Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Utley Truth

Image courtesy of AP
              Sometimes you just have to let go…

While the Philadelphia Phillies front office has been heavily criticized for the bulk of the past six years for countless moves seen as questionable at best by both media and fans alike, the decision they made to resign second baseman Chase Utley was one that would not be argued.

Many of these same fans were furious at the idea of seemingly keeping together the 2008 World Series team far longer than they proved to be useful as a unit, but when it came to Utley, most of these fans denied logic. His Brian Dawkins-like reverence in Philadelphia superseded anything else. He may be injury-prone, he may go on slumps, his best years may be behind him, but he’s one of “us” in the minds of Phillies fans. For that reason, it’s been so hard to admit the inevitable until now: Chase is done.

It was easy to fall under the spell at the beginning of last season during a torrid hot streak by Utley, but after it passed, he wasn’t the same. Injuries have also plagued Utley for too long and it’s been the same story nearly every season. He’s only played one full season since 2010. There are a lot of players who fans will tolerate more than others. Because of his attitude and his passion for both the game and for Philadelphia, Phillies fans could not do wrong by him and turn on him. It just wouldn’t be right. He wanted to be in Philadelphia and still wants to be there.

Some may believe that the Phillies owe it to Utley to have him finish out his career on his own terms, but the team is at a major crossroads. They know playoffs are out of the question. Even thought they can’t say it, they know Chase won’t be around for another World Series run.

Through just a little over one month in the 2015 season, Utley’s numbers are an enigma. He is batting .103. with 3 homeruns and 14 RBIs. In 87 at-bats, he has just nine hits.


He may turn it around… who knows, but there is no need at this point to keep him on the field. This is a perfect time to give the younger players a shot with no repercussions. It's a no-lose situation and this is the time for the Phillies to see what they exactly what they have with these up and coming players that may have been held back by players past their prime. Even though it doesn’t hurt the Phillies in the short term to keep Utley at second, it can hurt them in the long run if they don’t find out what they have behind him.

Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez has played better than Utley in his time on the field. That may not be a big achievement at this point, but it’s worth noting since he’s Utley’s replacement once he goes. The bottom line, however, is that, whether good or bad, the most important aspect when it comes to prospects is knowing what you have.

The Phillies failed to acknowledge their mishaps until it was too late and a complete rebuild became necessary. They failed their fans and their players when they so meticulously butchered a potential dynasty within just a three-year period. They have to start over and the longer they hold on to the aging players from a once great team, they will hinder themselves. Ryan Howard is one thing… they can’t, nor couldn’t, get rid of him. Utley? That could’ve been done many times. Would there have been backlash? Sure. There was also backlash when Howard signed a $125 million contract… also when the Phillies traded Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners.

The line they wouldn’t cross is the line they needed to cross. Now they need to cross it. It’ll be four years too late. It’ll be just as badly thought out as most every other front office move during Amaro’s tenure as General Manager. But it’ll be done. Trading may not be an option because Utley has a full no-trade clause, not that it would be easy to find a suitor after his performance thus far this season. Most importantly, starting full-time is out of the question for Utley. It’s bad for the organization and is doing nothing at this point but tarnishing his legacy.

Utley is hard-nosed, hard working, never gives less than full effort and he is as humble as they come. On the other hand, he’s overpaid and unintentionally handicapping his team by holding second base hostage. No one doubts that Utley is everything that is right with Philadelphia. The only problem is that his situation is everything that is wrong with the Phillies.

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.