Aug 11, 2008, 1:27 AM EDT
Ever since he allowed 12 sacks against the Giants last season, I’ve tried vehemently to defend Winston Justice. It was his first career start, against one of the top pass rushes in the league, and Andy Reid never made any adjustments to help. Most of all, it was just one game simply proving he still needed work. Besides, he didn’t give up all 12, only about half.
Friday night against the Steelers was only one game too, but for the third-year tackle, it was another disappointment. Playing against the second string and having been moved to the right side, I expected Justice to take over the game, or at the very least hold his own. Instead he appeared confused, whiffing on several blocks and being generally overwhelmed the entire time. Give the Steelers credit, they are a quality opponent running the difficult 3-4 package, but Justice was still the biggest letdown of the night.
On the flip side, we’ve all had our jokes at the expense of Jerome McDougle. Clearly the biggest bust of the Reid-era so far, it looked impossible for him to make the team again in the final year of his contract. Luck has been working overtime against the defensive end for years, but perhaps this is finally his chance to break out.
McDougle feasted on Pittsburgh’s reserves, hurrying rookie QB Dennis Dixon all night long and making plays in the running game as well. His performance should earn him some more meaningful playing time as the preseason progresses. Darren Howard was once again invisible for most of the game, and with no update on the status of Victor Abiamiri’s health, the Eagles will be forced to continue taking a serious look at all of their options.
More observations from Friday’s exhibition game after the jump.
* The defensive line wasn’t able to generate much push on the Steelers opening series, but they improved as the drive went on. One reason was Stewart Bradley, who looks like he is one of the keys to this unit. The first few plays, Bradley was either blocked or unable to get to the ball carrier. Then he started fighting off linemen and wreaking havok at the point of attack, which settled the entire defense. On the third series of the game, the Steelers went three and out after Bradley got in on two tackles and defended a pass. I think he’s going to be a really nice fit in this scheme.
* Brian Dawkins against Santonio Holmes one-on-one is a huge mismatch. The Eagles called a big blitz, and Holmes was able to catch the ball in open space. Dawk took a bad angle and got beat to the end zone, but Jim Johnson needs to keep him out of those situations.
* As if you didn’t already know, Quintin Mikell is far superior to Sean Considine. When Mikell came out after the big hit, the Steelers immediately dialed up a play action pass. The result was an 18 yard completion over the middle where Considine was supposed to be (it appeared Lito got beat, but it was a zone). After Mikell returned to action, Batch tried picking on Sheppard on his first pass, but Mikell was in perfect position over the top and nearly beheaded Holmes. As an added bonus, he was also excellent in run support.
* The scouting report on rookie Trevor Laws says he is tenacious, and he was exactly that in this contest. Laws had the Eagles only sack, running down Dixon from behind after the secondary shut down all his options. Laws was in on several other plays throughout the game, and held his own at the point of attack. A good debut for this year’s top pick.
* The surprise of this group was rookie MLB Joe Mays. Once Bradley came out, Mays picked up right where the starter left off, quickly making a bunch of tackles and adding a few big hits as well. On the Eagles goalline stand late in the first half, he clogged the running lane on third down, forcing the back to bounce outside into the arms of defenders. Very good first game from a little known player.
* McNabb was obviously very sharp, and the first team offense fired on all cylinders. While it was disappointing to watch them settle for 3 in the red zone on their first drive, Avant actually made a beautiful catch in the back of the end zone on a perfect pass, but just couldn’t quite keep his feet in bounds. They made up for it on their second trip with an easy TD pass to fullback Jason Davis.
* There really wasn’t enough of Kevin Kolb to pass judgment on. Sure, he played a quarter and a half, but the play-calling was extra bland, he was under a ton of pressure (thanks Winston), and the second unit was repeatedly penalized. Kolb was on the mark with most passes, but he made one or two questionable decisions and didn’t get much going.
* DeSean Jackson impressed me. It’s still too early to say exactly what they have with this kid, but he was constantly open and displayed really nice moves. He finished with 5 catches for 51 yards, and he also had a gain of about 15 yards called back for a penalty. Jackson is still raw, but it was a good start.
* Ryan Moats has no shot at making this team. He was absolutely atrocious in blitz pickup, and he didn’t show off any redeeming qualities at all. Tony Hunt wasn’t bad, but nothing special. Booker saw limited action, running hard and with patience. As for the fullbacks, Jason Davis was solid picking up the blitz, but wasn’t in for many runs, while Luke Lawton looked awesome as the leadblocker late in the game.
* The starting offensive line generally played well. McNabb had time to throw and they cleared holes for the running backs. The further the Birds got down the depth chart, the worse the play was. Mike McGlynn struggled a bit early, but seemed to regain his composure as the game continued, and King Dunlap could have trouble making the team.
* Sav Rocca had two punts into the end zone for net gains of 15 and 17 yards in the first half, but rebounded later hitting with some serious hangtime. Unfortunately, if Rocca continues to struggle with punting inside the 20, the Eagles are going to lose the field position battle more often than not. They should consider adding some competition for this job after the first cutdown.
* The most exciting return of the night actually came from Quintin Demps, who fielded a punt off the bounce late in the game and actually found some space to work with. The gain only went for 11 yards, but it was the safety’s first opportunity to feature his ability to run with the ball.
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