Running Diary: Eagles-Patriots Practice Observations

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles

FOXBORO, MASS. – The Eagles and Patriots took part in the first of three combined practice sessions today. Here’s what we saw.

2:14 – Since we’re in New England, the teams are playing by the Patriots’ rules. That means a later practice time and no music. It seemed like a lively crowd right away. And this from Patriots reporter Mike Reiss:

Jeffrey Lurie is in the house. The two teams start practice on separate fields. The Eagles even brought the red doorway things for running backs:

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

2:30 – One-on-one time. The two fields are split into four quadrants. At the far end (we can’t really see) are linebackers against tight ends and running backs. On the near end to the left, it’s Eagles receivers against Patriots cornerbacks. And on the field to the right, we have Patriots receivers against Eagles cornerbacks.

The one thing that stands out here: Eagles defensive backs are way more competitive than they were a year ago when Tom Brady simply picked them apart. Don’t get me wrong. Brady is still completing his share of balls, but the Eagles made things a lot more difficult on him.

Curtis Marsh breaks up a Brady pass. Jaylen Watkins forces an incompletion on a deep ball. Cary Williams gets his hand on a pass. And Brandon Boykin sticks with Matthew Slater deep.

The bad reps? Bradley Fletcher gets beaten on a double move; same with Nate Allen. Fletcher draws a flag also. And Danny Amendola makes Malcolm Jenkins look silly. A very competitive atmosphere. The crowd ooooh’d and aaaah’d at pretty much every rep.

On the other field, Josh Huff runs a great corner route, but drops the ball. Jordan Matthews beats the safety on a corner too. Jeremy Maclin gets deep and comes down with the ball against Kyle Arrington. Ifeanyi Momah makes a contested catch in the corner of the end zone against Brandon Browner.

2:51 – During 7-on-7s, Bill Belichick stands on the right field with the Patriots’ offense going up against the Eagles’ D. Chip Kelly monitors the other field with the Eagles’ offense.

I’m impressed with how Watkins has bounced back from Friday’s game. Tim wrote about it in detail this morning. During this period, he stays with Kenbrell Thompkins deep down the sideline and forces an incompletion.

For the Eagles’ offense in the red zone, Matthews gets free on a crossing route. Nick Foles finds Brent Celek wide open for a touchdown. And Mark Sanchez connects with Arrelious Benn on a slant.

3:03 – It’s special teams time, which means we’ll share some tales from the road. If any of our Boston-area readers saw a Chevy Cruze with its blinkers on going 35 MPH in the Callahan Tunnel (at least I think that’s the tunnel), that was us. Since when do cars that are automatic have an M1 manual transmission gear? I accidentally put it in that last night and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I pulled over, and luckily McManus was quick with the owner’s manual, figuring out what was wrong. I shifted the gear into automatic, and we were on our way.

A shaky start to what otherwise has been a fine trip so far. By the way, Chevy, if you’d like to advertise with Birds 24/7, I’ll happily delete the above paragraph and admit publicly that I’m a moron.

3:07 – Back to practice. It’s an 11-on-11 run game period. LeSean McCoy finds a big hole and explodes downfield, although there is no tackling to the ground. Underrated aspect of McCoy’s game: his competitiveness. He really shines in these environments.

We’re seated in a media tent about 15 yards away from the field. There are fans seated in front of us, and there’s no net behind the field goal post. Fans try to catch the kicked field goals, while simultaneously looking to avoid broken noses. One kick comes our way, and Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports nearly gets nailed.

3:20 – During the next 11-on-11 period, Foles looks for Momah deep, but he gets no separation, and the ball is overthrown. One tough thing for quarterbacks is adjusting their targets based on the receivers. For example, with someone like DeSean Jackson, you throw the deep ball deep and allow him to go get it. With Momah, an underthrown ball is preferred because he can use his frame to go up and get it. On this play, he didn’t have much of a shot.

McCoy takes a toss and busts it 50 yards to the end zone. He has spoken earlier this offseason about being the top RB in the league. Clearly, in front of a quality opponent, he’s playing like he has something to prove.

Darrelle Revis gets called for holding in coverage against Maclin. A reminder that in 2012, Maclin drew more pass interference penalties than any other receiver in the NFL.

On defense, Williams gets beaten by Thompkins on a deep ball down the left sideline. Williams tosses Thompkins to the ground after the catch and hears it from the New England crowd.

The Eagles’ secondary players made it clear after practice that they were embarrassed by last year’s performance, and they certainly played with an edge today. After Julian Edelman caught a ball against Fletcher, Boykin flung him to the ground and was flagged for a horse collar.

On another rep, Vinny Curry continues to make his presence felt, bursting through the backfield for a tackle for loss.

When the Eagles get back on offense, Maclin beats Revis deep, although beats is being generous. Foles held onto the ball, and Revis basically stopped playing as Maclin ran past him.

Meanwhile, it looks like a group of campers or students is in attendance. They’re going wild at the field goals that are flying into the crowd. Says a counselor/teacher: “Pay attention to whatcha doin’! I don’t have time fuh stitches!’

This sentiment is made a hundred times funnier by her Boston accent, quite possibly my favorite accent in the country. McManus and I are spending a good portion of our time up here in silence, just listening to the locals talk.

When the second team gets up, it appears Sanchez and Huff have a miscommunication on an option route. Matthews then gets open on an out vs. Jemea Thomas and makes the grab.

Back to the DBs. No fights today, but Jenkins shoves Amendola after a grab. Boykin then chases Amendola down from behind and helps force an incompletion.

Cedric Thornton bats a pass down at the line of scrimmage. I’ll have to ask him if he’s been working on that. Thornton had a batted pass during Friday’s game too.

Nice job in coverage by Marcus Smith. He sticks with Stevan Ridley down the sideline and forces an incompletion.

Brady, meanwhile, finds the fullback for a TD.

Lots of wheel routes from the Eagles. Darren Sproles burns Dont’a Hightower. Beautiful throw from Foles.

McCoy beats an LB, but can’t hang on. He gets another shot later against Hightower and makes the grab. A fan in the stands has on a No. 25 Eagles jersey, and McCoy points to him as the pro-Patriots crowd erupts with boos.

Great effort from Maclin down the sideline, going up for a contested catch and nearly coming down with it. I’ll say this about Maclin: More than at any other time this summer, I thought he just looked the part today.

That’s it from Foxboro. Rain is in the forecast Wednesday, but we’ll have you covered all week long regardless of the elements.