Final Thoughts Heading into Eagles’ First Preseason Game

Final Thoughts Heading into Eagles’ First Preseason Game

Like many fans I’m sure, this is the most excited I can remember being for a preseason game EVER. Some might say 2004, the year Terrell Owens arrived and the Eagles had already punched their ticket for the Super Bowl in March. It could have been ’99, Andy Reid’s and Donovan McNabb’s first year in Philadelphia. Maybe there was some other much-ballyhooed exhibition game from decades ago that escapes me or I’m simply not familiar with.

Tonight is going to be very tough to beat in my humble opinion. It’s not just the first game of a new era in Eagles history. It’s a head coach billed as a genius, a revolutionary, bringing an offense, concepts, and philosophies to the NFL that perhaps have all been implemented to some degree before, but never combined into one package, or their application this advanced in some cases. That is the likely impossible standard Chip Kelly is being asked to live up to, and we’re going to get our first glimpse into what’s true and what’s myth tonight.

Ordinarily I’d probably push out some generic “Who to Watch” column for a preseason opener, but the reality is that’s everybody and everything. There’s no one person or aspect you should key on, maybe with exception to the quarterbacks. Go in to your viewing experience with an open mind and let something jump out at you. Trust me, it won’t take long.

Then the fun stuff happens. We’ll finally have some tape of Chip’s Eagles, not to mention guys will finally be hitting, tackling, and all-around going 100%. Afterwards we’ll be able to go back and do some more in-depth player evaluations and examine the offensive and defensive schemes – really looking forward to this the most.

In the meantime, let’s kill a few minutes here and look at a few big stories floating around the Birds ahead of tonight’s game.

Has Chip already chosen a starting quarterback?

I doubt it. Many people still seem stuck in the Joe Banner/Andy Reid days, a leadership that would be hesitant to confirm or deny their quarterbacks even existed. We watched as they intimated Donovan McNabb was not going to be traded, and then he was gone. We listened when it was announced Kevin Kolb was still the starter, only to learn the next day it would be Michael Vick.

We can be distrustful of our leaders in general, but we really have no reason to be with Chip. He’s leveled with us 100% of the way as best I can tell, so if he says he hasn’t made a decision about the quarterbacks, and wants so badly for us to believe it that he’ll alternate starts and series these next two weeks, I see no reason not to.

Frankly, if he did have someone in mind, what he is doing would be a terrible strategy, no? If he knows, let that person get most of the reps already. When Chip says he needs to see Vick and Nick Foles in games before he can pick one, and all the evidence points to the premise that the open competition is ongoing, I feel compelled to take him on his word.

Is the Birds’ secondary historically bad?

I don’t see why there is an expectation it would be any worse than last year. Nnamdi Asomugha was a flat bust, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only played when he wanted to – which was not at all once it was obvious things were going south. And the safeties had practically unreal responsibilities in Jim Washburn’s/Juan Castillo’s/Todd Bowles’ scheme, sort of first responders if you will against the opposing team’s ground attack.

Provided guys stay healthy, there is no reason why some combination of Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin won’t be an improvement over last year’s corners, who I don’t need to remind you were terrible. They may not have the resumes of an Asomugha or DRC – Pro Bowlers and high draft picks – but they are all out there to play football. Nothing is being handed to these three. There is no complacency. That alone should make them better.

Simplifying things for the safeties will go a long way toward helping that unit as well. I’m not sure how much of an improvement free agents Patrick Chung (consistency) or Kenny Phillips (injury) will be over what was here, but one would think allowing the Nate Allens and Kurt Colemans to play a more conventional style will make either one look more competent. I mean, Brian Dawkins probably couldn’t have thrived in the last system.

Do I think the Eagles have a quality secondary? Eh, that certainly remains to be seen, and a lot of that will be reliant to some degree on how effective the front seven is at pressuring the quarterback. However, I wouldn’t anticipate the defensive backfield getting worse.

Will the Eagles be worse this year than last?

