The Eagles opened their preseason with a 27-10 loss to the Titans Thursday night. Doug Pederson sat the majority of his starters, whether for injury reasons or to avoid injury, and it hard to see any fault with this decision in light of Nate Sudfeld’s broken wrist.
Win, lose, or I’d-rather-watch-an-Andy-Warhol-movie, here’s what we learned:
I wrestled with this thought for a moment but ultimately came out in favor of sitting Wentz until the season starts. It’s actually sort of a no-brainer. What could be gained by a few series, or even a quarter or two of play that would be worth the risk of injury? Sudfeld’s fluke injury – he was hit late and used his hands to brace his fall – only hammered that point home. Wentz’s best season did come in 2017, when he had a typical number of preseason repetitions. And he played in only one preseason game the other two years. But he fractured ribs in that outing. The preseason is more for bubble roster players and rookies. I’d imagine it would take only a couple of snaps in the season opener for Wentz to adjust to the speed of the game. The Eagles can afford the patience.
So what to do about Wentz’s backup? Sudfeld had surgery on Friday and could miss just six weeks. That takes the Eagles into the regular season. Do you roll the dice with Cody Kessler, or do you pick up at least someone to compete for that job? If it’s the latter, I’d imagine you’d want to acquire someone sooner than later to give them time in the offense. But there aren’t many attractive options on the street. Sam Bradford or Colin Kaepernick have been the two most prominent names floated, but Brock Osweiler, Matt Cassell, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith are also available. Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez recently retired. Maybe you can lure the former back on the field. The pickings are slim. How about Josh Johnson? He started three games for the Redskins last year and was good enough to win one. He was lousy in the season finale loss to the Eagles, but can he be any worse than Kessler? General manager Howie Roseman might want to wait until closer to cut-down day, but how many backup-caliber quarterbacks will shake free? Most teams don’t even have a No. 2 capable of stepping in and winning games, which is why the Eagles may just roll the dice.
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Andre Dillard was the standout of the group if only because he played the most (33 of 62 offensive snaps). The Eagles’ top pick didn’t face off against the Titans’ best edge rushers, but he fared well against their second-unit guys, particularly in pass protection. Dillard’s future is seemingly bright. Running back Miles Sanders logged only six snaps. He rushed three times for three yards before getting the hook. He said he was surprised by the early yank. Nevertheless, it told us the regard Pederson already has for the second-round pick. Third round receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside caught two passes for 23 yards. An 11-yard snag came in traffic and on third down. I liked his one-handed effort on Sudfeld’s first pass. He beat his man on a deep post, but the pass was a touch long. Fourth-round defensive end Shareef Miller finished with three tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits against the Titans’ deep reserves. It’s early, but you can’t argue with those numbers.
Clayton Thorson had a forgettable debut. I would be inclined to use the phrase deer in headlights to describe in his performance, but he’s generally practiced that way since May. He threw at the feet of running back Donnel Pumphrey on an elementary five-yard pass – something he had previously done in camp. He air mailed a throw over the middle directly to a Titans safety for an interception. And he had several other woeful attempts. Nerves certainly played a factor. But that also told you a little about his mindset. I’m certain of one thing: Thorson can’t do any worse. He finished with a 0.0 passer rating. Cue Dean Wormer.
DeSean Jackson was the only new guy to get the night off. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, running back Jordan Howard, defensive end Vinny Curry, linebacker Zach Brown and Sendejo played anywhere between nine and 24 snaps. Jackson and Curry didn’t show up in the stat sheet, but it was of little consequence. Howard finished with eight yards on three totes. I wrote more about his night – and Sanders’ – in my column off the game. Brown started alongside Nate Gerry and recorded three tackles. He looked OK.
But Sendejo caught my eye. He was aggressive on a run stop off the edge. And he broke up a fourth-down pass after dropping into zone coverage. It was an extension of his effort in camp. If Rodney McLeod (knee) isn’t ready by the season, the Eagles could do worse than have Sendejo start next to Malcolm Jenkins. It may take some shifting of responsibilities, though. Jenkins will likely have to drop back into centerfield more than he typically does. Senjedo does have his limitations in coverage. But over the long haul, he will be an upgrade as the third safety, and he should play a lot in Jim Schwartz’s sub packages.
Tight end Dallas Goedert and cornerback Avonte Maddox had quality rookie seasons. They should deliver upon that promise in their second seasons. Goedert caught three of five targets for 50 yards. He did so effortlessly, and again killed it as a blocker. Maddox was in man coverage on a short, third-down conversion, but the pass was perfect, and he blanketed the receiver. He otherwise acquitted himself well in the slot. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas got the starts on the outside. Corey Davis didn’t play, but the two corners did their jobs vs. the Titans’ other receivers.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai took his first snaps at right guard. He looked solid in pass protection, not so much as a run blocker. Gerry has been with the first-team defense all camp, but I wonder if his spot is precarious even after Kamu Grugier-Hill’s knee injury. He wasn’t necessarily bad against the Titans. But his coverage on the Titans’ first touchdown – a Ryan Tannenhill 1-yard pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt -- wasn’t ideal. And I’d like to see a little more of L.J. Forte in that role. He had a decent first game with the Eagles.
If their roster chances depend upon the Titans game, I’d be worried if I were safety Tre Sullivan, running back Josh Adams, and Pumphrey. All three struggled. Sullivan’s play has regressed since last season. Blake Countess got the nod to start ahead of him, although he didn’t look so hot either. Adams and Pumphrey both fumbled. Adams’ stock continues to fall. He’s a fine runner, but catching and blocking are issues, as is special teams play. Pumphrey is just filling space at this point.
Second-year offensive linemen Jordan Mailata and guard Matt Pryor are projects, and will likely get another year on the roster, but the rookie shine is gone. Mailata played more snaps (53) than any other Eagles offensive player. He needs the work. He had his inconsistencies, particularly in pass protection, but there were positives. I don’t know what to make of Pryor. He’s looked like a future starter in one-on-one camp drills, but when the lights go on, it’s like he’s blocking in the dark. Defensive end Josh Sweat didn’t produce much in terms of statistics but he had some strong rushes. He had to go up against Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan, who will be suspended for the first four games of the season because of performance-enhancing drug use, and wasn’t overwhelmed. Daeshon Hall fared better on the other side, at least in terms of numbers. He finished with six solo tackles, two of them for loss and a sack. Impressive. Now do it again.