CLEVELAND – Preseason football is about situations, and the Eagles' defense on Thursday in the midst of a 5-0 loss featured a significant one midway through the first quarter against the Browns. Cleveland moved the football from its 35 to the Eagles' 1-yard line on the strength of a 33-yard run, a 21-yard run, and a 10-yard pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to tight end David Njoku.
So there it was: First-and-goal at the Philadelphia 1-yard and a chance for the Eagles to work on their goal line defense. As it turned out, the Eagles passed the test with flying colors.
Three Taylor passes – two to the right side for Jarvis Landry and one for Damion Ratley – fell incomplete with cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones in coverage. The Browns lined up with multiple receivers to the right side of the offensive formation and tried a series of rubs to get the receivers free. But the Eagles held firm, forcing a fourth-and-1 decision.
Cleveland went for the touchdown, and it failed miserably.
Taylor was forced out of the pocket to his left side and the Eagles closed in on him with Fletcher Cox and Ronald Darby bearing down, and Taylor had no choice but to throw the ball in desperation into the end zone, where linebacker Jordan Hicks nearly made the interception. On the play, Taylor fell hard to the turf and suffered a left hand injury.
"It's good for us," Mills said, "as Coach (Jim) Schwartz always say at any point in time, we've got to be the firefighters. We're in that situation where we're on the goal line and we've got to stand up, and that's what we did."
The Eagles' offense didn't take advantage – a couple of plays later quarterback Nick Foles lost his footing in the end zone and was touched down for a safety to give the Browns a 2-0 lead – but the significance of the stand was not lost on the defense.
The defense followed up that stand with another following a Foles fumble, Cleveland took over on the Philadelphia 35-yard with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield at the helm. The defense turned up the heat, featuring a Cox sack, and held Cleveland to minus-1 yard on three plays. Cleveland got three points out of the drive on a 54-yard field goal, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Things didn't get any easier for the defense following a Foles interception on the very next series. The Browns set up offensively at the Philadelphia 45-yard line. The defense opened the drive with end Chris Long stringing out running back Carlos Hyde and forcing him out of bounds for a 4-yard loss. On second-and-14, tackle Haloti Ngata was credited with a sack of Taylor, back in the game, as Michael Bennett and Long added pressure. And then on third-and-21, the defense kept everything in front of it as Cleveland gained 6 yards on a short pass.
Another defensive hold for the Eagles.
While the offense turned the ball over four times in the first half - two Foles interceptions and a pair of fumbles, along with the safety - the starting defense had a terrific first half. Cleveland gained 151 total net yards and 10 first downs, but the Eagles recorded three quarterback sacks and limited the Browns to just five points.
"I think we were definitely pleased with some of the situational plays that we had, being in a sudden change (turnover), being backed up on the goal line, those were real positives," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "But we put ourselves in those field goal situations with some missed tackles and big runs. We pride ourselves in stopping the run and we gave up a few here and there, but definitely we're pleased in the overall performance from the ones (starters) all the way down to the end of the game. Whoever was in there kept up our standards."
The regular season is around the corner, and the Eagles' defense is ready to go. With two weeks to go, it's about fine-tuning and gameplanning for Atlanta.
"We're still learning. Every week we're growing and learning something new about ourselves," Jenkins said. "I think the next two weeks we'll find out exactly who will make the team and who we're bringing into the season as we prepare for Atlanta."
Check out all of the best photos from Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 23, 2018.