Last chance for Eagles' starting offense to shine in preseason

Receiver Jordan Matthews will be on the field with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin for the first time Thursday night.
Receiver Jordan Matthews will be on the field with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin for the first time Thursday night. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 22, 2014

If the strength of the Eagles is supposed to be their offense again this season, that unit did not flex its muscles much in the first two preseason games.

The first-team offense was on the field for seven drives. Only one ended with a touchdown. Three ended with turnovers, two ended with punts, and one ended with a missed field goal. The Eagles averaged only 4.6 yards per play. That's nearly 2 yards fewer than the team's 2013 season average.

Three quarters in two preseason games cannot foretell what will come this season. But Thursday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field might be the final chance the first-team offense has for an improved effort before the season opener Sept. 7 against Jacksonville. The starters typically play the longest in the third exhibition game before sitting out the preseason finale.

"I hope so," LeSean McCoy said with a smile about this being the last preseason game for the starters.

Coach Chip Kelly would not say how long the starters would play, and he would not commit to keeping the starters sidelined in the fourth game.

Nick Foles and McCoy want the same thing out of Thursday's game: a quick start. There were turnovers on the opening drives in the first two preseason games, and the only touchdown came when Kelly kept the starters on the field for a fourth drive last week.

"I feel like it's taken a little bit to warm up and then go," McCoy said. "Go out there, line up, be fast, and put some points up."

Foles spoke about the importance of "clean football," which would require reducing turnovers and penalties. The first-team offense looked better in both areas Friday against New England, although three penalties and two turnovers in the opener did not set a difficult standard.

When Kelly was asked what he wanted to see from the starters before they prepare for the regular season, he opted for humor.

"A hundred points and a shutout," he said.

"It would be great to get into the two-minute situation," Kelly added. "You'd like to see how they respond to adversity, but you really don't want them to respond to adversity because that means we've made mistakes. But you'd like to see what happens if we throw an interception: How do we go back out on the field? There are a lot of things that can come up that are positive things as you're building toward the season."

Kelly also said there are players who need repetitions because they missed the first two preseason games. On offense, that describes receiver Riley Cooper.

Cooper received a lucrative contract extension after a career season, but his summer has been marred by an ankle injury. The Eagles started Ifeanyi Momah in Cooper's place. Cooper has been a full participant all week in practice.

This will be the first game in which Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, and Jordan Matthews are all on the field together. They are expected to be the team's top three receivers this season. Until this week, they had not even practiced as a group.

"I know their personalities and how they like the ball," Foles said. "So if they go out there and play together, I'll feel comfortable."

This dress rehearsal will be helpful as the Eagles try to get closer to the offense they want come September.

"Playing fast-tempo, Chip Kelly offensive football," McCoy said.


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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