Eagles' Carson Wentz, first-team defense shine in preseason loss to Packers

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambles against Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews during the first-quarter in a preseason game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay WI on Thursday.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Carson Wentz needed only four pass attempts on Thursday against the Green Bay Packers before replacing his helmet with a baseball cap, showing enough for the team and its eager fans to consider his preseason debut a success in a 24-9 loss at Lambeau Field.

It wasn’t quite Sam Bradford-in-2015 on the same field in the preseason, but the afterglow might eventually match that euphoria. Because Wentz completed all four passes, including a made-for-September touchdown pass to rookie Mack Hollins on his final play from scrimmage.

Wentz departed the game with 56 passing yards and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He was sacked once, but it was eluding a sack on the touchdown that will be the lasting memory of his outing.

“I wouldn’t say perfect, but it was fun to just get out there,” Wentz said. “It was fun to get out there with the ones. The drive down to score, we had a couple sloppy plays there, but we stayed on the field, we converted a couple third downs, a fourth down in there, made enough plays in there, and that was kind of the rest of the day. Unfortunately, we lost the game, but it was good to get some of the young guys some opportunities.”

Even though the Eagles lost,  the starters on both offense and defense looked good enough in limited time that the excitement will only build in Philadelphia leading up to next week’s preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Lincoln Financial Field.

The starting defense played two series, forcing a three-and-out and a fumble. It should be noted that the effort came without Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the field. So don’t start confusing defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit with the 1991 Eagles defense.

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews stiff-arms Packers defensive back Kentrell Brice in the first quarter of the preseason game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Thursday.

The offense’s success came without top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and starting right guard Brandon Brooks. Jeffery, who was healthy enough to play, was kept on the sideline because coach Doug Pederson is remaining cautious with the prized free-agent addition. Brooks has an ankle injury.

On Wentz’s first play from scrimmage, he faked a handoff to LeGarrette Blount, rolled to his right, and found Jordan Matthews crossing the formation for a 5-yard gain. After a handoff to Blount and an end-around to Nelson Agholor, Wentz’s second completion went right back to Matthews for a 6-yard first down on third-and-2.

The pass was initially short of the chains, but Matthews used a stiff arm to gain the extra yardage and keep the drive alive. Wentz needed Matthews four plays later, when Pederson kept the offense on the field for a fourth-and-6 from the Packers’ 42-yard line and was rewarded with a 7-yard gain.

By keeping the drive alive, Wentz could generate what might prove to be the highlight of the preseason for the Eagles. On a third-and-13 from the Packers’ 38-yard line, Wentz faced pressure up the middle from star Packers  linebacker Clay Matthews. Wentz wrestled out of Matthews’ grip, buying extra time for the receivers to get open downfield.

Hollins was one of those receivers.

“The guy that we thought we were getting,” Pederson said of Hollins. “He really showed up, showed us something tonight.”

The Eagles’ fourth-round pick caught Wentz’s pass at the 24-yard line, tucked the ball in his left arm, and used his right arm to shrug off a Packers defender as he crossed the 15-yard line. That right arm wasn’t finished. Hollins, who is 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, stiff-armed cornerback Quinten Rollins to the ground. Rollins was the last defender between Hollins and the end zone, so Hollins tiptoed along the sideline uncontested for the final 10 yards to give the Eagles the lead. It was an impressive first touch for Hollins, whose early playing time might have been the result of Jeffery’s absence.

“Turned into improvise mode, Mack made a good play getting open, and he did the rest,” Wentz said. “Had two pretty nasty stiff arms.”

Pederson elected to keep his offense on the field for a two-point conversion. A defensive holding penalty gave the Eagles another chance from the 1-yard line after a failed rushing attempt. On the second try, Wentz tried connecting with Nelson Agholor, but the pass sailed through Agholor’s outstretched hands for an incompletion.

There has been speculation this summer that Matthews might cede playing time at slot receiver to Agholor. One drive in one preseason game is not enough to draw any conclusions, but it did affirm for one night what statistics revealed the last two seasons: Matthews is more of a factor in games than Agholor.

Matthews’ receptions Thursday were of the high-percentage variety, but he did move the chains both times. The third-down completion required Matthews’ second effort to extend the drive.

Meanwhile, Agholor was the intended target on the two-point conversion. An argument could be made that Wentz’s pass was too high or too fast. Another argument could be made that Agholor should have caught the pass, and that Agholor’s past drops don’t exactly give him the benefit of the doubt in those situations.

Wentz said he threw the pass “a little high.” Pederson said the fault could go on both sides.

“It just looked like it could have been a touch high,” Pederson said. “But those are plays that both guys have to make.”

Either way, the Eagles’ first-team offense left the field with a 6-0 lead. After Fletcher Cox forced a fumble on Green Bay’s ensuing possession, third-string quarterback Matt McGloin took the field for the offense. Nick Foles, who would ordinarily be the No. 2 quarterback, was out with an elbow injury.

[Eagles corners OK for starters, though Brooks hurts hamstring]

The 11 plays and two two-point conversion attempts from the first-team offense was all Pederson needed to see  Thursday. The five plays from the first defense also sufficed. What came after offered mixed results, but it’s the starters’ action that should resonate most. They had a productive first outing, with more playing time expected next week.

“We talked about maybe one, maybe two drives, see how it went, and play it by ear,” Wentz said. “Obviously, we had a good, long drive and scored, so that was that.”