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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 26: Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles Introduce Chip Kelly Getty Images

Should we be skeptical or optimistic about the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles?

Both feelings seem appropriate. Not buying into the Eagles? We can’t blame you. No team has disappointed more in the last two seasons. The much-hyped 2011 squad finished .500, while last year’s club managed a mere four wins in a playoffs-or-bust year for coach Andy Reid.

With Reid gone, Chip Kelly inherits a roster that’s lately looked better on paper than on the field. But let’s look on the bright side. Can you imagine Kelly’s fast-paced offense with the Eagles’ skill-position players?

And let’s consider the Eagles’ division. The NFC East doesn’t  have one team that stands above the rest. Every one of the clubs seems capable of playing that role in a given week, but in recent years, this division has been contested all the way until the end.

Of course, if the Eagles are to be competitive down the stretch, they must improve on their surprisingly poor recent form.

Strengths.

The Eagles’ depth chart has some top-end skill players at running back (LeSean McCoy) and wide receiver (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin). Their offensive line could be very good if left tackle Jason Peters stays healthy and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson proves a quick study. The Eagles will be strong inside, with guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans an above-average tandem. This could be a dynamite running team; McCoy and Bryce Brown are a nice 1-2 punch, and Kelly oversaw impressive rushing attacks at Oregon.

Even in areas where the Eagles don’t have clarity, they at least have some viable options. Case-in-point: Michael Vick or Nick Foles each have the potential to be serviceable at quarterback — and perhaps more than that. Also, the Eagles should be able to get a solid pass rush from outside linebackers Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, even with Cole and Graham transitioning from defensive end.

Weaknesses.

The Eagles have committed a combined 75 turnovers in the last two seasons. One positive: Eagles quarterbacks threw 10 fewer interceptions in 2012. Prudent passing and better ball security could give the Eagles — who outgained opponents last season despite finishing 4-12 — a bit of a lift.

The Eagles also need to get better in the red zone; they scored touchdowns on just 44 percent of their trips inside the opposition 20 a season ago, fifth-worst in the NFL.

From a personnel standpoint, quarterback is the greatest concern for Philadelphia, which enters training camp without a clear-cut starter. That’s never a particularly comforting feeling. Also, the Eagles’ pass defense could be vulnerable even after investing in the secondary in free agency.

Changes.

The Eagles’ changes aren’t just confined to offense. Their defense is different, too, with a new coordinator (Bill Davis) and a new base scheme (the 3-4). The scheme change necessitated a couple front seven additions in free agency, as the Eagles signed the ex-Texan Barwin and former 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. However, the Eagles are trying to run the 3-4 primarily with the personnel brought in for various versions of the 4-3 the club employed under Reid and his defensive coordinators.

The Eagles are starting over in the secondary. Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone after disappointing two-season stints, replaced by Cary Williams (ex-Baltimore) and Bradley Fletcher (ex-St. Louis). At safety, the Eagles signed Patrick Chung from the Patriots and Kenny Phillips from the Giants to push incumbents Nate Allen and Colt Anderson. Considering how lackluster the Eagles were against the pass in 2012, wiping the slate clean would be perfectly understandable, but with so many new faces comes the prospect of everyone needing time to get on the same page on the back end of the defense.

On offense, there’s great anticipation about what Kelly has planned. At the very least, the Eagles are likely to play at a quicker-than-average pace. They would also figure to employ some read-option concepts, too. That said, the Eagles’ new offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, is grounded in the West Coast scheme. Philadelphia would seem to have the schematic and personnel flexibility needed to show numerous looks on offense.

Camp battles.

Vick and Foles are the primary contenders for the starting quarterback job, with rookie Matt Barkley seeming likely to hold down one of the reserve roles. Vick, 33, has just one year left on his contract, and he took a big paycut earlier in the offseason. Miscues (15 turnovers in 10 starts in 2012) are the major concern with Vick.

