Odds and Endings: Week 2

Philadelphia Eagles Coach, Chip Kelly

Philadelphia Eagles Coach, Chip Kelly

 

EVERY WEEK, THE BANNER YEARS WILL LOOK BACK AT NEWSWORTHY EVENTS IN THE NFL AND MAKE PICKS AGAINST THE SPREAD FOR THE WEEK AHEAD. ALL ODDS ARE AVERAGED FROM THOSE FOUND ON ESPN.COM.

 

By: Michael Conroy

Remember that little pretentious musing about renewing old addictions that appeared at the beginning of last week’s Odds and Endings entry? Maybe it’s time for an intervention here in Philadelphia, because we definitely just had a bad trip, but there’s no morning-after cocktail like another full slate of early season NFL football. Week three is on the horizon and it’s time for some struggling squads to sober up.

What We Learned…


Tony Romo suffers broken clavicle in 20-10 Dallas victory.

Tony Romo suffers broken clavicle in 20-10 Dallas victory.

The Struggle is Real

Two weeks of the NFL season are in the books, so as one would expect, the playoff stats about 0-2 teams are making the rounds. What no one expected, however is the abundance of championship-hopeful teams that populate the discussion this year.

The Colts, Ravens, Eagles and Saints certainly fared well in many pre-season power rankings. Now they each need back-to-back wins just to climb back to where they started. Statistically, just one or two of these teams will manage a playoff berth. To this point, the Ravens appear to he the most likely to do so, having lost two close games on the road, with Andrew Luck’s Colts a distant second.

Maybe the Pope can tell Philly fans what is going on with the running game because only God knows. The Cowboys are proving themselves to be capable on defense, but the Eagles were humiliated at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. At this point, fans don’t really care why it’s broken anymore. They just want it fixed.

Chip Kelly’s hand-picked team made what can most aptly be described as an attempt at professional football and came up short. They can’t like their chances to right the ship in New York this weekend. More on that in a bit…

Down Goes Romo

The NFC playoff picture changed dramatically, when Tony Romo left “America’s Game of the Week” with a fractured clavicle in the third quarter. Down an elite Quarterback, Wide Receiver and Defensive End, Dallas cruised to a 20-10 win. The Cowboys are good enough to tread water until week 11 unless another NFC East team can get their act together.

Better Days Ahead in Seattle

The Seahawks don’t qualify as a “legitimate” 0-2 panic candidate. Their schedule, thus far, has not been kind. A road game against Aaron Rodgers is an assumed loss for most NFL teams, but the ‘Hawks put up a respectable fight.  Kam Chancellor returns this week to help deliver what’s shaping up to be a pasting of epic proportions. Seattle can rest easy.

None of the aforementioned under-performers have played their way to an Endings declaration, — though the Eagles are pushing it — so let’s move on to a team whose situation is more definitively hopeless.

Endings


J.J. Watt gets pancake blocked against Carolina

J.J. Watt gets pancake blocked against Carolina

Ryan Mallett has completed just 49-percent of his passes this season and the Houston Texans can’t score points. To make matters worse, the defense has taken a step back. While colossal talents like Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt will eventually wrestle success away from the jaws of failure, there’s no reason to believe that alone will make the difference in Houston.

Bill O’Brien needs — like so many flailing NFL coaches — to find his Quarterback. Luckily for him, the Texans’ impotent offense could play their way right into to the selection of a familiar Penn State prospect in the Spring.

Endings to date: Tampa Bay, Houston

Mercifully, week two is over with. It was not kind to Banner Years prognostication, but with more information to work with, expect an improvement over last week’s dismal record of 7-9.

Odds


Jaguars Coach, Gus Bradley

Jaguars Coach, Gus Bradley

Washington (+3.5) @ NY Giants

Washington is quietly ranked #1 in the NFL on Defense. Who knows if that will continue, but two games constitute a valid sample size when there’s only 16 in a season. The Redskins are rushing for a league-leading 171.5 yards per game and allowing just 70.5 to their opponents. Surprisingly, the secondary has been even better. The New York Giants have also fared well against opponents’ running backs, but rank dead last against the pass.

