Philadelphia Eagles: chris polk

Chris Polk earns praise for offseason work

June, 12, 2014
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Chris Polk made the most of his playing time last season.

Polk
He was handed the ball 11 times and it turned into 98 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

Not bad at all.

Polk is best remembered for a 38-yard scamper for a touchdown during the snowstorm and subsequent victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 14 at Lincoln Financial Field.

When asked about Polk’s production despite limited snaps, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly didn’t hesitate to praise his running back.

“He did [produce] and he's really had a great offseason,” Kelly told reporters on Tuesday. “He worked extremely hard rehabbing his shoulders but he was one of our key special-teams players for us and starting to you look at from probably the Detroit game on, he had a couple really big runs in that game and starting to develop as a back and just trying to figure it out again where he fits in that piece. Obviously we have a talented one in LeSean [McCoy], and then when you add [Darren] Sproles to the mix, where does Chris fit into it? But I think in terms of what has he done in the offseason, I think he's really put himself in the picture.”

Getting that experience last season gave Polk a huge lift.

“I definitely have a lot more confidence because reality is the best teacher,” Polk told Philadelphiaeagles.com. “Getting in the game, getting a feel for it, getting tackled, getting adjusted to the game speed -- that helps. Last year, I felt like I was walking on egg shells because I didn’t have a lot of experience. I was out there just wide-eyed, but now the game is starting to slow down for me. I’m learning a lot from Darren and Shady to take my game to the next level.”

Polk realizes he’s behind McCoy and Sproles on the depth chart. Matthew Tucker also is a young running back vying for playing time.

And Polk vows to do anything he can to contribute.

“We’re all just going out there and putting our best foot forward, and adding another great player [like Sproles] to our running back room, that just making everyone better,” Polk told Philadelphiaeagles.com. “I feel like I can be a great factor. We’ll see how things play out. We have Sproles, LeSean, myself, a couple of new guys and [Tucker]. The only thing that I can do is control what I can control, and that’s my effort, attitude and what I put on tape. If I do what I know I’m capable of, then I know I’ll be playing.”

Eagles Mailbag 1: Deal DJax?

March, 8, 2014
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We'll finally start to get some action and answers in free agency. Teams can begin contacting agents Saturday afternoon and completing deals on Tuesday.

Until then, let's find out what's on fans' minds. Thanks to everyone for their comments and questions. We got enough to break this up into two posts, so if your tweet isn't here, look for it later Saturday afternoon.

Without further ado:

 

Eagles need depth behind RB McCoy

February, 18, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- You learn a little bit about what coaches are thinking by listening to them speak. You learn a lot more by watching what they do when the pressure is on.

All season, Eagles coach Chip Kelly had positive things to say about Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, his backup running backs. They were coming along. They would get some carries as Kelly sought to lighten the load on LeSean McCoy.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Al Bello/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and had 539 yards receiving last season.
When the Eagles played Dallas in the final game of the season with the NFC East title on the line, Brown got exactly two carries when McCoy desperately needed a blow late in the game. Polk had zero carries and one catch.

The next week, in the Eagles' playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, neither Brown nor Polk touched the ball. No carries, no catches, no nothing.

That tells you that the Eagles, the team with the NFL's leading rusher and No. 1 overall running game, need an upgrade at the running back position.

McCoy, who is still just 25, is and will be the man. Part of the reality here is that it is just plain tough to take him out of a game. He's that good. But his career is going to be longer if the Eagles can find a way to lessen his workload.

McCoy carried the ball 314 times in 2013 and caught 52 passes for a total of 366 touches. That's more touches than anyone in football (Chicago's Matt Forte was close with 363 -- 289 rushes and 74 receptions). When you add pass blocking, that's a lot of contact.

But sheer volume isn't the only factor. There were several games in which the run game just wasn't clicking. The offensive linemen talked about not being “on the same page” with McCoy at times. McCoy himself admitted to being too fine at times and not just hitting the holes that were there.

That might be an opportune time to get another back a series or two. See if things start working better. Once the run game gets into a groove, McCoy just might slide right into it and produce as he normally does.

The two most notable of those not-on-the-same-page games were the touchdown-less losses to the Giants and Cowboys in consecutive weeks. Brown got a total of five carries in those games. Polk was inactive for one and had zero touches in the other.

With Matt Barkley forced to play quarterback because of injuries to Nick Foles and Michael Vick, the run game was needed even more. It produced even less.

