Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Week 1 Afterthoughts 9/9/2013

RB LeSean McCoy runs in for his first touchdown of the 2013 season.
Image courtesy of AP

Talking about it was one thing. The anticipation was another. But the execution? A whole different animal.

Football fans across the country, and more so in the City of Brotherly Love, had watched Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense and wondered exactly how it would translate in the NFL. The result last night in our nation’s capital was a high-powered, high-paced, run-heavy offense that the city of Philadelphia never saw under former coach Andy Reid. The Eagles offense kept their foot on the gas during the first half while the Redskins defense tired.

It was expected that the Eagles rushing attack would get a good amount of opportunities in Kelly’s offense and the backs got more than their fair share. LeSean McCoy ran 31 times for 184 yards and a touchdown, breaking his record for carries in a game and coming one yard shy of his career high in yards. Michael Vick ran it nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown and Bryce Brown got nine carries as well, rushing for 28 yards. The Eagles only threw the ball 25 times. This is something that could very much be conceived as impossible by a fan who’s watched only the Eagles offense the past 14 seasons.

Receiver DeSean Jackson had both his first 100-yard receiving game and his first receiving touchdown since week 9 of last season in a loss at New Orleans. Jackson is a big piece to the Eagles puzzle this season and his performance will be vital to determining the long-term success of this team. This offense is made for athletic types and the Eagles have three big ones in Vick, McCoy & Jackson. The scheme is good, but if you don’t have the players you need to execute it, it won’t work. This is why Kelly was a perfect fit for Philadelphia.

The 53 plays that Philadelphia got off during the first 30 minutes were the most by an NFL team in 15 years. The fact that this team could get off more plays than the Redskins gained yards in that period is unthinkable, but that’s exactly what happened. Albeit, the defense was a surprisingly big help in the first half, forcing an interception, fumble and safety, the Eagles took advantage of every opportunity given to them after the Redskins recovered a fumble for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game.

Now this was extremely exciting to watch, but the Eagles did let up in the second half. If they weren’t up by 19 I may have been worried that the Redskins caught on quickly, but the fact is they were up a lot and they didn’t want to do anything foolish so they played more conservatively, especially after McCoy’s touchdown in the beginning of the third quarter. This game should have been over before the fourth quarter began, but it wasn’t over until a failed Redskins onside kick with 1:14 remaining. This was reminiscent of past Eagles teams that couldn’t close, but at the end of the day, they won. 

This is only week one and Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin III was far from 100 percent, but it was huge for the Eagles to get this opening win on the road against a division rival. Chip Kelly getting his first win in Week 1 is also a big plus because he has free reign to do what he needs to do with the team without critics starting an unnecessary storyline pointing to the win-loss record and questioning his philosophy. 

The Eagles did also start last season 3-0, but those three wins were all questionable. This one was emphatic. The team looked good for much of the game and unlike last season’s opener, they gave us something to show us they’re ready to go, rather than steal a win from a sub-par Cleveland Browns team. This team has the potential to be good and surprise a lot of people. There’s still a long way to go but this is a good start and San Diego’s going to have a lot of preparing to do to get ready for Sunday.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ravens outlast Broncos in classic Divisional Playoff matchup

Image courtesy of AP

Trindon Holliday’s 90-yard punt return seemed to set the tone early for the Broncos/Ravens divisional playoff.

But Baltimore answered.

His 104-yard kick return to open the second half seemed to just reaffirm the fact.

But Baltimore answered.

Being stopped on a 4th and 5 with less than three minutes to go and being forced to use a timeout due to Quarterback Joe Flacco’s lack of awareness seemed to award the Broncos a 35-28 victory.
But after a defensive stop, Flacco got the ball back with 1:09 remaining and, with just 35 seconds left, threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones.

In the face of adversity disguised as the Denver Broncos and their raucous fans, once again, Baltimore answered.

And after a full overtime period that was a microcosm of the game itself—back-and-forth—rookie Kicker Justin Tucker kicked the Ravens into the AFC Championship game with a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the extra period.

Tucker, who hit a 67-yarder during the pregame warmups, gave much credit to Long Snapper Morgan Cox & Holder Sam Koch.

“A big thing for us is sticking to our routine,” he remarked. “With Morgan’s snaps & Sam’s holds, it’s pretty hard to miss.”

Quarterback Peyton Manning’s Broncos hadn’t lost a game since October 8th, but even though they led for most of today’s game, they couldn’t outlast the Ravens, whose big plays kept them in the fight. Manning also threw two costly interceptions to cornerback Corey Graham; one in the first quarter that was returned for a touchdown and one with time winding down in the first overtime that led to Tucker’s game-winning field goal.

Flacco threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns, two to Wide Receiver Torrey Smith, while Running Back Ray Rice complemented him with 131 yards on 30 rushes. On the other side, Manning threw for 290s and 3 TDs, and rookie running back Ronnie Hillman had 22 carries for 83 yards.

Linebacker Ray Lewis is on his last ride in the NFL, and he made as big of an impact as he could today, leading all players with 17 tackles. He did what leaders do and made sure his team wasn’t brainwashed by outsiders, who thought a Denver win was inevitable.