Washington will need to adapt in this game, because they’ve relied on a persistent ground attack to this point. To continue with that strategy against the Giants would be comically illogical. If New York was giving just three points at home, this pick might be more difficult. The Giants beat the Redskins 16-14.

Atlanta (-2) @ Dallas

The Atlanta Falcons still aren’t very talented, but they have a Quarterback and Wide Receiver good enough to put pressure on a barren Cowboys offense. Jerry Jones can spin this however he likes. Dallas just lost the one player they absolutely could not afford to lose. Brandon Weeden won’t bail out the ground game like Tony Romo did. From now until — at least — week 11, Cowboys fans will experience NFL games the way most of us do without a Quarterback: An uphill battle, barefoot, both ways. The Falcons win 24-20.

Jacksonville (+14) @ New England

I have to admit it: I am a Blake Bortles fan. I really am.

For all the talk about tendencies and play-recognition, there’s something to be said about looking the part. Bortles and the Jaguars threw all over the Miami Dolphins in week two. There’s no reason to think they can’t have some success against the Patriots. Let’s be clear though, Tom Brady is a man on a mission right now. The Jaguars will most definitely lose this game, but they won’t do so by more than two touchdowns. Patriots win, 30-20.

Philadelphia @ NY Jets (-2.5)

When the “Dream Team” of 2011 started to fall apart, criticism was rampant, but fans still managed to talk themselves into expecting an Eagles victory by each week’s end. Sometimes in the NFL, when it can’t get any worse, it gets worse anyway. The New York Jets are not the team they are supposed to be. They are competent, efficient and patient on offense and Todd Bowles has the defense playing at an elite level. If the Dallas Cowboys could hold Philadelphia’s head underwater for four quarters, the likes of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Mohammed Wilkerson should have no trouble at all.

Chip Kelly will make adjustments as the season goes on, but a bad O-line and an ineffectual Quarterback are irreparable deficiencies. The Philadelphia Eagles roster is a mess at the moment, with Kendricks Alonso and now Demarco Murray all nursing injuries. Eagles fans should not let wishful thinking obscure that fact. Todd Bowles drops the Eagles to 0-3 by a score of 27-17.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) @ Houston

Just call this game the “Zombie Bowl.” Neither of these teams is destined for greatness in 2015, but it’s a fun coincidence that the first two teams eliminated this year will immediately play each other. Outside of Houston and Tampa, who really cares about the outcome of this game? Still, 6.5 is a lot of points for either team to give right now. Houston does not cover, winning 27-24.

Pittsburgh (-1) @ St. Louis

The Steelers absolutely dismantled a 49ers team that had shown signs of life against Minnesota. Big Ben can be trusted on the road anywhere and Antonio Brown is absolutely un-coverable at this point. The Rams will have a chance in this game, turning a ferocious pass rush on Pittsburgh’s inconsistent O-line. If St. Louis is going to pull off an upset, they’ll have to do so on the arm of Nick Foles.

Either team could plausibly come up with a win here, but Ben Roethlisberger will be the best player on the field and that usually makes the difference. Steelers send the Rams to 1-2 on the season with a 28-21 victory.

Buffalo (+2.5) @ Miami

On second thought, maybe Buffalo’s defense isn’t so terrifying. Tom Brady was comfortable in Orchard Park, throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. The Bills made this game look much closer than it was, but Rex Ryan’s team never threatened the Patriots. At least Lesean Mccoy can drown his sorrows watching his old racist coach, Chip Kelly flail in Philly.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, struggled mightily against Gus Bradley’s suddenly explosive Jaguars. Ryan Tannehill is no Tom Brady, so the Bills should get back on track in Miami this week. Buffalo wins 24-20.

Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) celebrates a hit on St. Louis Rams' Stedman Bailey in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) celebrates a hit on St. Louis Rams’ Stedman Bailey in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Chicago @ Seattle (-15)

The Bears wouldn’t have had much of a chance in this game with Jay Cutler at Quarterback, but with Jimmy Clausen at the helm, Chicago could be a part of something that is the wrong kind of special. Kam Chancellor rejoined the Seahawks after their second consecutive road loss. Perhaps the pro-bowl safety was banking on a slow start away from EnergyLink Field to grease the wheels on contract discussions. Did he always plan on a home opening debut?

