It’s difficult to get impressed by anything related to football in the midst of international crises in Kabul and Haiti. The debacle and shame associated with real human suffering in the wake of the Afghan situation is especially troubling.
But here we are in mid-August and the Patriots are in town for a joint stress test with the Eagles.
Both sides wore pads, as the two teams split up in “offense vs. defense” groups. NJ Advance Media’s Mike Kaye and Chris Franklin split up to observe both sides of the field. Franklin watched the Eagles’ offense vs. the Patriots’ defense, and Kaye observed the Eagles’ defense vs. the Patriots’ offense.
Here are five observations from Monday’s joint practice from the Eagles’ defense vs. Patriots offense side of the field:
1. Eagles connect on deep passes
The Eagles threw the ball downfield a lot early on in practice and connected on several attempts. Head coach Nick Sirianni and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead have been harping on the small details needed to run routes precisely. It paid off early with receivers Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, and Quez Watkins catching passes of more than 40 yards against Patriots cornerbacks Michael Jackson Sr., J.C. Jackson, and D’Angelo Ross.
Given the Eagles’ speed at the wide receiver position, quarterback Jalen Hurts has taken some shots early in the preseason, trying to utilize it for an advantage. If the Eagles can regularly connect on those throws, opposing safeties could be forced to stay further back, opening up underneath routes and even help with the run game.
2. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks pave success in the run game
When the Eagles kept the ball on the ground, they had their most success running behind guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Lane Johnson. The two linemen are playing their first extended minutes together after Brooks missed the entire 2020 season with an Achilles injury and Johnson missed several games because of ankle issues. Johnson and Brooks opened up some holes on a Miles Sanders run in which they were able to get a good push.
3. Penalties and miscues
For all of the early success, the Eagles committed several penalties in practice. On one drive alone, the first-team offense committed two false start penalties and was flagged for holding, effectively ending any momentum gained.
Could it have been that they saw a new front and were trying to adjust to what the Patriots were doing? Perhaps. But they are not afforded the luxury of starting over without moving the ball back in a live game. According to NFL Penalties, the Eagles were the ninth-most penalized team on offense (44) and had the second-highest amount of false start penalties last season (25), only trailing the Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles cannot afford to see a repeat performance in this category.
4. Things got competitive with Mills and the Eagles offense
Usually, having another team come in and practice adds a little extra energy, which in turn makes for some intense, competitive moments. Former Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills, who signed with the Patriots this offseason, got into it briefly with left tackle Jordan Mailata. Mills shoved Mailata after the tackle tapped his head. Cooler heads would prevail.
After practice, Mailata thought it could have developed into something bigger.
“I thought it was going to be a Myles Garrett situation,” Mailata said.
Mills was also talking to the Eagles’ sideline. The Patriots played good coverage on the Eagles’ receivers, not allowing them to get any separation. Hurts was forced to hold on to the ball and run. Afterward, Mills yelled over to Eagles cornerback Darius Slay.
“You see what press-man can do Slay?” Mills yelled over to Slay.
5. Series of drops hurt the Eagles
For all of the deep shots the offense took, several passes deflected off of Eagles receivers’ hands or flat out dropped. A ball went off tight end Zach Ertz’s hands and into the arms of Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. Another pass intended for running back Kenny Gainwell went off his hands, resulting in a Matt Judon interception.
-Hurts continues to use the audible system to his advantage. On what looked to be a blitz from the Eagles offense’s right side, Hurts stopped his cadence, called an audible to change the protection and the play, and gave himself more time to look downfield. After not seeing anything open, Hurts kept the ball and ran for 10 yards.
-Nick Mullens was almost intercepted in the middle of the field by Bentley. Mullens went through a play-fake and looked as if he either did not see Bentley sitting in his coverage area, or he expected a receiver to be there. Either way, Mullens was glad that he was not able to take the ball the other way.
-Guard Sua Opeta had a good practice Monday, getting some leverage against Patriots defensive linemen by getting inside their pads and drove them off the ball. On one play, Opeta and Toth worked together to open up a lane for running back Boston Scott. Scott ran for at least 20 yards on the play.