Some bright spots for Eagles in loss to Steelers

There are a few things for Eagles fans to be encouraged about after the Birds’ 31–14 loss.

Eagles wide receiver hopeful Shelton Gibson hauls in a 63-yard touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld in the second quarter of the Eagles 31–14 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Andy Lewis/contrastphotography.com

By Al Thompson

The Eagles opened their 2018 preseason schedule at the Linc Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it went about as well as you would expect from a game with mostly backups on the field.

The teams combined for six fumbles, four turnovers, including three interceptions, and 19 penalties for 116 yards. There was an assortment of missed tackles and blown coverages.

But there were a few things for Eagles fans to be encouraged about after the Birds’ 31–14 loss.

Dallas Goedert, the tight end drafted in the second round out of South Dakota State, played like a veteran, leading the Eagles with 66 yards on four catches that included a 15-yard touchdown pass from third-year quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

The touchdown came from a broken play. Sudfeld avoided the rush, stepped up in the pocket and found Goedert in a seam the rookie found on his own. It was an impressive play by both players.

“It was a lot of fun out there,” Goedert said. “Playing the first game, obviously I had a little bit of the jitters before the game, but once you step out there, you’re just playing football. It was fun to get that first game under my belt.”

Head coach Doug Pederson talked about his debut and appeared to be impressed. He was asked if he wanted to go to Goedert early to see what he could do.

“Yeah, I wanted to feature him a little bit,” Pederson said. “We were very vanilla, obviously, on offense. But at the same time, just wanted to get him into a little bit of a rhythm, he and Nate. He did some nice things for us. He’s going to be a great addition to our offense and offensive package. Excited for his future and what he can provide offensively.”

Sudfeld had a solid line with one exception. The 6-foot-6, 227-pounder out of Indiana was 10-of-14 for 140 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked once during his half of play but threw two interceptions.

Obviously, Sudfeld needs to keep that from trending.

“I think, overall, he played pretty well,” Pederson said. “Obviously, the two turnovers are critical, but those are things that are all correctable and are teachable moments. I can do a better job teaching the route and teaching the progression and all that and helping him there. But I thought once he settled down, he made some really nice throws down the field, I believe one to Bryce (Treggs) and one to Dallas. After he settled in and had the one interception and came back and we got the touchdown after that and the two-point conversion. I thought, overall, not too bad for the first time out.”

The Eagles’ running backs had a decent showing, rushing for 106 yards on just 24 carries, good for a solid 4.4 yards per carry.

Josh Adams finished with 30 yards on six carries. Glassboro native Corey Clement also rushed for 30 yards on five carries. Wendell Smallwood carried the ball six times for 21 yards, and Jay Ajayi tallied 20 yards on four carries. He barreled his way for 20 yards on four carries. But all his positive yards came from a 22-yard run and a 4-yard run in the first quarter.

His other two carries resulted in negative yards.

Pederson said Ajayi has to listen to his coaches more, especially tight ends coach Justin Peele, who teaches blocking and technique for backs and tight ends.

“Yeah, he’s really done a nice job,” the coach said. “He’s a willing participant to block. You’ve just got to continue to trust his technique, trust the coaching. And the way Justin is teaching. Continue to just get stronger. It’s good to see him stick his face in there and be physical with defensive and outside linebackers. He’ll continue to get better.”

Second-year wide receiver Shelton Gibson caught two passes, one a 63-yard touchdown pass from Sudfeld in the second quarter,

Gibson, who is fighting for a roster spot, talked about the touchdown catch.

“It was me and Nate,” he said. “Nate warned me about that yesterday; if they press, it’s going to happen, so that’s what happened.”

When you play defense and your unit gives up 31 points and 366 yards, there is not much to stick your chest out about.

Still, some players had moments. Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bruce Hector and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds each registered sacks. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Malcolm Jenkins split a sack. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill led the team with six solo tackles.

But Pederson singled out linebacker Nate Gerry for his overall play. Gerry started the game at the “will” spot.

“I tell you, he’s a player that’s extremely smart,” Pederson said. “He can play all three positions. He’s versatile that way, and he’s earned it. He’s earned to get in there with the starting rotation. He’s added some valuable depth for us, and we’ll continue to work him in there. Kamu also was another one in there at that position. He’s done a really good job. He’s off to a good camp, and we’ve just got to see more of him.”

The Eagles’ next preseason game is Thursday, Aug. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Foxborough, Massachusetts against the New England Patriots. ••