Either way, this game will be a festival for the 12th man. People will be watching this game just to see how bad it can get for Chicago. Open wide for those 15 points. Seahawks run away and hide, 38-7

Kansas City (+7) @ Green Bay

Sometimes a pick makes logical sense. Other times, it just “feels” right. In this case, both happen to be true. Kansas City has shown they are capable of controlling the pace of a game. That’s exactly what they need to do against Aaron Rodgers this week. The Packers will most likely be without the services of Eddie Lacy for this game. If an ineffective running game allows the Chiefs’ front seven to get going, Andy Reid could secure himself an impressive road win. Alex Smith dinks and dunks his way to a 27-24 victory.

Other Picks

 Denver @ Detroit (+3), San Francisco @ Arizona (-6.5), Oakland @ Cleveland (-3.5), San Diego (+2.5) @ Minnesota, New Orleans @ Carolina (-3), Indianapolis (-3.5) @ Tennessee, Cincinnati @ Baltimore (-2.5)

Week three kicks off at Metlife Stadium tonight with some sub-par NFC East action… Meh.

Odds and Endings: Week 1

St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks

Tavon Austin (11) scores a touchdown vs. the Seahawks

 

Every week, The Banner Years will look back at newsworthy events in the NFL and make picks against the spread for the week ahead. All odds are averaged from those found on ESPN.com.

 

By: Michael Conroy

There’s no feeling quite like renewing an old addiction. From the moment your fingers begin to tingle and your eyes go wide, you know the pain that’s waiting on the other side. But you still let it enfold you, because the high really is that good. It’s the sweetest defeat you’ll ever endure.

Maybe I take all of this too seriously, — correction: I definitely take this too seriously — but after indulging in the first NFL Sunday slate of 2015, I felt like I had overdosed. Leave it to the NFL to follow up a tumultuous off-season with one of the most thrilling weeks of action in recent memory.

Sunday, we learned…


Mike Tomlin (left) Bill Belichick (right)

Mike Tomlin (left) Bill Belichick (right)

The Patriots and Steelers Look Great in Hindsight

It’s easy to forget that grand opening salvo between Pittsburgh and New England last Thursday night. The sensory overload that is NFL Redzone may have even pushed the seven-point Patriot victory back into a week of its own. Lost in all of the commotion and a city-wide search for Roger Goodell, however, was the fact that both teams looked comparatively razor sharp.

Tom Brady yada-yada’d a clinical dissection of yet another competent defense and the Pittsburgh Steelers showed their ability to trade punches on the road with the best the NFL has to offer. After a weekend bursting at the seams with procedural penalties, dropped passes and costly clock-management miscues, this game stands out as a probable January preview.

The Buffalo Bills Are Who We Thought They’d Be

That is, a pretty good football team. Sure, they may be deluding themselves thinking Tyrod Taylor can be a viable long-term starter, but if you can hold Andrew Luck scoreless for almost 40 minutes without Marcell Dareus in the lineup, you have a shot against anybody. We always knew that Rex Ryan would have that defense ready to play, but he will need much more from Shady Mccoy if the Bills are going to come out of the crowded AFC East. Either way, you won’t find another defense that is this fun to watch.

Old Saint Nick Takes the Rams to Another Level

Nick Foles rose to prominence the same way most Quarterbacks do in Philadelphia, replacing the starter mid-season, making a statistically historic run to the playoffs and getting traded away to a flailing franchise. Usually, that narrative ends with a Kolb-esque fall from grace leaving everyone to wonder why any General Manager would trade for a backup Eagles signal-caller again. Against Seattle on Sunday, the narrative veered off-course. Nick Foles has officially gone rogue.

It would seem that Foles is content with the lack of weapons in St. Louis. Every time the Seahawks closed the gap on the Rams in the second half, the former future of the Philadelphia Eagles made a big play. Leading the Rams over the defending two-time NFC Champions isn’t a bad way to start the season. It was the biggest win of the week.

