Eagles Wilt Against Steelers in Preseason Opener
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - There was good and bad to the Eagles' 31-14 preseason loss in the oppressive South Philadelphia heat to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.
For the glass-is-half-full crowd rookie tight end Dallas Goedert looked like a Zach Ertz clone, Fletcher Cox seemingly wants to make good on that NFL Defensive Player of the Year goal, putting on a dominant performance as an interior rusher, and the light has evidently turned on for speedy second-year receiver Shelton Gibson, who scorched the Pittsburgh defense for a 63-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
The pessimists also had plenty to wring their hands over, however, starting with Rasul Douglas allowing two big plays in the passing game -- a 73-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster and a 29-yard score to the unheralded Damoun Patterson --as well as Nate Sudfeld's continued unwillingness to take shots against zone coverage and Sidney Jones getting banged up yet again after taking some friendly fire from Nate Gerry.
With both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles not dressing Sudfeld got the entire first half and finished 10-for-14 for 140 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one that was his fault and another which probably wasn't.
"I think overall [Nate] played pretty well," coach Doug Pederson said of the mixed badg "Obviously, the two turnovers are critical, but those are things that are all correctible and are teachable moments. I can do a better job teaching the route and teaching the progression and all that and helping him there. But I thought once he settled down, made some really nice throws down the field.",
On the first INT Cody Sensabaugh simply dropped off Mack Hollins in zone coverage and Sudfeld didn't see him as he tried to fit the ball into Greg Ward. The second was Bryce Treggs running the wrong route resulting in a turnover.
"[Greg] ran a great route. It was a bad read," Sudfeld admitted. "I thought it was a different coverage than it was and I tried to play fast. I put it out there and the corner came off. I wanted to bury my head in the ground on that one."
Sudfeld did not have any of the team's top four receivers at his disposal. Both Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace didn't dress and while Ertz did, the Pro-Bowl selection did not play. Alshon Jeffery, meanwhile, remains on the PUP list meaning Sudfeld had to find other avenues and meshed well with Goedert, who finished with 4 receptions for 66 yards and a 15-yard TD, and Gibson.
"It was a lot of fun to get back into the rhythm of a game and go through the ebbs and flows," Sudfeld said. "To be able to go out there and compete and play football again was a lot of fun."
The 15-yard score to Goedert was the play of the game for the Eagles as Sudfeld avoided a blitz from former Temple star Tyler Matakevich and extended the play before finding the rookie who did a nice job uncovering in the middle of the field.
"I just kind of ran my route and when I looked back Nate stepped up and scrambled to my side," Goedert said. "I just shifted to a spot where I was open and he was able to hit me. A great play by him."
Philadelphia's first-team defense allowed two yards on six plays and recorded two sacks, with Cox breaking through and Malcolm Jenkins also getting home on a blitz. The context there was no Ben Roethlisberger. Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown for Pittsburgh but Cox schooled his Pro Bowl peer David DeCastro, the Steelers' top offensive lineman.
As the reserves shuttled in on both sides things got sloppier as expected.
By the second half, South Jersey native Joe Callahan had taken over for Sudfeld but was hamstrung by an offensive line featuring a left tackle playing in his first football game at any level, Jordan Mailata, and a bookend who is a former defensive end trying to make the transition, Taylor Hart.
On Mailata's first pass pro set he was beaten around the edge by Olasunkanmi Adeniyi resulted in a strip sack. After that Pittsburgh extended to a 25-14 advantage and the Eagles just didn't have enough firepower with their deep reserves to make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
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-Goedert is a future star as a receiver. He's got the entire package: speed, length, catching radius and hands. He should have had a perfect day but did drop one throw by Sudfeld. He also was solid as a blocker, at least when put in motion and asked to wham block.
"I never really whammed the defensive tackles in college," Goedert admitted. "But we have it in this offense and it is something I'm willing to do and able to do."
-Cox is already the best pure football player on the Super Bowl champions and if anything he's looked better than ever both in practice and against the Steelers.