Foles, who’s nine years younger than Vick, got some valuable experience late last season. While Foles did show some potential in a six-game starting stint, he too had some issues with turnovers, and he faltered against a very good Cincinnati defense late in the campaign.

Other positions where there could be competition are safety, cornerback, outside linebacker and defensive end. The Eagles need stability to develop at the secondary positions.

Prospects.

Every team could use 1) a good start to the season and 2) some injury luck. Well, the Eagles really could use these things. Half of the Eagles’ road games are in the first six weeks of the season, including three straight games away from Philadelphia, with trips to the Broncos (Sept. 29), Giants (Oct. 6) and Buccaneers (Oct. 13) in Weeks Four through Six.

The Eagles open the season at defending NFC East champion Washington on Sept.9 — the first of three games in 11 days for Philadelphia. Home tilts vs. San Diego (Sept. 15) and Reid-led Kansas City (Sept. 19) are games the Eagles have to believe they can win — and they may very well need to win them with that challenging road stretch thereafter.

The Eagles do not get their bye until Week 12 — hence the need for that run of good collective health — but they do have the benefit of having their week of rest sandwiched between three home games: Washington (Nov. 7), Detroit (Dec. 1), Arizona (Dec. 8).

By then, we’ll have a good idea of how Kelly’s offense looks. If Kelly’s personnel takes to his scheme and opposing defenses are caught a little off-guard, the Eagles could be a sleeper in the NFC East. However, if the Eagles sputter early, they could be left with too much work to do down the stretch.

The other major storyline to watch, of course, is whether a quarterback emerges as a solid starter. If not, the focus turns to how the Eagles address the position in 2014.

For now, though, there’s the matter of whether Kelly can get more out of a team that’s left us wanting more the last two seasons.

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After first-half shouting match, Jay Gruden, John Harbaugh shake hands to end game

John Harbaugh AP

Lost in the ejection of Ravens receiver Steve Smith and Washington cornerback Chris Culliver for fighting was the fact that Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Washington coach Jay Gruden exchanged verbal pleasantries in the first half of Saturday’s game.

The exchange appeared to include Harbaugh angrily directing a four-letter, F-driven profanity at Gruden as the two yelled at each other on the field.

By the time the game ended, there was no reprise of the notorious Jim Harbaugh/Jim Schwartz moment from 2011, and neither coach asked the other, “What’s your deal?

The two coaches simply shook hands and moved on, with no further fireworks or F-bombs. Unfortunately, the two teams won’t play each other again this season unless they meet in the Super Bowl.

Yeah, I was giggling as I typed that, and not because of the quality of the team Harbaugh coaches.

Meanwhile, we’d pay a lot of money to see a tag-team match between Jay and Jon Gruden and John and Jim Harbaugh. Hopefully with everyone keeping his shirt on.

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Seahawks starting offense still without a TD drive in preseason

Russell Wilson AP

The Seattle Seahawks acquired Jimmy Graham this offseason with the hopes that he would open up their offensive attack.

But through three preseason games, the Seahawks starting offense has been unable to find the end zone.

Seattle played their starters into the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers on Saturday night. However, Russell Wilson and the offense managed just two field goals and 137 yards of offense in six possessions against the Chargers.

Wilson has led 12 drives for the Seahawks with just four field goals to show for it. They are averaging just 20.5 yards gained per possession.

The only touchdowns Seattle has scored in the preseason have come on a pick-six by Bobby Wagner, two return touchdowns by Tyler Lockett and a touchdown pass from R.J. Archer to running back Thomas Rawls.

The offensive line has been a major reason for the struggles. They haven’t started the same five linemen in any of their three preseason games and Wilson has lacked time to throw. Also, Marshawn Lynch played just three plays so far this preseason. His presence significantly changes Seattle’s offensive dynamic.

Nevertheless, Wilson has not been sharp. He’s completed 17 of 31 passes for just 146 yards in three games and been more inaccurate than normal.

