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.

Eagles Inactives: Bennie Logan (groin) out vs. Vikings

Eagles Inactives: Bennie Logan (groin) out vs. Vikings

Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan (groin) is inactive for the team’s game against the Vikings at the Linc on Sunday afternoon.

Logan missed practice all week but was listed as questionable and was said to be a game-time decision. Beau Allen will start in his place, but the Eagles will likely use more Allen, Fletcher Cox, Destiny Vaeao and Vinny Curry at tackle.

While Logan is inactive, Ron Brooks (calf), Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and Mychal Kendricks (ribs) are all active. The trio was listed as questionable coming into the weekend.

Joining Logan among the inactive players are: OL Dillon Gordon, OL Josh Andrews, OL Isaac Seumalo, CB C.J. Smith, S Terrence Brooks and WR Bryce Treggs.

Despite Tregg’s getting extended reps this week in practice, he’s still not playing.

For the Vikings, wideout Stefon Diggs (groin), who was listed as questionable, is active.

Vikings inactives: WR Laquon Treadwell, WR Jarius Wright, LB Kentrell Brothers, C Nick Easton, G Willie Beavers, DT Sharrif Floyd, TE MyCole Pruitt.

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Aim to finish strong against streaking New York

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Aim to finish strong against streaking New York

Union vs. New York Red Bulls
4 p.m. on TCN 

Having all but officially made the postseason for the first time since 2011, the Union, who are already locked into a first-round road match, could rest players Sunday in the season finale against the New York Red Bulls (15-9-9). But that doesn’t mean the Union (11-13-9) will be mailing it in.

Here are five things to know.

1. Playoff recovery
The Union had hope that last Sunday’s home match against mathematically eliminated Orlando City SC would work as a slump buster, breaking the club’s five-game winless run. 

Instead, with a 2-0 loss, it just extended the Union’s slump to six.

“We had a good meeting with the group, we talked a lot about accountability,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Everybody does have to look in the mirror.”

With their last win coming in late August, the Union seem fresh out of ideas. Passing up the ripe opportunity to gain confidence against Orlando City, the club must now host the best team in the Eastern Conference as a pre-playoff test.

“We shot ourselves in the foot in a big spot and we came up a little short,” said Curtin, whose club flubbed an outside chance to host a first-round game and will be on the road regardless of Sunday’s outcome. “It’s the past, though. We have to look forward to the challenge that Red Bulls will present. They are the perfect team to play in terms of a tuneup, to get up to speed with the tempo of a playoff game. It’ll be good for our guys, we’ll use that to get prepared.”

2. Refreshing the lineup
Because Sunday’s match comes just days before the Union’s midweek postseason game, Curtin could look to rest some starters against the Red Bulls, especially the injured ones.

“There are discussions,” he said. “You have to do what’s best. Maybe it’s a new face, a change or a tweak. We won’t change our formation, we won’t change the style that we play but maybe there’s a new body that comes out on the field and gives us a little bit of a lift.”

But Curtin’s team doesn’t just need a lift, it needs healthy bodies. C.J. Sapong suffered a concussion against Orlando City and will likely sit out Saturday. If he does, Charlie Davies could see a chunk of playing time. Davies has only played 81 minutes in eight games since being acquired by the Union in August.

Tranquillo Barnetta and Chris Pontius are also banged up with lower-body ailments.

“Charlie’s been a little bit sharper each day in training,” Curtin said. “It’s tough to forget that he as recently as a month and a half ago was beating cancer so, the sharpness and the fitness is starting to come back. He wants to start, he wants to play, like any striker does, but we have to be smart about what makes the most sense for the team to get a result this weekend.”

3. Mighty Red Bulls
With the Red Bulls already locked into a first-round playoff bye, claiming the top seed in the East, they could float into Sunday’s match like it’s an exhibition — resting starters and providing minimal effort. 

But while riding an unbeaten streak that dates back to early July, the Red Bulls aren’t likely to pull their foot off the gas just yet.

“It’s a challenging game for us,” Curtin said. “It’ll be a high tempo, playoff atmosphere. With Red Bull already securing their bye, I envision them playing their full-strength lineup because they don’t want to rest guys for two weeks, and then you could have some rust. We expect their best.”

Though the Red Bulls want to keep things moving Sunday, the Union also want to finish the season strong. Although the match doesn’t hold the importance it could have for either club, Curtin’s team, winless since late August, is grasping for anything it can to catapult itself into the postseason with momentum. 

“We want to finish the season the right way for our fans,” Curtin said. “We want to come out with some confidence after the game.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: With Sapong hobbled from a concussion, Sunday’s match could put Charlie Davies’ effort on display. The forward, who has been seldom used as he regains conditioning after beating cancer earlier in the year, was acquired by the Union for this exact scenario — providing quality attacking depth.

Red Bulls: Although the match is practically meaningless for the Red Bulls, it could mean something for Bradley Wright-Phillips. The 31-year striker could claim his second golden boot in three seasons. He currently leads MLS with 23 goals — one ahead of David Villa. He has a goal and an assist against the Union this season and 11 goals in his last nine games.

5. This and that
• The Union are 0-1-1 against the Red Bulls this season but did score a win in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16.

• The result of Sunday’s match will leave the Union with one of three postseason road opponents — New York City FC, Montreal Impact and D.C. United. The match will be played the following Wednesday or Thursday.

• With a win on Sunday, the Union would match a club-high in wins with 12 — a record set in 2013.