The Eagles' first-team offense, if you'll call it that this summer, has taken 36 snaps in the preseason. It has played eight drives. It has scored zero points.
The performance of the first-team offense has caused some August angst in Philadelphia, considering what was a high-powered attack last year has been nowhere to be found this month. Of course, asterisks are required. First of all, it's preseason – there is little game-planning and vanilla offensive schemes.
But mostly, the Eagles haven't used the starters they hope to field on Sept. 6. Their top two wide receivers haven't played. Carson Wentz has been out and Nick Foles missed one game. Zach Ertz sat out the preseason opener. Jason Peters remained on the sideline. So the first-team offense hasn't exactly been the first-team offense. And it will remain incomplete on Thursday against the Cleveland Browns in the final preseason game the starters will play before the season opener.
"I don't concern myself too much about it right now," coach Doug Pederson said.
The reason Pederson isn't concerned is because of the above caveats. He's not trying to win any coach of the preseason awards, and there is no Lombardi Trophy offered at the end of August.
"Maybe I'm superstitious, but I really don't like being 4-0 in the preseason," Pederson said. "Because now is the time where you're sort of experimenting with plays. You're trying some different personnel groups, some combinations. You're just trying to evaluate talent and so it is different. It's a little different, but at the same time you're still trying to get ready for Week 1 and our home opener. It is tough when all your guys aren't out there, but they also know that they're preparing themselves for that season opener and getting themselves prepared that way."
The Eagles will try to generate offensive momentum on Thursday. They'll play without Wentz, Peters, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles – all players who would be part of the offense come September. Foles will start at quarterback after a poor showing (and early exit) last week. The starting offensive line from the Super Bowl remains intact. Ertz will be on the field, as will new wide receiver Mike Wallace.
The game-planning might not be at the level that it is in the regular season, but it will be more intricate this week. The practice week is structured more like the regular season than during training camp. Most of the practice reps this week have been devoted to the starting unit, which Pederson hoped will allow the "so-called penciled-in starters to play a little bit better in a game like this."
"I think it's just rhythm," Foles said. "It's playing the game. I think a great analogy is, at the end of the season last year, everyone was talking about why our offense couldn't move the ball and do different things, and everyone started freaking out. The game of football is very unique. It's a rhythm game. There's a rhythm to our drops, to pass protection, to routes. Everything's timed up. It's actually like a beautiful dance. It just takes time."
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said there has been an emphasis on getting off to a faster start. In the first game, the offense turned the ball over on the opening possession. In the second game, it had a three-and-out. Its longest gain on an opening drive this summer has been 4 yards.
Even though the players and coaches are not worried about what the first-team offense has done, they haven't been apathetic about it. For right tackle Lane Johnson, the reward of a good preseason game comes when the linemen don't need to hear about what went wrong when they return to the meeting room.
"When you're not doing well, you go back and watch the film and you get notified that you're not doing well," Johnson said. "Really, we need to pick our stuff up. …It's not a panic mode, but every time we're out there, we want to do well. We don't want to go out there and put bad stuff on tape for the hell of it and then get cussed out."
Ertz emphasized that the offense cannot use its absent players as an excuse. One can make the argument that it's going to have absent players during the regular season – last year's team was an example.
But the preseason can offer little indication for a team's success. In the second preseason game last year, the first-team offense had three three-and-outs and a turnover. It was fine come September. (In the third preseason game, though, Wentz threw two touchdowns in the first quarter.) But it's worth noting the Browns went 4-0 in the preseason last year. They went 0-16 in the regular season.
So while Pederson wants to see improvement on Aug. 23, he cares far more about how the first-team offense looks on Sept. 6.