It started the right way for the Eagles with two takeaways and two touchdowns, and it ended with a 17-9 win in the preseason opener Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field over Tampa Bay, and in between there was a whole lot to digest. Some observations ...
- Let's begin with the quarterbacks. Sam Bradford played three snaps and completed a short pass to tight end Brent Celek, then handed off twice to Ryan Mathews, who completed the 18-yard drive with a touchdown. Chase Daniel converted a second takeaway into a touchdown with a nifty run, but his night was tough for a variety of reasons, mainly poor protection and very small windows through which to throw.
Carson Wentz entered the game late in the first half in a two-minute drive situation and played until the last few minutes of the win. He completed 12-of-24 passes for 89 yards with an interception in the red zone. He's got a ton of tools and he showed a lot of them on Thursday night. Wentz was mobile escaping the rush and keeping plays alive. He took some shots and got right back up and played through the pain. He has a big arm and it showed. There were a couple of throws that got away from him and the interception was a high ball and not on time, and he'll learn from that. The pretty-full Lincoln Financial Field rocked a bit (preseason style) all game for Wentz, and when he escaped pressure and ran for a big gain and slid to safety, the crowd responded with a huge cheer. Great stuff. Really good start for the kid – some good, some tough moments, and a lot of learning points.
- The defense played a strong game start to finish with a lot of pressure up front – Fletcher Cox had a quarterback sack and forced fumble that he recovered to lead to the Daniel touchdown – and had the kind of aggressiveness that coordinator Jim Schwartz demands every day.
- The Eagles were 2 for 2 in the red zone to start things off, a good sign for a team that ranked 15th in touchdown efficiency in the red zone last year and 23rd in 2014.
- Not a great game by the receiving corps that played without Jordan Matthews. The Eagles didn't win battles in man-to-man coverage. Nelson Agholor did not factor into the offense. Josh Huff (two catches, 8 yards) coughed up the football, which fortunately didn't result in a giveaway. Rueben Randle had a drop and just one reception for 3 yards. Not a good night by any means for the wide receivers.
- Andrew Gardner really struggled at left tackle with the second-team group (Matt Tobin started in place of Jason Peters). He needs to be more consistent on the edge.
- Strong game by the special teams. Najee Goode forced a fumble that Chris Maragos recovered on the opening kickoff, leading to Mathews' touchdown. Kenjon Barner had a 47-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Huff had a 39-yard kickoff return. Caleb Sturgis converted a 42-yard field goal. Donnie Jones had one poor kick, but still averaged 45.4 yards on a whopping 10 punts.
- Eleven penalties. Too many. Welcome to the preseason. One area the Eagles had no problem with was getting the plays in on time. There were no delays in the offensive play calling. The offense even went without a huddle in the first half for a play.
- After a strong spring and summer, cornerback Jalen Mills had his welcome-to-the-NFL moments with a penalty and he was targeted by Tampa Bay a couple of times. "I had that one play and I just didn't use the right technique," he said. "Coach (Cory Undlin) talked to me about it and we will get it corrected."
- Big game from defensive end Steven Means with a quarterback sack and a pressure that led to a fumble. He showed a great burst off the edge and played with power. Means is a factor in the roster decision at defensive end. Will it come down to Means and Marcus Smith for a spot on the 53-man roster?
- Backup middle linebacker Joe Walker, a seventh-round draft pick, was quick through the gaps and made some plays in the backfield. He has been instinctive and confident, and seems to have really picked up the defense. Is he enough as a backup middle linebacker? He is off to a terrific start. He also had a pair of tackles on special teams.
- Jaylen Watkins is now a safety and he was around the football all night with four tackles and a pass breakup. The Eagles are looking for depth behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod and Watkins showed up on Thursday night, along with Chris Maragos, who had an interception.
- Barner led the way with 35 rushing yards on seven carries as the Eagles gained 93 yards on 26 carries. Keep in mind that Darren Sproles did not play in this game. Still, there is no question that the offense has a lot of improving to do, particularly with the wide receivers winning battles and catching the football consistently. Game 1 of the preseason is in the books. Next up: A trip to Pittsburgh and move evaluations.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveled to Philadelphia as the Eagles kicked off their preseason at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles took home the victory 17-9.