Week 2 of the 2023 NFL preseason kicked off Thursday as the Cleveland Browns took on the Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams opted to rest most of their starters, instead playing a lot of rookies and unproven veterans. Still, there were a few significant takeaways from this game in Philadelphia that are worth noting.
4 Takeaways from Browns vs. Eagles
1. Eagles QB Marcus Mariota Struggles vs. Backups
After losing Gardner Minshew in free agency to the Indianapolis Colts, the Eagles signed former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota to a one-year deal with $5 million guaranteed. That move is already being questioned because Mariota has struggled mightily in the preseason. Mariota started last week against the Baltimore Ravens and averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt (11 attempts). He was even worse on Thursday against the Browns’ second and third-stringers.
The first bad throw came on a third down on Cleveland’s 38-yard line. Mariota had Olamide Zaccheaus wide open on the left side of the field and overthrew him. It should have been a routine throw that would have at least set up a fourth-and-short situation, at worst. Instead, the ball wasn’t catchable, and the Eagles had to settle for a long field goal.
But misses like that happen frequently. A more concerning play was an overthrow of Grant Calcaterra that led to an interception. The throw wasn’t close, and it was another disappointing drive for Mariota and the offense.
#Eagles QB Marcus Mariota intercepted in the first half.
Overthrows the tight end. pic.twitter.com/S4ZYrTVKtz
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 18, 2023
Mariota played the entire first half and led the Eagles on seven drives. Those seven drives totaled 102 yards, two turnovers, one safety and one field goal. Mariota finished the game with 70 net passing yards on 20 dropbacks and a passer rating of 42.5. The Eagles are among the Super Bowl favorites going into the 2023-2024 season, but they might have a backup quarterback problem, and Mariota might not be a good enough option to be the No. 2 behind Jalen Hurts.
2. Browns WR Cedric Tillman Could Make Instant Impact
The Browns did not have a pick until No. 74 in the 2023 NFL Draft after the Deshaun Watson and Elijah Moore trades, and they certainly didn’t need a wide receiver. But they used their first pick on Tennessee WR Cedric Tillman and after Thursday night, it’s not hard to see why.
On the game’s opening drive, Tillman made two incredible catches on the sideline that totaled 50 yards. The more impressive of the two was on a double move, where he created a ton of separation early on the route but was forced to make a contested grab after an underthrow. He was able to stop his momentum and high-point the ball despite a poorly thrown pass.
Ah man. Beautiful double move by Cedric Tillman pic.twitter.com/XRdcU1RbWe
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) August 17, 2023
Tillman is a big-bodied receiver who has shown the ability to run crisp routes in the preseason. He likely will open the season as the team’s No. 4 receiver behind Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Moore. However, he’s made a strong case in the preseason that the Browns should find ways to get him on the field. It’s clear he has the potential to be a starting-level receiver quickly in the NFL.
3. Browns Have Backup Running Back Problem
You can make a strong case that Nick Chubb is the best running back in the NFL. But it is not arguable the Browns lack talent behind their top back. With Kareem Hunt gone (and still a free agent), the Browns are still searching for a suitable No. 2 running back to complement Chubb. The hope is that Jerome Ford can fill that role, but he has missed the past few weeks with a hamstring injury.
That has forced the Browns to play more of their down roster backs, including John Kelly. On the game’s opening drive, the Browns drove the ball inside the red zone against the Eagles’ starting defense. Cleveland had the ball at first and goal from the 2-yard line, but Kelly lost a fumble after being hit in the backfield by Nakobe Dean. The Browns’ second-string offense put together an incredible drive only to turn the ball over.
Kelly finished with eight carries for 20 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and one reception for 3 yards on two targets. If Ford isn’t healthy by Week 1, the Browns must consider making a trade or signing a veteran free agent back because their running back room isn’t up to par. That was painfully obvious against the Eagles.
4. Eagles Stole Edge Nolan Smith
It’s hard to call a rookie a “steal” before they even play a regular-season snap, but we are doing it anyway. Nolan Smith looks like the real deal. The No. 30 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft was all over the field creating splash plays.
Those included the former Georgia pass rusher making an impressive chase-down tackle on Browns WR Anthony Schwartz on an end-round. Schwartz is one of the fastest receivers in the league (he ran a 4.27 at Auburn’s Pro Day), but Smith tracked him down in the backfield and made the tackle for a 5-yard loss.
But that wasn’t the only play that Smith made. He gave rookie tackle Dawand Jones fits on the right side as he was consistently creating pressure with his quickness and bend.
Nolan Smith is having himself a quarter. Another pressure vs Jones pic.twitter.com/DpcwDD0li0
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) August 18, 2023
The Eagles are loaded with pass rushers on the edge with Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. But Smith already is showing why he was such a coveted prospect. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles find creative ways to get Reddick, Sweat and Smith on the field together this year because the rookie deserves to be on the field early and often.