Hurts Perfect, Tosses TD As Birds Starters Cruise In Preseason Opener
PHILADELPHIA – In their first warmup for the regular season, the Eagles appeared ready for the moment.
Jalen Hurts led the first-team offense to an opening-drive touchdown against the New York Jets, and the defense responded with an interception in its first series that the Eagles converted into a touchdown, setting the stage for an early double-digit lead against their annual preseason rivals up the Turnpike. Jets backups scored three touchdowns in the second half, leading to the 24-21 comeback win.
The Eagles will play the next two preseason games on the road, but travel starts soon as the team heads to Berea, Ohio, this week to begin joint practices against the Cleveland Browns before Sunday’s preseason game.
But as for first impressions, the Eagles can’t complain.
Hurts didn’t let any of his six passes hit the ground, ending his night with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Geodert before newcomer linebacker Kyzir White flipped the field by picking off Jets quarterback Zach Wilson and going 27 yards to the Jets 20.
Let’s get with the observations:
1. Good showing for the first offense, helped out by Jets linebacker Quincy Williams making an ill-advised preseason statement when he threw a high shoulder into Hurts as the quarterback was inches away from the sideline while running out of bounds on third down – a very Derek Barnett-style penalty. Hurts was short of the marker, which made the penalty even more egregious for the Jets, especially after Hurts and the offense capitalized with a touchdown. First, the Eagles overcame a negated Hurts touchdown run by Jordan Mailata’s holding penalty to cap the drive with Hurts hitting Goedert for the touchdown.
2. It’s hard to make too much of one series, but some topics stood out. First, Hurts attempted six passes, but not one target for A.J. Brown. Those concerned that Hurts had targeted Brown “too much” during camp – sort of strange concern for a No. 1 receiver – can take solace in Hurts spreading the ball to multiple receivers. Goedert, Quez Watkins, Miles Sanders, and Jack Stoll each caught passes on the seven-play, 80-yard drive. Sanders caught both of the two passes that came to him.
3. Also, Hurts twice left the pocket on the drive. On the first snap, he rolled to his right and held onto the ball a tad too long before finally finding Watkins, who was wide open on a crosser from left to right. [Upon further review: Sua Opeta allowed inside pressure, forcing Hurts from the pocket]. Hurts waited until Watkins was very close to the sideline before hitting him for the 28-yard gain. Perhaps an earlier throw would’ve allowed Watkins to turn upfield earlier. The other pocket bail was the play when he would’ve come up short before the Williams late hit. I’ll have to recheck the tape but it appeared Brown was open across the middle on the play. [Upon further review: Hurts bailed to his right feeling Jermaine Johnson battling Lane Johnson, but there was room for Hurts to climb the pocket instead of bailing. Lane wasn’t beaten on the snap].
4. Head coach Nick Sirianni and the offensive coaches didn’t disguise their intentions for Brown, who lined up inside and outside on the opening series and in a variety of splits — tight, just inside the numbers, and as the No. 2 in 3-by-1 formations. Most of his routes were run between the hash marks, where he’s known to do his damage by making tough catches and turning upfield to add more yards. Watkins also played inside and outside. He dropped an easy pass from Gardner Minshew on third down that went right through his hands.
5. First-round pick Jordan Davis will be the guy who doesn’t put up much in the stat sheet but impacts an entire defense, and sometimes an entire game. He beat two Jets lineman – Connor McGovern and Laken Tomlinson – to flush Zach Wilson from the pocket on the awkward scramble that eventually resulted in Wilson leaving with a knee injury that could be very serious. The mammoth Davis didn’t have any tackles or sacks but was definitely active at scrimmage and pushed people around.
6. Cam Jurgens and Sua Opeta, both filling in, each played the entire first half. Jurgens played for Jason Kelce and Opeta started at left guard in place of Landon Dickerson, who sat with a sore foot. The Eagles did a decent job in pass protection, not so great much in the run game, but it’s worth noting that the Jets played a variety of heavy fronts, often with seven – and sometimes eight – defenders in the box. The Eagles capitalized on the relaxed coverage, by Hurts and Gardner Minshew combining for 161 pass yards and completing 78 percent of passes.
7. Not surprisingly, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon didn’t show much in terms of variability and multiplicity up front. The Eagles came out for the first defensive series in a conventional four-man front with Fletcher Cox and Milton Williams inside – Javon Hargave didn’t play (elbow) – and Haason Reddick as a standup edge rusher opposite Josh Sweat. Gannon’s defense mostly alternated between conventional four-man front and some 30 fronts with an overhang defender. The 5-2 look, with three down linemen flanked by two overhang defenders – eventually made its debut in the second quarter when the Jets came out in a jumbo, 12-personnel look, but wasn’t a prominent look during the game.
8. Gannon didn’t show many, if any blitzes, but his defensive line was active. Defensive end Tarron Jackson, who played on the second team along with another second-year pro, Patrick Johnson, notched a big pressure on Mike White by stunting inside to barrel down on White, forcing a low throw that Andre Chachere helped defend. Jackson, Johnson and Sweat each notched QB hits.
9. As we discussed on ITB, third-year cornerback Josiah Scott has the edge in the battle for the final cornerback – or defensive back – position. He played some corner and safety in the first half with the second team. Also, rookie free-agent cornerback Josh Jobe, from Alabama, got most of the second-team reps at outside corner opposite second-year pro Zech McPhearson. Jobe’s had a good camp and appears to be ahead of Mac McCain, Kary Vincent Jr. (groin) and Tay Gowan, although with five other corners ahead of him, Jobe’s push to make the 53 comes with obstacles. McPhearson made a really nice open-field tackle on a cutback by running back Breece Hall to keep the Jets’ rookie from a touchdown.
10. Last year, the Eagles’ terrible run defense was exposed from the start, when the Steelers ran 42 times on their 80 total plays and piled up 156 rushing yards. The Eagles only executed a total of 42 offensive plays. A week later, the Patriots ran 44 times for 208 yards against the Eagles, showing that it wasn’t just one of those “preseason” flaws that should be swept under the rug. One year later, the Eagles allowed just 24 yards on 12 carries in the first half.
1. Nakobe Dean came in with the second team and played the rest of the first half, finishing with five tackles, four solo. We’ll have to get sourced tape feedback to get a better idea of his debut. Nothing really stood out otherwise.
2. Jason Huntley got plenty of carries, with Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott both out. He needed three carries to get into the end zone in the first quarter after picking up one yard on his first two carries at the New York Jets 2-yard line. Huntley has speed and quickness but tends to run east-west although he did run tough when in those moments when he did hit the hole.
3. I was excited to see Reid Sinnett after we reported on ITB of his progress this camp. He didn’t exactly shine. Sinnett’s first pass was very erratic and nearly picked off. He held onto the ball too long at times, and was sacked three times. He had a nice third-down pass to Deion Cain and found Noah Togiai twice, and sure he dumped a pass to Kennedy Brooks for the go-ahead, 2-yard touchdown in the fourth, but overall not so impressive. Meanwhile, rookie free agent quarterback Carson Strong, who’s struggled at camp, didn’t even get into the game.
4. Britain Covey showed his lateral quickness on his first kickoff return, a 25-yarder, getting skinny through the hole early and dodging one defender to get the extra yardage. Devon Allen, the Olympic hurdler, didn’t appear to get any reps on offense or special teams.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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