Just kidding. It’s preseason, folks. The outcome of the game doesn’t. Yes, the defending Super Bowl champions clearly have some sloppiness to clean up by the time September 6 is here. The good news is they still have more than two weeks to work on things.
Getting back to the game itself, here’s a look at 12 things we learned.
1 - Too many injuries
A number of Eagles players broke the number one rule of preseason: don’t get hurt!
The following players left the game injured and did not return: Nick Foles, Richard Rodgers, Bryce Treggs, Josh Perkins, Stephen Roberts, Taylor Hart, and Kamar Aiken.
Foles is obviously the big one. The reigning Super Bowl MVP said his shoulder “feels pretty good” despite getting hit as he was about to uncork a deep ball. The fact that Foles didn’t have to go back to the locker room for X-rays or anything seems like a good sign. Still, it won’t be surprising to see Foles miss some practice time, and maybe even the rest of the preseason? The Eagles have to be smart about keeping him ready for Week 1, especially if Carson Wentz isn’t going to be ready. (I still think he is.)
Wide receiver is the other area of note here. Alshon Jeffery is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list; he might not be ready for Week 1. Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins are expected to be ready for the start of the season but they’ve been missing time recently. Now Aiken, who has been starting with Jeffery out, is dealing with a hamstring issue. Same goes for Treggs. And even Shelton Gibson got banged up on Thursday night before returning to the game and playing well. Somebody put the receivers in bubble wrap until September 6.
The Rodgers injury might be the most severe injury here. The veteran tight end had to get carted off, which is never a good thing. Hopefully the worst is avoided.
2 - Nick Foles is still very much hot and cold
I hate to say I was right about Nick Foles all along, but ...
Ha, just teasing. But seriously, have you ever seen a more streaky quarterback?
But as we saw against the Raiders and Cowboys late in the 2017 regular season, bad Foles is VERY bad. Foles was making simple throws look impossible on Thursday night. He was overthrowing wide open targets. Sure, the protection wasn’t always perfect and he didn’t have the greatest receivers to work with. But man, that was ugly.
Foles would play better than he did last night if he has to suit up in Week 1. He’d benefit from a strong gameplan put in place by Doug Pederson. Having Jason Peters in at left tackle instead of Big V and having Agholor in the slot would certainly help as well.
Still, it’s hard not to watch Foles’ low points and at least wonder if passing up on lucrative trade offers was the best decision in the world. (Not saying it was the WORST decision, just not 100% the right call.) Especially when the third string quarterback isn’t looking terrible. Which brings me to my next point ...
3 - I was right about Nate Sudfeld all along
(Well, well, well. How the turntables ...)
Now it’s my turn to take a premature victory lap and say that I wasn’t so crazy after all!
Sudfeld made some really nice throws on Thursday evening. He showed no reluctance to push the ball down the field. I thought he threw with great touch and accuracy. That much was apparent on his deep completion to Shelton Gibson while backed up against his own goal line. You can see the mobility is there as well.
Sudfeld showed everyone why the Eagles are high on him. He could eventually prove to be a nice long-term backup to Wentz and/or a quality trade chip one day.
In the short-term, it’s nice to see Sudfeld playing well with Foles injured and Wentz’s Week 1 status not completely certain. Between watching him in practice and game action now, I feel like he could give the Eagles the chance to win if he plays Week 1. It wouldn’t be an easy battle; it’s not like I’m expecting him to carry the team. But I think he’d at least give the Eagles a chance, unlike a Matt McGloin level player.
Sudfeld’s preseason stat line is up to: 32 of 53, 454 yards (8.6 avg), 5 TD, 3 INT, 96.0 passer rating. One of those picks was due to a ball going through Matt Jones’ hands and bouncing off his helmet into the hands of a defender. Doug Pederson blamed another one of the two Steelers interceptions on Bryce Treggs slipping during his route. The first interception Sudfeld threw against Pittsburgh was legitimately a bad throw. But he’s mostly rebounded since then.
Sudfeld struggles with consistency so it’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain a level of success through these final two preseason games. At the very least, it should be apparent the 24-year-old passer has got some talent.
4 - Ronald Darby looks poised for a big year
Darby has deservedly drawn praise for looking good in offseason practices. Now he’s showing up in the games as well.
Darby did a great job of holding up against some shots down the field by Tom Brady. If only he could catch, he could’ve had two interceptions.
With Jalen Mills (who missed Thursday’s game with a seemingly minor injury) and Darby looking good, it’s fair to expect the Eagles to get even better play from their corners than they did last year. Darby has every reason to want to succeed this year given that he’ll be a free agent in 2019.
5 - Shelton Gibson might do more than just make the team
Last week, I wrote that Gibson is a lock to make the 53-man roster. This week, I’m wondering if he’ll do more than just simply make the team.
