The Eagles lost the game, 31-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night in the preseason opener, but they certainly won in the big picture. The rookies got their feet wet and made a significant contribution. Second-year players made progress. And the Eagles had not a single injury, which is the best and most important news of all.
So how did it all go down? Here are some observations from the sidelines at Lincoln Financial Field as the Eagles opened the preseason in front of a large, had-a-great-time crowd in South Philadelphia …
1. Nate Sudfeld completed 10 of 14 passes, threw two sweet touchdown passes – one on a move-in-the-pocket throw to tight end Dallas Goedert and one on a "go" route to wide receiver Shelton Gibson. That's the best news. Sudfeld also struggled with two interceptions – one into a bait-and-switch coverage from Pittsburgh and one on a throw that he did not give wide receiver Bryce Treggs time to complete his route. So it was an up-and-down night for Sudfeld.
"That first interception was just a bad decision and a bad throw on my part. I expected one coverage and they gave me another coverage late in the route," Sudfeld said. "I'm glad I was able to bounce back on that and make some plays. But I have to see film. I want to watch it right away and see how it went."
2. Joe Callahan played the second half and completed 8 of 18 passes. He got into a little bit of a rhythm moving around the pocket and throwing the football, but for the most part Callahan didn't have a lot of success. He had a lot of pressure on the night.
"I'm frustrated because I wanted to do more to help the team win," Callahan said. "It was a frustrating night. That's how I would sum it up. I just didn't make enough things happen."
3. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was awesome in his quarter of play. He had a sack and chased down a screen pass as the defense bailed out Sudfeld following the early interception. The defensive line played Michael Bennett on the edge and inside. The group had excellent push and good explosiveness. Safety Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker Nigel Bradham shared a sack as they came off the edge to get to quarterback Landry Jones.
4. Cornerback Jalen Mills was again very aggressive and sure in his tackling, making two open-field stops early in the game.
5. Jay Ajayi looked great on a 22-yard run off the left side with the Eagles backed up at their 2-yard line. Good blocking and good burst. The offensive line opened some gaping holes in the running game.
6. Sidney Jones started at the nickel cornerback spot and made a solid open-field tackle. He also had the first tackle on the opening kickoff. Jones went down with an injury in the second quarter and stayed on one knee for a few scary moments, but he walked off the field and was taped up and was ready to go in the game. The official diagnosis was a sprained left ankle. Whew.
7. Nathan Gerry started at the WILL linebacker position and Kamu Grugier-Hill played there with Corey Nelson third on the depth chart. Grugier-Hill was really around the football a lot (team-high six tackles), as he's been all summer.
8. Some good and some not-so-good for cornerback Rasul Douglas. He lost a jump-ball throw on a play that ended on a 71-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster and perhaps wasn't deep enough on another touchdown throw into the end zone, but Douglas also had an interception on the sidelines and another play in coverage in the end zone that was wiped out by penalty.
9. Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert may very well prove to the be the real deal. He looked instantly comfortable in his debut, catching a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sudfeld among his four receptions for 66 yards. Goedert had a drop when he took his eyes off the football, but he came back strong. And he blocked well. It was a smooth start for Goedert, playing in place of Zach Ertz.
"I thought it went pretty well," Goedert said. "I felt good out there. It was like we were practicing, as far as the tempo. I had a chance to get some balls thrown my way. It was a pretty good first game. I have a lot of room to improve, though."
Know this: The Ertz-Goedert combination is going to be very effective for this Eagles offense.
Check out the best photos from Thursday's preseason opener against the Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field.
10. Draft picks defensive end Josh Sweat and Avonte Maddox had some moments in their preseason debuts. Sweat had a nice burst off the edge, got down the line to stop a running play, and did a nice job penetrating in the pass game, and Maddox was competitive in coverage, although he was beaten in coverage on a jump-ball throw.
11. Offensive tackle Jordan Mailata was beaten for a sack, but then he came back and really battled and improved. "I own my mistake and I know I've learned from it," Mailata said. "Everyone was just telling me to breathe. It was hard to breathe, especially with the pads on. After that first snap and getting the nerves out of the way, I really settled in and tried to focus on the next play. That's all I could do."
12. Big thumbs-up for wide receiver Shelton Gibson, who caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Sudfeld, blowing past cornerback Dashaun Phillips and hauling in the perfect throw. Gibson finished with two catches for 77 yards and averaged 26.5 yards on two kickoff returns. "Catching that football and scoring, it felt so good," Gibson said. "It was my first touchdown. I just wish I had kept the football. I threw it into the stands. I wish I held on to it."
13. Going for two? In a preseason game? Twice? Doug Pederson continues to be aggressive. He wasn't asked about the decisions in his postgame press conference. Talk about going for two twice – one time it worked on a Wendell Smallwood run and once Smallwood was stuffed – in a preseason game. Love it.
14. Punter Cameron Johnston finished with a solid 45.8-yard punting average, with an excellent 43.8-yard net average – on six punts. He also had a boomer of an 81-yard punt wiped out by penalty. He's got a huge leg. Consistency is the key to make it in the NFL.
15. Rookie Josh Adams carried six times for 30 yards, including a burst around the right edge for 15 yards.
16. Penalties? Too many of them – 11 for 74 lost yards. There were no controversial penalties with all of the new rules in place. It's very simple, and very difficult at the same time: Players who lower their helmets and initiate contact are going to be penalized. It's very straight forward.
17. The Eagles return to practice on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. Practice is open to the public (tickets are needed, however). See you there.