“I challenged my team to not listen to anything outside of our building,” Lewis said. “[I wanted them] to buy into who we are as a team.”

The Ravens, down 7, gave Denver the ball back with 3:12 remaining in regulation. They had two timeouts. After a quick Broncos first down, they were able to force a 4th & 7 after the two minute warning. And in just 34 seconds, Flacco was able to connect with Jones on a four verticals play call. Broncos safety Rahim Moore, who sagged off of Jones on the play, blames himself for the loss, but teammates weren’t so quick to play the blame game.

“It’s not [Moore]’s fault at all,” said Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley. “It’s a team game and there’s plenty of blame to go around all of us. We all just didn’t play well enough.”

The story early in the game was Torrey Smith versus Champ Bailey; Smith had a step on the future Hall-of-Famer every step of the way. He could’ve had up to four touchdowns had Flacco’s throws all been on the money.

Flacco’s bomb, Smith’s dominance of Bailey and Peyton’s two costly picks were integral to the Ravens victory, but this victory was an ode to the leadership of Ray Lewis. The never-say-die attitude he’s had wore off on his team tonight. He’ll retire when the season comes to an end, and he’ll retire thriving off the doubters his team’s had his since he became a Raven in 1996.

“If I will probably miss anything about my career, it would be to listen to people say what you can’t do, and then go do it.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks 11/4/12 Afterthoughts

Image courtesy of AP

The 76ers biggest move of the offseason is not helping two games into the season and it won’t be for at least a third either.

Star Center Andrew Bynum has not played a game yet for Philadelphia and Shooting Guard Jason Richardson left today’s game in the first quarter with a left-ankle sprain. X-Rays were negative, but he’ll be out for tomorrow’s game against New York.

All things considered, Philadelphia still put on a pretty horrid performance in all aspects of the game, losing to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 100-84 in the first game of a home-and-home.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting and New York made 11 3-pointers a game after hitting 16. They kept Philadelphia at arm’s length the entire game before pulling away in the 4th quarter.

Jrue Holiday seemed to be the Sixers lone source of offense, also scoring 27 points, but he turned the ball over six times; the four Sixers who scored in double digits turned the ball over a combined 15 times for Philly. Evan Turner may have finished with a double-double, 11 points and 11 rebounds, but his play today was not worthy of that accomplishment. He shot 2-of-9 from the floor. Nick Young shot 2-of-10, posting a +/- of -29. Who was the next worse? Undrafted rookie Maalik Wayns, who was 0-of-5 from the field with a -13.

It was a sloppy game on all accounts and it was clear this team was missing Richardson. Spencer Hawes, who had the team’s best performance in the opener against Denver, only played 15 minutes as he got into foul trouble early. The team was not outmatched, but they were clearly outplayed today.  

It’s only the second game of the season and this Sixers team is still good without Bynum and Richardson, they just need to make better decisions passing and shooting the ball. They took too many ill-advised shots today, shooting contested jumpers early in the shot clock, and they got too aggressive passing the ball leading to careless turnovers. Their defense was nothing to write home about either, giving up too many open looks from the perimeter against a team that proved on Friday that their perimeter game is a strength.

Tomorrow is a new day and the Sixers head home to face New York again. It’s tough for any team to win both games of a home-and-home, and the Sixers hope to keep that trend going. They need a serviceable stopgap while Richardson is out the next week or so, and so far Nick Young hasn’t shown he can be that guy. He’s looked horrible these first two games, shooting the ball whenever he can get his hands on it, and Maalik Wayns is still unproven, although he did not look good today either. Holiday needs to cut down on the turnovers and the team as a whole needs to play smarter.

I’m not going to judge their entire season on this afternoon’s performance, but even without Bynum and Richardson, this isn’t the type of performance fans should expect. They’re better than this, but they have to prove it. If they come back with a vengeance tomorrow, it’ll be a positive sign. If not? Well, there’s still a lot of basketball to play.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Eagles at a crossroads after unnecessary QB "controversy"

Image courtesy of AP

Don’t be fooled, Eagles fans.

Andy Reid and Michael Vick made the possibility of a quarterback change seem very possible after being dominated by the 7-0 Atlanta Falcons last Sunday. Nick Foles may be an unproven rookie with nothing but an impressive preseason on his NFL résumé, but after the way Vick’s played the first half of the season, it’s tough to do much worse.

Whether you felt excitement or disappointment in the announcement, it was tough to feel anything but led on yesterday when Coach Reid announced that Vick “was, is and will continue to be [the Eagles] quarterback.”

Granted, this team is still in position to make a playoff run, but the Eagles haven’t won in over a month. They’ve lost three straight games and looked anything but dominant in any of their three wins. Vick leads the league in turnovers with eight interceptions and nine fumbles.

Reid tried to shake things up, firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replacing him with Todd Bowles, but that decision seemingly cost them the game against Atlanta, as the Falcons scored on six of their first seven possessions. He made Castillo the scapegoat when he was anything but the problem. Reid’s been head coach of the Eagles since 1999, and before last week, he was 13-0 coming off bye weeks.