Polk had surgery on his shoulder after the season, so it's possible he was limited by that injury in the second half of the season. Brown and Polk both got in on the snowy rout of Detroit in December, but neither made much of a mark otherwise.

So yes, the Eagles have arguably the best running back and the most productive running game in the NFL. But they are still very likely to look to upgrade the running back position during this offseason.

There are a number of backs available in free agency, including Minnesota's Toby Gerhart -- a player Kelly went out of his way to praise and who played for new Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

If Kelly is sentimental, he could look at New England's LeGarrette Blount, who played for Kelly at Oregon. If Kelly is feeling mischievous, he could bring in Denver's Knowshon Moreno, who was on the receiving end of some barbed comments from McCoy back in September.

More likely, the Eagles will keep an eye out for a back they like in the draft. Another Oregon product, De'Anthony Thomas, could be an interesting match. Thomas is just 5-9, 176 pounds, but has elite speed and could be the answer to the Eagles' need for a big-play return man as well.
PHILADELPHIA -- As players took the field for warm-ups before the Eagles played the Detroit Lions on Dec. 8, there were some snow flurries. By the 1 p.m. kickoff, the field was completely buried under a blanket of thick snow.

The Eagles’ 34-20 victory that day might not have defined the 2013 season. It was almost certainly the game fans will best remember, however.

McCoy
Perhaps the most memorable moment came late, when tight end Brent Celek gathered in a fourth-down pass and, with nothing between him and the end zone, opted to slide like a school kid through the drifting snow. It was a great moment, with Celek forgoing an easy touchdown so the Eagles could hold on to the ball and run out the clock.

But the truly big play, the play that changed the game and helped shape the entire season, came early in the fourth quarter.

Dec. 8 vs. Detroit: LeSean McCoy runs for a 40-yard touchdown.

The Eagles were losing, 14-6, after three quarters. Quarterback Nick Foles had thrown his first interception of the season. Neither team could even think about kicking extra points, let alone field goals, in the conditions. Players had trouble getting traction, until the Eagles' offensive line hit on a smart strategy.

Slow down. Keep their feet under them and use their strength to get the Lions' big front seven off balance.

On the fourth play of the fourth quarter, Foles handed the ball to LeSean McCoy. He burst through an enormous hole created by his linemen, hurdled one Lions defensive back and shook off the tackle of another. McCoy got to the left sideline and cruised for a 40-yard score.

McCoy ran 57 yards for another touchdown three offensive plays later. Foles ran a quarterback keeper for a score and running back Chris Polk ran 38 yards for a final touchdown.

In the fourth quarter alone, the Eagles scored 28 points and amassed 224 rushing yards. McCoy’s 217 yards broke the single-game franchise record set by Steve Van Buren in 1949.

It was an avalanche that buried the Lions, and the first boulder was McCoy’s 40-yard dash through the snow.

On Thursday, we’ll look at No. 9 in our series of plays the shaped the Eagles’ 2013 season.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles running back Chris Polk had surgery on his shoulder this week, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Caplan.

That is worth noting, but bears further exploring because of what it says about the way the Eagles handle injuries in the Chip Kelly era.

Andy Reid famously began every press availability with the same word -- injuries -- followed by an alphabetical recitation of every nick, ding, tear, pull and break on the athletic trainers’ report. For serious injuries, especially when star players were involved, Reid brought head trainer Rick Burkholder in to explain the nature of the injury and the course of treatment.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInformation about injured players has been hard to come by since Chip Kelly became head coach in Philadelphia.
With Kelly?

“Polk has got a shoulder,” he said Oct. 14, the day after Polk was injured in Tampa. “We hope he’s back this week, but I don’t think he’ll be full [go in practice] tomorrow.”

That was all the information Kelly was giving out, which was typical. An injured player has a (fill in body part here). Period. Kelly says he doesn’t want or need in-depth information. The training staff tells him who is available and who isn’t and he proceeds from there.

Polk was inactive for the following week's game against Dallas. Not that big of a deal, except for the roster consequences that followed. The day before the Dallas game, the Eagles added practice squad running back Matthew Tucker to their active roster. To make room, they released cornerback Jordan Poyer, a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft.

The Cleveland Browns claimed Poyer and he finished the season with them.

Polk was back the following week and active for the rest of the Eagles’ games. He played extensively on special teams. His snap count on offense increased in the final four weeks.

And it turned out he needed surgery on the shoulder.

