The score of an exhibition game in the NFL is irrelevant except for the very temporary feeling players may get after the game.
The main purpose of the game is out where you stand with key players. The Eagles coaching staff went into the preseason opener looking to see how what had they were being dealt has they get closer to the season opener in Atlanta on September 12.
For what is worth, the Eagles found more positives than negatives from their starters after the Birds dropped a 24-16 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the somewhat filled Lincoln Financial Field.
Nick Sirianni was asked what his thoughts were following the game and what he told his team about their performance.
“I told the team, obviously I have to watch the tape and look and see everything that happened, but I thought it was a very crisp first half,” Sirianni said. “A lot of good things in the first half. Again, there are things to clean up, but the first half, I thought we looked pretty sharp there. Then, the second half just got sloppy and that was my message to the team. Again, you have to go back and look at the tape, but again felt like crisp first half, sloppy second half. “
All eyes were on the play of second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts and if he would show signs of improvement after starting four games in 2020 that raised as many questions about his future as it did answers.
Hurts was solid. He was 3-of-7 for 54 yards during the two drives he was under center. Zach Ertz and Jalen Reagor dropped passes they clearly should have caught. Hurts did hit tight end Dallas Goedert with a picture perfect 34-yard strike on the first drive that set up a 47-yard Jake Elliott field goal. Elliott was three-for-three on field goals hitting two from 47 yards out and one from 50 yards.
Hurts talked about his relationship with the new coaching staff during the game.
“It was smooth, especially being out there with a new set of coaches,” said Hurts who was credited with one rush for four yards and no sacks. “I always talk about having a new situation. Maybe you have new experiences that come along with that. It was good to get on the grass, get on the field with them, get that coaching from them and talk about what we saw on the field. [There’s] definitely a lot of stuff we can learn from today.”
The biggest reason for Eagles coaches, players and fans to smile about happened at the end of the first quarter when Joe Flacco, who had just come into the game for Hurts, connected with Quez Watkins for a bubble screen that went 79-yards for a touchdown.
Flacco, who played the second quarter before handing off to Nick Mullens at the half, called and audible when he saw the Steelers line up for a blitz.
Sirianni was asked if that screen was something he specifically felt he would run tonight going in, or was that an answer to Pittsburgh kind of being aggressive there.
“Both. Yeah, both,” the rookie head coach said. “Joe made a great check. They brought the slot off of Quez and the offensive line did a great job getting out. Again, like we've run that play so many times. I've been a part of that play so many times, and it really takes all 11 to make it go. So I'm excited. And obviously you don't see that -- you don't see it live. It obviously worked and Quez made it work with the burst and he just kind of glided and really outran the defense. I look forward to seeing how everybody did their job on that play. That's a staple in our offense and I'm glad we were able to execute tonight.”
Both defensive back Darius Slay and Hurts said Watkins is no longer a secret. His skill set as a receiver and his gift of speed are starting to mesh and the results were already showing at camp and now on television for Eagles Nation and the NFL to see.
Watkins was asked how he felt when he heard Slay’s words.
“It means a lot,” Watkins said. “Slay is in year eight or nine and he’s a big-time vet, big-time corner. He’s one of the best in the league so getting that from him boosts my confidence.”
The starting defense kept the Steelers off the scoreboard until the 1:53 mark of the second quarter when second-year running back Anthony McFarland Jr. scored on a one-yard plunge to make the score 13-7.
The Eagles led 16-7 at the half.
Eagles rookie defensive lineman Milton Williams was asked to talk about the efficiency of communication between the sideline and the players:
“[Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon] let us know he was going to keep our calls simple," Williams said. "Some stuff that we’ve been going over since day one. Most of us knew what calls were coming in; everybody knew their job and knew what to expect when we lined up, so communication was really easy tonight.” *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii