The Eagles lost to the Steelers on Thursday night, but ... who cares! It’s the preseason. There were actually a lot more positives than negatives to take away from this game.
We said it before and it remains true: Quez Watkins is having the best summer of any Eagles wide receiver. It’s not even close. Watkins’ 79-yard touchdown reception was simple in that he caught a short pass and followed his blockers to break free to daylight. But one can’t take his speed for granted. As a reminder, this is a guy who runs a 4.35 second 40-yard dash (92nd percentile). The way he simply outran Steelers defenders was impressive.
To be clear, though, Watkins isn’t just a one-tricky pony speedster. He can outrun defenders, yes. But he’s also won with crisp route-running and jump ball contested catches (in practice settings, at least).
There’s no way Watkins isn’t one of the best three wide receivers on this team. I mean, Darius Slay recently named him as the receiver he’s been most impressed by. I’d put Watkins second only behind DeVonta Smith. He’s clearly earned first team practice reps. And if he continues to excel against tougher competition, he obviously needs to be in the starting lineup.
The question is: who do the Eagles take out of the top three to make that happen? If Smith and Watkins are the outside guys, is it Reagor who takes over in the slot? Do the Eagles mix and match that trio? And do Greg Ward and/or Travis Fulgham rotate in? Still time to figure things out on this front.
Hurts played better than his box score numbers indicate. In a small sample size, he was generally accurate and made good decisions. He didn’t look uncomfortable at all. Hurts’ highlight was obviously his 34-yard completion to Dallas Goedert. It was good to see him throw with anticipation on that play as opposed to waiting until his target was open. It was unfortunate that Hurts had to deal with two drops, although one of them came on a low throw. It’s also unfortunate that Hurts missed Watkins deep for what could’ve potentially been a 98-yard touchdown.
Overall, it was a performance that you can walk away feeling encouraged about. Let’s see if Hurts can build on it.
The team came out ready to play. The starters looked relatively crisp; there wasn’t a ton of sloppiness. There weren’t any obvious gaffes in Sirianni’s first game as a play-calling head coach.
Flacco has rebounded well from a slow start to training camp. The former Super Bowl MVP took advantage of the Steelers’ backup defense, as the 36-year-old should exactly be expected to do. He’s clearly the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback.
Jackson caught two of his five targets for 32 yards. Not the most impressive stat line but he looked pretty good for a former college quarterback playing in his first NFL game as a tight end. He’s totally earned a spot on the Eagles’ roster and it’ll be fun to watch him more in the next two preseason games. Just such a big target at 6’7”, 249 pounds.
After entering last year’s training camp injured, it wasn’t until late in the 2020 season that Hargrave started to really turn it on. The Eagles are happy to see he’s picked up right where he left off. Hargrave has been disrupted in camp and he carried that over to Thursday night’s game action against his former team. He landed a quarterback hit on Mason Rudolph to force a five-yard checkdown. He also pressured Rudolph into an incompletion on 3rd-and-11. The combination of Hargrave and Fletcher Cox could give quarterbacks some real trouble.
He didn’t have to play in a meaningless game! For those wondering, Sirianni noted that Sanders isn’t hurt; the Eagles just chose to rest him. One could read into this that the Eagles plan to really ride him this year and don’t want to risk him not being available.
Could argue he belongs in the “IDK” category since he dropped a potential third down conversion, bobbled a catch, and only had 3.8 yards per carry. But Huntley showed off some of his speed on both 1) a nice run to the outside that called back for holding and 2) a 35-yard kickoff return. Huntley deserves a spot on this roster.
In addition to reading Josh Dobbs and jumping in front of his throw for a pick, Riley had a nice special teams tackle on kickoff coverage. With Rodney McLeod on active/PUP and K’Von Wallace being listed as “week-to-week” with a groin injury, the Eagles might need to keep five safeties. Riley is making his case for a roster spot.
The veteran defensvie tackle shows up at least once every day in practice by generating disruption in the backfield. He did the same in Thursday night’s game. I still don’t know if the Eagles will keep him on their roster ... but he’s clearly been more impactful than Hassan Ridgeway. McGill has earned a DT3 or DT4 role.
Williams deserves credit for collapsing the edge on the play where McGill picked up his sack. The rookie third-round pick looks like he might be able to offer an instant impact as a rotational role-player. Take that, Tom Donahoe! (Just a joke.)
Elliott went 4/6 in the first practice he attempted a series of field goals. Since then, he hasn’t missed. The Eagles’ kicker had two makes from 47 yards out and one from 50 against the Steelers. Good to see Elliott rebound. Between camp and one preseason game, he’s 18/20 on all kicks (90%).
Playing in his first NFL game, Siposs averaged 55.8 yards on four punts. His longest try went for 69 yards, which was pretty nice to see. Though it would’ve been better if the ball didn’t go in the end zone for only a net of 49 yards. Still, encouraging start for the Eagles’ new punter.
TRA THOMAS and JON RUNYAN
This was overdue: two of the greatest offensive tackles in franchise history are now set to be inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame. I’m especially happy for Tra, who I’m honored to have a personal relationship with after working with him when BGN Radio was on SportsRadio 94WIP. He was a great player and he’s a great guy who really loves the Eagles.
1/5 (20% completion), 4 yards (0.8 average), 0 TD, 2 INT, 0.0 passer rating. Yikes!
Mullens legitimately got off to a good start in camp. It looked like he might push Flacco for the No. 2 spot. But he’s really struggled since that positive first impression. He’s clearly not making a case for the Eagles to keep three quarterbacks. He’s playing himself out of a practice squad spot at this rate.
THIRD DOWN OFFENSE
The Eagles went 0/8 on third down. 0/8! By contrast, the Steelers went 11/17. Clearly an area the Eagles are going to have to work on in practice.
THIRD STRING DEFENSE
It doesn’t matter a ton but it would’ve been nice to see the Eagles’ reserves not get absolutely dominated by Dwayne Haskins. The Steelers controlled the clock at will, finishing the night with a whopping 41 minutes and 18 seconds of possession. The Eagles’ third string defensive line was especially culpable in their struggles. Can’t say I feel good about the likes of Marlon Tuipulotu, JaQuan Bailey, or Raequan Williams making the team.
I DONT KNOWS
On the positive side, Reagor ran a nice route to get separation against Steelers starting cornerback Cameron Sutton for a 13-yard gain.
On the negative side, Reagor dropped a low but entirely catchable pass from Hurts. Hardly his first drop this summer. Reagor also could’ve wiped out Watkins’ long touchdown with a holding penalty:
The Steelers defensive back was looking for a call but obviously didn’t get it:
Reagor getting thoroughly outplayed by Watkins, his fellow 2020 NFL Draft class member, also isn’t the best development for him.