Eagles-Jaguars: Chip Kelly’s Dress Rehearsal Is Here, Battles on D

Eagles-Jaguars: Chip Kelly’s Dress Rehearsal Is Here, Battles on D

This has been the most exciting Eagles preseason in recent memory, probably since at least 2004, but it doesn’t take very long to grow weary of games that don’t count toward the standings. I think I speak for everybody – fans, players, even the coaching staff – when I say I’m ready to get to September 9, ready for Washington.

Unfortunately that’s just not the way things work, and we still have a couple exhibitions to go. The good news is tonight’s is the big one. Week three is traditionally the “dress rehearsal” so to speak. The starters will play for the entirety of the first half, likely into the third quarter, which means among other things that we’ll get out first extended look at newly-named starting quarterback Michael Vick, not to mention more Chip ball in general.

Plus, the perception that these games don’t mean anything is false. It will be good for Vick to get the reps for sure. Jason Peters will be in action for the first time since rupturing his Achilles as well. Mainly this stacks up as a big game for Philly’s defense though. There are still jobs to be won or lost all over the field, and the night-and-day performances versus the Patriots and Panthers has everybody wondering which tape is closer to the truth.

Chances are we won’t really find out how good or bad the Birds’ defense is on Saturday night, as the Jaguars simply don’t provide much in the way of a test. Still, if they can take care of business again – this time against a Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne-led Jaguar offense – that would be a lot more reassuring than the inverse.

Here’s a quick look at some of the individual battles taking place on D:

Vinny Curry and Bennie Logan to start?

The two guys who have probably made the most surprising impacts thus far. Curry is widely presumed to be playing out of position as a defensive end in a 3-4, but he’s been more than offensive linemen could handle through the first two games. Logan has been moving all over the line, doing a fantastic job at disrupting plays in the backfield and getting his hands up to bat down passes.

Fletcher Cox obviously has one spot on the defensive line locked down, but Curry and Logan are making bids for playing time at the others. Cedric Thornton is doing all he can to stave off both of them at the other end, and he’s been fantastic in doing so, so he’ll definitely be in the rotation. Isaac Sopoaga has been invisible at nose tackle however, and he’s considered a two-down player anyway, so we’ll see if Logan begins to get more looks there than on third down, although they like the third rounder at end as well.

Brandon Graham vs. … the trade block?

It’s out there, so I’ll address it, but I simply don’t agree with Geoff Mosher’s line of thinking on CSNPhilly today that this might be Graham’s “last chance.” Actually, aside from one mental lapse where he failed to contain the backside and allowed a huge cutback run, he’s been one of their most disruptive defenders at the point of attack. According to metrics by Pro Football Focus, Graham has been the best against the run, and only Curry grades higher overall. I'd say he's passed the eye test, too.

When you also consider the Eagles are thin at outside linebacker, I don’t see any way they are trading him as some have suggested, even if he's not the smoothest in coverage. Never say never, but Graham has shown me enough that he can be useful to the Eagles this season.

Who’s at safety?

Despite a very bad outing in Week 1, Nate Allen has managed to remain in the hunt for the second safety spot opposite of Patrick Chung. Earl Wolff made some noise last week when he was taking first-team reps at practice, but defensive coordinator Billy Davis seems hesitant to go with the rookie. Kenny Phillips didn’t play in the last game and has hardly practiced, so he might have trouble making the roster. And we haven’t seen anything from Kurt Coleman or David Sims that screams they are in line for the job.

We’ll be watching whether or not anyone gets in there with the starters besides Nate, but he might be in the lineup come September by default. Big night for this group.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).