On the Eagles' third offensive play Thursday night, in their third game of this preseason, Carson Wentz dropped back, sidestepped a Miami Dolphins defensive lineman, and lofted a deep pass to a player who, just Monday, had said moments like this didn't matter all that much. Torrey Smith had, in a familiar sight, blazed past Byron Maxwell and gotten so far behind him that he could have fair-caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Wentz. It was Smith's first reception, and the Eagles' longest play, of the preseason, but if Smith was to be believed, he will have forgotten about it by lunchtime Friday.

"The way you practice is more important than anything, especially in the preseason," Smith, about to begin his seventh NFL season, had said after practice Monday. "You don't play much. Defenses aren't really doing anything, and it's more so about how you execute in practice. Obviously, you want to play well when you're out there, but in my opinion it's all about how you practice."

Doug Pederson, by all available indications, shares Smith's opinion. He kept Wentz, Smith, and the Eagles' first-team offense on the field for just the first quarter of the Eagles' 38-31 win on Thursday. And if we're still learning about Pederson's habits and philosophies in his nascent NFL head-coaching career, this much seems certain: He's happy to expose his offensive starters to a minimum of preseason snaps. In none of these three games did the Eagles' first-team offense play beyond the first quarter—a sample size that's part of a trend dating to last year's preseason opener, when Pederson pulled his offensive starters after their first possession.

The trade-off is obvious here. Pederson is willing, it seems, to sacrifice more opportunities for the offense to achieve a greater measure of synchronicity. The benefit, of course, is that the Eagles are more likely to enter the regular season with a full complement of healthy starters. It's easy to argue that Wentz needed more time to build chemistry with Smith and Alshon Jeffery, that it would have been reassuring to see Wendell Smallwood pick up at least one blitzing Miami linebacker Thursday night, that the offensive line didn't look as stout as often as it ought to. But using the preseason to foreshadow how a team or an offense or a defense might perform once the games begin to matter is often a futile exercise.

One needs only to think back to the 2015 preseason for a telling example. If the numerical sequence 27-2 still forever sticks to Nick Foles and his tenure as the Eagles' starting quarterback, a now-infamous night in Green Bay set up the same unreasonable expectations for Sam Bradford: 10-10-3. Ten completions in 10 attempts for three touchdowns … and so many unfulfilled Super Bowl dreams.

"We might have peaked a little early," Eagles tight end Trey Burton said, laughing at the memory of the Eagles' dominant '15 preseason and the ugly 7-9 campaign that followed it. "We definitely were feeling really good. We were rolling. We were hitting a lot of things in stride, which is good, but you also need to have moments where you don't play well and you've got to pick yourself back up and have another opportunity to do well."

"The biggest thing is, how effective are we on offense?" Wentz said. "Are we moving the chains? Are we converting third downs? Situational football is a huge part of this game, and that's what we're always mindful of. How are we doing in the red zone? How are we doing on third down? Discipline, penalties — we've got to avoid that stuff. Judging success is always an interesting thing in a preseason game. Ultimately, you want to win the game, but it brings on a different element. I think we just want to be sharp."

By those measures, the first-team offense got plenty of prep work Thursday night, even in just a quarter. The offensive line — and, among the running backs, Smallwood, in particular — did struggle to protect Wentz on a couple of blitzes. On the first play of the Eagles' third possession, Dolphins defensive end William Hayes bull-rushed Lane Johnson, driving him so far backward that Hayes batted a Wentz pass into the air and allowed defensive tackle Jordan Phillips to intercept it. But the Eagles closed the quarter with an eight-play, 93-yard drive that featured a 16-yard run by the heretofore unproductive LeGarrette Blount and two completions to Jeffery, including a 15-yard touchdown.

As Wentz and Jeffery jumped into each other's arms in the end zone, Pederson decided that he had seen enough from his most important offensive players. The Eagles had moved the ball. They had avoided any major injuries. And they would be back on the practice field soon enough. Which, if you believe the man who helped deliver the night's first big play, is what matters most.