The opening skirmish in Chip Kelly’s 2014 NFL season took place last Friday, and while the results weren’t pretty — especially with the starting offensive line — the team showed a glimpse of its potential.
The final score doesn’t really matter — it was a 28-24 loss to the Chicago Bears — but the engine of the offense was clearly sputtering, at least when the first team was driving. Nick Foles was just OK, with as many interceptions (two) in the first quarter as he had all of last year.
In the first team’s three drives, they had four penalties and two INTs, which makes it hard to build momentum. Even the Bears’ penalties seemed to hurt by preventing an offensive rhythm.
Mark Sanchez, on the other hand, looked great as the backup quarterback, driving, scoring and protecting the ball. He continued his hot streak in practice this week, while Foles alternated between brilliant (outplaying Tom Brady in joint practices on Tuesday) and mediocre (as he was Thursday). If you want more details on training camp, check out my notes from Monday’s walk-through and from Thursday’s.
Last week I wrote that Josh Huff was struggling a bit, and this bore out — sort of — against Chicago; he caught one of five passes for four total yards, though that one was a key reception down to the one-yard line that set up a TD. I say “sort of” though because Huff also ran back a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, providing the biggest highlight of the game and making it very likely that he’ll be the team’s first option on kick returns.
In the post-game press conference, Coach Kelly noted how Huff used his physicality to finish the play, stiff-arming the kicker to the ground as if it was an annoying terrier pestering him.
Taylor Hart played well, too, as he has throughout the off-season, but so did former Duck Brandon Bair, who is competing for the same position (defensive end). The twist is that Bair was Hart’s mentor at Oregon, and they remain friends and collaborators, even though it will be tough for both to make the team (I wrote about this saga yesterday for Philly.com).
Bair greatly improved his chances with a very strong showing in Chicago. In one three-play series, he fell on a fumble (ruled an incomplete pass) at the Bears’ goal line, and nearly caught a tipped pass for an interception (it touched the turf before he could control it). Though the official scorecard disagrees, it looks like he may have been the one who blocked Chicago’s field goal in the first period, too. And there is no better way for a depth player to make Chip Kelly’s roster than to shine on special teams.
While rookie Jordan Matthews did not live up to his massive hype, with two bad drops, other newish players stood out. Huge (and surprisingly mobile) nose tackle Beau Allen controlled the run and pushed back the Bears’ pocket. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was not highly touted, laid the wood immediately to set a more physical tone for the Birds, whose secondary scared no one last year. And Zach Ertz looks every bit as likely to have a breakout year as most pundits have predicted, plus 40% more greatness added just to be generous.
For the second year in a row, the Eagles have joint practices with the New England Patriots leading up to their game Friday night. Last year, the Pats intimidated the heavily revamped Eagles, with physical play on defense and Brady picking apart the shaky Philly secondary. Brady tormented CB Curtis Marsh last year with pass after pass, play after play. This year is different. Led by Jenkins and, yes, a resurgent Marsh, the Eagles have hit back punch for punch all week.
Now we’ll see if they can transfer this edge to an actual game performance in Foxboro on Friday. Behind the scenes is another situation where a young’un is competing against his mentor – Kelly vs. Bill Belichick (don’t call them BeliChip). As I wrote here, this may be a situation that can only be settled in the Super Bowl. And hopefully this time, youth and talent will beat out old age and treachery.
Main photo from video (NFL Preseason Live)