Anything is possible, but that won’t be easy. Derek from Iggles Blog wrote a thoughtful piece on why the club could actually take a step back in Chip Kelly’s first season, invoking Jimmy Johnson’s debut for the Cowboys in which Big D finished 1-15. To be honest, he really had me going there for a little while.

Again, we can’t rule that out completely, but the landscape in the NFL was also far different 25 years ago than it is today. There wasn’t as much parity in 1989. It would take years for an organization to build a competitive program, and once they reached that level, they were probably there to stay for awhile. That period in pro football history was dominated by a select few – the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins, the Denver Broncos, the Buffalo Bills, and ultimately the Cowboys.

Due to free agency and the salary cap however, it’s almost unusual for one franchise to sustain that kind of success. The flip side to that is it’s far easier to crawl out from the cellar as well. Every year there is an average of six new entrants in the playoffs. That may not be the Birds in 2013, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for upward mobility.

The Eagles may have gone 4-12 last season – which by the way, it’s really difficult to sink any lower – but that was with three major injuries to their offensive line, a defense that quit halfway into the year, a bunch of malcontents poisoning the locker room, and a head coach whose message was growing stale. That team had some holes, too, and admittedly not all of them were able to be filled in one offseason. There was quite a bit of talent on that team though, much of it still here today.

I suppose we’ll see. As the saying goes, that’s why they play the games. And, yes, I do tend to err on the side of optimism. For at least one day though, I feel every person who follows the Eagles should have some reason to be optimistic. Tonight is like running down the steps on Christmas morning and tearing the wrapping paper off the biggest present under the tree. Who knows how soon the shine will wear off your new toy, but it’s still shiny and new today.

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Ten observations from the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night, their seventh straight win and longest win streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011 (see Instant Replay).

1. And the Flyers (somehow) did it. They won their seventh straight game on a night Steve Mason wasn't his best — five goals allowed for the third time this season — and the team defense was largely atrocious. Michael Raffl scored a beautiful goal for the game-winner at 18:31 of the third period and the Flyers held on. This game had a 1980s feel to it. Lots of scoring. Highly entertaining. And the Flyers found a way to win it. This team is on a roll.

2. From the Flyers' perspective, the most entertaining moment of the opening 20 minutes came with 5:31 left in the first period, when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning and Oilers center Connor McDavid exchanged words post-whistle in the Philadelphia zone.

Manning broke McDavid's collarbone last season, which forced McDavid to miss a chunk of his rookie season. Nothing more than a little pushing and shoving with some trash talk.

Still, the sequence brought the most excitement in the first period. Speaking of which …

3. For a team that entered on a six-game winning streak, the Flyers' first-period effort was disheartening. They needed more than nine minutes to get their first shot on goal, and had more shots in the final two minutes — five — than they did the first 18 minutes.

No real scoring chances, either, out of the nine first-period shots. Raffl had a nice chance, but Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson was able to make the stop.

That's two straight games the Flyers have had poor first periods. Tuesday, they were tied, 1-1, with the Panthers, but faced a 1-0 deficit Thursday. Better first periods are needed.

4. Boy, the Flyers woke up quick after the 10-minute mark of the second period.

Down 2-0, the Flyers scored three goals in one minute and 12 seconds in the second period — 12:31, 13:24 and 13:43 — to get the Wells Fargo Center jumping.

Mark Streit started it off with a power-play goal, followed by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and then Claude Giroux. Bellamare beat Gustavsson with a well-placed wrist shot, which may have been the fourth-liner's best shot of his NHL career, for his first of the year.

Giroux's diving slapper gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead 19 seconds later. The loudest the building may have been this season. It had a playoff atmosphere after Giroux's goal.

5. Let's talk about McDavid. We hear about how fast he is, how skilled he is, how special he is, and he is every bit as advertised. You see it more when you see him in person.

McDavid scored his first power-play goal of the season at 4:35 of the second period, his 12th goal of the campaign. He rocketed home a one-timer from Leon Draisaitl off a rebound.