If that’s the case with Polk, it raises questions about other players. Safety Patrick Chung became the player fans loved to hate for his missed tackles and perceived blown coverages. But Chung “had a shoulder” after the Week 3 loss to Kansas City. He missed two games and then tried to come back too soon, leaving the Tampa Bay game after just 12 defensive snaps.

Chung was inactive the next two weeks before returning for the Oakland game. When rookie Earl Wolff was injured (Wolff “had a knee”) in Green Bay, Chung became the starter again.

Was Chung a free-agent bust who lost his job to a fifth-round pick? Or was Chung a veteran gutting out and playing hurt because the team was desperately thin at safety?

Injury deception affects perception.

Wolff is another example. Reporters managed to ascertain that he hyperextended his knee, but there was never any further explanation. Was anything torn? Sprained? Strained? Was there cartilage damage? A bone bruise?

Wolff also tried to return too soon from his injury. He lasted four snaps in the game against Chicago in Week 16, then didn’t play again. Every day before the playoff game against New Orleans, Wolff would give an awkward update on how he felt and what he was doing to try to be ready. He was inactive on game day.

Was Wolff merely a rookie not sure of the difference between discomfort and injury? Or was he feeling pressure to get back on the field despite a moderately serious knee injury? (Not pressure from head athletic trainer Chris Peduzzi and his staff, mind you. They're very good. But secrecy about the nature of the injury led to constant inquiries from reporters and even some teasing about Wolff getting back on the field.)

Kelly is a long way from being the first coach to keep injury information as limited as possible. Maybe it provides some competitive advantage. But that secrecy can also be a disservice to the players themselves.
 

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 11
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

Biggest surprise: Easy. Nick Foles. He started six games as a rookie in 2012, winning one of them and pretty much disappearing amid the debris of a 4-12 season. He seemed like a terrible fit for new coach Chip Kelly's offense, especially in contrast to the mobile Michael Vick. When Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles seized the starting job with epic numbers: 119.2 passer rating (third best all time), 27 touchdowns and two interceptions (best ratio ever). Foles won eight of his 10 starts and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. Anyone who says they saw Foles' season coming is fibbing.

Biggest disappointment: The outcome of Saturday night's playoff game against New Orleans -- which says something about how thoroughly Kelly changed the culture here. No one expected the Eagles to win their division and reach the playoffs, but once they did, plenty of people expected them to win the first-round home game. But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, didn't have his best game, and the Saints caught the Eagles off guard by running the ball so much themselves. The Eagles appeared capable of beating almost anyone, including the Saints, which made the loss hard to swallow.

Biggest need: Defensive difference-makers, especially in the secondary. The cornerbacks were solid and improved steadily by season's end, but a shutdown corner or legitimate playmaking safety would help a lot. A close second would be a pass-rushing threat, preferably from the outside. Trent Cole had a good year making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, but he's not going to play forever. Funny: For the midseason version of this, I listed quarterback as the biggest need. That's how shocking Foles' performance was.

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage, setting Eagles franchise records in both categories. No one could argue with you if you named McCoy MVP of the team, or even of the NFC. But McCoy was the running back when the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point. It wasn't until Foles took over the starting quarterback spot that the Eagles began winning games. That seems like the very definition of "most valuable." Nevertheless, the Eagles' first NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren probably earns McCoy the team MVP award.

 

LeSean McCoyHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy, right, gained 217 yards Sunday, setting a new single-game team rushing record.
PHILADELPHIA -- Whether you're Chip Kelly or Bode Miller, the best way to handle 3 1/2 inches of fresh snow is the same.

Go downhill. Fast.

The Eagles weren't able to build a freestyle course in time for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. But they were able to turn running back LeSean McCoy loose, letting him freestyle his way to a franchise-record 217 rushing yards -- including game-changing touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards.

"It was very tough, especially with this defense, to go lateral," Kelly said. "We learned with the weather that it was very difficult to go lateral. We felt like we had to get a downhill game going."

In football talk, of course, that means running straight ahead rather than skiing down a slope. The problem here was that the Lions' defensive line, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle, is very good against the run. The Lions had held their past six opponents to fewer than 70 total rushing yards.

The Eagles ran for 299 yards Sunday -- 244 of them after halftime. McCoy ran for 148 yards and both touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

He regained the NFL rushing lead from Adrian Peterson, who was injured Sunday. McCoy has 1,305 rushing yards on the season.

