CLEVELAND – It didn't matter that the starters were on the sidelines on Sunday afternoon in preseason game No. 2 against the Cleveland Browns. Wouldn't have made a difference who lined up for the Eagles when they had the ball in the first half, particularly the first quarter, when they were ready to rumble. Ready to play smash-mouth football. Ready to challenge the Browns in the trenches.
A week of physical joint practices against the Browns translated to that kind of day in the preseason game, won by the Eagles 21-20 and highlighted by a 55-yard Reid Sinnett-to-Devon Allen touchdown pass that was just so much fun and so rewarding for Allen and his journey back to the game of football. One of the world’s fastest men blew past the Cleveland defense and caught a perfectly thrown ball by Sinnett for a diving, cradling, felt-so-good touchdown play that led to Jake Elliott's PAT to, as it turned out, put the winning points on the board.
But this game was defined by a mentality: The Eagles came out and ran the heck out of the football on the first two drives – drives that consumed 14 plays and 76 yards for a touchdown followed by 17 plays, 75 yards, and another touchdown on the offense's second possession.
And that made Head Coach Nick Sirianni very, very happy.
"I thought Boston had a first great first series, it was a 13-play drive. I was like, 'get him out of there,' after that," Sirianni said. "And then Kenny had a 12-play series and I thought that was good. I said 'get him out,' after that. So, good week for those guys."
Philadelphia ran 13 times on the first drive – 10 for 33 yards by Boston Scott – and quarterback Gardner Minshew completed all four of his passes before Scott plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown. After Cleveland tied the game 7-7, Minshew led the second drive with a lot of help from Kenneth Gainwell, who picked up 46 yards on 11 carries and scored on a second-and-goal run from the 2-yard line.
Both drives reminded anyone out there – if there actually is anyone out there – who forgot that the Eagles led the league in rushing in 2021 and feel they can run with great effectiveness this season that this offense is as versatile as can be. Everyone should be excited about the Eagles' pass-catching weapons – more on that in a bit – but let's not overlook the ground attack.
"I feel with that offensive line, they make it easy for us," Gainwell said. "They do the job up front and we follow what they do. It was that way last year and it's the same now. We're only as good as our offensive line and they win."
Cam Jurgens again started at center and played through the first series and again had a strong outing. Andre Dillard, who has worked so hard to improve his strength and has clearly done so, dominated at left tackle. And the rest of the line, backups, mind you, played cohesive, powerful football as the Eagles put together those impressive first two drives.
"They get it done, man," Minshew said. "Whether it's the starters out there or any of them, they play great football. And when you've got an offensive line doing that, it helps everyone. You can't do it without the offensive line."
Minshew did it to a very high level in the first half, completing 14-of-17 passes for 142 yards. He and Deon Cain, battling to make this roster, had great chemistry, connecting on four passes for 59 yards on four targets. Quez Watkins had two catches for 19 yards, Jalen Reagor added a pair of receptions for 17 yards, and Zach Pascal contributed a 15-yard reception on the opening drive. Even with starters A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith watching from the sidelines, the wide receivers had a day.
"I've had a lot of reps with those guys and they just keep making plays," Minshew said. "I have total confidence in them. They catch everything that comes their way."
The goal for the Eagles in this 2022 season is to "pick their poison" offensively and there is every reason to believe the offense can play from that vantage point. The offensive line is among the best, if not the very best, in the NFL. The running back stable is deep – Scott had an exhausting first drive that included an 11-yard catch and run in his first preseason work and Gainwell showed why the Eagles are so high on him – and quarterback Jalen Hurts provides a dangerous dual-threat that drives defenses crazy. Adding Brown and Pascal to the receiving corps has dramatically upgraded the potency level there, and tight end Dallas Goedert has had one of the best Training Camps of any Eagle.
If a defense loads the box to stop the run, the Eagles hope to do damage throwing the ball. If teams show a light box defensively, the Eagles will not hesitate to dial up the running game.
After two days of joint practices against Cleveland, Sirianni said he had "seen enough" from the starters to rest them. Now the Eagles are home for about 36 hours before departing on Tuesday for another week of joint practices in Miami before Saturday's preseason finale against the Dolphins.
"Everything is important and the urgency is there for all of us," Minshew said. "These game reps are important. I want to stay sharp. I don't know when my number is going to be called, but when it is called, I need to be ready. So, these practices and the preseason games, they pay off for all of us."
They did on Sunday when the Eagles, for the second straight game, marched down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive. Showing a lot of power and mixing in the passing game, the Eagles sliced and diced through the Cleveland defense, a harbinger of what the Eagles hope is to come when the regular season begins.