The Eagles raced out to a 16-7 halftime lead in the preseason opener Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers thanks to a 79-yard touchdown from wide receiver Quez Watkins and three long field goals from Jake Elliott. The Steelers rallied in the second half to win 24-16. Here is what the head coach and the players said about the performance.
• Nick Sirianni reflects on preseason debut
Nick Sirianni said it was "business as usual" in his new role.
The Eagles' head coach said that other than a few extra job titles on gameday, the communication and game management remained very much the same thanks to the efforts of the assistant coaches.
"It was great communication on the offensive side of the ball. As far as with (Offensive Coordinator) Shane (Steichen), myself, (Passing Game Coordinator) Kevin Patullo, (Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach) Jeff Stoutland, (Tight Ends Coach) Jason Michael all the way around. Just really did feel like business as usual," Sirianni said.
After winning the coin toss, the Eagles took the ball on offense and gained 44 yards in six plays, ending with a 47-yard field goal by Jake Elliott. The Eagles, bolstered by wide receiver Quez Watkins' 79-yard touchdown catch-and-run from quarterback Joe Flacco, led 16-7 before giving way to the third-team units in the second half.
"I thought it was a very crisp first half. A lot of good things in the first half. Again, there are things to clean up, but the first half, I thought we looked pretty sharp there," Sirianni said.
The starters played two series on offense and one on defense. One notable absence was running back Miles Sanders, who was simply given the night off by the head coach. Sirianni wants to rest Sanders ahead of the regular-season opener.
"We just felt like we have seen him, we know what he is, we know that we're excited about him," Sirianni said. "We're really excited about him, wanting to keep him fresh and we'll revaluate and look at next week and if he'll play next week."
Sirianni added that there are some minor procedural things that he would like to change ahead of the next game – adding more space for notes on the playcall sheet for example – but that's what the preseason is for. Sirianni may be a rookie head coach, but the veteran players haven't noticed.
"I think he's a great coach. I think his personality is great, and he leads the right way. I appreciate the energy that he brings each and every day," linebacker Eric Wilson said.
"He's very straightforward and he lets us know exactly what we need to do. He's not like a super 'rah-rah' guy, but he does have that juice and that energy, which I appreciate. You have to have balance and be even-keel and not be too high. He has to be able to communicate to us in a way that we can understand, and he has to be able to make corrections. I think that's where he does a really good job." – Chris McPherson
• Jalen Hurts shows poise, good decision-making in opener
On the second play of the game, quarterback Jalen Hurts made a check at the line of scrimmage – seeing who the middle linebacker was responsible for in coverage – and lofted a beautiful pass to tight end Dallas Goedert for a 34-yard gain. Two drops stymied the opening drive that resulted in a 47-yard Jake Elliott field goal.
Hurts had one more bite at the apple Thursday night and it came in a backed-up situation, starting from the Eagles' 2-yard line. The timing between Hurts and Quez Watkins was just a smidge off due to the cornerback being a little handsy after the second-year wide receiver had a step. Hurts got a first down with a dart over the middle to tight end Zach Ertz, deftly navigating the traffic in the pocket in the end zone. No points were scored, but the Eagles were able to improve field position.
Hurts was 3-of-7 for 54 yards on the night, but those numbers are misleading because of the drops.
"I want to come on the field and complete every pass, score touchdowns every time I touch the field. The competitor in me is like, 'Damn,'" Hurts said. "But I think it was a good day. I think it was, you know, we have to be better on third down, for sure. But coming out there, for the most part, executing. There's a lot to learn from that, always.
"I'm never satisfied with anything. I can't have balls on the ground. We have to hit our money balls when we need them. That's always going to be my mentality. Preseason, regular season, whatever it is, we truly have a standard for how we want to do it. We want to do it at a high level all the time."
Hurts targeted four different players in the two series, looking to take advantage of the various skill sets in the offense.