Somebody Won the Giants-Cowboys Game

Manning vs. Romo is always just a little disorienting to Eagles fans. On one hand, Tom Coughlin is doing this:

But on the other hand, Tony Romo gets to do this:

Which means Dez Bryant does things like this:

And Skip Bayless goes on national TV and does this: [inappropriate/sexual content removed]

It’s a good thing Bryant won’t be suiting up for the Cowboys this week, or their match-up with the Eagles’ secondary could be a bloodbath. Rumor has it Byron Maxwell and Billy Davis are still down in Atlanta, struggling to locate Julio Jones.

Endings


Jameis Winston (left), Marcus Mariota (right)

Jameis Winston (left), Marcus Mariota (right)

It’s difficult to declare any team’s season over after just one week, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a knack for making difficult things easy. Marcus Mariota was the latest beneficiary of Lovie Smith’s stale defensive scheme, which yielded a 97.4 Rating to opposing Quarterbacks last season. Still, allowing Mariota to throw four touchdowns in one half was a new low for Lovie, whose best years are almost certainly behind him.

Jameis Winston struggled to keep up with the pace of the game despite making some beautiful throws when given a clean pocket. These two rookies might seem light-years apart right now, but it would be foolish to draw any conclusions from a game like that.

It’s clear that the Buccaneers won’t be making any noise in 2015, but Mike Evans, Jameis Winston and Doug Martin look like a strong young core. Going forward, the talent in Tampa can still take something valuable from the season. Their playoff hopes, however, are sunk.

Odds


Dez

Dez Bryant suffers foot injury vs. Giants

Denver (+3) @ Kansas City

Peyton Manning looked positively human against the Baltimore Ravens in week 1. He’s still Peyton Manning, though and it’s been fourteen years since he’s failed to win at least ten games in a season. Arm strength was never his greatest asset and the Kansas City Chiefs still can’t push the ball downfield even with Jeremy Maclin in the lineup. Take Peyton getting points in almost any NFL stadium not called Gillette. Andy Reid’s first-15 net the early lead, but the Broncos win 21-17.

Houston @ Carolina (-3)

The whole world keeps waiting for the Panthers to fold. Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season, Luke Kuechly sustained a concussion in Jacksonville on Sunday and Greg Olsen suddenly can’t get open. So what? Carolina is well coached, aggressive on defense and have a seasoned play-maker at the Quarterback position. Cam Newton went on the road with no weapons, played a responsible game and came back with a win.

Meanwhile, Houston couldn’t make it through 60 minutes of their season before moving on from an “ineffective” Brian Hoyer. Ryan Mallet with no running game won’t scare the Panthers in their home opener even with Watt and Clowney wreaking havoc. This could get ugly, early. Carolina wins 31-10

San Francisco (+6) @ Pittsburgh

The second game of Monday night’s double-header was a chore. Sure, it’s easy to write off the result and say the Vikings just aren’t as good as was presumed, but that’s lazy storytelling. Minnesota has weapons and Teddy Bridgewater is coming into his own. The 49ers have simply gotten back to playing ugly, physical football. While that toughness may not result in a win on the road against the Steelers, it will definitely translate to a closer loss than most are anticipating. Steelers win, 20-17

New England (EVEN) @ Buffalo

What do Bill Belichick and Tom Brady do whenever a small spark threatens to grow into a vibrant flame? They stomp it out, smear it with dirt and spit on the embers. The tyrants have dominated the AFC East by smothering upstarts for more than a decade. Rex Ryan may be prepared for whatever the Patriots are going to throw at his Bills, but that doesn’t mean he can stop it. The New England dynasty isn’t ready to die just yet. They make a statement and rout the Bills, 29-6.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-3.5)

The Bengals certainly aren’t winning any cases in the court of public opinion this week. On the field, however, being a savage pays dividends. They pummeled the Raiders into submission from the opening whistle. It doesn’t matter why Cincinnati played so angry in week 1. What matters is whether or not they can sustain that intensity. San Diego narrowly escaped a loss at the hands of the Lions thanks to late-game heroics from Phillip Rivers, but a similar slow start against a motivated Bengals team could spell disaster. Andy Dalton goes under-appreciated for another week, beating Phillip Rivers 27-20.

