We got to watch some live football in south Philly last night. After a long, tumultuous offseason, the Eagles took the field for the first time Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nick Sirianni had his head coaching debut, Jalen Hurts had his first start as the unquestioned starting quarterback, and we got to see a ton of new faces in action for the first time.
Here are seven observations from the Birds’ preseason opener.
Jalen Hurts played well
Going into last night’s contest, I wanted to see accuracy and good decision making out of Hurts. He checked those boxes in the two series he played. Hurts was consistently accurate throughout the seven throws he had, with the exception of one over throw to Quez Watkins that would have been a 98-yard touchdown. But even that throw wasn’t all that bad — he overthrew it, which is always better than under throwing the deep ball.
Hurts was the victim of some inopportune drops. The one by Zach Ertz in particularly could have extended the opening series and possibly led to an eventual touchdown.
Hurts was also very decisive on his throws, which is always a good sign from a young gun slinger. His opening series throw to Dallas Goedert on a corner route was exactly how you draw it up. Hurts released the ball after three steps and hit Goedert right in stride, allowing him to continue his momentum up field and gain an additional 10 yards.
I also liked seeing Hurts throw the ball away when nothing was there. It was on a 2nd and 6 — taking a sack there or forcing the ball into double coverage are mistakes you expect to see out of a young quarterback. It’s good to know Hurts is mature enough to understand the importance of living to see another down.
All in all, there are no complaints here on Hurts’ night. He did everything you expect the starting quarterback to do. He provided a solid base performance to improve upon throughout the rest of the preseason.
Sirianni’s offensive identity
Nick Sirianni’s offense was almost exactly what you expected it to be. A lot of passes to the tight ends (all of Hurts’ completions went to the tight ends), a lot of screen passes to both the running backs and receivers, and a heavy dose of the running game.
It looked pretty identical to Frank Reich’s offense, which is to be expected coming from his former offensive coordinator. I’m interested to see the wrinkles in Sirianni’s offense come the regular season. The preseason offense is just going to be the bare bones of his attack.
But, we now have a clear picture of what his offensive identity is going to be. Heavy emphasis on the tight ends in the passing game, and using his running backs in a multitude of different ways. It’ll be fun to see how this offense evolves over the course of the 2021 season.
Have we overlooked Jordan Howard this offseason?
I didn’t think much of the Jordan Howard signing earlier this offseason. I figured with Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Gainwell, and Boston Scott in the fold, Howard would likely be the odd-man out. But it appears I was completely wrong on that front.
Without Miles Sanders in the lineup, Howard was the starting back for Sirianni Thursday night and he didn’t disappoint. He only had one carry for 3 yards, but he proved that he can still be a viable 3rd down back with his pass blocking ability. Howard’s blitz pickup in the first quarter against this blitzing Steelers linebacker was a thing of beauty.
That’s exactly how you draw it up. For any back who’s going to get 3rd down snaps, they’ll need to be proficient in picking up the blitz. Howard can definitely do that, along with providing some tough running whenever Sanders is out of the game.
Quez Watkins is fast… real fast
We’ve heard nothing but praise about the second-year wide receiver out of Southern Miss this offseason. On Thursday, we found out why. Quez Watkins is probably the fastest receiver on the team and he should be utilized with the first-team offense once the regular season rolls around.
That’s world class speed right there. As they say, you just can’t coach that kind of stuff. If his route running is refined, like most reports out of camp indicate, Watkins should be one of the leading receivers on this team in 2021.
That 79-yard touchdown scamper wasn’t his only highlight. He had an opportunity to bring in a 98-yard TD earlier with Hurts in at quarterback, but he was slightly overthrown. Watkins beat the outside corner and created a few yards of separation down the field. He was behind the defense, Hurts just couldn’t connect with him.
I’m really excited to see what Watkins has in store for us this season. All signs are pointing towards a breakout season for the young pass catcher.
Eagles defensive line looks deep
This one isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s followed the Eagles throughout the offseason. By all accounts, this defensive line is one of the deepest in the NFL and they showed it Thursday night.
Although the starters didn’t get a ton of run in this one, they still provided consistent push and disrupted nearly every play the Steelers ran. Derek Barnett got the start over Josh Sweat, and his jitter bug playing style was on full display. It felt like he was around the ball every snap.
The duo at the interior of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave has the potential to be dominant. It’s not exaggeration to state that Hargrave is the best tackle Cox has every played next to. With both of those guys fully healthy heading into the year, they should wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines all season.
Even their backups, Milton Williams and T.Y. McGill, looked pretty solid. McGill recorded an early sack with Williams barreling down right behind him.
The Eagles defensive front will be the focal point of Jonathan Gannon’s defense this year. There’s no doubt about that.
Zech McPhearson is physical
We got a large sample size of Zech McPhearson in last night’s contest. Both starters at corner were pulled rather early, allowing McPhearson and Michael Jacquet to get the majority of playing time.
The one thing that jumped out to me watching McPhearson was his physicality. He’s not afraid to mix it up on tackles and he likes to get his hands on receivers — which as we saw, can lead to some inopportune penalties. McPhearson got called for holding in the end zone at the end of the first half, leading to six points for Pittsburgh.
It’ll be a learning experience for the young corner. He clearly has the tools to succeed in this league, he’ll just need to clean up some areas. But so far, I liked what I saw out of the former Texas Tech Red Raider.
Thoughts on the linebackers
The weakest spot on this Eagles defense is probably their linebacker position. But they looked fine on Thursday night against Pittsburgh, routinely flowing to the ball carrier and shedding blocks to make tackles.
Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton got the start Thursday and both played well. Wilson looked good in pass coverage, which is to be expected, but he also looked solid attacking ball carriers which is a nice bonus. Singleton was all over the field during his time out there. He finished with 7 total tackles on the night.
Shaun Bradley really stood out to me with the backup unit. He was around the ball carrier every snap he played.
The backers weren’t a liability Thursday night, which is really all I’m asking for at this point. The rest of the defense is set in stone, and as long as the backers carry their weight this year, the Birds will have a great defense in 2021.