EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There are many steps to go before the Eagles open the regular season on September 12 at Atlanta, but let's pause for a moment and consider the preseason the team had and what we learned about the Eagles in the aftermath of an entertaining (to say the least) 31-31 tie with the New York Jets on Friday night at MetLife Stadium. The Eagles went 0-2-1 in the three preseason games, but the record doesn't tell the tale of a team that, as Head Coach Nick Sirianni said after the game, is very much looking forward to what is ahead.
"I'm excited for this team," Sirianni said. "I'm excited for the guys we have on this team."
Sirianni went on to add that there is a lot of work to do and that the next two weeks of practice are going to be critical as the team begins full-on prep work for the regular season, but the message is the message: The Eagles held four days of joint practices against two opponents, played in three preseason games, and think they have a very good handle on what the roster will look like when it is reduced to 53 players by Tuesday at 4 PM.
• The team incurred no major injuries in the preseason, and that's huge. Like, absolutely huge. A whole lot of players returned healthy after a tough 2020 season – offensive linemen Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Andre Dillard, tight end Zach Ertz, and defensive end Derek Barnett among them – and the team should be in really great shape from a health standpoint for Atlanta (fingers crossed as I write this).
• Having Johnson and Brooks on the field together changes the whole picture for the offensive line, which again showed signs throughout the summer in the practices and in the preseason games that it could be among the league's best. Jordan Mailata took another step forward taking a ton of reps at left tackle and Isaac Seumalo rebounded from an early-camp knee injury to emerge healthy as the preseason ended. With Jason Kelce at center and a promising group of younger players who gained a lot of experience last season, the Eagles are deep and very good along the offensive line.
• The defensive line has dominated the entire summer. It's going to be interesting to see just how Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon plays it, but the strength of the defense is clearly on the line of scrimmage. There are some pieces to sort out with Ryan Kerrigan coming back from a thumb injury and with Barnett working his way back from a shoulder injury, but it's obvious a lot of talent is bunched up front. T.Y. McGill showed up with a strong preseason punctuated by two quarterback sacks on Friday night, and he's fighting for a roster spot. When you have a good player like McGill battling to make the roster, you know you have an excellent group in the room.
• Adding Steven Nelson solidified the rotation at cornerback. He starts with Darius Slay outside and Avonte Maddox moves into the nickel position. Rookie cornerback Zech McPherson, who had an interception on a two-point conversion try in the end zone on Friday night – the Eagles had two defensive takeaways, not including the conversion denial – is developing and growing every day.
• Watching the running backs has been a joy all offseason. Miles Sanders is in his third year and is primed to have a big season. Jordan Howard reported to Training Camp in the best shape of his football life and it paid off in the way he played throughout the summer. Boston Scott, who had a dazzling 49-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on Friday night, is a weapon in a reserve role and rookie Kenny Gainwell is a Swiss Army knife who could have a significant role in the offense moving forward. Gainwell had five carries for 32 yards and some bruising runs, including a 5-yard touchdown, and added four receptions for 27 yards on Friday. More on this group, which includes Elijah Holyfield and the 60 yards on 16 carries that he gained on Friday night, later in the weekend.
• Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 13 of 16 passes for 188 yards and a pair of scores on Friday night – the catch-and-run from Scott along with a back-shoulder throw to wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside that JJAW caught – a 50/50 ball that he just wanted more – and then ran the final 12 yards into the end zone for a score. Flacco twice in three preseason games led the Eagles to points in the two-minute situation at the end of the first half, a promising development for him and his comfort level in the offense.
• Jake Elliott nailed a 34-yard field goal returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him last week and finished the preseason perfect on all four field goal attempts. It could have been a difficult preseason for Elliott with a new holder in Arryn Siposs, but credit goes to the players and the coaching staff for making a seamless transition. Siposs also had a solid preseason as the punter and he's going to be the guy moving ahead here.
• A group of young wide receivers stepped up not only in the preseason games but in Training Camp and in the practice sessions and now they need to take the next step. Quez Watkins may have been the most improved player from 2020. Jalen Reagor really came on in the last few weeks. DeVonta Smith is smooth and confident catching the football and he has incredible quickness off the line of scrimmage. Greg Ward stepped his game up with all of these young receivers pushing for playing time.
• Finally, it is clear that this team has connected with the coaching staff and has bought in to what Sirianni is preaching. The coaching staff reached this roster. Players improved, very clearly, day to day. How the Eagles handle the next two weeks after reducing the roster is so important. Everything changes in the regular season, as we know. The preseason is all about evaluating the roster and putting together the best 53 players plus a practice squad of up to 16 players (can be 17 with international roster exception Matt Leo). The regular season? It's about the entire process of scouting and gameplanning and in-game adjustments and making it all come together.
The preseason is over, and from this point forward I'm going to look ahead. For now, in the hours following the preseason, it's important to address what we learned from a summer of Eagles football, and at the end of the day the team is juiced over what it learned from a collective standpoint.
The best photos from the last preseason game.