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August 08, 2019

First half observations: Titans 14, Eagles 10

The Eagles looked to have made it through 30 minutes of preseason football basically unscathed, only for Nate Sudfeld to exit the game with 19 seconds left in the half after taking a late hit in the pocket. A nice opening half from Sudfeld was the highlight for the Birds, who trail the Titans 14-10 at halftime, and now even that has been dampened.

As a disclaimer — anything in "The Bad" or "The Ugly" during the preseason is not meant to be viewed through a supercritical or harsh lens. These guys are trying to get back into the swing of things, and most of the looks you're seeing on both sides of the ball are pretty vanilla.

Anyway, on to the observations.

The Good

• Football is back, baby. Which is not great for your boy's general allotment of free time, but is a welcome lift out of the "baseball only" portion of the sports calendar.

• Big supporter of the mohawk/Top Gun look for Jason Kelce.

• Dallas Goedert was basically impossible for Tennesse to cover throughout the first half of the preseason opener, and that's exactly what the Eagles (and the fans at home) would have wanted to see from the second-year tight end. There has been a lot of chatter about their desire to run "12" personnel this season to take advantage of the matchup problems caused by Goedert and Zach Ertz, and even without the latter on the field, Goedert has shown he can create separation and navigate in traffic.

The Eagles are going to have a lot of big boys to account for on offense, which should only make life easier for DeSean Jackson when they want to stretch the field.

• 53 yards was no problem for Jake Elliott on his first attempt of the preseason, and it seems like many moons ago that he came to Philadelphia looking to prove himself. It is always nice to have stability on special teams.

(We'll pretend the shorter miss didn't happen.)

• It was not a star-making performance for Nate Sudfeld during the first half, but outside of a couple misses on short throws, Sudfeld was as good as the Eagles could have hoped for early. 

The strengths and weaknesses he has had in limited action the last couple of years remained pretty much the same — good mobility, nice touch on deep passes, and accuracy issues that can flare up on underneath throws — and the Eagles are confident they know what they're working with after spending the last few years with Sudfeld. The offensive highlight of the first half was his long touchdown throw to Marken Michel on a deep post, as the Eagles struck back after Tennessee took a 6-3 lead.

Anybody who is forced into action behind Carson Wentz is going to have impossible shoes to fill when you consider how good the starter is and the legacy Nick Foles carved out for himself the last few years. Since the Eagles have a good understanding of how to tailor a gameplan around Sudfeld's strengths, though, they'll be in as good a shape as they could be if their MVP-candidate starter goes down.

• There's a crowded wideout picture in Philadelphia, and who knows where the Eagles will have to prioritize depth, but Michel is a guy who has earned respect with the coaching staff since agreeing to a futures contact with the club early this year. A 75-yard touchdown in the opening game can't hurt, either.

• The standout in the trenches for Philadelphia in the opening half of the preseason was first-round pick Andre Dillard and I don't think there was even a close second. He didn't have a perfect half, but everything scouts believed would translate to the next level from his college tape looks to be holding up so far.

Tennessee basically did not get pressure on the left side of the line when the Eagles dropped back to pass with Dillard on the field. While the jury is still out on his run blocking — it was a problem for the entire unit during the first half — it looks like he should be able to contribute right away. 

Dillard even flashed some veteran craft with his early kick-outs on the line that didn't get called for false starts. Veteran grifting.

The Bad

• Nothing like a penalty on the opening kickoff, which Donnell Pumphrey decided to take out of the end zone for no real reason in the first place. Football is definitely back.

• One guy who popped early in the game — defensive lineman Josh Sweat. After putting on some bulk this offseason — he's reportedly around 20 pounds heavier than he was since leaving college — he looked just as quick as he's ever been, and he was all around the ball on Tennessee's first drive of the game.

Unfortunately, Sweat got some extended reps as the half wore on, and he didn't do a whole lot to impress, failing to generate enough leverage on the edge to get into the backfield. You would have been forgiven if you didn't realize he was on the field half of the time, and he failed to get pressure even when he was getting one-on-one opportunities on the outside.

(A silver lining — a lot of these reps were against Taylor Lewan, a three-time Pro Bowl tackle who was only getting first-half reps presumably because he's suspended for the first four games of the year. It was a good test for Sweat.)

Health has always been the big question for Sweat, so at this point, I think you can take some solace in him coming out of preseason Game 1 unscathed.

• Speaking of a member of the line, it was not a particularly strong performance for the run game on either side of the ball through the first 30 minutes. I suppose that's what happens when so many of the regulars in the trenches take the night off, but knowing that doesn't make watching it any better.

Even when there was some room to operate, the running back committee didn't do much to impress. The worst of the bunch was Josh Adams, who put the ball on the turf late in the first half with the Eagles attempting to operate their two-minute drill. That handoff was only necessary in the first place because Adams failed to get past the sticks on the play immediately before his fumble. *Andy Reid voice* You got to do a better job.

• Philadelphia playing (mostly) soft coverage on third-and-long is a given under Jim Schwartz, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

The Ugly

• Hassan Ridgeway was evaluated for a head injury and Blake Countess limped off of the field midway through the second quarter, so the Eagles didn't make it out of the first half totally unscathed, but they stayed healthy for the most part. That's the most important stat during the preseason.

Of course, after I wrote this, Nate Sudfeld got hurt with time almost up in the first half after taking a late hit in the backfield, because nothing gold can stay. We'll see how serious the injury is, but man would that be a tough start to the preseason if Sudfeld suffered a real injury.

MORE: Natalie Egenolf: What I'm looking for in Eagles preseason opener

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