It’s the preseason. It’s not something to get bent out of shape about at this stage. However, in the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, Seattle’s offense is still searching for production and consistency.

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Philip Rivers bangs throwing hand, says “it’s good”

Philip Rivers, Mike Morgan AP

During the first half of a Week Three preseason game against a blitz-happy Seahawks defense, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers banged his throwing hand.

In the third quarter, Rivers told Tracy Wolfson of CBS that the hand recently used to sign a gigantic contract is fine.

“It’s good,” he said of the right hand, adding that he’d still be playing if it were a regular-season game.

Rivers has a habit of playing through injuries — injuries that sometimes haven’t been disclosed. As former Chargers center Nick Hardwick told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio earlier this year, Rivers probably has had more injuries that we don’t know about than injuries that we do know about.

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MRI coming on Mike Pouncey’s knee

Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The aftermath of Saturday night’s preseason game in Miami includes another injury to one of the Pouncey twins.

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey broke an ankle last week against the Packers; Dolphins center Mike Pouncey emerged from a contest against the Falcons with his left knee in a brace.

Via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Pouncey will have an MRI in the morning. However, he says he’s “not too worried about it.”

Here’s a big reason for him to not be worried: In April, the team extended his contract, giving him plenty of financial security in the event of a potentially serious injury. Absent the extension, he would have been in a contract year.

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Rex Ryan “probably” will pick his Week One starter on Sunday

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The time has come for Bills coach Rex Ryan to pick a starting quarterback. The time to disclose that decision, however, has yet to arrive.

Following Saturday’s preseason game against the Steelers, Ryan said he will “probably” decide on a starting quarterback on Sunday.

‘We’ll make the decision, but we’ll not announce it,” Ryan told reporters.

The decision between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor apparently won’t be easy.

“I talked about the problem I wanted, I think I got it,” Ryan said. “But to me it’s not a problem it’s a — you know, all three guys had a tremendous preseason and that’s all you can ask. I think we’ll address it at the appropriate time, but obviously I feel really good about all the quarterbacks.”

The decision won’t be simply Ryan’s; it will be an organizational assessment.

“The team, the team, and the team,” Ryan said. “Those three things and that’s what it’s gonna be based on. Have I had discussions with [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman? Absolutely. Have I had discussions with [G.M.] Doug Whaley, with [owner] Terry Pegula, with whoever? Absolutely. Has there been a collaborative deal? We are meeting tomorrow to discuss our roster, we’ve got to make cuts getting down to the 75 and there’s gonna be some tough cuts to make there, let alone getting to the 53. So that’s when we’ll have the, but the decision will be made and then we’ll move forward.

The only thing we know for now is that Matt Simms won’t be the Week One starter. But Simms will be starting in Week Four of the preseason. Ryan said he hopes to have Simms play the entire game.

After that, Ryan will hope to keep his decision for the next game, against the Colts, quiet for as long as possible.

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Micah Hyde carted off at Lambeau Field

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The decision to keep Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of Saturday night’s preseason game is looking better and better.

Green Bay cornerback Micah Hyde has been carted off at Lambeau Field during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Eagles.

The nature of the injury isn’t clear. Hyde was sitting upright as TV cameras spotted him being taken to the locker room.

Earlier in the game, receiver Randall Cobb exited with a shoulder injury.

A fifth-round pick in 2013, Hyde has appeared in all 32 career regular-season games. He started 12 games in 2014.

UPDATE 9:35 p.m. ET: The Packers say that Hyde has suffered a neck injury.

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Tyler Lockett gives Seattle special teams a boost

Tyler Lockett, Steven Nelson AP

Last year at this time, the Seahawks didn’t have a punt-return specialist. So they let starting safety Earl Thomas give it a try to start the season.

It didn’t go to well.

This year, the Seahawks have invested a third-round pick in receiver Tyler Lockett, who instantly has become the return man for punts and kickoffs. And it’s going very well.

