It's usually the third preseason game, but only one exhibition tilt really means much in the grand scheme of dissecting what your favorite NFL football teams have going into the season. Thanks to some sketchy scheduling by your friendly neighborhood NFL office, the Philadelphia Eagles are slated to face the Cleveland Browns in that ever-important third preseason game this Friday night. They happen to also face them two weeks later on the opening Sunday of the NFL season.
No NFL team is going to show any of their hand in a preseason game when they face the team in a battle that counts just a couple of weeks later. Come Friday night, both these teams might be pulling people out of the stands to play and treating fans that paid full price to a steady diet of dives and traps with a cast of characters you've never heard of and will never hear from again.
Because of scheduling, the Eagles chose to play their starters for the majority of three quarters Monday night against the New England Patriots. The Pats, who also play on three days rest Friday night, chose to go the conventional route, sitting almost all of their starters, including Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and a host of others. They'll showcase those fellas Friday. So, it should have been a beatdown. Right? The Eagles first team pitted against the Patriots' second and third teams? Think again. Here's three highs and lows from the Eagles, 27-17, win in New England.
HIGH 1: Safely in the Foles
It may have been a bit of a surprise when Andy Reid drafted University of Arizona quarterback Nick Foles in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. But Reid loves a young quarterback, and he's one of the best alive at molding young QB talent. Foles wasn't supposed to play in this game until about midway through the third quarter (more on that later) but was pressed into service after just two offensive series. He played predominantly with the Eagles' starters against predominantly the Patriots' second team.
Foles' numbers were good (18-28, 217, 2 TD, 1 INT), but it was Foles' presence in the huddle and in the pocket with the first team that impressed. The rap on Foles, at 6'6", is his lack of mobility, but he looked just mobile enough to do anything Reid asked him to on this night. Foles is still a project, and if you have delusions of grandeur about him coming in and being any sort of savior should Michael Vick sustain some sort of long term injury, please remove that thought from your head. It's nice to know though, that Reid has a project with the arm and mentality to succeed a couple of years down the line.
LOW 1: Way Too Many Hankies
The Eagles had 16 penalties for 131 yards against New England Monday night. Three of them were personal fouls, three of them were offensive holding and at least three were offsides. I assure you that despite being ahead on the scoreboard at the end of the night, Reid was not a happy coach in the locker room after the game. That amount of penalties in any game, with any referees (the replacement refs are still blindly massacring these games), is completely unacceptable.
HIGH 2: Who Are These Guys Making Tackles on the Second Level?
Rookie Mychal Kendricks and free agent prize DeMeco Ryans combined for 11 tackles, six of which were solo. They were a big part of the reason that Patriot running backs carried 28 times for just 61 yards, just a smidgeon over two yards per carry. In 2011, the Eagles were gashed, especially early in the season, by running backs. Kendricks is relentless in his pursuit of the ball. Ryans looks to be the anchor that the Eagles' defense has missed for at least the past four seasons. We can only hope that it carries through to the regular season.
LOW 2: Do We Really Believe Michael Vick Can Stay Healthy
The x-rays were negative. A collective sigh of relief was audible in the Delaware Valley moments after ESPN's Lisa Salters passed along that information about the ribs of the franchise, Michael Vick. The Eagles' daredevil quarterback had already dove forward after tucking and running instead of sliding during an earlier play before typically spinning out of trouble ten yards deep in the backfield, reversing his field and blindly firing deep, leaving himself open to be smoked in the ribs by defensive end, Jermaine Cunningham.
I realize it's tough to change a guy, and that what we love about Vick -- his electricity and elusiveness -- is the very thing that gets him into trouble. His play tonight, in a preseason game, was irresponsible. He's no good to the Eagles on the sideline. You cannot dive head first when running the football. You can not turn your back on collapsing defenses. Tuck it away and take that sack. You live to fight another day. Instead, Vick got no work in, his timid ribs are once again throbbing and no Philadelphian has a lick of confidence he's going to survive a game, let alone a season.
HIGH 3: Depth Where We Didn't Expect It
Eagles running backs toted the rock 24 times for 115 yards, or better than 4.7 yards per carry. Shady McCoy looked every bit as deceptive as he did in his breakout season in 2011. The Eagles absolutely need to keep Shady healthy. I have no problem if we don't see him in uniform until September 9.
Where the Eagles backs have surprised is in their youth. Second-year man Dion Lewis has impressed all camp and will more than likely back up McCoy. Rookies Chris Polk and Bryce Brown both look like potential beasts. Polk looks like a short yardage option who had been nasty in picking up blitzes and lead blocking during camp. He may be able to save McCoy some wear and tear by sneaking into games on plays where the back is called upon to stay home and block. Brown looks like he has a second level of speed that goes nicely with his power game. Both rookies are 220 pounds-plus, and look worthy of roster spots. It may come down to how their special teams film breaks down.
LOW 3: Demetrius Bell
No clever headline will aptly describe how awful left tackle Demetrius Bell looked. Bell, brought in to replace Pro Bowler Jason Peters, played with the second team behind the mammoth King Dunlap. Bell had multiple penalties, and was continuously beaten off the edge. He looked slow and at times confused. Suddenly, Dunlap is massively important to the Eagles chances this season. He'll protect Vick's front side. Let's hope he can use his massive, close to 6'10" frame, to create long routes to the quarterback for opposing defensive ends. As for Bell, he may have just went from battling for a starting spot to battling for a job.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.