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12 things we learned from the Eagles’ third preseason game

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Big takeaways.

NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles played a preseason football game against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday evening. Here’s what we learned.

1 - The Eagles suffered no major injuries

Forget the final score. The biggest win in the preseason is leaving the game unscathed. The Eagles seemingly managed to accomplish this on Thursday night. The press box announcer didn’t announce any Eagles injuries during the game. That’s great news.

2 - Carson Wentz won’t be playing in the preseason

We already suspected as much but now we know for sure that Wentz won’t be taking any preseason snaps. There’s zero chance he plays in the fourth preseason game, which is a matchup reserved for backups and guys competing just to make the team.

Doug Pederson talked about his decision to not play Wentz following the game:

Listen, we’ve had a lot of good work with him in training camp. We had a lot of great work against Baltimore this week in practice, and I’m real comfortable with where he’s at right now in his development, his growth with the team, and with the offense. We also did the same thing with Darren Sproles, Miles [Sanders] didn’t get in there, Jordan Howard. There were a couple of other players we didn’t play on purpose. But I’m comfortable where [Wentz] is, how he’s leading this football team, and just felt like this was another opportunity to look at the other guys to play.

[...]

I think from a leadership standpoint, on and off the field, how he’s really taken charge of the team, not just the offense but the team, some of the things that I see, I see him really opening himself up to the offense from the standpoint of letting the offense work. And that just comes from time with the system and developing his repertoire and what he likes and getting comfortable. He’s really done an outstanding job. And even physically from his rehab back in the spring all the way through training camp, he’s clicking on all cylinders. His mins is good, his body feels fresh, and all the things that we’ve seen through camp have really — for me, that was the deciding factor.

The Eagles not playing Wentz in the preseason is the right decision. What’s the upside to him playing? That he “shakes off some rust”? I mean, Jared Goff and the Rams weren’t looking very rusty after missing the entire 2018 preseason. Los Angeles started the regular season 8-0 while averaging 33 points per game en route to an eventual Super Bowl appearance.

What’s the downside to Wentz playing in the preseason? Well, he could get hurt and the Eagles’ season could be over before it even begins.

So ... does the reward really justify the risk? Answer: no, it doesn’t.

3 - Rodney McLeod is looking healthy

Arguably the most important development to come out of Thursday’s game. McLeod participated in his first live action since suffering a season-ending knee injury in September 2018.

The Eagles’ starting free safety looked good; he finished with three total tackles and one tackle for loss. His TFL came on a play where he read Trace McSorley well on a designed quarterback run and made the open field tackle to bring him down behind the line of scrimmage. McLeod is clearly on pace to start across from Malcolm Jenkins in Week 1.

The defense will be glad to have McLeod back after really missing him in 2018.

4 - Josh McCown should be the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback

McCown’s final stats: 17/24 (70.8%), 192 yards (8.0 average), 2 TD, 0 INT, 122.2 passer rating.

To further appreciate those numbers, let’s add more context. The 40-year-old McCown only came out retirement last Saturday to sign with the Eagles. He took limited reps in just three practices and one walk-through prior to tonight’s game.

Pretty impressive.

McCown delivered some real accurate strikes on Thursday evening. His fade throw to JJ Arcega-Whiteside was a beauty. So was his touchdown toss to Alex Ellis with pressure bearing down on him.

Signing McCown to a contract worth $2 million guaranteed and up to $5.4 million in incentives already signaled the Eagles were bringing him in to be Wentz’s primary backup. McCown’s performance on Thursday night solidified why he deserves that role over Sudfeld, who is still very much unproven in regular season action.

5 - JJ Arcega-Whiteside is a baller

JJ had a good spring but it’s been a relatively quiet summer for him. The rookie wide receiver made a big impact on Thursday night, though, by catching eight of his nine targets for 104 yards and one touchdown. Very efficient.

JJ’s talent was on full display against the Ravens. He managed to create separation with sharp route-running. He showed off his red zone prowess with his touchdown grab. He even showed some ability to get yards after the catch.

