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.

Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

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Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

Ben Simmons' fellow NBA rookies may not think too highly of him, but when the best basketball player on the planet is giving him pointers, he must be doing something right.

On Tuesday, a photo of Simmons and LeBron James dribbling side by side started making the rounds on Instagram. That's right. The Sixers' number-one overall draft pick and franchise savior is apparently training with the four-time league MVP and reigning world champion.

#Klutch @klutchsports

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Those workouts continued on Wednesday, when 12-time All-Star Dwayne Wade posted a photo of himself, Simmons and James, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jordan McRae. That's some good company for a first-year player to keep.

Good day of work!

A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

What does all of this mean for Simmons and the Sixers? Hard to say, but it can't be a bad thing that the rookie point-forward is spending time with a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Surely he must be learning something.

That's good news for the Sixers, who hope that Simmons can even come close to living up to the lofty comparisons some have drawn to James already.

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

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Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tommy Joseph is back in the starting lineup … as he's expected to be for most of the final month of the season. Joseph bats fourth behind third baseman Maikel Franco.

Joseph did not start Tuesday night in the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old is hitting .251 with 17 home runs and 34 RBIs.

The slugger has a significantly higher average against left-handed pitching than righties, despite clubbing 12 of his 17 homers against right-handed pitchers.

Joseph has yet to faced Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.

In other lineup notes, Tyler Goeddel gets the start in left field and will hit eighth, while A.J. Ellis gets his second start as a Phillie. He'll catch Adam Morgan.

Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Adam Morgan, P

For more on tonight's game, read Steven Tydings' game notes.

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

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Villanova Athletic Media Relations

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

VILLANOVA, Pa. — When star quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending injury early in Villanova’s 2015 campaign, Zach Bednarczyk was thrown into a difficult spot.

How could an inexperienced redshirt freshman be expected to replace the reigning Walter Payton Award winner? Could the Wildcats still accomplish all of their lofty preseason goals?

In the end, Bednarczyk probably handled it as well as could be expected, performing admirably in some spots (like when he spearheaded a late comeback against rival Delaware just after Robertson got hurt) and poorly in others (like when Penn upset Villanova for the first time in a century the very next week).

But now, after getting almost a full year of experience under his belt, Villanova head coach Andy Talley is expecting Bednarczyk to become a better, smarter player — and, most of all, someone who can lead the Wildcats into the FCS playoffs in Talley’s final season.

“I think the thing that he did last year was that he was a little bit of a gun-slinger,” Talley said. “He threw the ball around a little bit. Now he’s more judicious with where he throws the football, his outlet receivers. He’s not trying to gun the ball in all of the time and make a play.”

While Talley would certainly like his QB to cut down on some mistakes — he threw seven interceptions last season — he does appreciate that Bednarczyk possesses some of the same playmaking skills that made Robertson such a star at ’Nova, including the ability to gain yards on the ground.

In his first season last year, Bednarczyk led the Wildcats in rushing with 515 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to nabbing CAA co-Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This season, which begins for Villanova Saturday at Pittsburgh, Talley hopes he can match those running totals while becoming a 2,000-yard passer with fewer interceptions.

“Last year he was rookie of the year in the CAA but he really could have been an all-league player if he didn’t throw the ball in some bad spots,” Talley said. “I think he learned the hard way by having the ball go against him. In the last game of the year, we had a chance to tie for the championship and go to the playoffs if we had beaten JMU. And he threw two picks that went back for touchdowns. So he’s sort of learned his craft the hard way.”

That season-ending loss to James Madison still stings for the Wildcats, who finished with a 6-5 overall record and missed out on qualifying for the FCS playoffs for just the third time in eight years.

That’s something they hope to reverse in 2016 under the growing leadership of Bednarczyk, who agrees with his coach that he needs to become a smarter player.

“Last year I definitely took too many risks,” the sophomore QB said. “This year, although I still want to throw the ball around because that’s my strong suit, I definitely don’t want to force anything. I’ll try to cut back on my turnovers. If it looks like it’s too tight of a window to squeeze it this year, I’ll just tuck it and run.”

Bednarczyk will certainly need to be poised in the pocket with Talley admitting that the Wildcats aren’t as deep at receiver as they’ve been in years past. 

At the same time, he may not have to put too many points on the board, considering how good Villanova’s defense can be. Although the unit graduated star linebacker Don Cherry, who’s been in preseason camp with the Eagles, they still boast a veteran unit that includes linebacker Austin Calitro and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Kpassagnon, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound NFL prospect, is an especially intriguing player for the Wildcats.

“I think all the pro teams have been through to see him,” Talley said. “He can run. He’s tough. He diagnoses well. He’s in our business school, so he’s smart as can be. And he carries that over to the field.”

Kpassagnon, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team, is excited for his senior season but admitted that helping the Wildcats rise to the top of a loaded league won’t be easy. Villanova, which opens league play Sept. 17 vs. Towson, was picked fourth behind Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison.

“There’s no dropoff in competition throughout the CAA,” Kpassagnon said. “In some other leagues, there are a couple of teams that you know will obviously win the conference. But with ours, you never know.”

Of course, Villanova has aspirations beyond just winning the league. As always, the Wildcats — who check in at No. 23 in the STATS preseason Top 25 — will look to make a deep run in the FCS playoffs and, perhaps, try to send Talley out with his second national title.

“The goal is definitely a national championship,” Kpassagnon said. “We all believe we can do it. It’s something we have in the back of our heads.”