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.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 13-game goalless drought.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down 2-0 and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol's finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at NY Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)

NFL Notes: Redskins name offensive, defensive coordinators

NFL Notes: Redskins name offensive, defensive coordinators

ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Redskins turned to internal candidates to fill two critical vacancies, promoting Matt Cavanaugh to offensive coordinator and Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator.

Cavanaugh was the team's quarterbacks coach and Manusky its outside linebackers coach last season. The Redskins announced the promotions Monday along with the hires of Kevin O'Connell as quarterbacks coach and Jim Tomsula as defensive line coach.

It has been an offseason of upheaval for the coaching staff after the Redskins fired defensive coordinator Joe Barry and a few assistants and offensive coordinator Sean McVay left to become head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.

In its efforts to replace Barry after ranking 28th defensively in consecutive seasons, Washington interviewed former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, former Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine and former Buffalo Bills assistant Rob Ryan before opting for Manusky. The 50-year-old Manusky has been defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and 49ers and worked with Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan in San Francisco.

Known for his fiery personality and booming voice on the practice fields, Manusky had only been on coach Jay Gruden's staff for one season as outside linebackers coach. Middle linebacker Will Compton tweeted: "Congrats to Coach Manusky!" when players were informed of his promotion.

Cavanaugh was Washington's quarterbacks coach for the past two years as Kirk Cousins twice set the franchise record for passing yards in a season. Cousins' status for 2017 remains in doubt after playing last season on the franchise tag, but with McVay gone he'll have a familiar face as his offensive coordinator.