1. Vinny Curry Is The Real Deal
Vinny Curry is having a fantastic preseason. The 2012 2nd-round pick out of Marshall is known for his ability to rush the passer, but he’s shown a complete game at 3-tech thus far in 2013. After recording 3 tackles, half a sack, and 3 QB hits against the Patriots, Curry had 2 more solo tackles, a tackle for a loss, a pass deflection, and 2 QB hurries. He was constantly in the backfield, forcing bad passes or blowing up runs. Sheil Kapadia, Ryan Messick, and I all noticed him on Twitter.
Cedric Thornton, the starting 3-technique defensive end, has been solid as well, but expect he and Curry to split even more time due to Vinny’s impressive performance. He could even see time at 5-tech behind Fletcher Cox if he continues to defend the run well.
2. Shady = Money
LeSean “Shady” McCoy did not play much last week, but he made up for lost time tonight with several big runs and dazzling cuts. He finished the night with 8 carries, 47 yards, and a touchdown along with 3 catches for 19 yards.
And then there was this beauty:
It’s pretty obvious that Shady is back to 100%, and he’s poised for a big year in Chip Kelly’s wide-open offense.
3. Patrick Chung Giving the Safety Position Some Hope
There just aren’t many positives stemming from the Eagles safety position. Nate Allen is a disaster, Kurt Coleman is, well, Kurt Coleman, and Kenny Phillips is at 50%. Earl Wolff has shown some flashes of brilliance, but the real bright spot at the position has been Patrick Chung.
Chung, 25, spent his first 4 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots before signing with the Eagles this past offseason. He’ll get an interception once in a while, but where he really makes a difference is in the run game. He had four big tackles in the first half for the Eagles, flying around the Eagles cleaning up tackles and stopping Panthers rushers. Despite the unit’s struggle in coverage, he’s managed not to make too many big mistakes there while still remaining viable in the run game. He’s given me hope when it comes to the safety position.
4. Damaris Johnson Is Going to Have a Big Year
I am really high on Damaris Johnson. I just see him as the perfect guy for Chip Kelly’s offense, just like DeSean Jackson. Johnson had 4 catches for 21 yards, running a couple of bubble screens and making a couple catches over the middle. He is going to be targeted play after play, especially if Michael Vick ends up starting, so he’ll get the receptions and the yards.
He told CSNPhilly’s Reuben Frank, “But the speed, getting the ball out quick, getting the ball in my hands, it’s a good offense for me.” I have to agree with him.
Johnson has also been a fantastic punt returner, and Thursday was no different. His only punt return went for 18 yards after he broke a 61-yarder last week.
5. Dave Fipp Has Transformed Special Teams
The Eagles Special Teams were a complete disaster last season. Bobby April, the self-proclaimed Special Teams “guru,” did not really do much to help the unit; in fact, the Eagles’ Special Teams slowly degraded year after year under his guidance, and Chip Kelly wanted a clean slate as the team’s head coach.
Hiring Dave Fipp, an assistant with the Dolphins’ Special Teams staff, was his first huge success. Fipp has worked wonders with this unit, turning the coverage unit into one of the best in the league and increasing net yardage on punts, through better punting (Brad Wing and Donnie Jones have been better than Mat McBriar and Chas Henry) and more effective coverage. In addition, he’s picked the right guys to return punts and kicks (Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin) and made them more aggressive. This has resulted in 50% increases in yards per return in both areas.
6. Cary Williams Not Walking the Walk
Cary Williams recently chided the Eagles defense, saying that they did not strike fear into opposing offenses’ hearts. He referenced his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, saying that had an edge that he doesn’t see with this team.
Looks like Williams has nothing to back up that talk. While the rest of the defense soared against Cam Newton and the Panthers, Williams was eaten up alive. Steve Smith had 3 catches for 34 yards against him, and Brandon LaFell’s only target against Williams was a 16-yard completion. If he keeps this up, I don’t think his status as a Super Bowl champion will save him a starting spot on this team.
7. Brandon Boykin is a Bonafide Outside Corner
Brandon Boykin, on the other hand, was stellar. He dropped two INTs, I understand, but he was never in the wrong position and had two pass breakups, one of them in the end zone. He was targeted seven times by Carolina’s QBs, and he only allowed one reception, and even that was in the zone.
After playing much of last season in the nickel and impressing, people doubted whether he could transition to the outside. His strong camp and his strong performance against Carolina are starting to change peoples’ minds about how effective he can be this season. Watch out, Cary Williams, Boykin’s-a-comin’.
8. Look What Happens When QBs Have Time to Throw?
A lot people were doubtful about Michael Vick and Nick Foles coming into this season. They cited last year’s dismal season, where both QBs were average at best, as the ceiling for this offense. One major issue with that: Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, and Jason Kelce all missed more than half of the season. The offensive line was terrible, and they still managed to remain “average at best.”
Now, with a star-studded offensive line that actually gives them 4-5 seconds to throw, Vick and Foles are flourishing. Take away Vick’s fluke interception at the end of the first half, and the two combined to go 15-for-17 for 158 yards. Lane Johnson and Todd Herremans have transformed the offense, especially for Vick, protecting his blind side and giving him time to make reads and make the right decision. With a solid, healthy offensive line, this offense has the chance to be legendary.
9. Turnovers Still An Issue
The one black eye for this offense was the turnovers: Two interceptions, two fumbles (one lost). The Eagles could have scored 21 or 28 points in the first half, but due to bad decision-making by Nick Foles and poor ball control by Chris Polk, the Panthers’ defense was let off the hook.
The Eagles moved the ball last year, that wasn’t the issue. The problem was turnovers (15 INTs, 22 fumbles), and it directly led to three or four losses. The Eagles need to clean up the turnovers if they want to win the NFC East this season.
10. It’s Good with Foles, Dynamic with Vick
This is the position everyone cares about. When asked after the game about if he’s ready to name a starting QB, Chip Kelly responded, “You can put your pens down if you think I’m going to name a starting QB in this room right now.” But you have to think he’s starting to realize who the No. 1 guy will be.
Now, Nick Foles has been nothing but solid. Take away that interception, and he’s 11-for-13 with 96 yards this preseason. But he hasn’t been “dynamic,” a word that I closely associate with Chip Kelly offenses. He’s made the right reads and the right throws, but they have mostly been short dump-offs. The longest plays with Foles at the helm have all been run plays, including the 21-yard burst from McCoy.
Vick, on the other hand, has taken the offense to a whole new level. Take away his late-half pick, and he’s 13-for-14 with 199 yards and a TD. He just makes plays with his feet and his arm; the darts he threw today to Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson made me think of 2010 Michael Vick, when he finished 2nd in MVP voting. I see him winning the job because he gives the offense a much better chance to score 30 points a game with consistency.