The Eagles played football Thursday night for the first time since the Super Bowl, and like most preseason openers, there was a lot of ugliness, a lot of of mistakes, a lot of sloppy play but also plenty of encouraging signs (see breakdown).
Three more weeks of this and it’s time to do it for real. It can't come soon enough!
Here are our 10 instant observations off the Eagles’ 31-14 loss to the Steelers at the Linc:
1. Honestly, I’m OK if the key guys on the starting defense don’t play again until Sept. 6. That won’t happen, but I just feel like this group is ready to go. I know the Steelers didn’t play several of their starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but the Eagles’ first defense held Pittsburgh to two yards on two drives and then Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz correctly got it off the field just five minutes into the game. This front seven is lethal, and the secondary is stocked. The defense was very good last year, and it's even better now. There’s not much more I need to see before Sept. 6.
2. With 26- and 19-yard catches over the middle and a 15-yard catch and run for a touchdown, you guys all saw why I’ve been raving about Dallas Goedert all summer. He doesn’t carry himself like a rookie, and he doesn’t practice like a rookie, and he doesn’t play like a rookie. The drop was unfortunate, but it was also the first I’ve ever seen from Goedert, and he gets a Mulligan for a bad drop in his first pro game. The rookie tight end finished with four catches for 66 yards and a TD in his NFL debut despite playing only the first half. I like the way he runs routes, I like the way he secures the ball, I like the way he puts his head down and fights for extra yards, I like the way he blocks, I like everything about his game. I’ll keep saying this — Goedert is going to be a stud. Not next year, not sometime in the future. Now.
3. Nate Sudfeld was all over the place, but he did enough good things that overall I like what I saw. He did throw two interceptions, but it looked like on the second one Bryce Treggs ran the wrong route. Sudfeld was accurate (10 for 14, 71 percent), he got the ball in the end zone (TDs to Goedert and Shelton Gibson) and he showed great touch on a deep ball (63-yarder to Gibson). This is a kid who wasn’t even with the Eagles in training camp last summer and started the season on the practice squad. That first INT was bad, but I’m convinced he can play in the league, and nothing I saw Thursday night made me think otherwise.
4. Sudfeld to Goedert for a touchdown has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? That's why I tweeted this late Thursday morning!
Oh yeah. I'm guaranteeing a Sudfeld-to-Goedert TD tonight! https://t.co/sVktJ9QVvn— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) August 9, 2018
5. Man, how about the way Gibson exploded on that deep ball? He separated easily from cornerback Dashaun Phillips and caught that bomb from Sudfeld cleanly and without breaking stride dashed into the end zone. Gibson has looked like a different guy than last year in practice, and it was really encouraging to see him carry that over onto the field on game night. Gibson’s longest catch in last year’s preseason went for 14 yards, and he actually had more yards on the TD (63) than all of last preseason (56) and then just one 11-yard catch all year. He just looks like a different guy. His confidence, shot last year, is sky high, and you saw it on that play. Gibson added a 14-yard catch from Joe Callahan late in the game, finishing 2 for 77. The Eagles have tremendous wide receiver depth this summer, and Gibson might be the most improved guy in the bunch.
6. I wasn’t crazy about Tre Sullivan’s effort on that JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown. Sullivan was late getting over to help Rasul Douglas, and I watched the replay a bunch of times, and he just wasn’t running full tilt toward the play. And then Sullivan just kind of ran along with Smith-Schuster without at least trying to make a tackle. I like Sullivan, but you’re trying to make a 53-man roster and the Eagles just signed Corey Graham at your position, you need a little more effort than that.
7. Good night for Josh Adams. The undrafted rookie running back from Notre Dame was 6 for 30 rushing and caught two passes. Showed a nice burst, a good knack for finding the hole and fought through traffic. Wendell Smallwood had some nice runs but also a bad fumble (that the Eagles recovered). Donnel Pumphrey and Matt Jones didn't play, and they need to get healthy to get back in the mix because they lost ground to Adams Thursday night. The battle for that fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles might go down to the wire, but safe to say that on a day when Smallwood fumbled and Pumphrey and Jones watched from the sidelines, Adams really helped himself.
8. Kamu Grugier-Hill has been almost exclusively a special teamer in his two seasons with the Eagles. He’s played 530 snaps on special teams and just 86 on defense — 53 of them in that meaningless season-ender last year against the Cowboys. But I’ll tell you what, he’s really active, instinctive and quick out there. I wonder about his size — he’s just 230 pounds — and how he can hold up over a full season, but right now he’s been the most impressive of the group in that competition for the weakside linebacker spot, and he showed up Thursday night. Nate Gerry didn’t do anything to hurt himself, but Grugier-Hill is just always around the football, and we saw that against the Steelers.
9. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Cameron Johnston, and the rookie from Ohio State has some big shoes to fill, but he crushed it Thursday night. The heir apparent to Donnie Jones averaged 44.0 yards on five punts, with three inside the 20. And that doesn’t even include an 81-yarder that was negated by a penalty on Richard Rodgers. The concern with Johnston isn’t his leg strength, it’s his consistency, but this was an auspicious debut.
10. It’s about time Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner find their way into the Eagles' Hall of Fame. You’re talking about two of the greatest late-round picks in NFL history, eighth- and ninth-round picks in 1986 who went on to become flat-out studs. Those rounds don’t even exist anymore. Simmons' 121½ sacks ranked 10th in NFL history when he retired after the 2000 season, and Joyner remains the only player in NFL history with 50 sacks and 20 interceptions. Two all-time greats, and this is long overdue. Now we can work on getting Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters in.