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14 things we learned from the Eagles’ third preseason game

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Big takeaways from an ugly summer night.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles dropped to 0-3 in their 2018 preseason schedule after losing to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night by a final score of ... 5 to 0. Here are some things we learned from a very ugly game.

1 - No major injures

The Eagles accomplished their most important goal by simply staying healthy. A couple of key players (Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Halapoulivaati Vaitai) got a little banged up but ultimately seemed to be fine.

With Philadelphia’s starters expected to sit out of the team’s fourth and final preseason game, we can now breathe a sigh of relief. The Eagles made it through the offseason without adding a bunch of new names to the injury list.

Of course, the Eagles still have a number of players who are fighting their way back from injury, such as Brandon Graham, Alshon Jeffery, etc. But those guys will have 13 days (from today) to get ready by Thursday, September 6. The Eagles will also be getting back a number of guys (Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement, Jay Ajayi, etc.) who’ve missed preseason action.

In short, this team’s injury situation still isn’t ideal. But it could’ve been a lot worse, and thankfully it wasn’t.

2 - Nick Foles is still Nick Foles

Foles was a disaster on Thursday evening. In his defense, it’s only preseason and the Eagles’ offense was missing a bunch of key players. But those excuses would be more justifiable if Foles was merely average or even generally unimpressive. He wasn’t even THAT good. Instead, he’s been downright awful through two preseason games.

Gross.

It gets said all the time: Foles is a high variance quarterback. There’s no better proof of that than this stat:

He’s either awesome or he totally sucks.

It goes without saying that Eagles fans will always be thankful for the Super Bowl MVP’s part in bringing a championship to Philadelphia. Some bad preseason performances certainly don’t change that.

But those outings do serve as a reminder that there’s a reason Foles is probably best suited to be a backup.

I’m really not worried about Foles moving forward. He’s shown the ability to bounce back from terrible games before. Hopefully he won’t have to play at all this season, but if he does play in a small stretch, the Eagles will probably be relatively fine. He’ll certainly benefit from a better supporting cast and real game-planning. Him playing over a longer stretch of time could be a different story.

The one thing that does annoy me with Foles’ struggles is how RIDICULOUS some people were being this offseason when the topic of trading him came up. I mean ...

This is just insanity.

Given the way Foles has struggled and Nate Sudfeld has progressed and Carson Wentz has looked good in recovery, it’s very fair to wonder if passing up on trading Foles for pick No. 35 was a great idea. The Eagles could’ve missed their chance to sell high on a depreciating asset. It’s very possible the Eagles only end up with a late third-round compensatory pick in 2020 — AT BEST — for Foles.

3 - Carson Wentz showed an encouraging sign

Wentz didn’t even play but he might’ve been one of the biggest winners from last night. His pregame workout reminded reporters of the one he had as a rookie back in 2016. The feeling here all along has been that he’s going to be ready for Week 1. His workout did nothing to discourage that thought.

While we’re talking about Wentz, I feel like it needs to be said that Foles’ ugly preseason performance will not force the Eagles to rush No. 11 back into playing before he’s ready. But hopefully people will agree that if Wentz IS cleared, he should be playing. Miss me with this whole ‘Foles deserves to start!’ idea. The Eagles are going to play Wentz if he’s ready because Wentz gives him the best chance to win. This isn’t little league.

4 - The defense is ahead of the offense

It’s easy to walk away from last night’s game with a bad taste in your mouth due to the ugly offensive performance. But hey, let’s give some credit to the defense! Jim Schwartz’s unit only allowed three points (two points were given up by Foles). Doug Pederson called the defense’s performance “outstanding” in his post-game presser.

The defense is aided by the fact they’re mostly healthy right now. The only two starters that were missing on Thursday night were Brandon Graham and Timmy Jernigan. Graham should be on his way back soon so that’s nice to think about. Jernigan’s return timeline is less certain.

Even beyond just last night, it’s been a good summer for the Eagles’ defense. That’s been nice to see considering how much flack they took for getting absolutely roasted in the Super Bowl.

5 - Halapoulivaati Vaitai is not an inspiring swing tackle right now

And that’s an understatement. The tape is ugly and so are the numbers:

Facing 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett certainly wasn’t going to be easy for Vaitai. But Big V just looks lost out there. He’s inspiring no confidence as the primary backup to both Jason Peters and Lane Johnson right now.

It’s to the point where Jordan Mailata, who played his first football game EVER two weeks ago, is looking more comfortable on the field!

6 - Sidney Jones is the Eagles’ nickel CB

Jones was with the Eagles’ first team defense last night as the nickel corner. The 2017 second-round pick is likely going to be their guy there this year, which is not unexpected. Avonte Maddox did make a nice interception, and he’s pushing for playing time in defensive back heavy sets, but Jones is the more talented player overall.

For what it’s worth, Jones is PFF’s fourth highest graded cornerback in the entire league this preseason. In the 10 times he’s been targeted, he’s only allowed five receptions for 39 yards. He also has four pass breakups.

I still don’t think Jones is going to immediately be this star player that some might bill him as but he’s certainly earned his playing time.

