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August 16, 2018

Final observations: Patriots 37, Eagles 20

Try as Nate Sudfeld might, a stellar second half performance was not enough to bring the Eagles all the way back from a massive first-half deficit. But for those of you who stuck it out to the end, at least you got to see some competent football from the Eagles in their 37-20 loss to the Patriots on Thursday night.

Here's a sampling of what I thought was noteworthy in the loss.

The Good

• With the headliners hitting the showers after the first half, it was time for young members of the secondary to assert themselves in Foxboro. And they did just that early on, with Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox making nice pass breakups on New England's first series out of the tunnel.

Maddox's emergence — or at least the respect he has been shown by Philadelphia's coaching staff — has called into question what roles the two young corners will be used in this year. Jones was the guy getting the early snaps at nickel corner in camp, but over the last week Maddox has spent a decent amount of time as the first-team corner there. Barring a Ronald Darby trade, it feels like those guys will have to duke it out to earn that spot in the regular season.

It wasn't all good from these two — Jones had a brutal whiff in the open field that led to a touchdown midway through the third quarter, and there are moments when it becomes obvious he's still getting readjusted to game speed.

Gotta learn to bounce back from those, brother. And to his credit, Jones did, showing off his physical tools with some great closeout speed on comeback routes from the Patriots.

Now to work on that open-field tackling...

• This touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld was an absolute dime, and it came on his back foot to boot:

He showed off the arm quite frequently in the second half on Thursday night, uncorking some beautiful deep balls on top of the more ordinary repertoire of slants and out routes. After a lot of subpar quarterback play in the first half, Sudfeld gave Eagles fans a little something to smile about in the second half.

This all begs the question: is there a quarterback controversy brewing in Philadelphia?!?!

(No, but he may certainly be an example of how increased reps can help a guy in the preseason. He looked considerably better than Nick Foles did, and I'd chalk a good chunk of that up to gaining comfort over time.)

• Shelton Gibson has been legitimately excellent this preseason, and the longer he keeps this up the more you have to wonder if he will be a real factor in the wide receiver picture.

Consider this: we still don't know what Alshon Jeffery's long-term outlook is and whether the Eagles will have him ready to rip for Week 1. Other players will have to step up in the event of a Jeffery absence, and Gibson is doing his best to prove he deserves a chance in that spot.

Between his route-running — which is a heck of a lot better than he showed last preseason — and his functional speed, it looks more and more like Gibson can bring a useful package of skills to the table.

• Big salute to Mike Mayock, who dedicated a portion of the fourth quarter broadcast to roasting Howard Eskin's salmon-colored jacket. Way to keep the priorities in order.

The Bad

• Matt Jones entered the night with every chance to make an impression on the coaching staff, with the fourth running back spot still an open debate. Dropping two gimme passes on one drive, including one that hit him directly in the facemask and led to an interception, will leave the sort of impression that is hard to come back from.

• I am very much on the Dallas Goedert bandwagon entering his rookie year, but hand strength/securing the catch might need to be a point of emphasis for him heading into year one. He had two separate touchdown opportunities batted out of his hands by Patriots defenders, and meaningless though it may be in the preseason it's a trend to keep an eye on.

Of course, give credit to the Patriots for making plays on the ball and making life tough for him in the first place.

• If there's a point of emphasis for the team the rest of the preseason, it should be discipline. The Eagles are taking far too many avoidable penalties through their first two games of the warmup period, and those are the sort of things that drive coaches insane.

It's one thing to pick up penalties when you're playing physical coverage in the secondary and come up on the wrong end of pass interference penalties. The "Legion of Boom" Seahawks walked that line for years and were plenty successful as a unit. The problem comes when you're committing dumb and/or avoidable penalties with late hits or excessive helmet use, which is clearly a point of emphasis for the league right now.

Over time, officials will call that less as they always tend to over time. But until then, the Eagles can't just assume things are going to improve for them without correcting their own mistakes. The rule sucking doesn't mean you can ignore it in your approach to the game.

The Ugly

• Rashard Davis losing 13 yards on a punt return and pinning the Eagles against their own goal line was a suboptimal series of events. Combine that with Shelton Gibson's progress this preseason, and Davis' case for a roster spot is flimsy to say the least.