"He's obviously a great player," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "He's done great things in this offense. As long as I have known him, he's been doing great things. It's a blessing to have that guy on our team."

Listening to his teammates marvel, you'd think McCoy can walk on water. In this game, he did. It was frozen, which made McCoy's cuts and moves that much more impressive.

"It was insane," tight end Brent Celek said. "Sometimes it felt like there were eight inches of snow out there. When you would step, you wouldn't be touching the grass. The fact that he was doing that, it's insane."

McCoy's Twitter handle, @CutonDime25, is a not-so-humble reference to his ability to change direction and leave defenders with armfuls of nothing. He wasn't able to make the really sharp moves, but then, the Lions' defenders were hampered at least as much.

"To be honest, it was definitely tough," McCoy said. "You just didn't have the normal footing and traction that you get when stopping and cutting. Sometimes I couldn't really plant. I can usually plant on a dime, but it all worked out. The guys were giving me so much room.

"I feel like it is a mental thing. Obviously, it's going to be tough because of the snow and weather, but you don't think about it when you're running."

The Eagles had minus-2 yards of total offense in the first quarter. They weren't much better in the second and were trailing 8-0 at halftime. After Detroit's Jeremy Ross returned a punt 58 yards for a third-quarter touchdown, it was 14-0 and the game seemed out of reach. That's how extreme the conditions were and how poorly the Eagles seemed to be handling them.

But quarterback Nick Foles threw two passes -- a 44-yarder that Riley Cooper caught while rolling through the snow like a sled and a 19-yard touchdown to Jackson -- to make it 14-6 (there was no kicking game in this one).

"I think we took some shots deep, which kind of set [the Lions] back a little bit," McCoy said. "The guys up front gave me opportunities one-on-one by blowing those guys off the ball. I just felt with how well the line was blocking today, we would gash them once Nick started throwing the ball."

"We just kind of kept poking and prodding and then we started to move the ball," Kelly said. "When we got in here at halftime, I thought our offensive staff did a good job of putting together some formations of how to run some things and what we could come back with."

Center Jason Kelce said Kelly's scheme was designed "to attack the explosion out of [their defense]. Those guys rely on such explosion, and I think that slowed them down a bit. I think as we got the game going, we realized the snow was taking them out of their game, in terms of the defensive ends being able to rush up the field quickly. We just had some success moving the ball vertically and the coaches picked up on that."

Vertically. Downhill. North and south. Whatever you call it, McCoy was suddenly unstoppable. He broke a 40-yard run to tie the game. After Ross took the kickoff back 98 yards for a second touchdown return, the Eagles came back with the same offensive approach.

"We just weren't firing off the ball," Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. "We really had to slow it up and let the Lions linebackers overrun their gaps. Then we just sealed off and Shady [McCoy] hit them on the back side for long runs."

McCoy broke a 57-yarder to give the Eagles the lead for good 22-20. Chris Polk ran 38 yards for another fourth-quarter touchdown. Foles took one in from the 1-yard line.

In the fourth quarter, McCoy broke Steve Van Buren's 64-year-old franchise record of 205 rushing yards in a game.

It was a win that gave the Eagles an 8-5 record, doubling their win total from last season. It kept pressure on the Dallas Cowboys, who have to beat the Bears in Chicago to keep pace in the NFC East race. Mostly, it was a comeback win in adverse conditions that represented another step in the growth of this team in Kelly's first season.

"I don't think this group gives up," Kelly said. "I think they've got way too much invested, and I think the more you have invested in something, it's a lot more difficult to quit."

With three games left, as Bode Miller might have said, it's all downhill from here.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Green Bay due to a pectoral injury he sustained in Oakland.

Fletcher
Quarterback Michael Vick was listed as doubtful due to his hamstring strain. That would have been the headline in the past, but Vick’s condition has become almost an afterthought five weeks after the original injury. Linebacker and special-teamer Jake Knott is also doubtful with a hamstring injury.

Fletcher’s status would be a bigger issue if the Eagles were facing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But even with Seneca Wallace replacing the injured Rodgers, there are repercussions if Fletcher can’t go or is limited.

With Fletcher on the defensive left and Cary Williams on the right, the Eagles don’t move their corners around, or have one of them follow the other team’s top receiver.

“As of right now,” Williams said, “we’re preparing like Bradley’s going to play. Hopefully he does. If he doesn’t, we’ll probably keep to the same formula.”

