Watching the Eagles in a preseason game this summer has already become a surreal experience. So far, August is the month when logic took a vacation.
For example, the NFL is in the process of repairing a game that is not broken, a sport at the very height of its popularity. Commissioner Roger Goodell has empowered officials to decorate every field with yellow projectiles – dozens and dozens of penalty flags promoting offense at the expense of everything else.
In the first week of the preseason, refs threw 338 flags, up from 218 a year ago. That’s an increase of 32 percent. Last Friday, the Eagles had 15 penalties called against them. Are we having fun yet?
And then there is the most innovative coach in recent NFL history, Chip Kelly, who somehow has been blindsided by this new mandate. Isn’t Kelly, by his very nature, usually ahead of the curve on trends like this?
“If you can’t play within the rules, you can’t play in this league,” he said last weekend. Point taken, but then why hasn’t that message gotten through to his players? No NFL team has drawn more flags so far than the Eagles.
The truth is, these first two preseason games have been worrisome to fans for more than just the onslaught of infractions. The games right now mean nothing, fortunately, but it’s still hard to process all of the surprising and confusing elements of these initial weeks.
Nick Foles threw as many interceptions in his first three series as he did in the entire 2013 season. LeSean McCoy, who has been predicting a 2,000-yard season, has 19 in the first two exhibition games. The strength of the offense, the line, has been atrocious so far. The so-called new, improved defense just gave up 42 points in New England.
And then there is the wide-receiver muddle following DeSean Jackson’s shocking release last winter. Jeremy Maclin has recovered from knee surgery, but can’t stay on the field because of a wide array of other afflictions. Riley Cooper hasn’t appeared in a game yet, thanks to a mysterious foot injury.
On the other hand, Jordan Matthews has played more than expected, looking like a bust in the preseason opener and a Pro Bowler in New England. Which is the real Jordan Matthews, the three-drop novice of the first game, or the nine-catch marvel in the second?
The NFL preseason has always been a precarious exercise for fans, who are starved for their favorite sport and eager to draw early conclusions about their teams. Here, the first two games of the preseason attracted even more interest than usual because expectations are so high.
The only truly comforting moment for Eagles fans came last Friday night in the second quarter, when tight end Zach Ertz snatched a pass from Foles and clawed his way beyond the goal line. The defender on the play – the player burned for the touchdown – was former Eagle bust Patrick Chung.
Well, at least we have that reassuring thought to hold us until the season opener in 19 days. Patrick Chung still stinks.