With the third preseason game acting as the “dress rehearsal” for starters, both first-team units were given more snaps than the previous two weeks. More repetitions lead to a higher chance of injury and the Philly faithful certainly was not immune to such risks.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin fell to the turf on a non-contact play and immediately clutched his surgically repaired right knee in the second quarter. Trainers rushed out to his side while he writhed in pain. Running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles also stood by for additional support. In an instant, though, the Eagles veteran receiver got up and was able to walk off under his own power.
Maclin, who tore his ACL last July in practice, figures to be a linchpin in head coach Chip Kelly’s offense.
While it served as a humbling reminder for Maclin, he wasted no time joining the offense on the next series and immediately producing.
It wasn’t the only moment Eagles fans gasped in unison.
Earlier in the game, McCoy caught a screen pass and was led by a cavalcade of linemen for a 22-yard touchdown. Foles beautifully pump faked to his left, flipped to his right and connected with McCoy for the short completion.
After the score, McCoy was ushered into the locker room and was given an X-ray for a thumb injury. The X-ray was negative, the team later announced, but his night of four carries for 24 yards was over.
"It’s no big deal," Kelly told the media after the game of McCoy, who also missed a practice earlier in the week with a toe injury.
Eagles second-year running back Matthew Tucker, garnering a majority of the reps after McCoy departed, exploded for 46 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Employing a screaming-fast, no-huddle attack, the Eagles were able to nullify Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s vaunted pass rush. In fact, it’s the athletic linemen who fueled the short-passing game, blocking downfield to create big gains.
Foles, who played the entire first half, finished with an encouraging stat line of 19 of 29 completions for 179 yards with a touchdown and interception. He did struggle with ball placement, though. Playing behind a stout offensive line, Foles’ deep ball was inconsistent from the beginning, missing wide on Jordan Matthews in the first series and then overthrowing tight end Brent Celek for a touchdown.
"We have a lot we can improve on," Foles told the media after the game. "It’s important not to get complacent."
When backup quarterback Mark Sanchez took over, the offense didn’t skip a beat against the Steelers’ first-team defense.
For the third straight week, Sanchez appeared poised and decisive in his reads. During one of Sanchez’s two scoring drives, the sixth-year quarterback rifled a perfectly placed 25-yard pass over Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier to tight end Trey Burton. It was a display of his arm strength and accuracy. Sanchez finished 7 of 9 for 85 yards.
While the Eagles have a lot to be enthusiastic about, they are surely breathing a sigh of relief, escaping with its offense completely intact.
Steel curtain hurtin’
On the same day Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were handed down marijuana possession charges, the duo accounted for 16 of the team’s 17 carries.
While it’s unknown when or what the severity of a punishment could be, head coach Mike Tomlin stood by his decision to let them play a day after they were pulled over by police in Pennsylvania and subsequently arrested after the alleged discovery of a 20-gram bag of marijuana in the car.
"I’m sorry to be a distraction to the team, but I’m only going to answer football questions now," Bell told the media.
"I just want to apologize to my team, to the coach and the organization for causing that distraction," Blount added.
Bell and Blount alternated reps with the first team and assisted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in one scoring drive. Roethlisberger, though, seemed off the mark as he looked to feed Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Communication issues stalled drives on occasion.
Antonio Brown, who finished with three receptions for 59 yards, continues to be the most potent offensive threat in Pittsburgh.
How about those rookies?
Matthews saw a heaping amount of playing time with the Eagles’ first-team offense. Despite Brad Smith being penciled in on the depth chart above the SEC’s all-time leading receiver, Matthews will definitely have a big role as the team’s slot receiver.
While Tucker assumed the running back duties once McCoy left the game, former Missouri running back Henry Josey led the team in rushing with 48 yards on four carries.
Steelers rookies Shazier and running back Dri Archer have earned all the praise this preseason, but it was fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant who found pay dirt.
Bryant used his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to box out the opposition for the 3-yard score in the fourth quarter. He finished with two receptions for 28 yards.