That could mean slot corner Brandon Boykin moving out to take Williams’ side. Or Roc Carmichael, who was on the field for 20 defensive snaps in Oakland, could play outside with Boykin remaining in the slot.

“Roc’s been impressive,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Roc came out and competed well and made a couple of plays for us. And I've got all the confidence in the world in Roc, and him out at corner. He's a competitor, he's a bright young man that's picked up the defense well for not being here through the offseason. We’re excited about Roc and feel very comfortable with him out there.”

Safety Patrick Chung, who is listed as probable with a shoulder injury, can also play the slot corner spot. And the Eagles signed cornerback Curtis Marsh early in the week, giving them an extra option.

It’s also possible that the Packers will use more two-back formations with Wallace at quarterback in order to focus on the running game.

And, of course, it’s also possible that Fletcher will play and get through the entire game.

The other players listed as probable were Carmichael (groin), wide receiver Damaris Johnson (ankle), left tackle Jason Peters (pectoral, shoulder), running back Chris Polk (shoulder, knee), defensive end Cedric Thornton (knee) and offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde (knee).

With Polk out, Eagles sign RB Tucker

October, 19, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles made a minor roster tweak Saturday, adding running back Matthew Tucker to their active roster a day before their NFC East showdown with the Dallas Cowboys.

Tucker will dress in place of Chris Polk, who injured his shoulder last week in Tampa. Polk has been active for all six games, but has played mostly on special teams. He has been on the field for just nine offensive plays.

But the Eagles have only two other running backs on their roster: starter LeSean McCoy and backup Bryce Brown. Coach Chip Kelly said he didn’t want to go into a game without a third running back active.

To clear roster space, the Eagles released rookie cornerback Jordan Poyer. A seventh-round draft pick from Oregon State, Poyer was inactive last Sunday. He is the second of the Eagles’ 2013 draft picks to be released. Seventh-rounder David King was the other.

Tucker was an undrafted free agent who played college ball at TCU. He had 25 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason.

Eagles seek cure for home sickness

October, 18, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Home is where the wins aren’t.

That has been the case for the Philadelphia Eagles, who have tied a franchise record with eight consecutive home losses. Their last win here came on Sept. 30 of last year, against the New York Giants.

“Has it been that long?” tight end Brent Celek said. “I didn’t realize that. That’s tough, especially for the fans. They sell out the stadium every week.”

The cure? Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

“We’ve got to get this,” Celek said.

In fairness, the bulk of the streak has to do with former head coach Andy Reid. After the Eagles beat the Giants 19-17 at Lincoln Financial Field last season, they were 3-1. They then went on an eight-game losing streak and won only one more game, at Tampa Bay, the rest of the season.

That was just a beat-up, terrible team playing out the string under a doomed head coach. Those games could have been played at home, on the road or on the moon and the Eagles would have lost.

As for this year, the first under Chip Kelly, the Eagles drew San Diego and Kansas City in Weeks 2 and 3. The Chargers game was played on a short week after a Monday night opener in Washington. The Chiefs game was a Thursday night game, so it was on an even shorter week, for both teams.

The Eagles lost 33-30 to San Diego, 26-16 to Kansas City. Reid, now the Chiefs coach, broke his Linc losing streak before his former franchise did.

The last time the Eagles lost eight in a row at home was during the 1936 and 1937 seasons, when they played at Municipal Stadium (which later became JFK Stadium and is now long gone). Through many miserable seasons at Franklin Field and Veterans Stadium, they never managed to match that streak.

The Eagles moved into the Linc in 2003. They lost their first two games there. Overall, their record is a hardly dominating 43-31 in the regular season. That includes a 7-1 record in 2004, when they went to the Super Bowl. They had 6-2 records in 2008 and 2009, the last year the Eagles had a winning record at home.

Last week, cornerback Cary Williams talked about wanting the Eagles' defense to become “fearless and feared.” That is tied to being tough and intimidating at home.

“I think it’s huge,” Williams said. “It’s vital to win your home games. I know from years past, wherever I’ve been, we always focused on winning home games. You try to split on the road as best you can, but you play tough at home. You’ve got the crowd behind you. As a defense, that’s difficult for the opposing offense.”

It wouldn’t be shocking if the fans were less enthusiastic after paying American dollars to sit through eight losses in a row. Not the case, though, according to Celek.

“The fans are still going crazy, always,” Celek said. “They’re the best.”