Gibson is pushing for actual regular season playing time at this point. He’s proved to be a real tough cover due to the combination of his route-running and speed. And hey, he can even catch now!
Through two preseason games, has caught seven of his nine targets for 167 yards (18.6 average) and two touchdowns. Gibby has come a long way from where he was at this time last year.
With Jeffery potentially not going to be ready for Week 1, there will be some extra wide receiver snaps available. Prior to his injury, Hollins was taking most of the first team reps, but it’s been Gibson who has been way more impressive. Gibby deserves some opportunities when the real games start.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention his special teams contributions. Gibson averaged 30.3 yards on four returns last night, which was boosted by a long of 46. His ability to make an impact in the third phase makes him even more valuable.
6 - The Eagles need to work on the new helmet rule
The Eagles have been penalized several times for the new “lowering the helmet” rule now. No matter what you think of the rule, it’s one that exists, and one that they ultimately need to find a way to comply with. Hopefully the refs will back off those calls during the regular season. The Eagles have to do their part, though, and not give the opposing team a ton of free yardage.
7 - Halapoulivaati Vaitai isn’t a sure-fire tackle of the future
The legend of Big V grew last year when the Vikings came to Lincoln Financial Field and Everson Griffen was held without a sack. And then even more when the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
Big V has certainly proved he can be a viable swing tackle, yes. But count me among those who have serious doubts about him being a future long-term starter on this team. BGN’s Michael Kist plans to address this topic more in a detailed post, so I don’t want to steal his thunder.
I’ll just leave it at Vaitai really struggled on Thursday night. He allowed at least three of the eight sacks generated by the Patriots. His pass protection issues also caused Foles to get hurt. Not ideal.
8 - The nickel cornerback battle rages on
Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox both got some looks as the nickel corner. Both players had their ups and downs.
For the second week in a row, Jones made some good tackles. He even got in on a tackle for loss. His tackling was far from perfect, however, as he whiffed incredibly hard on Cordarrelle Patterson to allow a touchdown. Bad. Jones did have a couple pass deflections, which was nice to see.
Maddox will be remembered for giving up a touchdown to Chris Hogan in the red zone. Just got turned around by a crafty veteran. Tough one. I did like how he broke up a pass intended for Eric Decker despite being six inches shorter than the veteran receiver.
I’d guess Jones will ultimately “win” the slot battle but maybe it’s possible we see a rotation there? I still don’t think Jones has lived up to the high expectations that have been placed on him. Again, that’s not doubting me he’ll get better. I just think he’s not ready to be this instant difference-maker just yet.
9 - Dallas Goedert is very good but he’s not without rookie moments
Another productive night for the Eagles’ 2018 second-round pick. Goedert logged three receptions for 57 yards (19.0 average) against New England. The guy just gets open.
It could’ve been a better night for Goedert, though, if he didn’t ultimately fail to catch two touchdowns in the end zone. In fairness, you have to give credit to the Patriots defense for making good plays on the ball, but the rookie still had a chance to make plays and he did not. That’s perfectly fine. It’s just a reminder that he’s a rookie; not a finished product.
Another rookie moment occurred when Goedert whiffed on a block during a red zone run. It’s these kind of things that will not restrict his playing time entirely, of course, but limit it to some extent. In other words, he’s not about to take over Zach Ertz’s job overnight.
10 - The fourth running back battle is uninspiring
With Donnel Pumphrey and Josh Adams missing time, Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones had a golden opportunity to shine on Thursday night. So how did they respond?
Smallwood - 4 carries for 1 rushing yard, 1 reception for 5 receiving yards
Jones - 6 carries for 19 rushing yards, 6 receptions for 32 receiving yards
Not showing up on the stat sheet there is that Jones dropped THREE passes, including one that led to Sudfeld getting picked off.
Also not showing up is that Smallwood had a perfect chance to make someone miss in open space and just got tackled instead.
I really have no interest in keeping either of those guys around. This whole battle is uninspiring. Maybe Pumphrey CAN actually make the club in the tub given how bad everyone else has been. Alternatively, it’d be nice to see Adams get back and build on the promise he showed in his first preseason game.
11 - A new contender has emerged in the battle for the sixth wide receiver spot
With Markus Wheaton out, Bryce Treggs constantly getting hurt, Kamar Aiken banged up and not being able to catch a cold, Rashard Davis looking not so good on punt returns, and Tim Wilson only logging four snaps ... come on down, DeAndre Carter!
I’ve previously noted that Carter has had some nice flashes during training camp practices. He might be the leader for the sixth spot right now. The 25-year-old had three receptions for 48 yards. If he can prove to be trusted on special teams, he could sneak on to the final 53.
12 - Cameron Johnston’s job continues to be safe
It’s looking like the Eagles’ Australian punter is going to make the 53-man roster. He turned in a good performance on Thursday evening. His numbers were oddly similar to those posted by Patriots punter Ryan Allen, who isn’t bad.