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Eagles vs. Browns: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Highlights and lowlights from Philadelphia’s second preseason game.

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles logged yet another uneven performance this preseason in an 18-18 tie to the visiting Cleveland Browns at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night to remain winless so far this summer.

The record is irrelevant. What is relevant is how woeful back-up quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Eagles’ second offense looked in the first half. They should have taken a cue from Bruce Springsteen and called out sick.

“I was sloppy, I could do a better job of getting our guys operating cleaner and more efficiently,” said Mariota, taking accountability in assessing his performance. “That’s what preseason is for, getting some of that stuff ironed out, clean off some of the rust and find ways to get better.”

Mariota does not feel he has any mechanical issues. He said he missed throws. That was it.

The Eagles’ threes and fours put in a better effort than the twos. It is preseason, though it does not matter when poor play occurs. It is still poor play, which is never tolerated by any coach at any level of football at any time of the year.

The Eagles, with some exceptions, have not been close to seamless this summer. They did not play well in Baltimore last week, did not show well in the Tuesday joint practice against the Browns and in the first half against Cleveland.

The glaring, saving grace has been rookie quarterback Tanner McKee, who by the way he has played this training camp looks far, far better than Mariota.

Despite the considerable experience gap between Mariota and McKee, would Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni think about McKee as the possible No. 2? The eye test shows he throws a better, accurate ball than Mariota. He has gained a fast mastery of the offense, has pocket awareness and throws with strong velocity. For the second-straight week, McKee displayed a better touch, placing the ball in tight windows to players who will most likely not make the team.

Mariota, meanwhile, has sailed everything. On Thursday night, he threw an interception and mismanaged the offense in the first half. His footwork is dubious, and it seems he lacks confidence in his throws.

There was good, bad, and piles ugly—especially in the first half—of the Eagles’ 18-18 tie with the Browns.

The Good

The Eagles made up for a horrid first half with their opening drive of the second half. Rookie quarterback Tanner McKee, a sixth-round draft pick out of Stanford, continues to look impressive. He throws a crisp ball, certainly far better than the way Marcus Mariota is throwing right now, and he runs the offense better than Mariota. He directed a six-play, 75-yard drive that gave the Eagles a 10-8 on running back Trey Sermon’s 33-yard touchdown run.

McKee finding Brady Russell for a 22-yard, tying fourth-quarter touchdown with 6:09 to play. McKee then followed up with a two-point conversion strike to Johnny King. McKee completed 10 of 18 for 147 yards and a touchdown, while Mariota was a lackluster 9 of 17 for 86 yards and an interception.

Right tackle Dennis Kelly and right guard Brett Toth collapsing the Browns’ defensive front on Sermon’s 33-yard touchdown run. Kelly squeezed down the Cleveland like an accordion, and Toth backed him up, leaving Sermon a gaping hole to go untouched. The score compensated for Sermon’s first-half fumble.

Kicker Jake Elliott’s 56-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a 3-2 lead. It was one of a very few positives the Eagles had in the first quarter.

Middle linebacker Nakobe Dean flashing through the Cleveland offensive line on first-and-goal at the Eagles’ one, causing a fumble and an Eagles’ recovery on the Browns’ first drive. Dean redeemed himself for an unnecessary roughness penalty he was called for on the previous play.

Defensive end Nolan Smith causing a sack on the Browns’ third possession on a third-and-four at the Cleveland 16. Smith forced Cleveland’s talented rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to step up in the pocket, where he was met by Kentavius Street and Marlon Tuipulotu.

Running back Rashaad Penny’s 16-yard run up the middle on the Eagles’ third possession, a second-and-10 at the Eagles’ 33. It was encouraging to see the veteran back show a slight burst like that.

It was an incomplete pass, but McKee’s pass to Tyrie Cleveland on the Eagles’ second drive of the second half was placed perfectly, right on Cleveland’s hands on a third-and-nine at the Eagles’ 16. Cleveland had to make a play on the ball, though the ball was thrown with a nice touch in a tight window. Cleveland was injured on the play and had to be carted off the field with a neck injury. He was able to move his arms and legs. On the Eagles’ third drive of the second half, on a second-and-20 at the Eagles’ 15, McKee found Tyree Jackson between two Brown defenders for a six-yard gain. McKee later connected with Jackson for a 35-yard pass early in the fourth quarter.

