Preseason games are rarely exquisite exhibitions of football elegance, but Thursday's Week 3 kickoff between the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns was a rather uglier than normal August affair. Both teams slogged through the gamut of inconsistent and sloppy play in the touchdown-barren endeavor, giving their respective coaches plenty of ammunition for this week's team meetings and film-watching sessions.
The good news -- it's only the preseason.
Here's what we learned from the Browns' 5-0 victory over the Eagles:
1. Baker Mayfield's third preseason start couldn't scatter the dark clouds of offensive struggles that engulfed both teams. Still, he showed flashes of why he's considered the Browns' franchise quarterback in waiting. His presence in the pocket and penchant for fancy footwork in eluding would-be sackers was once again on display as he found ways to navigate around the second-team O-line's porous performance. The interception he threw while getting pulled down in the fourth quarter was the low point, but at least he avoided injury -- a neurological evaluation in the sideline tent after the INT brought an unceremonious end to his night.
Mayfield's final line wasn't thrilling: he completed 8 of 12 passes for 76 yards. Overall, it was simply another step up the rookie learning ladder for the No. 1 overall draft pick even if it lacked the trademark on-field bravado of his college days.
"Not my best game by any means," Mayfield said. "Obviously, when you turn the ball over, it's not the best. ... Disappointed in myself, you know, getting in there with the first team, you got to get the ball out quicker. ... Things I'll look back on tape and definitely improve from, but not my best work at all."
Browns coach Hue Jackson was more upbeat in his assessment of the No. 1 overall pick's performance:
"I thought he did some good things," Jackson said. "I think Baker has completed some huge balls and made some plays. Obviously, the interception was unfortunate -- I think he was getting hit as he's trying to throw -- that's a tough one. ... The last two weeks, he sees in the National Football League it's a grind. It doesn't always go the way you want it to and you just got to fight through and play and keep making plays, and I saw that in him. There's no flinch in him at all. He competes and that's what you look for."
2. Nick Foles' performance was much more reminiscent of his final games in St. Louis in 2015 rather than his Philly Special-orchestrating, Super Bowl MVP-winning performance last February. The quarterback struggled mightily for an Eagles squad that committed four turnovers in the first half -- two of which came off interceptions. His looked lost on some of his defensive reads, and the Eagles' offensive line wasn't providing him much margin for error (he got sacked for a safety in the first quarter). Foles' final numbers -- 13 of 17 for 127 yards -- look a lot better than the sputtering drive charts that chronicle his stint.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson has insisted all offseason that starting quarterback Carson Wentz (knee) will only play if he receives medical clearance to do so. Thursday night's performance by the Eagles might have annihilated the offseason narrative that Foles will be a worthy and efficient keeper of the Eagles' offensive flame until Wentz is completely ready to return.
"It's hard to pinpoint one," Pederson said when asked what the reasons might be for Foles' struggles. "I think sometimes you just put a little bit too much pressure on yourself, or you press to make a play -- whatever it might be. I don't know. It's tough. Having been in those situations before, sometimes you feel like you need to make a play yourself when you're struggling offensively, and then it doesn't come. We can't do that. We have to stick within our plan and stick within our means, and continue to execute."
3. Let's not get too carried away with Foles' performance. A heap of injuries have shrouded the true nature of Philadelphia's offense. The offensive line struggled to provide adequate protection -- and that was before Jason Kelce made an early exit after suffering an apparent minor injury.
With Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor out, Foles' passing options were limited to Zach Ertz, Mike Wallace and Shelton Gibson. Wendell Smallwood managed to churn out 53 yards on 12 carries, but the absences of Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement definitely didn't help. Until the Eagles are fully healed, the true character of their 2018 offense will be extremely difficult to judge.
4. The hopes and dreams of Browns devotees everywhere were mercilessly strapped to an emotional roller coaster during the first half when rookie cornerback Denzel Ward and starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor went down with injuries. Ward's injury might be the more serious of the two -- he suffered a back injury when he got bent around while tackling Ertz. The No. 4 overall selection of the 2018 draft managed to walk off the field before eventually heading to the locker room and not returning. Jackson didn't have an update on Ward after the game. The Browns are counting on Ward to be a Week 1 starter, and it remains to be seen how significant his injury might be.
Taylor's injury initially looked very painful -- he landed awkwardly on his non-throwing (left) hand while rolling out to the sideline for a pass. He immediately jumped up and ran toward the sideline before heading to the locker room. Minutes later, he appeared on the sideline with a reinforced glove and tape around his hand. Jackson then pushed him back into the game to finish the first half. Taylor finished the game connecting on 11 of 16 passes for 65 yards in a decent showing, all things considered. X-rays were negative on Taylor's hand, Jackson said after the game.
In addition to Taylor and Ward, safety Damarious Randall didn't play after experiencing tightness in knee in the pregame warmup, Jackson said.
5. Cleveland's defense looked very polished, recording seven sacks and making the most of the Eagles' vulnerabilities on the O-line. Second-year defensive end Myles Garrett led the way with two sacks and was a near-constant Foles harasser. "I thought our defense was outstanding today," Jackson said. "If we continue to do that it gives us a chance to win games. We got four [turnovers] and gave up one ... so that's good." Perhaps we'll see a cheerier Gregg Williams on Hard Knocks next week.