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.

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Derrick Gunn give his take on a few keys to the Eagles-Vikings game on Sunday.

• Losing Bennie Logan (groin injury) for this game is huge. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety for the dirty work he does in the trenches, but he helps Fletcher Cox get that push up the middle.

• Keep a close eye on the matchup between Jason Kelce and Vikings DT Linval Joseph. Kelce has been overmatched by bigger, athletic guys and Joseph at 6-4, 330 pounds is one of the best in the business.

• In his first three years as an Eagle, DE Connor Barwin had 26½ sacks as an OLB, including a career-best 14½ in 2014. Through five games this season, Barwin has just one. Fatigue might be a factor. He has played more snaps than any other Eagles defensive lineman (79 percent). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says reducing Barwin's playing time might keep him fresher and stronger in fourth quarters.

• WR Dorial Green-Beckham was on the field for 81 percent of the Eagles' plays vs. Washington last week. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich feels DGB is ready for an expanded role.

• Darren Sproles usually wins matchups against LBs, but that might not be the case against the Vikings. Mychal Kendricks' younger brother, Eric, has been a solid playmaking LB for Minnesota and he has the speed to keep up with Sproles.

• I've said it once and I'll say it again: get Kenjon Barner more touches in the run game. Barner has the least amount of carries among the Eagles' four running backs but the best yards-per-carry average at 5.8.

Temple vs. South Florida: Trip to conference championship at stake?


Temple vs. South Florida: Trip to conference championship at stake?

There’s no time to exhale for the Owls.

After pulling off a near-impossible comeback against UCF last week, Temple will play its toughest conference opponent yet when it faces USF at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night.

Heading into the game at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the AAC, this game already has conference championship and bowl game implications for Temple.

The Bulls' offense ran all over the Owls during USF’s 44-23 victory when the teams met in Tampa last season. USF currently sits one game ahead of Temple at 3-0 in the AAC.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

Scouting Temple
The Owls’ offense has struggled to find consistency this season. Temple ranks 91st in the FBS in total offense, averaging 378 yards per game.

Coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas will likely try to find ways to get the ball in senior running back Jahad Thomas’ hands on Friday. Since returning from injury against Penn State on Sept. 17, Thomas has scored two total touchdowns in every game. He has 357 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns in addition to 251 yards receiving and three touchdown catches. Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead has complemented Thomas nicely with 403 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Giving up big plays has been the Achilles’ heel of Temple’s defense in 2016. The Owls have given up six touchdowns of 50 or more yards from scrimmage and a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown. UCF had two touchdowns of 50-plus yards last week.

Other than the long scores, Temple’s defense has been solid, holding opponents to 316.6 yards per game, which ranks 17th in the FBS. Redshirt senior defensive end Haason Reddick has been the Owls’ defensive star. He leads the team with 35 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks.

Scouting USF
It doesn’t get much better than USF’s backfield combo of junior quarterback Quinton Flowers andt junior running back Marlon Mack.

Flowers and Mack lead a Bulls’ offense that ranks eighth in both scoring offense and rushing offense. The two combined for 550 total yards and five touchdowns in last year’s victory over the Owls. Last week, Flowers threw for 213 yards, ran for 153 yards and totaled five touchdowns in a 42-27 win over UConn. Rodney Adams has been Flowers’ favorite target through the air this season. Adams has 32 catches for 459 yards and four touchdowns.

USF’s defense is giving up almost 26 points per game. The Bulls have held opponents to fewer than 20 points just once this season. At the same time, they’ve only given up more than 27 points once this season, and that was when No. 13 Florida State lit USF up for 55 points. Junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez has 65 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks. Senior linebacker Nigel Harris leads the team with two interceptions.

Storyline to watch: Can Temple’s defense contain a running quarterback?
UCF freshman McKenzie Milton broke off a 63-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper last week. Quarterbacks like Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, SMU’s Matt Davis and Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. gave the Owls problems by running the ball last season. Flowers is a special player who will once again challenge Temple with his arm and his legs. He threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 90 more yards and another score against Temple last season. If the Owls can find a way to shut down Flowers, they’ll give themselves a good shot to win the game.

What’s at stake: A trip to the conference championship?
After only three conference games, that might seem a little far-fetched. However, after last week’s win over UCF and a win on Friday, Temple would have tiebreakers over the only teams with fewer than two losses in the AAC East Division. A loss to the Bulls would give Temple two conference losses, meaning USF would likely have to lose three times for Temple to win the East, even if the Owls won all their remaining games.

South Florida’s offense looks poised to give Temple trouble once again, but the Owls have kept it close in every game this season. Flowers and Mack are too much for another Temple comeback. USF 31, Temple 20.