The 19-year-old kid leads the NHL in scoring and just scored his first PPG. The kid is special. Very special. Side note, McDavid chirped Manning after his PPG.

6. And, of course, McDavid was a factor in another Oilers goal. After the Flyers took momentum with their three goals in just over a minute, McDavid took it right back.

While the Oilers were shorthanded, McDavid was double-teamed in the corner left of Mason by Andrew MacDonald and Bellamare, but he was able to shovel the puck to Mark Letestu, who then found Andrej Sekera for a blast by Mason to make it 3-3 at 16:15 of the second period.

The credit for that goal goes all to McDavid. Tremendous strength by a 19-year-old who was being pinned against the boards by a 30-year-old and 31-year-old, respectively.

Sekera's goal was the seventh shorthanded goal allowed by the Flyers — most in the NHL.

7. I was skeptical of using the Bellemare line against McDavid, but at 5-on-5, Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Roman Lyubimov did a decent job against McDavid. Still, the Oilers' captain finished with a goal and assist. The Flyers held McDavid without a breakaway.

The Bellemare line did a tremendous job at 5-on-5.

8. The fans grew restless with the referees in the third period. First, Brayden Schenn put a loose puck into the net, but Gustavsson had covered it and the whistle had blown quickly. And then, McDavid tackled Ivan Provorov on a break. Should have been a penalty.

9. We hear about McDavid all the time, but Edmonton has another young star in Draisaitl, who found himself off the McDavid line against the Flyers.

No problem for the 2014 No. 3 overall pick. Draisaitl had a goal and two assists and displayed an uncanny ability to find open players and get them the puck.

In a game featuring McDavid, it was Draisaitl who stole the show. Wow.

10. It was Goaltender Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center, but there were no special ceremonies. The honorees, voted by the fans, were Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindberg, Pete Peeters and Brian Boucher. Outside of some interviews during stoppages and a cool, little presentation during introductions, there was nothing to write home about. There was an uptick in goalie jerseys in the crowd.

Personal favorite? A Brian Boucher No. 1 Philadelphia Phantoms sweater.

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sixers avoided setting a franchise mark of consecutive road losses with a 99-88 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Sixers had lost 23 straight away from Philadelphia. Their last road win was Jan. 20, 2016 against the Magic. They also had dropped 23 consecutive games on the road from March 29 - Dec. 23, 2015. 

The Sixers held Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, to 26 points, below his season average of 31.6. They were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who dropped 23 points again after scoring 23 in the Sixers’ last game against the Grizzlies. 

Third-quarter transformation
The Sixers trailed the Pelicans 57-52 at halftime and struck back defensively in the third. They held the Pelicans to 5 for 25 shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from three in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Pelicans 19-12 in the quarter to regain the lead. 

Inside the box score
• Davis recorded a 26-point, 11-rebound double-double. He shot 8 for 21 from the field, 0 for 2 from three and 10 for 12 from the line. 

• Ilyasova scored 23 points (9 for 16 from the field, 2 for 6 from three, 3 for 4 from the line), eight rebounds and four assists.

• Joel Embiid contributed 14 points (5 for 15 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, 4 for 5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, four blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

• Sergio Rodriguez gave a solid 16 points (6 for 13 from the field, 4 for 8 from three) and eight dimes.

• Nik Stauskas and Dario Saric combined for 27 points off the bench.

• St. Joe’s alum Langston Galloway dropped 19 points (8 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 from long range) off the Pelicans’ bench.

Trusting the process in New Orleans
It follows Embiid on the road. Fans chanted “trust the process” while he was at the free throw line. The volume was more quiet than at the Wells Fargo Center, but the effort was there nonetheless. 

Injury updates
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor, who remained in Philadelphia battling gastroenteritis. Jerryd Bayless also missed the trip because of left wrist soreness. Former Sixer Jrue Holiday sat out with turf toe. 

Up next
The Sixers will return home to Philadelphia to get in some practice before heading back on the road. They will play the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.