The Eagles already have a strong trio of starting receivers in Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor. It now looks like they can go at least four deep with JJAW showing some serious promise. The rookie is making his case to at least be a role player in this year’s offense.

Pederson praised JJ on Thursday evening:

One of the things [about] JJ is [he is] a hard worker. You see it in practice every day. He comes to work every day. He wants to get better. He wants to be taught. He wants to learn. He has a great mentor in Alshon in front of him, so he’s learning from that. BEing able to talk to Josh or talk to Carson during the week, talk about routes, talk aout covrage, and that’s where he really takes it over to the field, and I think that’s what you saw tonight with him and his ability to make plays. The red zone, we know he can be explosive. He was able to do that really not only there, but out in the field.

Side note: The Eagles’ 2019 NFL Draft class isn’t looking too bad, huh? Andre Dillard, Sanders, and JJ have all shown some serious promise this summer. Shareef Miller and Clayton Thorson haven’t been awesome but they’ve had some positive moments.

6 - Greg Ward is making it tough for the Eagles to cut him

Ward has had a good camp and he’s shown up in the preseason as well. He followed up last week’s touchdown reception with four catches for 45 yards against the Ravens.

Ward’s clearly outperformed Mack Hollins from an offensive standpoint. Do the Eagles value that enough to keep him on the 53-man roster? Do they believe in Ward as a special teams contributor?

Tough to say. Ward appears to be firmly on the roster bubble right now.

7 - Big V’s progress at guard is encouraging

BGN will have a more thorough breakdown on Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s preseason performance at right guard coming soon (please annoy Benjamin Solak so he follows through on it) but for now I’ll just mention that he’s looked good at his new position.

Pro Football Focus has Vaitai graded as the league’s fourth best guard to this point. The former swing tackle is inspiring confidence as a temporary starter at right guard if Brandon Brooks isn’t ready to play by Week 1.

And if Brooks is healthy, well, it doesn’t hurt to know Vaitai’s a good backup at guard in addition to being able to play tackle.

Vaitai’s versatility is great for his personal value as he enters free agency after the 2019 season. Some other team should give Vaitai a significant contract that helps the Eagles earn a 2021 compensatory pick (fourth-rounder?) for losing him.

8 - Corey Clement and Mack Hollins are alive

Clement played in his first game since going on injured reserve last season. His stat line wasn’t super sexy (seven carries for 25 yards, 3.6 average) but he looked healthy out there. It was an encouraging first game back.

Hollins only had two receptions for 15 receptions but it’s at least nice to see he’s staying healthy.

Clement and Hollins both missed a lot of practice time this offseason but they’re back now.

9 - Daeshon Hall should be the Eagles’ fourth defensive end

Hall didn’t dominate the stat sheet tonight like he did in his first two preseason games but he still looked good. Hall logged two quarterback hits, including a crushing but legal blow on Trace McSorley.

Hall drew a crucial holding penalty during a Ravens two-point conversion attempt that forced the Ravens to settle for an extra point kick instead. Oh, and Hall did that while going up against Baltimore’s starting right tackle.

Meanwhile, Josh Sweat didn’t log a single stat tonight.

Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, and Daeshon Hall are the Eagles’ four best defensive ends.

10 - Miles Sanders is the Eagles’ kick returner (?)

Kick returning isn’t so important in today’s NFL but it was still noteworthy to see Sanders lined up back there.

Sanders’ college track record wasn’t very impressive; he returned 38 kicks for a mere 20.1 average. Hard to expect big things out of him in this role but we’ll see if he can make an impact.

11 - Jake Elliott is creating doubt

The good news is that Elliott has drilled field goal attempts from 53 and 52 this preseason.

The bad news is that Elliott has missed field goal attempts from 41 and 40.

Elliott has come up big in crucial spots for the Eagles so far during his Philly tenure. But he’s not exactly quelling worry about his kicks that aren’t from super far out when he’s missing ones that should be routine in today’s game.

12 - Lightning is good

God had mercy on us tonight by creating lightning to end this meaningless preseason game with 11:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.

With that said, it’s too bad we didn’t get to see Clayton Thorson lead the Eagles to one of the greatest comebacks wins of all time.