Moments ago, Lockett returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers, showing agility and acceleration as he changed directions and eventually found a lane to the outside that allowed him to rocket to the end zone.

Fifteen days ago, Lockett returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown against the Broncos, on a play that included coach Pete Carroll being wiped out by an official as both ran along the sideline.

“He looks like we hoped he would look,” Carroll said after the August 14 game. “We drafted him with the thought that he might give us a real spark in an area that we wanted to find a way to improve and be more dynamic.”

For a team with plenty of strengths, Lockett could be giving them another one, for both kickoffs and punts.

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Browns rookie Duke Johnson debuts, leaves with concussion

Duke Johnson AP

After missing nearly three weeks of camp due to a sore hamstring, Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson was in the starting lineup for his preseason debut Saturday night at Tampa Bay.

After one carry for four yards and one catch for one yard, Johnson’s preseason is over. Johnson took a big hit from Bucs cornerback Mike Jenkins while trying to catch a second-quarter pass from Josh McCown. He jogged off the field and met with team medical staff on the sideline before being taken to the locker room.

Early in the second half, the Browns confirmed that both Johnson and second-year cornerback Pierre Desir had suffered concussions.

Johnson got the start in his first preseason action, but Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West also played on the first series. Neither West nor Crowell has had an especially strong camp, leaving the starting job up for grabs as the Browns shift into regular-season mode. Both West and Crowell carried seven times Saturday night; West got 26 yards and Crowell had 25.

Desir has had a solid preseason and probably played his way into the rotation at cornerback, but the Browns have secondary depth issues due to injury. Struggling 2014 first-round pick Justin Gilbert hasn’t practiced in two weeks due a hip flexor, and nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams also missed Saturday’s game.

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Another solid showing by Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Teddy Bridgewater’s preseason work is probably done, and it will soon be forgotten. But Bridgewater made the most of limited opportunities — and looked good doing it.

The second-year Vikings quarterback completed all seven passes he attempted Saturday night vs. the Cowboys for 76 total yards. He completed 83 percent in short work — 29 completions in 35 attempts — over four preseason games.

Bridgewater threw just one touchdown but had no interceptions in the preseason and looked very much in command of an offense that’s set to welcome Adrian Peterson back for the Sept. 13 opener.

If Bridgewater keeps ascending and Peterson returns to form, the Vikings could be a dangerous offense once the real season gets rolling.

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Randall Cobb exits with shoulder injury

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots Getty Images

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can’t get hurt in Saturday night’s game against the Eagles because he’s not playing. The same can’t be said for receiver Randall Cobb.

Six days after receiver Jordy Nelson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in a preseason game against the Steelers, Cobb has suffered an apparent shoulder injury at Lambeau Field.

He has gone to the locker room for evaluation. Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

Meanwhile, the Eagles continue to clobber 2014 playoff teams in the 2015 preseason. Philly leads Green Bay 18-0.

UPDATE 8:40 p.m. ET: Via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, the Packers have announced that Cobb indeed has a shoulder injury.

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Steve Smith, Chris Culliver ejected for fighting

Steve Smith AP

Things got heated tonight in Baltimore, with multiple personal fouls, lots of pushing and shoving, yelling and screaming and two ejections.

The two ejected players were Baltimore receiver Steve Smith and Washington cornerback Chris Culliver. They went at it in an incident that started when Washington’s Keenan Robinson tackled Baltimore’s Kamar Aiken by driving him into the ground, face-first. Several Baltimore players and coaches took issue with what they saw as a cheap shot from Robinson.

Smith, one of the NFL’s most fiery competitors, found himself in the middle of the ensuing melee, and he and Culliver both got kicked out of the game. Other players were flagged for offsetting personal fouls, and there will likely be multiple fines coming next week.

