Eagles lose their preseason opener. So what? | Early Birds

Good morning. The Eagles opened the preseason with a 31-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday. The players are off on Friday, although the coaches will be at the offices and the assistants will meet with reporters on Friday afternoon. Practice resumes on Saturday at 10:05 a.m. at the stadium. Doug Pederson has a 9:45 a.m. news conference.

This is a preseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox three days per week until the season begins. If your friends haven’t subscribed to Early Birds, it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

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Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) during the first quarter in a preseason game on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News/TNS)

The Eagles lost their preseason opener. So what?

Here’s an exercise: Who remembers the details of the Eagles’ preseason opener last year in Green Bay? You might remember Carson Wentz looked good on the opening drive, that the starting defense swarmed all over the field, maybe that Jordan Matthews was traded the next day. They lost that game by 15 points. How much did it affect them come Week 1? How much did it affect them on Feb. 4?

I’d say this even if they won by two touchdowns, too. The preseason is valuable for evaluating the development of players and gaining a rhythm for the season, but it suggests little about what will happen in October or November. That was especially the case on Thursday, considering the Eagles played without almost half of their starting offense and the Steelers played without their three most notable offensive players. There’s no way of knowing where the Eagles are on offense without Carson Wentz or Nick Foles at quarterback, their top three receivers, Zach Ertz, and Jason Peters. On the other side of the ball, would the first-team defense have forced two three-and-outs if they were facing Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown?

This is not to suggest that Thursday’s game was meaningless. One big takeaway was that Dallas Goedert can play. It’s been apparent throughout the summer, but you can see that he gets open and can bring the ball in. His size will be dangerous in the red zone. I’m curious to see how the offense looks against a different opponent when he’s out there with Ertz.

I’m also starting to warm to the idea that Sidney Jones will play the slot this season. I’ve thought all summer that they’ll eventually move Jalen Mills to the inside and put Jones on the outside in nickel – and there’s still time to do so – but the amount of work Jones is getting inside this summer and on Thursday night is not by accident. It would disrupt the defense less if Mills doesn’t need to move, although if Jones is eventually going to eventually be the team’s top outside cornerback (and he has the potential to be that), then I would play him there sooner than later. Still, Jones’ quickness and his willingness to tackle means they can play him in the slot this year, and that would still get him around 70 percent of the defensive snaps — if healthy.

Down the depth chart, it’s notable how much better wide receiver Shelton Gibson is playing this season compared to last summer. When talking to him after the game, he noted that he didn’t see those deep balls last year – and he doesn’t just want deep balls this year. He’s more well-rounded, so he can do more than run deep. But when he gets a step on a defender, his value is clear. (Of course, he’ll face better cornerbacks if he gets into games in the regular season.) And speaking of players from the 2017 draft class, Donnel Pumphrey hurt himself by missing Thursday’s game. An injury is an injury, but the reality is it offers opportunities for others. I thought Josh Adams seized that opportunity on Thursday (6 carries, 30 yards; 2 catches, 11 yards).

Those are the types of things that can be taken away from a preseason opener. It didn’t help shape or indicate how the Eagles will do this season. There are still three preseason games remaining, and they might tell more. But the best news of all is it’s one day closer to Sept. 6.

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Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert celebrates his second-quarter touchdown reception with quarterback Nate Sudfeld against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a preseason game on Thursday, August 9, 2018 in Philadelphia. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

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Both Rasul Douglas and Shelton Gibson were notable players on Thursday. Douglas allowed two touchdowns and also had an interception. Gibson caught a touchdown and led the team with 77 receiving yards. Both are entering their second seasons out of West Virginia.

I see Douglas as the Eagles’ fourth cornerback this year behind Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Sidney Jones. That’s a good trio, and Douglas is not far from a starting-caliber cornerback. He had impressive moments as a rookie and has the size and ball skills you want. Douglas will see the field, and if there’s an injury, he’ll be a valuable reserve. But I don’t see him usurping the top three in the short term.

I see Gibson as the No. 5 wide receiver, holding off veteran challengers for that job. Alshon Jeffery, Nelson AgholorMike Wallace, and Mack Hollins are the top four. Gibson has potential, experience from last season, and special teams value as a gunner on punt returns. There are still three preseason games for him to solidify that spot, and there’s competition. But the Eagles drafted Gibson as a down-the-line player. He left West Virginia early and Howie Roseman thought if Gibson went back to school in 2017, he would have gone higher than the fifth round. So my guess is the Eagles continue developing him in 2018.