NFC East: 2013 Week 6 PHI at TAM

TAMPA, Fla. -- Earl Wolff had a message for Mike Glennon.

“I was talking to him the whole game," Wolff said. “I almost got him on a blitz. I said, 'All right, Mike, you’d better get it out faster.'"

The two rookies were teammates at NC State for four years. Wolff is trying to crack the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting lineup as a safety. Glennon was making his second start at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last week, Wolff said he hoped to intercept his old friend.

“Close,” he said after the Eagles’ 31-20 win Sunday. “I came so close.”

Wolff made perhaps the biggest defensive play of the day for the Eagles. They had allowed Glennon to march from his own 1-yard line to the Eagles’ 9. On third-and-goal, Glennon fired a pass to tight end Tim Wright.

Two weeks ago, it probably would have been a touchdown. Wolff admitted he just wasn’t picking things up quickly enough in his first few games. This time, he had it.

“We were in a 'zero' coverage,” Wolff said. “I had to play inside leverage. Where the tight end was lined up, I had a feeling he was going to run an out route, but I had to stay inside. So I waited for him to make his move.”

Wolff got a hand on the ball just before it arrived. Instead of a go-ahead touchdown, Tampa Bay had to kick a field goal to get within a point at 21-20.

After starting two games in place of the injured Patrick Chung, Wolff was on the sideline at the start of this one. He rotated in occasionally until Chung reinjured his shoulder.

“He got hurt so I had to step up,” Wolff said.

On the most important play of the afternoon, he did just that.
Nick Foles AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackEagles QB Nick Foles threw for a career-high three touchdowns and ran for a fourth against the Bucs.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Something changed in a week. Either the same question mysteriously became hypothetical or Chip Kelly is seriously considering making Nick Foles his starting quarterback.

He should.

Last Sunday: Asked if Michael Vick would start the next game if healthy, Kelly said “Yes.”

This Sunday: Asked if Vick would start next week if healthy, Kelly said, “I don’t answer hypotheticals.”

He also said he’ll evaluate everything, including Foles’ performance and Vick’s health, before deciding who starts against the Dallas Cowboys.

It is not a simple decision, to be sure. Vick was playing well before his hamstring betrayed him last week against the New York Giants. Vick had cut way down on turnovers, was operating a radically different offense from the one he ran under Andy Reid, and was a constant threat as a runner.

When Vick won the starting job in competition with Foles, Kelly said it was for the entire season. Vick would not be looking over his shoulder, Kelly said. That declaration puts the first-year coach in a difficult spot if he makes the change to Foles permanent.

There’s also a risk in demoting a proud veteran like Vick. It won’t be easy to go back to him if Foles should struggle or get injured. Vick is smart enough to understand that a quarterback change now would signal the end of his Eagles tenure after the season.

And there is the locker room to consider. Many of Vick’s teammates idolized him when they were younger. They believe in him still.

“Mike is the starter,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “Coach Kelly made that clear, but if he needs Nick to step in and make some plays, then he’ll do that. Mike’s the guy we go with, he’s the starting quarterback, no matter what the town says or what the outsiders want. It’s Coach Kelly’s call and that’s the call he’s made.”

McCoy was not aware of Kelly’s change in tone when he commented. Kelly has said many times that there is constant competition at every position. The best 11 players will be on the field. So that reduces this whole issue to one question:

Who is the better quarterback for this team right now? Vick or Foles?

It’s close, but you can make an awfully strong case for Foles. And if it’s close, or if Foles has the edge, it just doesn’t make sense for Kelly to start a 33-year-old in the final year of his contract over a 24-year-old.

The Eagles were 1-3 in the games Vick started and finished. He was excellent in the opener at Washington and in a 33-30 loss to San Diego. But the offense sputtered against Kansas City and Denver, amassing plenty of yardage but not scoring enough points to have a chance in either game.

In just over six quarters since Vick went down, Foles has completed 38 of 56 passes for 493 yards and five touchdowns. He has not thrown an interception and he has taken just two sacks.

The common wisdom is that Vick’s mobility makes him a better fit for Kelly’s offense, and that may be true. But there was Foles, running a quarterback draw for a 4-yard touchdown on the Eagles’ first possession Sunday.

But there was much more than that. With Foles at quarterback, DeSean Jackson is suddenly an effective weapon in the red zone. He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass last week against the Giants, and Foles found him in the end zone for a 12-yard score Sunday after Jackson slipped by Darrelle Revis.

“Second week in a row I’ve had a red zone touchdown,” Jackson said. “I always felt like I can be a threat regardless of where the ball is on the field.”

“It’s tremendously important to be sharp in the red zone,” Foles said. “I think the big thing is preparation. You see what they’re going to do and you really have to take advantage of it. You’ve got to be on time, you’ve got to be precise with your throws.”

With Foles at quarterback, Riley Cooper suddenly found ways to get open. Foles found Cooper four times for 120 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown. Foles also threw a 36-yarder to Jackson for a score, debunking the idea that he doesn’t have the arm strength for the deep ball.

Foles targeted nine different receivers, completing passes to eight of them.

