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Eagles beat Steelers in preseason opener, first unit looks sluggish

Foles shines as Birds win on special night for Andy Reid, but starters have work to do.

It started with a crash, culminated in a big bang, then ended with a (backup) quarterback controversy. Welcome back, Eagles.

It’s only one game, one preseason game, at that. However, the team that took on the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at the Linc has a lot more work to do before any talk of hoisting that elusive Lombardi Trophy continues.

Yes, it’s true the Eagles won. They beat the Steelers 24-23 thanks to a 51-yard boot off the foot of Alex Henery. Don’t be fooled. It wasn’t pretty.

“We have some work to do with the 1’s and 2’s. It wasn’t good enough,” coach Andy Reid said. “The execution was off, and the tackling and blocking were off. We have to go back and make sure we focus in on those things and get ourselves better.”

Mike Vick went 3-of-4 for six yards. The quarterback saw just two offensive possessions, then left the game midway through the second quarter when his throwing hand slammed into Jason Kelce’s helmet.

“When it was first happened, I thought, because I heard a pop, I thought it was broken,” Vick said. “I lost feeling in it for a second. Once I got to the sideline, after about thirty minutes, I started getting the feeling back in my finger.”

Not to worry, X-rays were negative. Reid said Vick was fine and the quarterback confirmed that he would be back at practice Saturday.

Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy carried one time for a whopping minus-2 yards. And Jeremy Maclin didn’t even take the field. He tweaked a hamstring during pregame warm-ups. DeSean Jackson? Just one catch for five yards.

“Honestly, I was kind of frustrated,” Jackson said. “The offense came in with like five minutes left [in the first quarter] and then we came in with a three-and-out, so we were able to go out there in the second quarter and get a little bit of reps. We’re just anxious, man. We want to get back out there and get it going.”

The Eagles’ revamped defense looked much like the one that nearly got coordinator Juan Castillo fired last season. The defensive line did their job, getting at and attacking the quarterback. The unit combined for 4.5 sacks (defense recorded seven total), including two from Phillip Hunt.

“The guys up front were coming up off [the ball] and doing a nice job,” Reid said. “It looked like everybody got plenty of reps, too, so we should have good film on them and we should be able to evaluate them.”

Positive. But the linebackers and safeties, the two groups that caused so many fits in 2011, struggled. DeMeco Ryans was gobbled up when the Steelers ran it right up the gut, especially on a 3rd-and-13, when Chris Rainey picked up 14 yards. That was embarrassing. Then, Jaiquawn Jarrett and rookie end Vinny Curry crashed into each other. That was more embarrassing.

“We had some missed tackles, so we have to tackle better,” Ryans said. “It was a good effort, but we still have to work on things and get better, you know, with blitzes and dominate better when we’re out there.”

But getting back to the offense. Nick Foles replaced an extremely ineffective Mike Kafka (5-of-9, 31 yards, interception) midway through the third, giving the near-empty stadium a taste of the future. The rookie signal-caller hooked up with a wide-open Damaris Johnson — he was so open that a gimpy Ryan Howard could have trotted into the end zone — to make it 13-7. Foles (6-of-10, 144 yards, two TDs) struck again on the Eagles’ next drive, when he hit Mardy Gilyard on a 44-yard strike.

“It was a simple go-route,” Foles said. “I knew it was one-on-one coverage, and I just threw it and Mardy just did a great job grabbing it.”

It’s a long time until Sept. 9, a lot of things can happen. Kafka can morph into super-backup A.J. Feeley, Foles can start chucking up interceptions like Bubby Brister. For one night in August, though, the rifle-armed kid from Arizona looked like the real deal. Even Reid admitted that the backup quarterback gig is very much an open competition.

“I feel like I made progress,” Foles said. “Again, it’s one game, I got a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of stuff I saw tonight that I want to get better at. I felt like it was a step, but I got a lot of work to do. “

Reid feels the love at the Linc

Andy Reid was back at Lincoln Financial Field, the place that had been a house of horrors for him in 2011. He watched his team go 3-5 there last season, including that brutal November loss to New England, when the fans pelted him with chants of “Fire Andy.”

Not Thursday. Not days after the head coach buried his eldest son Garrett.

The team donned decals on their helmets reading “GR” and there was a moment of silence before kickoff. When the JumboTron flashed Reid’s mug, early in the first quarter, the fans gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name in unison, “Andy, Andy, Andy.”

Reid heard it and appreciated it.

“I take that as a compliment to my son and to my family,” Reid said. “That is a humbling thing, and I appreciate every bit of it. We feel the love, and during these kinds of times, that is important.”

It was also important to his players.

Said DeSean Jackson, “We’ll do anything we need to do to support coach and, like I said, I want to tell the fans and everybody else that we appreciate them and their support.”

 
 
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