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Eagles vs. Steelers Final Score: 11 takeaways from Philadelphia’s first preseason game

Things we learned.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles are 0-1 in the 2018 NFL preseason after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday evening, 31 to 14. This game featured some sloppy football but there were some good moments as well. Here’s a look at 11 things we learned.

1 - No major injuries

Stressing the importance of avoiding injuries seems a little funny now after watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl despite missing so many key players. Regardless, the point stands. The most important thing about the preseason is getting through it while remaining as healthy as possible.

Sidney Jones suffered the most significant scare when he went down after getting rolled up on. After the game, Jones told reporters he’s fine. ““Low ankle sprain,” he said. “I am good.” Hopefully he won’t miss much time, if any at all.

Aside from Bryce Treggs, who also left the game early, everyone else seemed to leave the game relatively unscathed. Good to see.

2 - Fletcher Cox is NOT messing around

Man, I don’t think Cox was joking when he said he’s aiming to be this year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It’s easy to take a player like Cox for granted since we already know good he is, but it’s impossible not to mention him in this space.

Cox beat two-time All-Pro first-team right guard David DeCastro with ease on the second play of the game.

Then Cox put the Steelers’ backup center on skates to shove him into the quarterback.

Cox even chased down a screen play at one point. The man was playing possessed out there ... and it’s only the first preseason game. People wouldn’t even blame him if he wasn’t going all out in early August. No complacency here from No. 91.

It’s a good thing the Eagles have Cox because it’s not as easy to feel awesome about the rest of their defensive tackle situation. There’s no good idea of when (or even if) Timmy Jernigan will return to the field. Destiny Vaeao isn’t incredibly inspiring. Haloti Ngata is a stop-gap player who has mostly been running with the second team. Elijah Qualls had a bad night against Pittsburgh. Aziz Shittu didn’t even show up on the stat sheet. Winston Craig got absolutely planted into the ground on the second touchdown allowed by Rasul Douglas. Bruce Hector had a nice strip sack late in the game, which was encouraging, but it’s not easy to count on an undrafted free agent to have a major role.

3 - Dallas Goedert looks legit

I’ve been telling you all offseason that Goedert has looked like a beast in practices. Now you got to see the Eagles’ rookie tight end go off in a game. Four receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown on five targets is a real quality performance for the former Division I FCS player playing in his first NFL game.

As Steelers defenders learned first-hand, Goedert is simply not an easy player to cover. He knows how to get open.

Of course, the 23-year-old is far from a finished product. He had a bad drop over the middle of the field where he lost focus and started to think about what he was going to do after he caught it. Goedert’s blocking was up and down as well.

Overall, though, it’s clear Goedert is going to have some kind of role in the Eagles offense this year. He’s too good not to get on the field.

4 - Nice start for Sidney Jones, still want to see more

Jones got the start at first team nickel corner. He even stayed in the slot when the rest of the starters came out. Overall, it seemed like a solid night for the Eagles’ 2017 second-round pick. Jones got in on some tackles; he finished with four in total (two solo). He didn’t seem to get tested in coverage much.

The bad news is that Jones got nicked up. As previously mentioned, he indicated it’s not a serious injury. We’ll see if that’s true or not when the Eagles return to training camp practice on Saturday. Jones already missed a few weeks of spring drills with a “lower body injury.” No one wants to see him become known for being an injury-prone player

I’m looking forward to seeing more out of Jones this summer. I still feel like I haven’t seen everything I want to see from him yet.

5 - Shelton Gibson is making this team

Gibson made the team last year when he really had no business doing so considering he had a real bad offseason and ultimately got outplayed by Bryce Treggs.

This year is looking like it’s going to be a different story. Gibson has looked improved in offseason practices and we saw that translate to game action with his 63-yard touchdown reception on Thursday night. Gibson simply just ran by the Steelers corner trying to cover him. Never had a chance. That play reminded me of what an NFL scout had to say about Gibson prior to the 2017 NFL Draft:

“He will end up being one of the three fastest players at the combine. He’s got ridiculous speed. He runs by people like they are standing still like DeSean Jackson used to do at Cal.”

And that’s why the Eagles drafted Gibson.

With Gibson looking like a lock, the following five receivers are going to make the 53-man roster: Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson.

It’s very possible the Eagles keep a sixth receiver, but none of the players competing for that spot really showed much on Thursday. Take a look:

Bryce Treggs: 3 receptions, 33 yards (left game early)
DeAndre Carter: 1 reception, 20 yards
Rashard Davis: 1 reception, 7 yards
Greg Ward Jr.: 0 receptions
Anthony Mahoungou: 0 receptions
Tim Wilson: 0 receptions
Markus Wheaton: Did not play due to injury

There’s plenty of time for things to change. Someone needs to step up, though.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention Gibson’s kick returns. He dropped his first attempt, which wasn’t good, but he redeemed himself later on with two returns for a total of 53 yards (26.5 average). His longest went for 31. I feel like he looks kind of herky-jerky as a returner. It’s worth giving him looks there, though, due to his speed.

6 - Nate Sudfeld is inconsistent

I’ve already seen you calling me out in the comments, you rabble-rousers.

“Sudfeld stinks, BLG doesn’t know anything!”

“Can you believe some people wanted to start this guy over Nick Foles?!”

Listen, relax.

Some of you are acting like I’ve previously said Sudfeld is the greatest player of all-time. (That’s obviously wrong because it’s G.J. Kinne.) All I’ve said is that I think he can be a viable No. 2 quarterback. And despite a less than stellar performance on Thursday night, I still believe that to be the case.

