One To Go …
Birds, Browns Tie In Penultimate Preseason Battle
PHILADELPHIA – In a stark contrast of magnitude, the Eagles on Thursday returned to Lincoln Financial Field for their first game there January’s NFC title game, as they hosted the Cleveland Browns for their second round of preseason play.
Behind a valiant second-half effort from Eagles rookie quarterback Tanner McKee, the Eagles came from down eight to tie the game at 18 following a six-play, 57-yard drive that culminated in a 22-yard touchdown pass from McKee to tight end Brady Russell and an ensuing connection with wide receiver Johnny King on the two-point play.
Neither team scored again, forcing an 18-18 final.
The 8-3 halftime more closely resembled a baseball score, as the opening frame was largely marred with penalties – there were 12 – sloppy execution and fundamental breakdowns.
The Browns dominated the time of possession, 21:41-8:19, but came up empty in their two red zone opportunities.
Let’s get on with the observations.
* First, the injuries: WR Tyrie Cleveland and rookie DT Moro Ojomo each had to be carted off the field, each with neck injuries. The team said both had movement in their extremities. Rookie OLB Nolan Smith (shoulder), C Josh Andrews (ankle), CB Zech McPhearson (ankle), and WR Olamide Zaccheaus (shoulder) all left with injuries.
* The kickoff team included rookies Nolan Smith, Sydney Brown, and Kelee Ringo. Other notables include cornerback Josh Jobe, wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, and cornerback Mario Goodrich.
* As for other starters, Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham were first-team linebackers. Cunningham, by the way, appears to be in the lead for a starting spot opposite Dean.
* Cornerbacks Josh Jobe and Zech McPhearson started on the outside. Goodrich, a second-year pro, got the nod at nickel.
*Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson picked on McPhearson throughout the 12-play, 81-yard opening drive. As I’ve noted often, McPhearson is a more natural fit on the inside.
* Dean, seeing his first preseason action, did well sifting through traffic and dislodging the ball from John Kelly as the Browns’ running back neared the goal line, saving the Eagles from allowing a touchdown. K’Von Wallace recovered.
* The Browns accrued a safety for the second consecutive week, this time on the Eagles’ opening possession. Browns MIKE linebacker Mohamoud Diabate surged through the line to meet running back Kenny Gainwell in the backfield. Looked like a blocking breakdown on LG Josh Sills.
* WR Olamide Zaccheaus, who returned three career punts, opened as the Eagles’ punt returner. His first return went for 12 yards. With incumbent punt returner Britain Covey on the mend and missing valuable time, others have had opportunities to potentially pry the job away.
* The erratic Marcus Mariota from last week resurfaced. On a 2nd-and-10 from the Eagles’ 49, Mariota airmailed a pass in the direction of tight end Grant Calcaterra into the sprawled out arms of safety Ronnie Hickman. Aside from the occasional decent throw, Mariota hasn’t been able to establish much consistency this summer in the passing game.
* I’d waited nearly a year to watch DE Janarius Robinson play in a game, and the third-year pro didn’t really stand out last week in Baltimore. This week, however, Robinson caught my attention in the first-half, knifing around the edge and nearly bringing down Thompson-Robinson for a sack and limiting RB John Kelly to a two-yard pickup on a 1st-and-10 from the Browns’ 38. Robinson also collected a quarterback hurry just before the break.
* Mariota’s first-half stats: 9-of-17 (52.9%), 85 yards, INT. He was sacked three times and posted a 42.8 quarterback rating.
* How could you not feel for McPhearson? On a 3rd-and-6 from the Eagles’ 47, McPhearson deflected a pass intended for WR Jalen Wayne – which was nearly picked by defensive tackle Kentavious Street – but McPhearson remained down and needed assistance getting off the field, struggling to put any pressure on his right leg. He was promptly carted off and subsequently ruled out. While hardly considered a household name, McPhearson serves a critical role on special teams and provides inside-outside value.
* Eagles reserves looked as though they’re playing a different game when rookie QB Tanner McKee was at the helm. McKee went 2-for-2 for 27 yards on the first drive coming out of the break. The drive was capped by a 33-yard Trey Sermon touchdown run to give the Eagles a 10-8 lead. Sermon was credited with 49 of the 76 yards on the drive.
* Scary sight midway through the third on a 3rd-and-9 from the Eagles’ 16, when McKee tried a deep shot to WR Tyrie Cleveland near the left sideline. While extending for the ball, Cleveland landed awkwardly on his head and remained down for several minutes before being loaded into a stretcher and carted off. He was promptly ruled out with a neck injury but was said to have feeling in all of his extremities.
* He isn’t often mentioned, but I thought third-year EDGE Tarron Jackson put out some good tape. He terrorized Kellen Mond in the second-half, forcing multiple incompletions. The Eagles are loaded at his position, so reps have been at a premium, but I thought Jackson maximized his opportunities.
* Eli Ricks, a preseason hero a week ago, was victimized on a 32-yard touchdown reception from Mond to WR Austin Watkins. Ricks fell on the play, and Watkins shimmied around him en route to the end zone. Regardless of his eyebrow-raising stat line from Saturday, it was always going to be difficult for Ricks to crack the 53-man roster. Depending on the severity of McPhearson’s injury, I suppose the door remains ajar for Ricks, but pay attention to how the team divides the reps. Jobe, McPhearson, and Goodrich started while Kelee Ringo and Mekhi Garner saw time in the next wave.
* With 6:16 left to play, McKee connected with TE Brady Russell – son of Eagles senior personnel executive Matt Russell – for a 22-yard touchdown. McKee completed the ensuing 2-point try to WR Johnny King, knotting it up at 18. McKee has shown remarkable poise for someone playing in just his second NFL game. The Eagles appear to have found a developmental gem in the sixth round.
* Notable to see S K’Von Wallace – who has accumulated plenty of first-team snaps this summer – playing deep into the fourth quarter.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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