Both head coaches, Jay Gruden and John Harbaugh, were angrily yelling during and after the skirmish, and they appeared to be yelling across the field at each other. It may only be the preseason, but there’s some intensity in Baltimore.

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Dalton leaves game with neck injury

Andy Dalton AP

For some reason, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called three running plays for Andy Dalton on the opening drive of Saturday night’s preseason game vs. the Bears.

After the third, a quarterback sneak, Dalton left the game with what the team called a neck injury. He was examined on the sideline by trainers and then remained on the sideline but didn’t return to the game. At halftime, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Dalton is fine and taking him out of the game was a precautionary measure.

A.J. McCarron took over at quarterback with most of the rest of the first-team offense.

Dalton completed all six of his passes for 52 yards and totaled 16 yards on the three runs.

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Jets’ Leonard Williams limps to the locker room

Leonard Williams

Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams exited early during tonight’s preseason game with the Giants.

Williams limped to the locker room with a member of the team’s training staff. The team said Williams suffered a knee injury and was questionable to return.

The Jets felt like they got a steal when Williams was still available when they picked at No. 6 overall. Williams had an excellent college career at USC and was considered by some observers to be the best player in this year’s draft..

Williams has looked good so far in the preseason and will be extremely important early in the regular season when starting defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson is serving a suspension.

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Aaron Rodgers won’t play tonight

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptbhmmmwytcymdvimzdlyzbindeymzg3yjuyztewm2m3 AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently lobbied for the reduction of the preseason by a couple of games, after the season-ending knee injury suffered by receiver Jordy Nelson in a meaningless exhibition last Sunday against the Steelers. While the preseason hasn’t officially been reduced (and likely won’t be absent an increase in the regular season), Rodgers as a practical matter has made it shrink, for him.

Per multiple reports, Rodgers won’t play in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Eagles. It’s an unusual move, given that the third preseason game routinely is treated like a dress rehearsal of the start of the regular season, with starters playing into the second half.

It’s a smart move, given that Rodgers surely is ready to go for Week One. Indeed, more and more NFL starters are likely prepared for games that could without going onto the field and risking injury in games that don’t. Long gone are the days when the offseason truly was an offseason; players now stay in shape and work on their craft throughout the calendar year.

While some view exposing key players to the risk of serious injury in games that don’t matter as a cost of doing business, business can still be done without assuming that risk. Of course, that may not be good for the NFL’s business of getting people to care about preseason games. However, fans should be care only to the extent that they’re holding their breath until players like Rodgers have escaped these meaningless games without a meaningful strain, sprain, tear, or break.

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Six years, $81.426 million for Julio Jones

Julio Jones AP

Like receivers Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, receiver Julio Jones has signed a five-year deal. Unlike Thomas and Bryant, Jones had one year remaining on his rookie contract.

The new-money average beats Thomas and Bryant; at $71.25 million over five years, Jones eclipses the five-year, $70 million contracts signed last month by $250,000 per year, for an average of $14.25 million. But Jones actually has a six-year deal, worth $81.426 million. That’s a total average of $13.571 million.

Jones could have gotten more in 2016 if he’d played out the fifth year of his first NFL contract, but Jones would have carried the risk of injury through the 2015 season. So he gets less now than he could have gotten later, but he gets more than he would have gotten if he had torn an ACL or had some other serious injury.

The Falcons, who based on Jones’ own words apparently wouldn’t have faced a holdout in 2016 if the franchise tag had been used, were happy to absorb the injury the risk in lieu of paying more later.

Many details regarding the contract aren’t yet known. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the deal has $47 million in guarantees; how much of that is fully guaranteed at signing isn’t known.

Bryant got $32 million fully-guaranteed at signing and as a practical matter he’ll make $45 million over three years. Thomas got $35 million fully-guaranteed at signing.

For Jones, those nuances may not matter; in announcing the deal, owner Arthur Blank called Julio Jones a “Falcon for life,” which means he’ll get all $81.426 million — and maybe more.

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