7 - There are signs of life in the fourth running back battle

And so it looks like the hotly contested fourth running back battle will come down to Wendell Smallwood versus Josh Adams.

Smallwood ran well on 12 carries for 53 yards. He also had two receptions for 14 yards. Nothing he did was overly impressive but he looked like a competent fourth running back.

Adams showed some nice juice while running through contact. The rookie rusher finished with 33 yards on four carries in limited playing time.

I think if the Eagles have their druthers, they’ll find a way to stash Adams on injured reserve while keeping Smallwood as the fourth running back. That would allow Adams, who has been dealing with injury issues this offseason, to get healthy and be better prepared to make the roster in 2019.

If Adams being a phantom IR candidate isn’t possible and the Eagles have to choose between him and Smallwood, maybe they go with Adams’ upside. There’s still one preseason game to sort this battle out.

One player who will definitely not be making the roster is Matt Jones, who fumbled last night. Honestly I don’t need to see him play another snap in an Eagles uniform.

8 - The Eagles may have found their sixth wide receiver

All aboard the DeAndre Carter hype train! Thanks for making me look smart by putting you on my 53-man roster projection last week, DC.

Carter is up to eight receptions for 141 yards (17.6 average) in the preseason so far. It’s not just like he’s only been good in the games, either. I remember him beating Eagles starting cornerback Ronald Darby a few times in training camp.

The fact that Carter got the start in the slot with the first team seems like a good sign for him. He played so much more than his competitors, Rashard Davis and Greg Ward Jr.

Carter offers the Eagles depth in the slot behind Nelson Agholor. He also brings some special teams value as a punt returner.

Go read Michael Kist’s film breakdown on him, if you haven’t already.

9 - The WILL competition seems undecided

In a bit of a twist, Kamu Grugier-Hill received first team weakside linebacker reps on Thursday evening. Nathan Gerry got the start there in the first two preseason games.

I don’t know that there’s been a decisive winner in this battle just yet. I’ve been partial to Kamu, but Gerry did make a really nice play to force an interception last night. Gerry legally chucked a receiver within five yards to throw him off his route and that led to Maddox making an interception.

Maybe the Eagles should just continue to rotate Grugier-Hill and Gerry until someone really seizes the job. I mean, if we can have a freaking LEFT GUARD ROTATION, why can’t we see that?

10 - Feeling a little bit better about defensive tackle

I’ve previously said that DT is arguably the biggest position of concern on the roster right now. Fletcher Cox is a beast, yes. But what do the Eagles have besides him?

Veteran defender Haloti Ngata showed me some juice last night by finishing with one regular tackle, one tackle for loss, and one sack. He almost had two sacks but Baker Mayfield spun out of one. I don’t know much the Eagles can really count on the 34-year-old to play this season but his performance made me feel a little less worried.

Bruce Hector continues to inspire confidence as well. Benjamin Solak had some good notes on the undrafted rookie free agent in last night’s Winners and Losers:

I’m taking the L on Elijah Qualls, about whom I wrote positively in the summer. He’s been beaten out for the DT3/4 spot by Bruce Hector, the UDFA out of South Florida.

While he came without much buzz (though BLG would want me to remind you how much money he got in his UDFA deal), Hector has just been a steady force on the interior. He doesn’t provide much pass rush upside — there was some decent push against the Browns — but he’s an active and powerful run defender who has more quickness to him than you expect. He’s a 53-man player.

Add in Michael Bennett’s to play on the inside and the Eagles could be OK there as long as Cox stays healthy.

11 - Jordan Hicks is back

I listed Hicks in my “14 players to watch” last night since he had some bad moments against the Patriots. I was looking for a rebound performance. Thankfully, Hicks didn’t fail to deliver.

The play-making linebacker simply fills up the stat sheet. He had four tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, one tackle for loss, and one key pass deflection on a 4th-and-goal attempt.

Hicks has been really, really good when he’s healthy. Let’s hope he continues to stay on the field.

12 - Derek Barnett is alive!

It’s been previously noted that Barnett has had a quiet summer. His offseason sports hernia surgery may be to blame. But if that’s the case, it didn’t hold him back as much on Thursday.

Barnett finished the game with two run stops and two hurries. One of those pressures came on a third down play where he: used his bend to get around Browns left tackle Joel Bitonio (a good player), dominated a running back in pass protection, and drew a holding call to ultimately force the Browns to punt.

Barnett even made another nice third down stop when he was out in space covering athletic freak tight end David Njoku.

Nice to see some positive flashes from the second-year player.

13 - Jake Elliott’s short kick struggles are still a thing

It was frustrating to see Elliott miss a 33-yard kick attempt for the second week in a row. We all know he’s clutch as hell from long distance but he just can’t make the easy ones. The Eagles should really just consider taking delay of game penalties to make the kicks longer. I’m not joking.

14 - Cameron Johnston is going to be the Eagles’ punter

It seems safe to say Johnston has won the punter job. There’s still one more preseason game to go, but barring a disaster, it looks like he’ll be the guy. Johnston averaged 48.3 on four attempts last night with a long of 60. He pinned one of his punts down at the 7-yard line. That’ll do.