Vick Leaves Early (Again), Foles Plays the Hero (Again) But Has the Depth Chart Changed?

Vick Leaves Early (Again), Foles Plays the Hero (Again) But Has the Depth Chart Changed?

In many ways, Monday night's preseason football game was eerily similar to the one the Eagles played against the Steelers a week and a half ago -- only this was far, far worse. With any and all of their relevant starters on the bench, the New England Patriots somehow jumped out to an 11-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Eagles defense had trouble getting off the field, and Michael Vick once again was hurt early with an apparent injury to his ribs, the same type of injury that caused him to miss games in each of the past two seasons.
But hey, don't sweat it. Rookie/savior Nick Foles entered the game in his place and proceeded to lead three touchdown drives, in the process helping the Birds to a 27-17 victory. Things are totally all right. In fact, we can probably just forget about Foles making a play as the number two quarterback. Andy Reid should name him the starter effective immediately. /eye roll
Although Foles' faster-than-anticipated ascendency is saving what would otherwise be a torturous preseason to date—and we the football-starved people appreciate that—it comes with a few grains of salt. 
To begin, while Foles' was again impressive last night, his first couple of scoring drives were aided by a pair of turnovers. Fellow rookie Brandon Boykin forced a fumble working as a gunner on the punt coverage team, flying up the sideline and landing a shot on the returner as the ball arrived. From there, the Eagles were able to go 24 yards on three runs for the score. A couple plays later, a Philip Hunt strip-sack gave the Birds the ball on New England's 12, setting up Foles for a two-play march and TD pass. Great news for folks interested in seeing how the offense looked near the goal line. 
Later, with most of the Eagles' first stringers still in the game, Foles led an eight-play, 80 yard scoring drive against the Patriots' third string defense to open the third quarter. Take that, Vick!
Don't get me wrong, like anybody else, I am impressed with the rookie quarterback. His performances have been fun to watch during what has been an otherwise vastly disappointing preseason. He's shown a ton of poise and promise, especially in extended action following Vick's injury on Monday night. (Yes, Vick is supposedly okay... again… but more testing will be done.) So far, the Arizona product is 24/36 for 361 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick.
That said, we probably all need a friendly reminder that Foles' accomplishments have come when he has staring solely down the barrel of second- and third-string defenses during a time of year when opponents aren't exactly throwing the types of fastballs that typically make young quarterbacks flinch. For a third-round pick, it's fair to say Foles has exceeded expectations at this early juncture in his career, and if he winds up being the starter in Cleveland this Friday for exhibition number three, he may just have a shot at slipping into the primary backup spot behind Vick with another strong outing.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Mike Kafka's last preseason was not so bad either -- granted not quite this good – but he is quickly being written off amidst the combination of an injury and the guy behind him on the depth chart playing better than expected. Kafka seemingly demonstrated he was a gamer last summer, going 34/49 for 368 yards (7.5 Avg) with two touchdowns and two picks in 2011, good for a passer rating of 87.8. He also very nearly led the Eagles to a comeback victory in Atlanta in Week 2 of the regular season, which holds considerably more weight than what either he or Foles has done in the preseason.
Obviously Foles has greater upside, and that's why the Eagles drafted him. But, he's a rookie, and not one being immediately groomed to start. This is year three for Kafka, and while nobody will confuse him as the QB of the future, as long as he gets healthy, I'm not so sure he isn't still the backup if Vick got hurt in... let's say Week 1. That's what Kafka's been groomed for since his arrival in Philadelphia, and as long as we're basing one's ability on preseason action, let's not forget he too has succeeded to some degree on that level, plus he's had considerably more time in the offense.
None of which is to say the job isn't up for grabs, and that Foles couldn't or shouldn't be the first name called if Vick continues to get bitten by the injury bug. We just don't know yet. Of course, there's also very little to compare Foles against in these two exhibitions -- just nine passes from Kafka, several of which apparently were after sustaining the injury that would ultimately keep him out of the Pats game. Missing snaps due to injury certainly isn't an excuse that will keep the backup role warm for Kafka, but for now, if we're being realistic, I feel it's best to view Foles' success to date with tempered enthusiasm. If we're just looking for some enjoyment in the preseason, by all means, Foles has been a major bright spot, and that's even more encouraging in the long term. So have at it. 
The competition for backup QB is probably still up for grabs though, and the depth chart will be heavily influenced by Kafka's health between now and the start of the season, rather than just Foles' success against vanilla and/or second/third string defenses.
As for Vick, he needs to be smarter or this discussion becomes a lot more than a wait-and-see pondering. With one of Vick's bigger question marks being his ability to stay on the field, he's done little to inspire confidence in the few preseason snaps he's taken. On the play during which he was injured in game 2, Evan Mathis did not hear Jason Kelce change the blocking assignments at the line, resulting in a free rusher with a direct line at the quarterback. Rather than scramble out of the pocket and throw it away -- or hell, this is preseason, just spike it for an intentional grounding -- Vick turned back toward the pass rush to heave a pass downfield, exposing himself to a huge hit to his ribs. Obviously much of the blame rests on the offensive line here, but sometimes the QB also needs to know when to wave to white flag.
We'll have a more detailed review of the game later.
(Photos by Mark L. Baer, US Presswire)

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).