McMullen’s Quick Hits: Mixed Bag for Wentz as Eagles Top Bucs
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The script was flipped Thursday in Philadelphia as the real story in the preseason opener didn't take the field until late in the second quarter of the Eagles' 17-9 win over Tampa Bay.
With Philadelphia holding a 14-6 advantage thanks to turnovers supplied by both the special teams and defense, Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft, stepped onto Lincoln Financial Field for the first time without a red jersey with 1:19 left in the first half.
By that point, the fans in attendance had already started the "we want Wentz" chants long before that as Chase Daniel and the second-team Philadelphia offense struggled mightily throughout much of the first and second stanzas.
Daniel finished his night just 4-of-10 for 15 yards and he was sacked four times for 19 yards so his net passing yardage ended up being minus-four yards on the evening.
"I just thought as an offense we weren't very sharp," Daniel admitted. "I don't know what it was but we plan on fixing it come Saturday when we are back in pads and practicing at NovaCare."
The Wentz era started off slowly as backup left tackle Andrew Gardner, who had an awful first half, was called for a false start before his first pass was delivered high to Nelson Agholor, who could not pick up the young quarterback.
Things got better from there as the athletic rookie signal caller climbed the pocket, something he has done very well in practice, and found Zach Ertz for a 19-yard gain, the Eagles' longest passing play of the night.
"He's a very athletic quarterback," Ertz said. "I think you see that every day on the practice field and he is going to use that athleticism to his advantage. I think everyone is excited about him."
Wentz followed up the Ertz hookup with a short completion to Rueben Randle for three yards before misfiring on back-to-back throws for Randle and Ertz, who couldn't handle a Wentz fastball that was delivered a bit high.
It was a mixed bag for Wentz in the second half and a microcosm of what has been going on with him in training camp, flashes of brilliance at times as well as significant rough patches. His worst moment came with the Eagles driving in the third quarter when he missed an open Paul Turner on a crossing route high, resulting in an interception.
"He came out and was in the right frame of mind," head coach Doug Pederson said of Wentz. "He made a couple of tough runs and showed his athleticism. I love his toughness and was pleased overall with what he did."
Wentz finished his first game as a pro 12-for-24 for 89 yards and the interception, hardly numbers to write home about although the skill set is obviously there.
"it was fun out there," Wentz said. "I was finally able to take some hits. It’s been awhile since that’s happened. Overall, I had a lot of fun out there and there are definitely some things to improve on for myself and as a team. But it was enjoyable.”
SAM CHECKS DOWN, GETS OUT:
Sam Bradford made just a cameo appearance, leading one series on a short field after Najee Goode forced Kenny Bell to fumble the opening kickoff and Chris Maragos recovered it.
Bradford threw a short three-yard check-down to Brent Celek before Ryan Mathews did the heavy lifting with back-to-back runs, the latter of which found the end zone behind bulldozing blocks from Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson.
"I thought those guys did a great job tonight," Bradford said when talking about the running game. "Obviously, it’s something that we know is going to be key for our success this year. We want to be able to run the ball on offense and we want to be able to get off the line of scrimmage."
BAD NEWS BRANDON
The bad news of the night was Brooks, was signed a massive five-year, $40 million deal in the offseason, injured his biceps and did not return. Doug Pederson did not have anything further on Brooks' status after the game but of it's a tear, that's significant time on the shelf for a player that just got back from a nagging hamstring injury.
"I don't know much about it right now," Pederson said when talking about the injury. "They're going to evaluate him further after the game. But we'll see where he's at tonight and tomorrow before we make a determination on that. But it is a bicep injury."
It was an awful night for the Eagles receivers without Jordan Matthews. The group has minus-1-yard in the first quarter and only 11 by halftime. Turner was the only consistent option catching the football as the Louisiana Tech product snared six receptions in seven targets for 44 yards. And he was open on the INT.
It was an up and down night for Jalen Mills. You see the talent but there were a lot of mistakes and he was pulled for Denzel Rice after giving up a 30-yard reception to Russell Shepard. Rookie corners are always going to have hiccups and that was the case for Mills tonight.
Andrew Gardner made Robert Ayers look like Deacon Jones and Howard Jones look like Carl Eller at times on the edge at left tackle. The former Chip Kelly starter at right guard is just nor athletic enough to put out in space and he nearly got Daniel killed tonight.
It's always something with Josh Huff, who got a first down on a nice crossing route in the first half and then fumbled the football resulting in a 10-yard penalty after Rueben Randle was forced to bat the football out of bounds.
To make matters even worse Huff was seen visibly limping as he headed to the locker room after the game.
At least the preseason gave us something. Jaylen Watkins and Chris Maragos really showed up and are likely your backup safeties. Book it.
Caleb Sturgis was given the first opportunity on kickoffs, PATs and the lone field goal, which was good from 42. It's his job unless he derails completely.
Pederson seemed to intimate that the team is thinking about life without Lane Johnson, who may be on the verge of a second PED suspension and 10 games on the shelf.
"You’ve always got to be mindful of that in the back of your mind," the coach said of the potential suspension. "You know, it's something that I'll visit with Coach Stoutland [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] this week and we'll evaluate where we need to go from here. You know, if that's the case, if it's upheld, then we’ve got to be prepared to make some moves.
"...until it happens, we go full steam. But at the same time, we also know and we’ve got to be smart about it to have people ready to go if it is upheld."
The rest of the team took to the talking points when it came to Johnson.
"If Lane is out there, great," tight end Brent Celek said. "If Lane can't be out there then the next guy has got to step in there and play well. That's just the way it is."
South Philadelphia was a sauna on Thursday night with the game-time temperature hitting 91 with a heat index of 100 on the dot. Lincoln Financial Field even lightened its security restrictions and allowed each ticket holder to bring in a bottle of water.
"It was hot," Celek said. "It was one of the hottest games I've ever been a part of. I only played three plays so it wasn't too much for me."
-As expected the Eagles had a lengthy list of players who were ruled out before kickoff, including a pair of starters on both offense (left tackle Jason Peters (quad) and receiver Jordan Matthews (knee)) and defense (safety Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring) and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring)). Also ruled out were rookie receivers Hunter Sharp (hamstring) and Marcus Johnson (quad), fifth-round running back Wendell Smallwood (quad), cornerback JaCorey Shepherd (hamstring), defensive end Marcus Smith (concussion) and defensive tackle Mike Martin (knee).
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen