By Tom Alvord
Finally, football has returned.
For the first time in over 8 months, a professional football game was played in the City of Brotherly Love. Last night the Eagles officially began their 2021 season by hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first of three preseason games. While it was far from football weather, (105 degrees at kickoff) the start of the preseason has been long awaited by football fans all throughout the city. Yes, I realize it’s just preseason. You have to take everything we see with a grain of salt. However with most of the projected starters playing at least 2 series, there are some things you can takeaway from the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Sirianni’s first official game.
Despite the Eagles not officially committing to Jalen Hurts as their week 1 starting quarteback, I’m going to take a leap of faith here and assume that’s the case. Jalen Hurts played in two drives last night, going 3/7 for 53 yards while rushing one time for 4 yards. The numbers look far from spectacular, however Hurts actually played very well. Of his 4 incompletions, 2 of them were dropped passes and one was a throw-away on a broken play. Something we very rarely saw last season from another Eagles starting quarterback.
The one true incompletion was an overthrow of Quez Watkins, from his own two yard line, on the first play of the second drive of the game. If Hurts’ pass was thrown just a yard shorter it would have resulted in a 98 yard touchdown. Other than that, Hurts looked poised and confident in not only his throws, but in his decision making as well. The one negative takeaway I have from Hurts’ performance last night, however, was on his lone scramble. He chose to dive head first, on his final snap of the game, instead of taking the traditional baseball slide approach. Thankfully, no harm no foul. I’m all for fighting for every extra yard, but not so much in the first quarter of a preseason game.
The biggest takeaway from the running back rotation last night was the player missing from it. Eagles star running back Miles Sanders wasn’t on the injury report prior to the game last night, but didn’t see the field once. We found out after the game that Sanders was held out to keep his legs fresh, not because of injury. Would I have liked to see Sanders get a couple carries in live game action, sure. But I’m much more interested in Sanders staying healthy and turning into the Eagles’ bell-cow back this season.
Some of the running backs we expect to be a part of the weekly game-plan did play, however. Fourth year running back Boston Scott is expected to be used heavily in the pass game this year, especially on third down. He had one rushing attempt for 4 yards and wasn’t targeted once. Not much we can learn from that performance, negative or positive. The guy who played the first snap of the game, Jordan Howard, is also projected to battle for some snaps, especially goal line or 3rd and short situations. He didn’t give us a ton either last night, rushing 1 time for 3 yards and 0 targets. Howard did however put a nasty block on Steelers LB Robert Spillane in pass protection. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell made the most of his opportunity gaining 14 yards on 2 rushes and 16 yards on 2 receptions (4 targets).
The Birds we’re obviously without this year’s first round pick Devonta Smith last night as he is out for the next 2+ weeks with a knee sprain. However, 2020 first rounder Jalen Reagor had a few eye opening moments. Reagor had 20 reception yards with 2 catches on 3 targets. Reagor also ran a tremendous route on one of his receptions that left Steelers corner Cameron Sutton tripping over his own feet. He did however have a bad drop on a pass from Hurts early in the 1st quarter.
The MVP of yesterday’s game was second year receiver Quez Watkins. According to multiple reports Watkins has had the best camp of any Eagles offensive player so far, and it showed up on Thursday. Watkins had one catch on the day and it happened to be a 79 yard TD on a bubble screen from Joe Flacco. Watkins’ quickness and breakaway speed was on full display during this play. He also, as previously mentioned, had a 98 yard touchdown slip away from him because of a slight overthrow by Jalen Hurts. If that pass is completed Watkins would’ve finished the day with 2 catches for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not too shabby. Sure this Eagles wide-receiver room may be the most inexperienced of all the positions on this roster, but we saw some great flashes from them in their short time on the field.
Jalen Hurts has apparently made it a point this Training Camp to target and build more of a chemistry with his tight ends. Something he struggled with a bit last season. We saw that play out last night. Hurts’ first two throws were to tight ends yesterday, and 5 of his total 7 passes he targeted a tight end.
Dallas Goedert is projected by many to finally take the next step and be the Eagles’ primary tight end this season. He finished yesterday’s game with 1 catch for 34 yards on two targets. Yes, Hurts made a great throw on the sideline to find Goedert, but Goedert should be applauded for his ability stay in bounds and pick up some extra yards after the catch.
Zach Ertz, who many expected to be on another team at this point, is also expected to have a big role in Nick Sirianni’s offense this year. He was Jalen Hurts’ most targeted player yesterday (3 targets) and finished the game with 2 catches for 20 yards. He did however have a big dropped pass, this after putting up the worst drop percentage of his career last year (12.2%). It obviously isn’t the end of the world, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.