BALTIMORE - With the Cleveland Browns arriving in Philadelphia on Monday for a pair of joint practices in advance of a preseason game on Thursday night, it was hardly a surprise that Nick Sirianni rested all his key starters in the Eagles' 20-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night, something the head coach finally confirmed on the organization’s pre-game show.
While Sirianni typically takes competitive advantage way too seriously, he’s been above board about valuing scripted joint practices more than preseason work for his starters so any speculation over cameos to the stars was always a longshot.
The real winners in Sirianni’s decision, though, are the young players who got the deference treatment like right guard Cam Jurgens, linebacker Nakobe Dean and safety Reed Blankenship, who are penciled in for significant roles.
The same could be true for running backs Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott, and receivers Quez Watkins and Britain Covey.
Sirianni, though, tempered knowing he likes the backs to get used to taking some hits and both Gainwell and Scott will likely do that against the Browns next week. As for Watkins and Covey they were both scheduled to play but felt some hamstring tighness so the Eagles were being cautious.
-Conversely, the Eagles used running back Rashaad Penny, he of the lengthy injury history, like a high-volume back. The counterintuitive notion there is that Philadelphia may not be concerned because Penny is behind Gainwell and D’Andre Swift in the pecking order. However, Sirianni explained that Penny hasn't played since October of last year and needed to get back in the mix.
Swift also played and showed his ability in the open field with a nice juke on a 22-yard run.
-The Eagles’ second-team offensive line has generally been getting chewed up in practice by the team’s deep defensive line. Things changed tonight against the Ravens, which tells you two things: the group of Tyler Steen, Josh Sills, Josh Andrews, Sua Opeta, and Jack Driscoll is probably pretty solid but the Eagles’ second-team defensive line which started with Nolan Smith, Milton Williams, Jordan Davis (to be fair Davis is a projected starter) and Derek Barnett with Jalen Carter subbing in is ridiculously talented.
-On the Jake Elliott 46-yard missed field goal, the snap was a little off from Rick Lovato but rookie punter Ty Zentner was able to get the hold down. The operation was good enough that a veteran kicker like Elliott should have made it but sometimes kickers get comfortable with their holders, another tilt toward Arryn Siposs. The miss essentially kept the Eagles from halting Baltimore’s ridiculous 24-game preseason winning streak.
-Rookie cornerback Kelee Ringo had a tough time of it on the Ravens’ second drive first getting caught inside as Justice Hill broke outside for a 37-yard run and then getting beat at the line of scrimmage on a seven-yard Josh Johnson touchdown pass to Devin Duvernay.
Ringo has a tremendous upside and will have time to grow but he is a very raw player at this point.
-If it wasn’t obvious already, Tanner McKee is the Eagles’ third quarterback. The rookie entered early in the second quarter after the first two drives by Marcus Mariota produced 26 offensive plays. He played through the third quarter and was really efficient throwing the football, particularly taking advantage of the big-bodied receivers the Eagles have down the roster. Even more important than that was how assertive McKee was in making his reads and pulling the trigger.
Sirianni noted McKee needs to be a little more accurate after finishing 10-for-20 but some of that would presumably come with a better supporting cast if the rookie is ever pressed into action.
Ian Book, meanwhile, was a disaster in the fourth quarter, as indecisive as McKee was decisive, taking a 21-yard sack and not allowing Joseph Ngata a chance to high-point a two-point conversation attempt after an Eli Ricks pick-six got the Eagles back into the game.
-The whole point of the preseason for Philadelphia these days is to get out as healthy as possible. The always-steady Greg Ward left after tweaking something while converting a 4th-and-1 play in the second quarter but SI.com's Eagles Today saw him after the game and he was moving fine.
The far more serious injury could be backup linebacker and special-teams stalwart Shaun Bradley, who injured his right leg during the punt-coverage play where Mekhi Garner and Rick Lovato teamed up for a turnover. Bradley was unable to put any weight on his right leg and was carted off.
-We might have figured out the secret behind the Ravens’ postseason success. Generally, if you watch preseason games the winner is often the team with the best third quarterback. In Baltimore’s case, John Harbaugh started the journeyman Johnson and then went to Tyler Huntley in the second half, one of the better backups in the league.
The Eagles had a 271 to 114 total yardage advantage in the first half and a 21:57 to 8:03 time of possession advantage. When Huntley entered the Ravens dominated and came back for No. 24.
-Credit Greedy Williams with a cool moment at the end of the first half. The backup cornerback missed a tackle that put the Ravens “in field-goal position,” at least for their kicker.
Justin Tucker came on and calmly booted one from 60 yards that would have been good from at least 65 and perhaps 70.
The Baltimore crowd is filled with No. 9 jerseys and for good reason, you can confidently state that Tucker is the greatest placekicker to ever live, and for someone who has covered the league for a quarter century, getting to see him barely break a sweat in 90-plus degree heat while crushing it from 60 made a typically 90-minute drive that turned into a three-hour traffic fest worth it.
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-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Football 24/7 and a daily contributor to ESPN South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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This story was originally published August 13, 2023, 11:22 AM.