I mean, for as much as Sudfeld struggled, he still finished the night with a 103.3 passer rating.

I’ll agree that his performance didn’t look as good as the numbers indicate. Sudfeld seemed to struggle with the mental aspects of the game, which is certainly not insignificant for a quarterback. He didn’t read the defense well on his first interception. His second pick was more related to miscommunication, but still. Even putting the picks aside, there were some plays where Sudfeld was too slow to get rid of the ball. We’ve seen that slow processing issue in practice as well.

Maybe that’s something the 24-year-old can continue to work on. It’d be great if he does because we can see that he does have the physical tools to succeed. Sudfeld did a great job of imitating Carson Wentz and shaking off a free rusher before hitting Goedert for his first STOUCHDOWN of the night. Sudfeld’s showed great touch on his deep pass to Gibson; the ball was right on the receiver’s hands.

The reality is that inconsistency plagues backup quarterbacks. That’s why they’re, you know, backups. I mean, come on, everyone’s favorite Eagles Super Bowl MVP is hardly a beacon of consistency.

Let’s see what Sudfeld has to offer in a few more preseason games before we write him off entirely. I’ll be real with you and say Thursday wasn’t the most encouraging night for Studfeld (or my brand). He’s probably best suited to be a No. 3 quarterback again this season as opposed to the No. 2 behind Wentz.

While we’re talking about Eagles quarterbacks, I’ll quickly say that I proudly stand by my take that Joe Callahan is better than Matt McGloin. (Or at least more bearable to watch.) At least I got that one right!

7 - The WILL battle rages on

Nate Gerry got the start at first team weakside linebacker and finished the game with four solo tackles. I just don’t have a strong feeling about him.

I do feel much stronger about Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was all over the field making plays. Kamu led the team in tackles with six solo tackles. He also notched two tackles for loss.

Corey Nelson apparently played last night. I don’t even remember seeing him but he’s listed on the stat sheet with one tackle.

As it’s been said all along, this position battle isn’t incredibly important because the Eagles aren’t likely to use a ton of their “base” defense. It’s hard to care a ton about who wins. The Eagles might just end up rotating these guys anyway.

With that said, I just bet my life savings on Grugier-Hill.


8 - Corey Clement’s development continues to be impressive

I can never get over the progress Clement has made from being an undrafted rookie free agent to where he is now. The Eagles’ second-year running back looks great. He finished the night with five rushes for 30 yards (6.0 average). One of those runs involved him juking a Steelers linebacker out of his shoes. That’s just not the Clement I expected to see coming into the league.

With Darren Sproles not playing, it was interesting to see Clement field the first punt return (for 13 yards). I wonder if he’ll split those duties with No. 43 in the regular season.

While Clement is going to have a role in this Eagles offense, it’s clear that Jay Ajayi is still the team’s “lead” back. Ajayi’s 22-yard gain with the offense backed up deep in their own territory was nice to see. The offensive line gave him a huge hole to work with, yes, but he still ran through contact to pick up some tough yards. He even lost his shoe during that run!

9 - Jordan Mailata survived his first NFL start

I’m really proud of Jordan Mailata. I feel like it’d be very easy for the 21-year-old Aussie to just give up on football after a few tough training camp practices. He’s far away from home, he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, he’s getting berated on a daily basis ... and yet, there’s no been no quit in him so far. He’s put his head down and done his best to learn a sport that’s entirely new to him.

Playing in his first ever FOOTBALL game (think about that — his first football game at any level), Mailata didn’t look like the disaster he easily could’ve been. He did allow a strip-sack on his first play, sure, but he seemed to settle in after that. There were some rough moments but there were some positive flashes as well.

Take the moments where he reacted to a defensive lineman jumping offside, for example. Doing that twice allowed the Eagles’ offense to get two free five-yard gains. More importantly, it shows how Mailata is really taking to Jeff Stoutland’s coaching. Mailata said Stoutland tells the players to react to d-linemen jumping like that. He said Stoutland simulates the suggested reaction as “Ooga-booga-booga!”

Mailata still has a very long way to go before he’s ready to be counted upon in a meaningful game. For now, it was good to see he showed some semblance of being an actual NFL player.

10 - Josh Adams gained ground in the fourth running back battle

With Donnel Pumphrey and Matt Jones missing the first preseason game due to injury, Thursday night was an opportunity for Wendell Smallwood and undrafted rookie Josh Adams to shine.

Smallwood didn’t really stand out in a good way. He only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. His three passing targets resulted in two receptions for two yards.

Adams showed a little more juice than his running mate (pun intended). The Bucks County native had six attempts for 30 yards (5.0 average) along with two receptions for 11 yards. Adams even drew praise from Doug Pederson after the game.

“I thought Josh did a nice job with the amount of play time that he got,” Pederson said. “All the running backs were going to get some time outside of Sproles. So, it increases Josh’s reps just a little bit. And I thought Josh did a nice job. He did a really good job in protection, number one, catching the ball out of back field, and some of the runs, you can see how big and powerful he is when he hits the edge.”

The blocking in front of him obviously helped pave the way for Adams’ longest run, a 15-yarder, but I still liked to see how he hit the gap hard.

That fourth running back spot is competitive. Pump seemed to be the favorite but he’s losing ground while he’s hurt again. Adams seemed to boost his stock on Thursday. It could come down to Pump or Adams.

11 - Maybe Cameron Johnston will be the Eagles’ punter after all?

It’s unfortunate the 81-yarder didn’t count because that was pretty awesome. On six punts that DID count, Johnston averaged 45.8 yards. Three of them were in the 20. I’m still not considering him a lock. He didn’t seem to hurt his stock, though.

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