They looked like a football team. And a month before the Eagles' regular-season opener, that's awfully encouraging.
In their first preseason game with a new head coach, the Eagles looked prepared, organized and disciplined and generally avoided all the stuff you expect to see with a new team, a new staff and a new season.
With the starting group and the second team on the field, there were no penalties, no pre-snap confusion, no question over who was supposed to be on the field. There were no mental gaffes, no missed tackles, no illegal formations.
The whole thing operated cleanly and efficiently. A good sign considering Nick Sirianni had never coached a football game in his life as a head coach on any level.
“I thought we looked pretty sharp there,” Sirianni said. “The second half just got sloppy and that was my message to the team. You have to go back and look at the tape, but it felt like a crisp first half, sloppy second half.”
The second half was ugly, but most of those guys won't be on the football team once opening day comes around.
The Eagles opened the Sirianni era with a 24-16 loss to the Steelers at the Linc in the first preseason game of the summer, but with the first and second units on the field, the Eagles looked good.
Definitely a lot to build on and in a lot of ways early validation of Sirianni, his program and his training camp style, because when it comes to fundamentals — tackling, blocking, throwing, catching — the Eagles were ready.
“There are going to be things to correct, but that's what we're striving for every day, just to have that sharpness on our offense and defense,” Sirianni said. “It's the same thing. We can't get too down on the bad plays that happen and we can't get too high on the good things that happen. We just have to play the next play, the next game, over and over and over again.”
The starting offense scored on its first drive despite drops by Jalen Reagor and Zach Ertz. Its second drive started at its own 2-yard line and nearly resulted in a 98-yard Jalen Hurts-to-Quez Watkins touchdown, but Watkins got held up a bit and the two just missed connecting. Joe Flacco put up 10 points on his first two drives, including a nifty 79-yard TD on a screen to Watkins.
In all, the offense scored on four of six drives with the starters or backups on the field. The third offense, led by Nick Mullens, did not score.
Defensively, the first and second groups played five series and forced five punts. By the time the Steelers scored just before halftime, the Eagles were playing an assortment of guys from the second and third teams. For a new group with a lot of young players, tackling and coverage was at a high level.
As for Sirianni and his new staff, the whole operation ran smoothly. Communication was good, plays got to the quarterback in plenty of time, nobody had to sprint off the field before the Steelers snapped the ball.
“I like the way things flowed,” Sirianni said. “I mean, there were some things here and there where we talked about, ‘Hey, I wish we would have done this on that,’ and it was right when we came in the locker room, or, ‘Hey, on the call sheet give us a little space to write here.’
“Because you're always trying to improve your process no matter what. That's growth, when you're trying to improve what you do, improve your process. So there are things that we'll talk about. There are a couple things. Nothing major but just little tweaks here and there that will improve our process.”
Veteran linebacker Eric Wilson played only eight snaps but was impressed with the efficiency that the entire team showed Thursday night under Sirianni.
“He’s very straightforward and he lets us know exactly what we need to do,” Wilson said after the game. “He’s not like a super rah-rah guy, but he does have that juice and that energy, which I appreciate.
“You have to have balance and be even-keel and not be too high. He has to be able to communicate to us in a way that we can understand, and he has to be able to make corrections. I think that’s where he does a really good job.”
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