Which Eagles stood out or struggled during their 18-18 tie against the Browns?

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

The Philadelphia Eagles decided to rest their starters for the second preseason game after throwing them into the fire for two straight days of competitive – and sometimes scrappy and feisty – scrimmages during joint practices. Marcus Mariota took the reins at quarterback and played the entire first half in what can best be described as pedestrian. It wasn’t good.

Mariota finished 9-of-17 for 87 yards and 1 interception as the Eagles tied the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. The final score doesn’t matter. It never does in the preseason. Instead, it’s a good time to track which players made great impressions and which ones looked lost. That wasn’t the case for Tanner McKee (10-of-18 for 147 yards and 1 touchdown) who has made a strong case to snake the backup quarterback job after two preseason games. McKee had a chance to lead the game-winning drive with 1:52 showing in the fourth quarter but couldn’t pull it off. Still, it was stunning to watch how much better the offense seemed to flow better with the rookie at the helm.

Meanwhile, Kenny Gainwell (2 carries for 6 yards) and Boston Scott (1 carry for -1 yard) shared snaps at running back in the first quarter. Neither one had anything to prove, yet Nick Sirianni wanted to see them absorb tackles in a real game situation. Olamide Zaccheaus started in the slot, then left early with a shoulder injury. The injury report was lengthy for the Eagles:

Prior to the game, Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni was asked about his plan for the starters and if he had instructed them to do anything during the exhibition contest. He has no standing rules, other than for them to support their teammates. Which every one of them did by standing comfortably on the sideline next to Jalen Hurts with no helmets or jerseys.

“Just obviously be there,” Sirianni told reporters of his rule for the starters. “That’s really the main thing. Support your teammates. Treat everybody in the building with respect, which is a golden rule. So, I don’t have a ton of rules. Wear Eagles gear at practice. That’s about it. Just be a good teammate to the guys that are out there.”

5 Eagles Who Stood Out vs. Cleveland

Nolan Smith: The Eagles rookie first-rounder said he couldn’t wait to start hitting people earlier in camp and he came close to knocking down the quarterback a few times. Smith didn’t record any sacks or QB hits, but he was constantly in the backfield. I counted about four pressures where he flashed his trademark speed and looked unblockable. Smith is going to be a big, big problem.
Note: Smith landed awkwardly on his left arm – ruled a shoulder injury – and walked off the field before the end of the first half. He returned to the sideline un uniform but didn’t get back into the game.

Tanner McKee: People started ringing the bell for the rookie quarterback to take Marcus Mariota’s job last week. Those chimes are only going to get louder this week. McKee started the third quarter by leading a 6-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 33-yard touchdown run by Trey Sermon. He was 2-of-4 for 27 yards on his first series – and every throw was clean and crisp. The highlight was a perfect back shoulder toss to Joseph Ngata that went for 12 yards.

Zach Cunningham: He started alongside Nakobe Dean at linebacker where he looked every bit the part of a starter for the Eagles. He came on a blitz and nearly got to Dorian Thompson-Robinson on the second defensive play from scrimmage. He stuck with tight ends in coverage and showed fluid lateral movement. Cunningham finished with a team-high seven tackles (1 tackle for loss).

Dennis Kelly: The 12-year veteran may end up being the sneakiest depth signing in Eagles’ history. He was pretty good in the preseason opener at right tackle and shined at right guard against Cleveland. Kelly destroyed a pair of defenders on a 15-yard screen pass to Devon Allen, then paved the lane on Trey Sermon’s 33-yard touchdown run.

Mario Goodrich: The undrafted cornerback out of Clemson has the inside track at the backup slot job behind Avonte Maddox. He always seems to be around the ball while staying stride for stride for quicker receivers in coverage.

Honorable Mentions: LB Nakobe Dean (3 tackles, 1 forced fumble), DT Marlon Tuipulotu (0.5 sacks, 1 QB hit)

5 Eagles Who Struggled vs. Cleveland

Marcus Mariota: There was a smattering of boos as the backup quarterback was sacked to end the first half. It wasn’t all his fault – Josh Sills missed his block – but he didn’t do anything to prevent it by hanging onto the football too long. Mariota was borderline atrocious in his two quarters: 9-of-17 for 86 yards and 1 interception. There was no one in the vicinity of the pick, plus he badly overthrew Grant Calcaterra and Olamide Zaccheus on the first series. His passes were off target all night.

Josh Sills: The Eagles’ second-year guard/tackle is playing catch up after missing the majority of training camp due to legal issues. On Thursday, Sills struggled to find his footing multiple times. He failed to help Sua Opeta out early in the first quarter which led to a safety after Kenny Gainwell was tripped up in the end zone. Later, he got completely fooled by Browns defensive tackle Maurice Hurts Jr. for an easy sack on Marcus Mariota.

Zech McPhearson: The Browns were picking on the fourth-rounder from the 2021 draft and not apologizing for it. He bailed on an interception attempt on Cleveland’s first drive, then struggled to wrap up the receiver. Later, he got beat for a 32-yard gain with Terrell Edmunds coming over late to help out. McPhearson has been playing on the outside in the preseason after seeing a lot of first-team reps at nickel earlier in camp. On the flip side, the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder did bat the ball away for a nice pass breakup.

Note: McPhearson was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the second quarter and never returned. He wasn’t able to put any weight on his right leg. Expect another injury update tomorrow.

Kelee Ringo: The Eagles’ fourth-round pick out of Georgia literally lost a ball in the lights and watched it go for a 27-yard completion instead of what should have been an interception. Ringo, who has been up and down all summer, is very much a work in progress. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder got bullied on a few tackles, too. He appears to be losing ground on the cornerback depth chart, although he’s a lock to make the roster.

Jack Driscoll: He has been splitting time at right tackle and right guard to mixed results. Driscoll was called for a false start penalty – one of 11 total infractions on the Eagles – against Cleveland. That can’t happen from a guy in his fourth NFL season. 

Honorable Mentions: S Justin Evans (fumbled a punt return), DT Kentavius Street (dropped an easy interception)

AP Photo/Derik Hamilton