Catching up on some big Eagles storylines heading into Week 9: Foles starting, Sopoaga traded and winning the division

Catching up on some big Eagles storylines heading into Week 9: Foles starting, Sopoaga traded and winning the division

The Eagles are coming off of back-to-back losses to division rivals at the Linc by a combined score of 32-10. Chip Kelly’s offense has not produced a touchdown since October 13 against the winless Tampa Bay Bucs. We’re at the midway point in the season, and the buzz around Philadelphia has clearly shifted as many fans and analysts are beginning to look toward next year already.

Just don’t tell that to the locker room. Despite their 3-5 record, the Birds are only one game back of the Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East, while DeSean Jackson says his teammates still have their eyes on the prize—a trip to the postseason. Per CSN’s Reuben Frank:

“The message, regardless of our record, we still have a good chance of winning the division in our eyes,” Jackson said. “That’s what we’re going to stick with and continue to just come out here and still work.”

“That’s definitely a goal, for us to make the playoffs,” Jackson said. “Throughout the locker room, the guys here, we haven’t made the playoffs the past two years. It’s just an inner goal that we put on each other. Like you say, no one in this division has really separated themselves. It’s a tight division. We just want to do everything we can to take advantage of that, and at the same time hopefully we can be one of the teams standing in the NFC East toward the end of the season. That’s just where our mindset is and that’s what we want to do."

Philadelphia may need to finish the season with a better record than Dallas to take the division. At the very least, the Eagles need to salvage a series split with the Cowboys in Week 17. Even then, they’ll need some help from the rest of the NFC East. Division record is the next tiebreaker after head-to-head, and Dallas currently has a 3-0 record compared to Philly at 2-2.

So barring a Cowboys collapse, the Birds have their work cut out for them. Nine weeks can be an eternity in the NFL though, and fortunes can change at a moment’s notice. It’s a good thing the Eagles are staying loose and positive, because there aren’t many people outside the organization who feel that way right now.

Since I’ve been away the past couple days tending to a personal matter, here’s a closer look at some more Eagles stories that may have slipped through the cracks this week.

Nick Foles to start

Foles returned to practice on Tuesday and on Wednesday was named starting quarterback for Sunday’s game in Oakland with Michael Vick likely out for awhile again with the hamstring injury. While you hate to see it at the expense of an injury to another player, it’s good that Foles is getting another shot.

Naturally there is some trepidation over going back to Foles after his disastrous performance in Philadelphia’s 17-3 loss to Dallas. The 24-year-old was incapable of moving the offense in his eighth career start, completing just 37.9 percent of his passes for a paltry 2.8 yards per attempt before he was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Frankly, it was one of the single worst displays of quarterbacking Eagles fans have been exposed to in quite some time. Because Foles was undergoing treatment though, we had not yet heard his side of the story until this week. Was an unreported injury to blame? Did he crack under pressure? Is his confidence shaken?

An unflappable Foles didn’t make any excuses when he finally addressed the media on Tuesday. It wasn’t an injury, nor was it the magnitude of the moment. The second-year passer stressed that he simply did not play well that day. I especially liked this answer from his news conference:

“I did not play well, but one game never defines me and it never will. I’m going to continue to work and get better, and that’s what today was for.”

As poorly as Foles played two weeks ago, it wasn’t necessarily the end of the world. Any quarterback who ever achieved any level of success in the NFL stumbled somewhere along the way, even the great ones. Maybe their worst day wasn’t as dreadful as that, but does one game erase everything Foles had accomplished beforehand?

Foles will be making his ninth start against the Raiders. Up until Dallas, he showed marked improvement in almost every appearance he’s made for the Eagles. Nobody is or ever has anointed him a franchise quarterback, but the only way we’re ever going to find out for sure what the team has in Foles is by giving him a chance to work through tough games like his last.

Is Foles NFC-Offensive-Player-of-the-Week good or 37.9-percent-completion bad? Likely somewhere in between.

Sopoaga trade

It turns out Isaac Sopoaga was right. The Eagles managed to shock the world after all—by finding a suitable trading partner for Isaac Sopoaga.

The NFL trade deadline came and went on Tuesday without much circumstance, but the Birds did send the interior tackle to New England along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for—drum roll please—a fifth-round pick. Given Philly’s sixth will likely be on the high side and the Patriots’ fifth low, the Eagles probably just moved up roughly 10-20 picks in the late rounds of the 2014 draft. Huge.

The question I’ve been posed is does this mean the Eagles were giving up on the 3-4 for the year and going back to a 4-3 alignment since Sopoaga was their only nose tackle? My guess is probably not.

Sopoaga may as well have been invisible when he was out on the field, so I would think the 10th-year veteran’s “production” in the middle could be replaced rather easily by Bennie Logan or Clifton Geathers. We could see a tad more 4-3 as a result (the Eagles already line up that way on occasion), but I doubt defensive coordinator Bill Davis is abandoning anything.

Besides, the Eagles are in nickel defense more often than not anyway, so the limited Sopoaga was coming off the field for an extra defensive back a lot of the time anyway. Sop only played on 35.8 percent of the team’s snaps this season per Pro Football Focus.

It’s tempting to label Sopoaga’s tenure in Philly a bust, but he gave the franchise what most expected, which was nothing more than a veteran presence at a new position for the defense.

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."