Notes: Safety Patrick Chung was limited in practice Thursday. He said he probably tried to return too soon from a shoulder injury. “I didn’t re-injure it,” Chung said. “You just want to be out there.” Rookie Earl Wolff would start if Chung can’t play against the Cowboys.

Left tackle Jason Peters and running back Chris Polk, who suffered shoulder injuries in Tampa, were full practice participants Thursday after being limited Wednesday. They are expected to be available Sunday.
PHILADELPHIA -- It has been a long time since Eagles linebacker Seth Joyner stood at his locker doing TV interviews wearing a “Dallas Sucks” t-shirt.

On Wednesday, Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin talked about the upcoming Cowboys game while wearing a t-shirt touting SEPTA, the regional transit system. Barwin is in his first year with the Eagles after playing in Houston. The Cowboys are a divisional opponent, but a rivalry?

“I’m starting to learn about it,” Barwin said. “From the fans and just doing some radio shows, you can tell there’s a little more excitement. I expect it to be a playoff-type atmosphere at Lincoln (Financial Field) on Sunday.”

Across the locker room, former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was talking about how he always “hated” the Cowboys for personal reasons. But his rivalries in Baltimore were with Pittsburgh and New England.

“I understand the importance of winning your divisional games,” Williams said. “When I get out there, I already have a way of developing a certain hate for people. Not outside the game, but it’s a mind set you go into. You have to turn it on.”

It has also been a long time since Buddy Ryan fanned the fans’ loathing of Dallas by insulting the Cowboys’ coaches on and off the field. Chip Kelly said he hasn’t noticed any special animosity toward the Cowboys.

“No, just because there are a lot of other teams they don't like, either,” Kelly said. “They all seem to be in the NFC East, though, which is a good thing. We played two of them and now we are getting to play the third, so I'm sure it will be the same. “

Kelly may get a better feel Sunday. Even though the Giants have been better recently, and younger fans see them as a bigger obstacle to the Eagles, there’s just something about the Cowboys.

They were the class of the division when Dick Vermeil was trying to build a winner in the 1970s, and they were the team Vermeil’s Eagles defeated to go the Super Bowl after the 1980 season.

The Cowboys went from a team Ryan’s defense bullied -- he started an eight-game winning streak against Dallas, and the Eagles sacked Troy Aikman 11 times in a 1991 game -- to a team that won three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Twice, they beat the Eagles in the playoffs on their way to the Lombardi Trophy.

Playoff losses in Dallas were the final games for Eagles legends Reggie White (1992), Randall Cunningham (1995) and Donovan McNabb (2009).

So yes, it’s a special rivalry for the fans here, even if the coach and many of his players haven’t experienced it yet.

Notes: Quarterback Michael Vick was limited in practice Wednesday. That’s the same as last week. So it was a mistake to read too much into his apparent progress during preparation for the Tampa Bay game. Vick was listed as a full participant Friday, likely because it was a less demanding practice.

Left tackle Jason Peters (shoulder, finger) did not practice again Wednesday. Kelly still seemed to be planning for Peters to play Sunday. Backup running back Chris Polk (shoulder) also didn’t practice. Safety Patrick Chung (shoulder) was limited, while tight end James Casey, who missed Sunday’s game with a groin injury, was full go.

The Eagles signed tight end Emil Igwenagu to the practice squad. Igwenagu, who was inactive for the first six weeks, was waived Tuesday. The practice-squad spot opened when wide receiver Greg Salas was signed by the New York Jets.
PHILADELPHIA – After solid performances against the slumping Eli Manning and rookie Mike Glennon, the Philadelphia Eagles' defense must see if it can hold its own against Tony Romo on Sunday.

He has his flaws, but Romo is playing at a very high level this season.

“When you study him over time, he's either really hot or really off, and sometimes it's through the course of one single game,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Tuesday. “He may be first-half hot, second-half cold, and vice versa. You have to play him all the way through four quarters. I think you’ve got to challenge the receivers and challenge him to find the opening and keep moving it on him. I think he'll make some plays and I think he'll make some mistakes.”

Romo has been making a lot more plays than mistakes this season. He is completing 70.2 percent of his passes, has a rating of 108.6 and has thrown 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Of course, he threw one pick in the clutch against Denver a couple weeks ago, and that drew more attention than all the touchdowns combined.

But the Dallas Cowboys have involved Romo in designing the game plan this season, and he has evolved into a better, smarter quarterback. With running back DeMarco Murray likely out Sunday, Romo will be relied on to throw the ball even more.