-Gibson was underwater trying to understand the offense last season and now he's just playing, showing off his deep speed on a go route that went to the house. Without Darren Sproles, who dressed but did not play, Gibson was also the top kick returner and had one nifty return for 31 yards.
"It's just confidence, man," Gibson said. "It's just confidence - going out there and playing and having fun instead of just going out there to impress the coaches."
-Donnel Pumphrey needed a strong showing this August in pads to prove he has the physicality to be the NFL player and after practicing throughout camp all of a sudden the second-year player wasn't dressed for the preseason opener indicating a teak of some kind at Wednesday's walkthrough. Judging by the Eagles' first unofficial depth chart Pumphrey was already climbing uphill and now the incline only got steeper because you can't make the club in the tub so to speak.
"Earlier in the week, Pumphrey had a lower body injury, so we just held him out of this game," Pederson explained.
-Mailata allowed the sack on the first pass play of his first ever football game and is just a massive project at this point. Once the Eagles went away from Lane Johnson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai at the tackle spots, any potential offense was off the table with Callahan often running for his life.
"You always have to have that next play mentality," Mailata explained. "Having your first play be a sack. It's a massive learning curve. I'll learn from that, try to play on and put up some good minutes."
-Rasul Douglas made one great play when he raced to intercept a Joshua Dobbs pass that spent an eternity in the air. And every CB is this league gets beat but if you want consistent playing time you can't give up two massive plays for TDs. The bomb to Smith-Schuster was simply mistiming his jump and the second was a brilliant pitch-and-catch from Dobbs to Paterson but the results are what they are.
-Those who didn't dress were Wentz, Foles, Agholor, Wallace, WR Markus Wheaton, RB Matt Jones, Pumphrey, OL Ian Park and LB Asantay Brown. Sproles, Ertz and Jason Peters all dressed but were held out.
-Malcolm Jenkins and De'Vante Bausby had fists up during the national anthem. Michael Bennett arrived on field as it played and was behind his teammates.
"From how last season went to where we are now I just think it's important to continue to keep this conversation going and we don't let it get stagnant," Jenkins said. "As we understand it everybody is kind of waiting to see what the league is going to do. We won't let it stop what we are standing up for. That's just my personal decision to make sure we keep these things in the forefront."
-The Eagles opened up in their base defense with Gerry as the Will linebacker. Jones was the nickel corner with Bausby on the second team at LC.
-The starters at WR were Hollins and Kamar Aiken on the outside and Ward in the slot.
- The first step for Cameron Johnston was OK. When he kicks it down Broadway he's fine but the directional stuff still needs work. An 81-yard monster punt was wiped out by a Richard Rodgers penalty.
-Jim Schwartz's nickel-rush package without Brandon Graham was Chris Long and Derek Barnett flanking Cox and Michael Bennett inside.
-The first helmet rule alert went to Sidney Jones and it was legit as the young QB dropped his head, a textbook example of what they want removed from the game.
"That was a regular football play," Jones claimed. "That's the way I've played all my life and that's a normal basic tackle to me. It is what it is. If it's a penalty, it's a penalty but I didn't try to hit him on purpose. Just was playing ball honestly."
Jones also had his left foot and ankle taped after colliding with Gerry shortly thereafter. Jones called it a minor ankle sprain after the game.
"Low ankle sprain I am good," Jones said.
-This league can be tough on rookies. Josh Sweat out together a great pass rush but didn't finish correctly and was called for roughing the passer setting up a Steelers TD.
-As he's done often in practice backup center Issac Seumalo had one bad snap. Callahan isn't the tallest QB but Joel Embiid would have had trouble corralling it.
"We've got to continue to work with his snaps and all that," Pederson said. "And it's unfortunate. We had the big run and next thing you know, we’re in a negative situation after that. We're going to continue to work, and we've got a lot of confidence in Isaac. I would have no trouble if we had to go into a game and let him play center. I think he's sharp, he's talented, he’s done a nice job and all those things are fixable."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen