If, as many insist, Saturday night’s Eagles-Jaguars game was a dress rehearsal for the 2013 season, then this year’s show looks a lot like last year’s.
Let’s recap what we learned from the 31-24 win:
Michael Vick is still capable of terrible decisions.
The defense remains extremely bad.
Bryce Brown can’t stop fumbling.
The Eagles can still struggle against a poor team with a backup quarterback.
Damaris Johnson is an amazing return man.
After all the talk about how different things would be under Chip Kelly, from the high-speed offense to the loud music to the smoothies, the Eagles head into their September 9th opener in Washington looking very much like the team that closed out Andy Reid’s tenure with a desultory 4–12 record. Guess that proves it doesn’t matter how much you change the process if the players on the team are inadequate.
From moment Kelly arrived in town from the college world, Eagles fans have greedily gobbled up media reports and organizational propaganda that this was a new dawn, mostly because they were sick of all things Reid. After three preseason games, it’s obvious that no application of Clearasil can cover up this team’s many blemishes.
The offense may have put up 31 points and 452 yards, but it struggled to sustain drives and was aided immensely by a key turnover and Johnson’s Billy “White Shoes” Johnson imitation. The defense was alternately overmatched and ineffective, failing to assert itself until long after the regulars had retired for the evening. But, hey, what an exciting fourth quarter that was, huh?
Let’s start with Vick, whose 184 yards passing and 53 yards on the ground would lead one to believe he had an outstanding game. But two plays demonstrated why, despite his promises to the contrary, Vick remains very much the same QB who presided over last year’s debacle.
The first was the interception he threw in the second quarter. Rather than take the sack with a Jaguar about to bring him to the ground, Vick threw off his back foot, right to Jacksonville defensive back Dwayne Gratz. It was classic Vick; he refused to understand the circumstances around him and tried to force something.
His second ill-advised move came near the end of the first half. While being sacked by Andre Branch, Vick fired the ball straight up in the air as he was about to land on his back. Fortunately for the Eagles, the referees ruled that either Vick was down or in the grasp and no harm was done. But just the fact that he considered making a play like that shows that protecting the football is not a priority for him. Vick said after the game that “it’s not always going to be perfect,” but he doesn’t realize that interceptions and poor decisions carry more weight than completions and big runs.
It’s obvious the defense is a mess, as evidenced by the 17 points and 259 yards it surrendered in one half plus one third-quarter drive. The secondary is flat-out terrible. The front seven didn’t look too good, either. Jordan Todman’s 63-yard TD run was an indictment of the entire gang, which overpursued, failed to keep gap discipline and tackled poorly. Spending an off-season accumulating marginal assets to help a unit in great need of an overhaul is not going to bring about the desired results.
Meanwhile, we have been told that Brown has been “working hard” to avoid fumbling after last year’s slippery-fingered performance. It doesn’t appear as if that effort has been directed in a manner that will aid him on the field. Brown still carries the ball away from his body when in the open field, and his fumble near the goal line was a reminder that he has a long way to go before he can be a reliable back in important situations.
As for the Jaguar QB situation, remember that the Birds trailed, 24-16, after three quarters, and Jacksonville starter Blaine Gabbert, himself no world conqueror, missed the game with a fractured thumb. That meant the Eagles were unable to control an attack piloted by Chad Henne, who crapped out in Miami, and rookie Adam Scott. They combined to complete 58.6 percent of their throws — not great, but then again, they are Chad Henne and Adam Scott.
Then there was Johnson, the one person who was infallible all night. His returns gave the Eagles great field position and should help considerably throughout the season. He has great speed, tremendous instincts and the ability to make those who kick or punt to him pay.
What’s that? You say he fumbled, too?
So much for a tweak to the script. It looks like the Eagles’ 2013 show might just be reprise of the 2012 production — even if the director, music and refreshments are different.
• Boy, what an exciting eight days of baseball that was for the Phillies. They went 6-2, had three walk-off wins, a successful return by Roy Halladay and a wild, 18-inning affair. Looks like this Ryne Sandberg fellow can really inspire the troops. Then again, it’s not so tough to win games when the pressure is off. Let’s hope the team’s brass doesn’t get too excited about a strong close to the season by a team that exhibited no heart when things got tight back in July. Bet it will, though.
• Real bold move by ESPN, which pulled out of a partnership with the award-winning PBS Frontline program to produce a hard-hitting piece about the NFL and concussions. Seems like the four-letter network decided it was supposed to be a propaganda outlet for the league, not an objective news entity. After 15 months of work with PBS, ESPN abruptly bolted. Anybody who thinks he is getting accurate NFL information from the network instead of hundreds of hours of promotional pap is kidding himself.
• Allen Iverson made it official last week by retiring from the NBA. It was a sad conclusion to a career that was alternately maddening and scintillating but never boring. Iverson was an electric talent who could have been a championship performer had he decided to play more of a team game. It was impossible to question his toughness or passion for basketball, but had he taken better care of himself and been more committed to the idea of winning first and stardom second, Iverson could have been one of the greatest of all time. He’ll have to settle for having been a brilliant flash across the NBA horizon that thrilled but didn’t provide ultimate satisfaction.