially on third downs. It improved on Thursday and kept the Steelers scoreless. Pittsburgh went 3 of 7 on third downs with the Eagles starters on the field. The pass rush could use improvement, but the opportunistic plays that characterized the defense last season showed up Thursday, when Nolan Carroll intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger was 8 of 17 for 60 yards in the first half. Those numbers are much better than what the Bears' Jay Cutler and the Patriots' Tom Brady did vs. the Eagles in the first two preseason games, when they combined to go 15 of 23 for 231 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

The Eagles have nearly a week before their final preseason game Thursday against the New York Jets. After Thursday's game, there likely isn't much more that Kelly needs to see from the starters. They improved over the last two weeks and appear ready for the regular season.

"We'll be ready when it starts," Foles said. "We have a lot of improvement until then."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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