Good morning. This newsletter comes to you from Cleveland after the Eagles' 5-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday. The team is off today and does not practice again until Sunday, when Doug Pederson will have a news conference. The starters won't play next week against the New York Jets, so they'll begin preparing for the Atlanta Falcons.
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
This is the third straight week when the "it's only the preseason!" rationalization has been applied to an Eagles performance. It's also the last time it can be applied with the starting unit.
The Eagles are now fewer than two weeks away from kicking off in a game that counts. They'll begin preparing for the Atlanta Falcons when they return to practice on Sunday. It's starting to get real. That's why there was more anticipation than usual for the third preseason game. The starters played a full half and it was the last time they'd play before Atlanta.
A 5-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns with four turnovers and a safety from the first-team offense. So repeat after me: "It's only the preseason!" (And by the way, the same must be said about the defense. They look ready for Week 1 and you should be confident in this group this season, but holding the Browns offense to three points does not make Jim Schwartz's unit the '85 Bears.)
The caveats about the offense have been presented all week. They were missing key starters, especially at the skill positions. There's not an intricate game plan installed for the preseason. Frankly, it would have been noteworthy if the Eagles played like they did in the Super Bowl on Thursday.
With that said, it was especially bad. The sloppiness is unacceptable no matter the time of the year, and Nick Foles, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, played like a backup.
I wouldn't be worried about Foles. And I wouldn't even use the preseason excuse or the fact that he's missing some of his top weapons, although those would be valid. Rather, the Eagles have been here before with Foles. He doesn't usually have mediocre games. They're often either outstanding or ugly. (He has 18 career starts, including the playoffs, with a quarterback rating greater than 100. He has 16 starts with a quarterback rating worse than 80. He has only eight starts in between.) I wrote it in 2013, in 2014, in 2017. Foles has built enough equity that if he needs to start this year, they know he can perform.
"I'm disappointed in the offense; I don't want to single out one player," coach Doug Pederson said. "Don't put this all on Nick. It's not what you want obviously in the third preseason week. It's one of those things where we still keep things very vanilla, we still want to evaluate and make sure we've got the right guys in the right spots. But now we turn our attention — we've got one more preseason game — but now we turn our attention to Atlanta."
Big picture, the way they played was bad, but they're going to look different in two weeks. Nelson Agholor will be back, although Alshon Jeffery remains a question. Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement should be back. Jason Peters will be at left tackle and Darren Sproles returns as an offensive weapon. And of course, the Carson Wentz question looms. The Eagles will have a game plan installed for Atlanta.
"I think it'll be different," Pederson said. "We've just got to make sure these guys are ready to go in a couple weeks."
If they're shut out on opening night and turn the ball over four times, then it's fair to panic. But don't panic on Aug. 24.
It's hard to say right now, and this week will go a long way to determine the status of the injured players. Alshon Jeffery is on the practice field watching every day. He's in the locker room every day. But he's still on PUP. I don't know if he'll be back Week 1. It's getting close. I'd be surprised if the Eagles put him on PUP to begin the season and shelved him for the first six weeks. But I still can't rule Week 1 out, because they haven't ruled Week 1 out — at least not publicly. It sounds like Nelson Agholor will be back. So you know you'll have Agholor and Mike Wallace. Mack Hollins returned to practice last week, so my guess is he's closer to playing. I'll know more on Sunday. But with the way Shelton Gibson has come on, Gibson can push Hollins for playing time.