The Bad

Receiver Deon Cain dropping a McKee pass in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter that could have tied the game. It was thrown slightly high, though it was a pass Cain should have caught.

Cornerback Eli Ricks getting toasted by Austin Watkins, who the Eagles made look like Jerry Rice, on the Browns’ 32-yard touchdown pass. It was a back-shoulder toss, which Ricks, who had a pick-six last week against Baltimore, got turned around on and lost track of the ball. It was not the first time an Eagles’ defensive back lost the ball Thursday night.

On the Eagles’ second drive, Mariota over throwing Olamide Zaccheaus on a third-and-10 at the Cleveland 38. The Eagles had to settle for a field goal on the series.

The Ugly

The Eagles getting flagged 11 times for 55 yards, two crucial penalties came after the two-minute warning.

Eagles newly signed defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu getting called an illegal formation for lining up over the center during the Browns’ first attempt to take the lead just after the two-minute warning.

Browns’ third-string quarterback Kellen Mond making Janarius Robinson, Tarron Jackson, Moro Ojomo and Ben VanSumeren all miss on a third-and-four on the Cleveland nine with 10:05 left in the game. The Eagles had Mond seemingly pinned in the end zone for a safety and allowed him to escape for a six-yard gain and a first down. It is a play the Eagles’ defensive coaches will certainly replay ad nauseam on Friday during film session.

The Eagles’ first defensive series. It was the first time the platinum pair of defensive tackles Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis were played for any extensive time together and they got no push that caused Thompson-Robinson any problems. Thompson-Robinson seemed to have considerable time to convert two third downs. The Browns converted a third-and-four, which became a third-and-13 after a Browns’ penalty, and Cleveland still converted. Eagles’ second-team nickel back Zech McPhearson did not exactly acquit himself well, getting burned on a third-and-seven at the Cleveland 37, and on a third-and-eight at the Eagles’ 14.

Dean getting nailed for the unnecessary roughness after Thompson-Robinson converted the fourth-and-one at the Eagles’ two. If he is going to be one of the centerpieces of the 2023 Eagles’ defense, he is going to have to play with more discipline than that.

The Eagles’ first offensive drive. Mariota did not start well with an overthrown pass to tight end Grant Calcaterra, which was compounded by the Browns’ Mohamoud Diabate tackling Kenny Gainwell in the end zone for a safety. The Eagles, once again for the second-straight week, showed a lack of communication on the offensive line. Who had Diabate? Center Josh Andrews or right guard Josh Sills, who came into the picture late as Diabate had a clear path to Gainwell. Sills shifted too late, making a big play for the Browns’ first points for a safety.

Sills getting beat by Maurice Hurst for a five-yard sack on the first play of the Eagles’ second drive.

On the Eagles’ third drive, Mariota’s overthrown pass down the middle that was intercepted by the Browns’ Ronnie Hickman at the Cleveland 27. Again, Mariota sailed the ball high intended for Calcaterra.

On the Browns’ fifth drive, Thompson-Robinson’s 22-yard completion to Watkins on a first-and-10 at the Browns’ 48. The Eagles had little pass rush and Watkins made the catch beating linebacker Zach Cunningham, who was signed recently to add depth to the thin linebacking corps. It did not look too good, and made you wonder about Eagles’ new defensive coordinator Sean Desai matching a linebacker with a wide receiver.

Sermon’s fumble at the Eagles’ 41 that Diabate caused, for the Eagles’ second turnover of the first half.

Rookie cornerback Kelee Ringo had a right hand full of Watkins’ jersey on a third-and-three from the Eagles’ 38, after the Sermon fumble. Still, Watkins came up with a 27-yard catch because Ringo had no idea where the ball was.

The Eagles’ first half. Granted, it was a preseason game, but Sirianni had to expect to see better than that. By halftime, the Browns had outgained the Eagles, 217-102, had run off 41 plays to the Eagles’ 27, had 10 first downs, five of which came on third-down plays, and had two turnovers.

Mariota’s first half. There could be some growing concerns here. He was putrid. He completed 9 of 17 for 85 yards, with an interception for 85 yards and sacked three times for minus-15 yards. Mariota just did not miss, it appeared he missed by quite a bit.

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for,,,, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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