“They have got some great weapons and a quarterback that knows how to distribute them, and that's really what you come against,” Davis said. “The big passing offenses, quarterback that can get the ball to playmakers, and the other part of that is having the playmakers and Dallas is loaded with playmakers.”

Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers had huge games against this developing Eagles defense. This game will be a test of whether Davis’ guys have gotten that much better, or whether Glennon’s ability to convert third downs and exploit mistakes will be magnified against Romo.

Veteran safety Patrick Chung, who has a nerve issue in his right shoulder, is likely to be out. That means rookie Earl Wolff, who has two starts on his resume, would line up with Nate Allen.

Notes: Left tackle Jason Peters (shoulder) and running back Chris Polk did not take part in Tuesday’s practice. Tight end James Casey, who missed the Tampa Bay game with a groin issue, did practice.

With Casey likely back this week, the Eagles waived reserve tight end Emil Igwenagu, who had not been active in the first six games. They signed wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, who impressed Kelly in training camp before getting hurt.

Greg Salas, who also had a strong camp, was signed off the Eagles practice squad by the New York Jets.
PHILADELPHIA -- As the Chip Kelly experiment continues to unfold, the Philadelphia Eagles game at Tampa Bay on Sunday could yield some interesting new insights.

In his heyday with the Eagles, Andy Reid had a knack for coaxing victories out of backup quarterbacks. Whether it was Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley or Kevin Kolb, Reid’s offense operated at an adequate level, at least, on the not-so-rare occasions Donovan McNabb was injured.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellThe Eagles are confident Nick Foles can keep their offense moving.
If Nick Foles starts against the Bucs, Kelly keeps telling us, he will run the same offense as Michael Vick. That might be so, but there is little doubt that same offense will be run differently with a quarterback who isn’t winning any footraces with opposing linebackers.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Eagles have run read-option plays 11 times in the 49 snaps taken by Foles. That’s a 22.4 percent clip. When Vick is on the field, Kelly has called for read-option plays 36.3 percent of the time (107 of 295 snaps).

Those numbers are a bit skewed by the situations Foles has played in. He took the field with just over a minute left in the first half against the Giants on Sunday. He ran a two-minute drill to drive down for a field goal. There wasn’t much read-option going on there.

In one garbage-time possession in Denver, Foles led a touchdown drive with Eagles backups against Denver's backups.

This would be the first time under Kelly that Foles starts with a full game plan tailored to his strengths and the opponent’s vulnerabilities.

“Me and Mike run the same offense,” Foles said. “We’re going to do what we do.”

Another misconception is that the absence of Vick as a running threat negates LeSean McCoy in the run game.

You can back that up statistically: Again, according to ESPN Stats & Information, McCoy has averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the past two seasons when Vick is in the game. When Foles is in the game, McCoy has averaged 3.3 yards per carry.

Sounds compelling, but look a little closer. Foles started six games last season. McCoy was inactive because of a concussion for four of them. So they only played parts of three games together, and it was behind an offensive line wracked by injury: Three of the four starters aren’t even on the team anymore.

Foles was the quarterback when Bryce Brown ran for 178 yards on 19 carries against Carolina, and when Brown ran for 169 yards on 24 carries in Dallas. So Foles doesn’t represent some kind of jinx for the run game.

McCoy was out of the game when Foles played in Denver -- Chris Polk broke a 28-yard run in that game -- so all we have to go on this season is the second half against the Giants. McCoy had minus-4 yards on seven carries. But that had a lot more to do with the Giants’ ability to blow up the interior of the Eagles’ line than the identity of the quarterback.

“The Giants made some plays up front,” McCoy said. “I think they really wanted to take me out of the game. That was their game plan from the beginning. I don’t think it had anything to do with Foles. Mike’s a different kind of threat, for sure. But we still run the same plays. I think we can still be effective running the ball.”

The Buccaneers' defense is ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. The Bucs will almost certainly focus on limiting McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, forcing Foles to make plays in the passing game.

Ultimately, an effective passer does more to open up the running game than a running quarterback.

“My job is to be precise and sharp with the ball,” Foles said.

“I'm excited about Nick,” Kelly said, “and I think he can be a starter in this league.”

If Foles is a starter Sunday, and it appears he will be, it is Kelly’s job to get the most out of him.
PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Michael Vick was limited in practice Wednesday, according to the Eagles’ official injury report. But Vick did more than he had Tuesday, including some work in 7-on-7 drills, and told reporters his sore hamstring was “loosening” up.

