PHILADELPHIA -- Round 2 of Chip Kelly’s quarterback derby, a 14-9 Eagles victory over the visiting Carolina Panthers Thursday night, is in the books. Here are some observations from Kelly’s first NFL win:
Michael Vick and Nick Foles each played a quarter, with Foles getting the start this week. Each led the Eagles to one touchdown and had one promising drive end with a turnover in Carolina territory. Vick completed 9 of 10 passes for 105 yards while Foles was 6-for-8 for 53. Foles again seemed more comfortable in the uptempo offense, working shorter routes, while Vick took deeper shots. Each ran the ball twice, Foles for a 7-yard TD scramble.
Vick did run a no-huddle offense after taking over at his own 26 with 2:53 left in the first half. Vick completed all four attempts, including a perfect 22-yard throw to Riley Cooper. He ran the ball twice, once a 14-yard scramble and once a designed 6-yard run.
All interceptions are not created equal. Vick threw one on the last play of the first half, but it came on a desperate heave after he sprinted left a step ahead of the Panthers’ pressure. Foles’ pick was a result of a physical mistake -- fumbling a shotgun snap -- and a mental one -- failing to throw the ball high enough through the end zone. Turnovers were a huge problem for both QBs last year and will weigh heavily in Kelly’s evaluations.
Kelly has said he doesn’t have to choose a starting QB until he’s preparing for the Sept. 9 season opener at Washington. Traditionally, the starting QB plays half of the third preseason game and only a series in the final tune-up, so there could be some clues when the Eagles play in Jacksonville Saturday night. Then again, the word “traditionally” is anathema to Kelly.
Running back LeSean McCoy, who missed the preseason opener with a sore knee, was dazzling on a 21-yard run in the first quarter. McCoy sprinted around left end, then made a physics-busting cut to his right that left several defenders clutching air. McCoy had 8 carries for 47 yards and caught three passes for 16 yards. He has said he expects to be a major weapon in Kelly’s offense and there was no reason to doubt him here.
Chris Polk, competing with Bryce Brown for the backup tailback spot, hurt himself with a fumble that killed a second-quarter drive. Polk finished with 24 yards on five carries. Fumbles were a problem last season for Brown, who missed this game with a bruised quad. Meanwhile, former Cowboys running back Felix Jones left the game with a rib injury and looks like an even longer shot to make the team.
It is no surprise the Eagles defense looked better than it did in Friday’s loss to New England. It couldn’t have looked much worse. There were several breakdowns in coverage, with receivers running free, but the run defense was tighter and the front seven was able to generate some pressure on Cam Newton. Bottom line: The Eagles held Newton to two first-half field goals.
Mychal Kendricks showed a lot of promise early last season, before being engulfed in the general malaise that defined the 4-12 Eagles. So it was going to be interesting to see how the second-year linebacker was used in Bill Davis’ hybrid system. Now an inside ‘backer, Kendricks disrupted several plays. He flushed Newton once, forcing an incompletion, dropped DeAngelo Williams for a 1-yard loss and got to Newton just as he threw after one disguised blitz. In a defense desperate for playmakers, that was very encouraging.
So was the play of defensive end Vinny Curry, who continues to find his way into the opponent’s backfield. Cedric Thornton, who started at left defensive end, blew up a Carolina running play, dropping Williams for a 5-yard loss. Davis is looking for players who fit his modified 3-4 front, and plays like that help.
The Eagles would be thrilled not to have to expose DeSean Jackson to the risks that come with returning punts. That gives Damaris Johnson an enormous opportunity to seize a roster spot. Johnson, who at 5-8, 175 pounds is even smaller than Jackson, helped himself with an 18-yard punt return and a 30-yard kickoff return. On the latter, Johnson used good judgment in bringing the ball out of the end zone. He also had a bad drop of a Matt Barkley pass in the third quarter.
With the intrigue at QB and the overhaul of the defense, scant attention has been paid to Dave Fipp’s special teams. The return and coverage units have been solid, for the most part. Brandon Boykin, who dropped an easy interception in the first half, had a 41-yard kickoff return. On the down side, Alex Henery was wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
The Eagles lost a fourth player to an ACL tear during this training camp. Phillip Hunt, a backup outside linebacker/defensive end, went down during practice this week. The Eagles announced the injury before Friday’s game. Hunt joins Jeremy Maclin, Arrelious Benn and Jason Phillips. The spate of season-ending injuries comes despite Kelly’s effort to avoid injuries by minimizing contact in practice.