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August 17, 2023

First-half observations: Browns 8, Eagles 3

Everything you need to know about the Eagles' first-half performance against the Browns in their second preseason game.

The first half of the Eagles' preseason opener is in the books. Here are my takes on the Birds' performance as they trail the Browns with an icky 8-3 score...

The Highs

• With the Eagles starved for any big play from a linebacker this summer, Nakobe Dean hit Browns running back John Kelly Jr. near the goal line and forced the ball to pop out. K'Von Wallace recovered it. Dean had been a bit shaky on that opening drive, including a penalty I discuss below, but a defensive flash from an Eagle who's yet to do that in his career is a welcomed sign for the team. Dean made a great read and burst through the line of scrimmage instantly, stripping Kelly Jr. in the process. 

Tarron Jackson had a huge hit on Dorian Thompson-Robinson that caused an errant pass. It was caught, but that's not on Jackson. Jackson, a sixth-round pick in 2021 out of Coastal Carolina may be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Eagles' roster crunch, but plays like that could keep him around on the practice squad. 

Olamide Zaccheaus received the first punt returner rep of the game. Decent return! If Zaccheaus is the clear-cut fourth wideout on the depth chart and fielding punts competently, I wonder if Britain Covey's job could be in jeopardy. I had considered Covey close to a roster lock, but if the team likes Zaccheaus as a returner, someone like Joseph Ngata or Tyrie Cleveland offers way more upside as a fifth wideout than Covey, who's not getting anything thrown his way on offense. 

Covey was out tonight with a hamstring injury. Zaccheaus also headed to the locker room with an injury of his own.  

Avonte Maddox called Sydney Brown a "heat-seeking missile" this week and Brown looked like one on a big first-quarter hit, flying from the secondary in the run game. As of this writing, I'd give him the second starting safety job opposite Reed Blankenship. 

• I'd use a 90-man roster spot on another kicker just to minimize wear-and-tear and potential injuries for Jake Elliott, who made a 56-yard kick in the first quarter. He's helped win multiple playoff games and is 8-for-9 on kicks over 50 yards across the last two seasons. He was 4-for-4 in this past postseason, too. When I was growing up, I took for granted having good kicker play when David Akers was an Eagle. The Eagles had some rough patches in between Akers' exit after the 2010 season and Elliott's magical 2017 campaign. 

Nolan Smith had his best pass-rushing rep of the preseason on a third-and-four late in the first quarter. On a bull rush from the left side, Smith pressured Dorian-Thompson to step up in the pocket, where defensive tackle Kentavius Street promptly sacked him. He also had great pursuit on a five-yard loss after a Cleveland run, but went to the medical tent after with a left shoulder injury. 

The Lows

• Backed up near their own goal line after Dean's forced fumble, the Eagles surrendered a safety to Cleveland on a handoff to Kenny Gainwell. Gainwell didn't even hit the line of scrimmage before Browns defender Mohamoud Diabete ripped through the Birds' o-line to make the tackle. It appeared that right guard Josh Sills was supposed to chip a defensive lineman before advancing to the next level. Sills completely whiffed while Diabete blew up Gainwell. 

I wrote this last week during my observations from the Ravens game, but Marcus Mariota is so erratic as a passer. There's a game plan that can work if Mariota has a week to prep for a start with a run-heavy attack, but if Mariota needs to throw the Birds back into a game, they're toast. His overthrow of Grant Calcaterra that resulted in a first-quarter interception is something you'd expect from a QB4, not a guy with 74 career starts to his name.

After that Ravens game and an encouraging performance from Tanner McKee, I discussed my backup quarterback philosophy. The more the summer rambles on, the more I'm worried Mariota isn't enough to be a QB2 on a team with Super Bowl-or-bust aspirations. 

• I worry about every linebacker on the Eagles' roster being hunted in the passing game. 

• Street dropped an interception on a ball that was tipped. That's every defensive lineman's dream. Rough. 

• On the aforementioned play where Jackson crushed DTR, Zech McPhearson and Terrell Edmunds were in coverage near Cleveland wideout Cedric Tillman. He made a great snag. It was probably a bit hard to read the ball that was wonky after Jackson's QB hit, but Tillman just went over those guys and did his job.

• Dean was flagged for hitting Thomson-Robinson in the head when the QB was sliding on Cleveland's first drive. Dean led with his head. That's getting called every time. 

The Whoas

• That wicked club move from Jalen Carter off the line of scrimmage might send someone through the crust of the earth this season.

• Buckle up for "The Eagles should sign Nick Foles" discourse this week. 

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