Other Eagles still talked as if they expected backup Nick Foles to start in Tampa Sunday, but head coach Chip Kelly maintained that he could go with Vick at the last minute if he is cleared medically.

“We’ll see how he is and we’ll adjust accordingly,” Kelly said.

Kelly said Vick and safety Patrick Chung were “the two guys we have to keep an eye on this week,” but five other players were listed on the injury report.

Chung (shoulder), linebacker Connor Barwin (knee) and left tackle Jason Peters (finger) participated fully in practice, according to the report. Cornerback Brandon Boykin (groin), punter Donnie Jones (left foot) and running back Chris Polk (ankle) were limited.

Boykin is the most interesting name on the list. Reporters asked Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis about their inclination to get the nickel corner more playing time. Both said Boykin is thriving in his role.

It also may be that the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Boykin is already taking as much punishment as his body can absorb. Boykin was on the injury report last week with a bruised shoulder. This week, it’s a groin pull.

As for Chung, it will be interesting to see how Davis reintegrates the veteran safety. The secondary looked much better against the Giants, and players talked about the importance of improved communication and familiarity with each other. Chances are, Chung, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff will continue to rotate at safety.

Chung is also the backup nickel corner, so he could see time there if Boykin is limited or aggravates his injury.
PHILADELPHIA -- DeSean Jackson had a frustrating day in Denver, from the pass that soared over his head on the Eagles’ first drive to the moment he blew off reporters in the postgame locker room.

Frustrate Jackson and you frustrate the Eagles’ entire passing game. That has quickly become the formula for stopping Chip Kelly’s offense.

With former teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie running with him stride for stride, Jackson was targeted six times by quarterback Michael Vick. Jackson caught just two passes for 34 yards.

“I think we have seen just a little bit more man [coverage],” Kelly said Monday, “and I think that's overall with everybody. But I also think we've been productive moving the football. I still think we're stopping ourselves. We are not getting stopped by a scheme and we are not getting stopped by a look.”

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsEagles star receiver DeSean Jackson has been stymied during the past two weeks.
When Jackson isn’t open, Vick has trouble getting the ball to his other wideouts. Either Riley Cooper (two catches, 25 yards) and Jason Avant (one catch, seven yards) aren’t getting open, or Vick just doesn’t trust them with tight throws.

“It depends on what play,” Kelly said. “There's maybe one play where, yeah, he should have let it rip, but there's other plays where we have to do a better job of getting open and other plays where we have to do a better job of protecting him. It's a combination of the whole thing.”

Early in the game, Kelly had rookie tight end Zach Ertz lined up in the slot with Brent Celek also on the field. That was a rare look at the kind of inventive use of the tight ends Kelly teased fans with in the preseason. Kelly liked the matchups created when the Eagles ran against opponents’ nickel schemes, and he also seemed to get seduced by Jackson’s quick-strike potential.

As a result, free-agent pickup James Casey has just one catch in four games. The screen game disappeared almost entirely until Vick found Bryce Brown and LeSean McCoy for a couple of big plays Sunday.

On Monday, Kelly talked about getting running back Chris Polk some more playing time. He continued to defend the play of Cooper, who is valued more for his blocking ability than his receiving at this point. And he shed some light on Ertz’s development.

“We've seen more and more from him on a weekly basis here as he starts to continue to grasp what we are doing here,” Kelly said. “I expect him to grow. He's four games into his professional football career. So to see him run around and line up all over the place like Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints, I don't think anybody envisioned that as we put together an offense and start to figure out what he's good at, what he's not good at.

“There's a lot of details in doing it. It's not as easy as saying, ‘Hey, we drafted this guy and he has got the ability.’ Yeah, he does. But I also think we have to get him settled. It's not going to come with all of a sudden tomorrow we are going to come up with 17 different ways where we can deploy Zach and put him in different situations because it's not fair to him.”

Kelly had great success getting the ball to Jackson in the Eagles’ first two games. He caught 16 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns, and the Eagles scored a total of 63 points. The past two weeks, Jackson has five catches for 96 yards, and the Eagles scored a total of 33 points.

Defenses adjusted. Now Kelly has to find a way to counter. He isn’t getting Jeremy Maclin back this season, so he has to find production from Ertz, Celek and Casey at tight end, from the running backs and from the wideouts, including the underutilized Damaris Johnson.

If he does, who knows? Maybe defenses will have to back off and Jackson can break loose again.

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