CLEVELAND — Officially, this will go down as a 5-0 Browns preseason win over the Eagles at FirstEnergy Stadium.
I'm calling it a 7-5 Eagles win because Rashard Davis's 37-yard fourth-quarter touchdown catch should never have been overturned.
Whatever you want to call it, it was really ugly (see breakdown).
So two weeks before the opener against the Falcons, where are the Eagles?
Lots of questions on offense, lots of confidence in the defense.
So here we go with our 10 instant observations off the Eagles' 7-5 win Thursday over the Browns! (Or not.)
1. Level of concern about the first-team offense? I’d say moderate. No Carson Wentz, no Nelson Agholor, no Jason Peters, no Darren Sproles, no Jay Ajayi, no Alshon Jeffery, no Corey Clement. And minimal game planning. You have to take all that into account. Still ... this was really ugly. The Eagles wound up playing 14 drives with Nick Foles and the quote-unquote first-team offense on the field this preseason, and those drives netted zero points. Or more accurately, minus-two points, thanks to a safety when Foles was tackled in the end zone in the first quarter Thursday night. And I don’t care if it’s the Super Bowl, a preseason game or a midget flag football game at halftime, turnovers on four straight drives is unacceptable. Four turnovers, a safety, a failed fourth down, three sacks. I don’t want to overreact. I still think the offense will be fine come Sept. 6. But I have to admit, I’m not quite as certain as I was 24 hours ago.
2. Which brings us to Foles. How can a guy who was so brilliant in the postseason last year play like this? How can a Super Bowl MVP just stand there and throw the football to the other team? I can’t explain it. I can’t understand it. I know Foles talks about taking risks in practice and preseason games that he wouldn’t take in a real game, so maybe that’s part of it. He obviously misses his regular receivers. I still think if he has to start a game or two before Wentz is ready, he’ll be fine. And whatever happens, he’ll always be the guy who led the Eagles to the promised land. But there’s just no excuse for any veteran quarterback playing the way he did Thursday night.
3. Wendell Smallwood got off to a rough start — 6 for 17 in the first quarter — but once he had some room to work, he was decisive to the hole and ran hard. Smallwood finished 12 for 53 with 2 for 14 receiving, all in the first half. This is exactly what the coaches wanted to see from Smallwood. He's been able to stay healthy throughout the preseason, and he moved the chains Thursday night. Is it enough to lock up a roster spot? Probably not. I would think the Eagles will still scour the waiver wire on Sept. 1. But Smallwood helped himself, no doubt about it.
4. Have to be a little concerned with offensive line depth. Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled badly again. Matt Pryor has leveled off after a hot start. Chance Warmack doesn’t seem to even be in the picture anymore. Jordan Mailata isn’t ready. Isaac Seumalo seems to be the top backup everywhere, but he’s been up and down. Then again, last year Jason Peters was lost for the year and the Eagles won a Super Bowl. So I’m not going to lose a ton of sleep about it. I’d just like to see more from that group.
5. History is filled with hot-shot preseason wide receivers, but I don’t care. DeAndre Carter can play. He got here three days into training camp and was like 500th on the depth chart, but he’s gradually worked his way up to the point where he’s contending for a roster spot. It’s so tough for a guy like Carter who wasn’t here for OTAs, missed the first few days of camp, didn’t know the offense or any of his coaches or teammates, but still has found a way to perform in the games. Carter caught a 20-yarder in the preseason opener, was 3 for 48 against the Patriots and then 4 for 73 Thursday night against the Browns with a 29-yard punt return. I’m not sure what the Eagles will do with Carter, but if it were me, I’m finding a spot for him on the 53.
6. No complaints with the first-team defense. It lost contain on a couple back-to-back early running plays, gains of 33 yards by Carlos Hyde and 21 yards by Nick Chubb. But it followed that with a sharp goal-line stand, keeping the Browns off the scoreboard after they had a 1st-and-goal on the 1-yard line. The first defense played six series and allowed three points, and those came on a 54-yard field goal after a drive of minus-one yard. The first group allowed 100 yards on six drives, and more than half came on those two long runs. It got good pressure, stuffed the run, didn’t allow any big plays. This defense is ready for greatness.
7. Loved seeing rookie corner Avonte Maddox pick off Baker Mayfield in the fourth quarter (although I would have liked to have seen him take it to the house). He’s been really good the last couple weeks. Just another young cornerback in a large stable of them. I think Sidney Jones starts out as the first nickel but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim Schwartz finds ways to get Maddox on the field. It's tough for rookie corners to hold up in the preseason, but the Eagles keep churning them out.
8. You don’t see many guys who’ve been accomplished pros in the NFL fall apart the way Matt Jones has. It’s kind of tough to watch. Considering he was one of the leading rushers in the NFL halfway through the 2016 season, it’s been a disastrous preseason for him. He followed his three-drop game against the Patriots with a fumble Thursday night in Cleveland. He’s a good kid and I wish him well. But it’s not happening here.
9. Rookie Josh Adams, on the other hand, continues to show up. The Central Bucks South product ran four times for 33 yards Thursday night against the Browns’ backups and also caught two short passes. I would have liked to have seen him get a little work against the 1s just to evaluate him against better competition, but he’s shown enough to at least warrant a spot on the practice squad, assuming Smallwood gets that No. 4 spot on the 53 behind Ajayi, Clement and Sproles.
10. Finally this: After watching Wentz’s intense 35-minute pregame workout, I’m more convinced than ever he’ll be ready for the opener. Now, the doctors might look at his MRI and decide he still needs another week or two. I haven’t seen his MRI and I don’t know how to read an MRI anyway, so I can’t make that call. But from a purely football standpoint, he looks phenomenal. Everything you look for — footwork, dexterity, arm strength, mechanics, the ability to right himself when he slips (which he did during his pregame workout Thursday night) and deliver the ball — is there. I don’t know what else Wentz can do to prove he’s ready except make sure that MRI tells the doctors what they want to see (see workout).