In the preseason opener at Lincoln Financial Field in front of a robust crowd on Thursday night, the Eagles jumped out to a first-half lead in an impressive opening 30 minutes before ultimately falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-16. Here are some observations from an entertaining game that had some revealing moments ...
• Wide receiver Quez Watkins continued his strong summer with a big play executing a quick screen and turning it into a 79-yard touchdown. The play had interesting nuances, starting with a check made by quarterback Joe Flacco, who saw Pittsburgh blitzing through the slot, where Watkins was positioned. Flacco then delivered a well-timed and well-positioned throw to Watkins, who got some great blocking in front of him and turned on the jets, outrunning the Pittsburgh defense for the score. A sixth-round draft pick in 2020, Watkins caught seven passes for 106 yards and a touchdown last year. He's clearly worked hard in the offseason and has made plays throughout Training Camp, and then translated that good play into a huge touchdown on Thursday night. "The cat's out of the bag," Watkins said after the game.
• Jalen Hurts moved the football 44 yards on the Eagles' first offensive possession, delivering the football confidently, accurately, and on time. He opened with a short pass on the right side to tight end Zach Ertz for a 6-yard gain, then had a pitch-and-catch completion to tight end Dallas Goedert, who turned it into a 34-yard gain. On first down from the Pittsburgh 32-yard line, Hurts threw on the right sideline for wide receiver Jalen Reagor, who couldn't bring in the reception with a diving effort. Tough catch, but Head Coach Nick Sirianni noted after the game that he wants Reagor and the receiving corps to make those kinds of catches on "bad balls."
A Jordan Howard run gained 3 yards and then Ertz dropped a pass on third down, giving Jake Elliott a chance to kick a 47-yard field goal. He nailed it, part of his perfect night. Hurts completed one of three passes on his second possession, picking up one first down. Flacco replaced Hurts after that possession. Hurts also just missed a deep throw down the left sideline to Watkins, who was caught up in coverage just a bit. Could have been a penalty there, but it wasn't and those two certainly seem to be on the same page, as they've been throughout camp. "We'll hit it. We'll hit it," Hurts said after the game.
• Maybe a lot of people didn't notice, but Howard started the game (Miles Sanders didn't play) and Howard did a terrific job in pass protection on one play, helping his cause to make the roster and make an impact here. Kerryon Johnson gained 10 yards on his lone carry, so the "big" backs here had a nice first game of the preseason.
• Rookie Kenneth Gainwell looked really good, contributing 14 yards on two carries and 16 yards on a pair of receptions. The Eagles, as expected, put Gainwell in motion, moved him around the formation, and got the ball to him in open space.
• Flacco completed 10 of 17 passes for 178 yards and a 114.3 passer rating. He moved the offense 55 yards on nine plays in 1 minute, 38 seconds at the end of the first half, leading to an Elliott field goal.
• Brandon Brooks started the game at right guard and played a series, a happy sight for everyone. He hadn't played since the 2019 regular season and then missed some practice time in this camp with a hamstring injury. He and Lane Johnson are such a standout right side of the offensive line. "Brandon is a great guy and I'm so happy for him to be out there," center Jason Kelce said in an in-game interview. "He means so much to us."
• Reagor caught a pair of passes for 20 yards. He had one punt return for a 7-yard gain and had a couple of return opportunities that just weren't there inside the 10-yard line. You can see the suddenness and explosiveness with Reagor. It's there. He's putting it all together.
• The tight ends – Ertz, Goedert, Richard Rodgers, and Tyree Jackson contributed seven receptions and 114 yards on 11 targets. Can't wait to see how the coaching staff uses a deep and talented group of tight ends in this offense.
• The offense went 0-for-8 on third downs, so obviously that will be a teaching point in the week ahead. As Sirianni pointed out after the game, the Eagles had some chances and, had they held on to the football collectively, would have converted at least a couple of those third downs. It's an area to improve upon.
• Defensively, the Eagles kept it extremely vanilla and played well in the first quarter. The run defense gave up 152 yards, with 112 of those yards coming in the second half. So, the first-half run defense was pretty darn good, allowing just 40 yards on 11 attempts. The linebackers, led by Alex Singleton with seven tackle assists, flowed nicely to the football.
• Cornerback Michael Jacquet showed some resiliency – allowing a 33-yard completion to Dionte Johnson and then coming back on the very next play and staying at home, setting the edge, and tackling Chase Claypool on an end-around for a 2-yard loss.
• Why no blitzing? The coaching staff wants to see players win in one-on-one pass rushes, and Sirianni pointed out after the game that he wants to see more wins. Something to work on for the days ahead.
• How about Jake Elliott?! He's been kicking the ball extremely well in Training Camp and he delivered on Thursday night, nailing field goals of 47, 47, and 50 yards. In a groove ... Keep it that way.
• T.Y. McGill had a sack and Elijah Riley had an interception, and no doubt Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon wants more of those big plays from the defense.
• Finally, and most importantly, the Eagles appeared to suffer no significant injuries in this game. They've got the Patriots coming to the NovaCare Complex for joint practices on Monday and Tuesday ahead of Thursday's game. Bottom line: While there is a lot to work on and nobody is satisfied, the Eagles had a solid start. They committed only five penalties, managed their timeouts well, and seemed to run things smoothly with substitutions. That says a lot about a first-year head coach and his staff.
The best moments from the first preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field.