Get in, make a bunch of plays, then get out.
The starting offense only played seven plays, and the first defense only played five in the Eagles’ preseason opener against the Jets Friday night at the Linc. But you couldn’t ask for more from either unit.
The Eagles’ first offense scored a touchdown on its only drive, and the defense got a takeaway on its only drive.
Nick Sirianni didn’t need to see anything else.
That was it for the starters, and the final 54 minutes of the game were devoted to the backups fighting for roster spots, with the Jets winning 24-21 on Chris Streveler's 5-yard TD pass to Calvin Jackson with 16 seconds left.
Here we go with our first 10 Instant Observations of the year!
1. You couldn’t ask for anything else from Jalen Hurts. He was accurate. He was decisive. He spread the ball around. He used the whole field. He made smart decisions. He delivered the ball quickly. He took the underneath throw when nothing else was open. What a start for Hurts, who led the Eagles on an effortless 80-yard touchdown drive in what could very well be his only preseason appearance this summer. Hurts was 6-for-6 for 80 yards and a 22-yard TD pass to Dallas Goedert, and he also had a 12-yard TD run wiped out by a bogus holding penalty on Jordan Mailata. And Hurts did it all despite absorbing a scary big-time cheap-shot helmet-to-helmet late hit out of bounds from Jets linebacker Quincy Williams. He bounced back up and just bounded back to the huddle and picked up where he left off. Hurts has had a promising training camp, and it was so encouraging to see him take what he’s been doing on the practice field and translate it into playmaking on the field against a different team. An auspicious start.
2. I hated the Quincy Williams cheap shot. I liked what happened after it. First, Mailata raced over to Williams and started screaming at him, and he was smart enough not to start a brawl or do anything that might have gotten him ejected or suspended, but he made it clear that he and the o-line have Hurts’ back. And I liked that Nick Sirianni didn’t hide his feelings, screaming, “THAT’S FREAKING BULLBLEEP,” repeatedly at the Jets’ sideline. And it wasn’t really “freaking” or “bullbleep.” Sirianni is always going to stand up for his guys, and players love to see their coach having their back. And I also like how Hurts reacted. He didn’t react. As the quarterback and team leader, he owes it to the team to not lose his cool, no matter what. Hurts stayed focused and despite a ferocious late hit, just went back to the huddle and ran the offense. Really mature way to handle an unfortunate situation.
3. The first defense was only on the field for five plays, but those five plays netted 11 yards and a takeaway. Again, you don’t want to get carried away, but it’s clear this is a different defense than last year. You see it every day in practice. So much quicker than last year. Linebackers who can run and hit. Corners who aren’t leaving guys wide open. Linemen getting after the quarterback. And we saw all of that Friday night. Kyzir White’s interception ended the Jets’ only drive against the starting defense, and, yeah, it really was a terrible throw by Zach Wilson, but you know that’s a play that this defense just wouldn’t have made last year. The Eagles’ defense gave up so many easy yards last year, and that’s going to change. It’s just going to be a lot harder to move the ball against this group, and we saw a nice brief glimpse of that Friday night.
4. Good to see Miles Sanders catch a couple passes on that initial touchdown drive. After his 50-catch rookie season, Sanders has struggled in the receiving game the last two years, and it got to the point where he really wasn’t even a significant part of the passing game by the second half of last season. He was targeted just 11 times in his last six games, catching eight passes. But Friday night, Sanders had a 12-yard catch from Hurts for a first down and then an eight-yard catch on a first down. He looked comfortable both securing the ball and running after the catch, and that’s a really good sign. We talk about A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Quez Watkins, but if Sanders can once again be a reliable receiver it will add yet another dimension to an offense that already looks pretty dangerous.
5. One thing that initial TD drive tells you is that the offense we saw the second half of last year, when the Eagles ran the ball 35 to 40 times a game because they didn’t believe in their passing game, is long gone. That was fun while it lasted, but you can’t regularly beat good teams in the modern NFL without throwing the ball, and Sirianni knows it. The Eagles now have the personnel to have success chucking it, and every play call on the first TD drive was a pass. And while the Eagles were vanilla offensively, the fact that their full focus was on the passing game tells you where the future of the offense is. Sirianni wants to throw and this team will throw. They still have that running attack in their back pocket when they need it. And there will be times when the Eagles do hammer it. But the big thing is they won’t have to depend on it like last year. That’s huge.
6. Saw a lot of positives from the second defense, which played three series and held the Jets to three points – and they were scored by the Jets’ first offense (minus Wilson). A lot of these guys are going to have roles on defense – some of them will have significant roles – so that was good to see. Nakobe Dean has been fairly quiet in training camp but really showed up Friday night, looking quick and physical. Jordan Davis didn’t make any wow plays but moved really well and was very active and you can see why the Eagles are so high on him. Zech McPhearson got beat by Garrett Wilson on one third down conversion but overall looked much improved over last year in coverage. Davion Taylor and K’Von Wallace ran around and made some plays, too.
7. With Jason Kelce out for a few weeks after elbow surgery, rookie Cam Jurgens is going to play a ton in the preseason and it makes sense because the Eagles have to get him ready in case Kelce isn’t ready for the opener. Jurgens worked with the 1’s and 2’s Friday night and, man, he looked fantastic. He’s got that combination of speed, power and athleticism that Kelce has, and while it’s not fair to either one of them to keep making that comparison, I’m going to do it anyway. The Eagles are confident Kelce will be ready for the opener vs. the Lions on Sept. 11, but if he’s not, the Eagles are in good hands with Jurgens. He’s a beast.
8. I like what I saw from Zach Pascal, especially on that flat route in the second quarter where he got himself wide open and reeled in a 32-yarder from Gardner Minshew. Pascal missed a week of camp with a nasty bout of food poisoning, and he just started practicing last Thursday and was limited for the first couple days. But he went out there and had 2-for-41 with a new team and a new offense and a new quarterback and looked fit and fast. I don’t know how much Pascal will play on offense, but he looks good with limited practice time.
9. I still think the Eagles want to trade Jalen Reagor, and he may have helped out that cause a little. Reagor had a nice 17-yard catch and two short receptions and didn’t look out of place. Fielded two punts, one for no gain, one for a fair catch. It wasn’t a lot, but at least he looked comfortable, and if there’s a team out there desperate for WR depth, he didn’t hurt his value. The Eagles just don’t have a role for Reagor. And it’s not going to cost much to get him. He just seems like the prototype guy who needs a fresh start. I don’t think it benefits anybody if he stays here.
10. I was surprised the Eagles brought back punter Arryn Siposs after his miserable 2021 season and doubly surprised they didn’t even bring in any competition for him in camp. But maybe they were onto something. Siposs looked fine Friday night, and it’s only one meaningless preseason game but it was good to see. He punted five times – two inside the 20 (16 and 5) – and the others for 45, 50 and 58 yards. That’s a 45.8 average and 40.4 net. Only one preseason game but a huge improvement over last year.