"One of my main objectives is to build a great relationship with everybody – tight ends, receivers, running backs, anybody that's a pass catcher because everybody will contribute and everyone is going to make plays for us this year. I just want to have that connection," Hurts said.
"I want to go out on the field and be dominant and to do that you have to have a great relationship with what you're doing. You have to have the chemistry. We're in Training Camp still, so we're still building that. I'm confident in that and I'm confident we'll do that with time. Like Novocaine, in time it'll always work." – Chris McPherson
• Teammates not surprised by Quez Watkins' big play
"The cat's out of the bag," said wide receiver Quez Watkins.
This was Watkins' reaction when he heard quarterback Jalen Hurts say, "One thing I thought about as I walked up here (to the press conference podium) is he's not a secret anymore."
The best play of the night from the first preseason game was Watkins' catch-and-run from quarterback Joe Flacco for a 79-yard touchdown. Watkins talked about his progress this offseason, and one thing that motivated him was his critics.
"This whole offseason I just made everything personal. Everything people said I couldn't do. 'I was only fast.' I just made everything personal and put the work in," said Watkins.
Watkins did put that work in this offseason, not only on himself, but on creating chemistry with Hurts.
"With him (Hurts) being the guy he is, the dude he is, and always trying to be a perfectionist, it kind of just built our relationship. It built everybody's relationship and just keeps us moving forward," Watkins said of Hurts.
"I think he's a great player. He knows what I think of him ... I'm excited for him," said Hurts.
Head Coach Nick Sirianni was very pleased with how Watkins showed up tonight, and he says Watkins is the guy you want as a receiver.
"Anytime you can get a guy that can run like Quez, that's obviously a very big threat to the defense. It softens them up. You've seen him get behind the defense and make a play on the ball. That's what's really impressive with Quez, he's got good, strong hands that can go up and make plays at that speed. That's a weapon we're hoping to continue to develop," Sirianni said.
Watkins wants to prove this season that he is more than just a fast receiver. He is working on being more physical, more aggressive, and a better route runner.
"Just being with the short routes still being able to use my speed. Still being able to thread a defender and make everything look like it's a deep ball," he talked about the steps he has taken to develop an intermediate game.
Watkins may no longer be a secret weapon, but that's not going to change his approach.
"Get this team the best opportunities to win games. Just contribute and do my job," he said. – Jillian Oddo
The best moments from the first preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field.
• Perfect start to the preseason for Jake Elliott
In the first preseason game of the year, all eyes were on quarterback Jalen Hurts, but you could not help but look at kicker Jake Elliott. After being 3-for-3 on field goals – all from over 45 yards, Elliott is feeling very confident.
"It was definitely good to get some live game reps in," said Elliott.
Even though it was just a preseason game, Elliott raved about how valuable these couple of games are.
"I think the preseason is very valuable, obviously we missed that last year, but you get into a rhythm with the guys, and it (tonight) was a solid start," he said.
Elliott had to put his talent to the test early in the first quarter on a 47-yard field goal attempt that was ... GOOD. The next two came in the second quarter, another 47-yard and a 50-yard field goal attempt, which Elliott made look easy.
"Every kick I approach the same way. It just so happens that I was dialed in on those numbers and got a couple of those tonight," said Elliott.
While this was the first game for Elliott with a new head coach, Nick Sirianni, and holder, Arryn Siposs, he said it really did not feel much different for him.
"I'm off on my own, doing the same thing I always do," he said of his in-game routine.
Elliott mentioned how comfortable he has gotten with Siposs, who came to the Eagles in April, and since then they have gotten in "a million reps."
"I liked personally just the way I can see the ball and how smooth he is with his hands. It was a seamless transition," Elliott said.
Elliott is happy to have these three preseason games, so players can get in those live game reps that they do not get in practice.
"Getting in those game reps is really valuable, doing it in-game, trotting out there with fans in the stands against another team, it's valuable," said Elliott. – Jillian Oddo