“He did a really good job,” Kelly said. “He ran our offense. He did a really good job of spreading the ball around to different receivers.”

Finally, there turned out to be little substance to the theory that Vick’s ability to take off was integral to the success of the Eagles’ running game. Defenses may not have to account for Foles, but that didn’t prevent McCoy from gaining 116 yards on 25 carries, a 4.6-yard average.

Kelly’s first season might have been all about rebuilding and developing for the future. When the Eagles were 1-3, that seemed likely.

But the NFC East is the worst division in the NFL this year. The Eagles’ modest two-game winning streak, both against winless teams, put them in first place in the division pending the outcome of the Dallas-Washington game Sunday night.

With a win over the Cowboys next week, the Eagles can take the early lead in the division race.

That changes things. It’s not that Kelly is under more pressure to produce a playoff team in his first season. It’s just that he has been presented with an opportunity, so why waste a prime-of-their-career season for Jackson, McCoy and linemen like Jason Peters and Evan Mathis?

That means playing the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win now. Is that really Vick, who is 12-16 as a starter in the past three seasons? Or is it Foles? It’s time for the common wisdom, and the Eagles’ No. 1 quarterback, to change.

Locker Room Buzz: Philadelphia Eagles

October, 13, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the Philadelphia Eagles31-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

MRSA worries allayed: The Eagles were concerned but comfortable playing despite the Buccaneers’ MRSA issue. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the NFL Players Association rep for the team, said he “didn’t want my players being scared or worried.” Coach Chip Kelly said the Eagles met with Dr. Deverick J. Anderson of the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network, which is managing the Bucs’ situation. “He came over and met with myself, Howie [Roseman, the GM], Don [Smolenski, team president], our doctors and [athletic trainer] Chris Peduzzi,” Kelly said. “He gave us the whole rundown. I think we felt comfortable in his answers. He was very helpful, and then our doctors talked to the players.” Ryans added, “They let us know we would be safe playing. That was the biggest thing for me, making sure our players would be safe coming down here. Nobody had any worries in the back of their mind about having a chance of catching MRSA.”

Felt like home: The Eagles’ third consecutive road game felt like a home game. Quarterback Nick Foles was confused by the way the sellout crowd reacted to a few plays. “I felt like it was a home game,” Foles said. “There’s a couple times the crowd was yelling and I thought, 'Oh, no, what happened?' I saw all the green and white jerseys, so it was our fans. We had a tremendous amount of support here. It’s pretty fun.” Kelly said, “To be in an away stadium and listen to the crowd chant us on like that, it was awesome.”

Kelly would've kicked: The Eagles were up 28-20 with just more than three minutes left, and had the ball on fourth-and-inches at the Buccaneers' 17-yard line. Kelly sent the offense out, but only with the hope that Foles could draw the Bucs offside. “It worked,” Kelly said. “You want to kick a field goal in that situation. You want to make it a two-score game, but if we could extend the clock a little bit. Could you go up 11 and take a little more time off the clock? They jumped.” The neutral-zone infraction gave the Eagles a first down. They wound up kicking a 24-yard field goal with 2:34 on the clock. Tampa Bay used all three of its timeouts to stop the clock after the penalty.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

October, 13, 2013

TAMPA, Fla. -- Observations on the Philadelphia Eagles' 31-20 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

What it means: The Eagles are capable of winning ugly. Chip Kelly has his first two-game winning streak, both at the expense of winless opponents. The victory gives the Eagles a 3-3 record going into next week’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Quarterback Nick Foles started his first game of the season in place of the injured Michael Vick. Foles was good enough, completing 22 of 31 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Foles also ran for a touchdown. The theory that Foles’ presence would hamper LeSean McCoy proved false: McCoy rushed for 116 yards.

Off the hook: The Eagles' defense, facing rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, was looking to build some momentum, a week after intercepting three fourth-quarter passes by Eli Manning. It didn’t really turn out that way. Glennon had way too much time to operate and found Vincent Jackson for two touchdowns. The low point was a drive that started at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line and lasted nearly eight minutes. Glennon converted three third downs on the drive, which ended with a field goal. Eagles rookie safety Earl Wolff, Glennon’s teammate at NC State, broke up what would have been a go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright.

Stock Watch: Rising -- Riley Cooper. Kelly answers several questions a week about whether Cooper is an adequate No. 2 receiver. Last week, Jeff Maehl got a handful of Cooper's snaps, and it looked as if Cooper might be losing his job. Playing across the causeway from his hometown of Clearwater, Cooper caught a 47-yard touchdown pass and turned a quick out into a 44-yard gain to set up Foles’ 36-yard touchdown throw to DeSean Jackson. Cooper finished the game with four catches for a career-high 120 yards.

What’s next. The Eagles can take early control of an admittedly weak NFC East with back-to-back home games against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The Eagles are 2-0 within the division. Vick was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Bucs. He said Thursday that if he couldn’t go this week, he felt sure he’d be ready for Dallas. That means another week of discussion of whether Kelly should stick with Foles or go back to the veteran Vick.