This loss seemed to be a tipping point, but it’s more of the same from the Eagles we’ve come to know the past three years. Sure, people may call it foolish to replace Vick with a rookie during a primetime game against Drew Brees and the Saints, but why bring up the topic? Why now? Do fans want Foles to come in? Probably not. But the point is, this isn’t a topic you bring up right now unless you insist on making a change.

Even though he’s the longest tenured coach in the NFL, this is Andy Reid’ most crucial year; he’s been on the hot seat for years in the eyes of fans, but now he’s actually at risk of losing his job. His play-calling’s been mediocre at best, he’s stayed with his pass-first mentality even though he has a top-3 running back in the league in LeSean McCoy and he put the blame of the Eagles struggles on the one aspect of the game the team was having some success in: the defense.

Now, Vick says that he’s been holding back and he “needs to get [his] swag back.” It’s hard to be optimistic right now because of the way the team’s performed recently, but this means one of two things. It’s either a turning point of a season that is at a crossroads in Week 9, or even more of a reason to make a change, whether it be at Quarterback, Head Coach, or both.

Eagles fans came into this season excited for a potential Super Bowl run with a team filled with talent that didn’t have enough time to gel the season before, but as the months go by, it’s quickly becoming the same old disappointment. Justin Babin took to Twitter yesterday to voice his displeasure with Eagles fans who have given up. Most of us haven’t given up, but it’s hard to watch this team week in and week out stay stagnant.

If Vick really does show off his old self this week, it’ll be a saving grace for Andy, but there shouldn’t have been a controversy this week. Not when Foles is the potential replacement. Not when they’re about to face New Orleans in the Superdome on Primetime Television. Not when Vick’s coming off his best statistical game in the last month.

If they were going to replace Vick, it should’ve been earlier in the season to light a fire under him. But now it seems the fire’s been lit. In week 9. After starting 3-4. You’d think getting blown out by the Cardinals would do it, or being a liability to the offense the first six weeks.

But to be fair, the blame isn’t all on him. Most of it’s on the man in charge. Not for keeping Vick in, but for being stubborn about the way he runs the offense and making countless decisions this season that have cost them opportunities to win games. I started watching football the year Andy Reid became head coach. I defended a lot of his decisions throughout the years, but I can’t anymore.

I hope that this will be the start of a five or six game win streak, but with the way the team’s played combined with the off-field storylines building, it’s hard to be optimistic.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Afterthoughts 10/31/12

Image courtesy of AP

Andre Iguodala returned to Philadelphia and it quickly became obvious he wanted to show up his old team.

Painfully obvious.

After being introduced to a chorus of mostly boos from the crowd, Iguodala hit the opening basket of the game. But he didn’t do much after that, ending the game with 11 points and 4 turnovers as the 76ers outlasted the Nuggets 84-75 in their season opener.

The story of the game was Iggy, and seeing him brick three after three for the other team was a nice change of pace for Sixers fans, but by the end, the story became Spencer Hawes or, as Malik Rose likes to call him, “The Windex Man”. Hawes, the Sixers first man off the bench, finished the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. He hit two three-pointers after hitting three all of last season. Down the stretch, he was unstoppable.

“Spencer was our ace of spades,” said Coach Doug Collins

Jrue Holiday also had a double-double, finishing with 14 points and 11 assists, and newcomer Dorell Wright ended the game with 14 points and 7 boards, praising the team’s defense as it’s saving grace tonight.

“To get games like that on the defensive end [after shooting 35%] is very impressive,” he remarked.

Five Sixers scored in double figures in a game that many thought would be a tough win without Andrew Bynum.

Ty Lawson was Denver’s leading scorer with 16 points and 7 assists and he led a comeback charge in the middle of the fourth, getting the deficit as close as one point, but Philly never let them get the lead. They bent, but never broke.

Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field in a sloppy game, but when the Sixers needed to, they made their shots and didn’t let Denver grab the lead towards the end of the game.

This game will make any Sixer fan exponentially more excited about the prospect of adding Andrew Bynum into the lineup. There were times when the team didn’t look good, but both teams had their struggles throughout the game, and it’s game one of an 82-game season. The chemistry will only get better and having a bench like the Sixers do gives them so many different rotation combinations that it’s tough for opponents to prepare against.

One potential weakness seen tonight is that, at times, the team seemed careless with the basketball when running the floor, leading to bad turnovers. Once they get in tune with each other, that should stop being a problem but it was prevalent tonight.

Fans were and potentially still are afraid of how the Sixers will far without Bynum for multiple games, but tonight the team showed flashes of brilliance. Albeit there were stretches where they struggled, but they did something tonight that they were criticized for not doing all last season: they closed.

Last season, many criticized the team for winning blowouts but losing close games. Philadelphia let Denver sneak back into this one tonight, but they made sure to come away with the victory. They head to New York Sunday for the start of a home-and-home against the Amare-less Knicks. They’ll need to play better than they did tonight to beat them, but as long as they keep these games close until Bynum comes back, they should be fine. If they keep winning without Bynum, the East should watch out.