Atlanta @ NY Giants (-2)

Matt Ryan is really good. On Monday night, he reminded the football world of that fact. The New York Giants are still reeling after Eli Manning’s game-breaking blunder against the Dallas Cowboys. None of that matters, though, because the NFL makes sense only about 50-percent of the time. The Falcons have never been the same team going on the road. Julio Jones might see triple coverage this week, as Steve Spagnuolo isn’t too proud to make adjustments. The Giants will celebrate every single first down en route to a 27-17 victory.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) evades Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin (98)

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) evades Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin (98)

Dallas (+5) @ Philadelphia

Philadelphia couldn’t have been more confident heading into last week’s game against Atlanta. John Gruden was frothing at the mouth. The stage was set for a Chip Kelly love-fest on ESPN. What Eagles fans received, instead, was a rude awakening. If a Super Bowl is this team’s destination, they have a very long way to go.

Julio Jones will make any team’s secondary look silly, so passing judgement on Byron Maxwell at this point might be a bit premature. What’s really concerning for the Eagles is the play of the Offensive and Defensive lines. Scheme, fitness and culture can’t save a team that’s losing in the trenches. To make matters worse, the Falcons won that battle with arguably the least amount of talent that Philly will see all season.

In the win/loss column, it is technically just one game. Those who have followed the team long enough, however, know that the front-seven must drastically improve for the Eagles to meet their championship expectations this year. Or maybe it is just one game and we’re all panicking over nothing.

It’s way too early in the season for a “Dallas week,” but the ‘Boys are coming, ready or not. Dez Bryant’s broken foot is Philadelphia’s most valuable asset in this game, because the secondary needs more time to sort things out. If the heralded Eagles front-seven couldn’t produce a consistent pass rush vs. the Falcons’ weak O-line, it’s hard to imagine them having better luck against the best in the business. Expect Billy Davis to bring blitz after blitz, in an effort to protect his vulnerable secondary. Those blitzes must get home early and often or Tony Romo will notch his second division win in as many weeks of this young season. The Eagles should win a tight one, 33-30.

Seattle (+3.5) at Green Bay

Doesn’t it feel like the Packers have played the Seahawks a dozen times in the past three seasons? It’s hard to think of another non-divisional rivalry that’s amassed so much history in such a short amount of time. Aaron Rodgers is still the best player in the world, but he will miss Jordy Nelson more this week than he did against the Bears. The Seahawks won’t start the season 0-2 in the NFC. Seattle wins another chippy prime time classic, 24-23

Other Picks

NY Jets @ Indianapolis (-7) / Baltimore (-6.5) @ Oakland / Miami @ Jacksonville (+6.5) / Tennessee (+1) @ Cleveland / Arizona (-2.5) @ Chicago / Detroit (+3) @ Minnesota / Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-10) St. Louis (-3.5) @ Washington 

Week two of the NFL season kicks off tonight at Arrowhead Stadium. Brace yourselves, more football is coming.

Dragonslayer

Lebron James

Lebron James


By: Michael Conroy

In the NBA, superstars are judged primarily on their ability to do what is expected of them. It’s a defensible criteria, considering just how often the best teams seem to win it all. The most talented athlete in the league is given a golden ticket to June along with a perverse ultimatum: Tread water, or drown. How, then, does that athlete ever find the time to “swim?” This is the quandary that faces all established NBA stars. In a world where everything goes according to plan, being truly remembered requires monumental aberration.

There are moments in a player’s career when their own success becomes that which is unexpected. Lebron James is no stranger to this moment. The home-grown Cleveland hero famously fled to Miami in 2010 to avoid it. Rather than slay the dragon that is NBA convention, James joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to become that convention and win his two championships.

One by one, the scrutinized James toppled demons that had stalked him since his first foray into the playoffs. He solved the puzzle of the final two minutes and allegations of inadequacy in all forms fell by the wayside. Now, Cleveland’s prodigal son has returned to the Cavaliers as a grizzled veteran with the tools he hopes can finish the job he started once upon a time.

The Golden State Warriors are one of the most prolific offensive juggernauts in NBA history. Incredibly, the team also led the league in defensive efficiency. They are a running, shooting, fire-breathing favorite to win the NBA Finals. For Lebron James they are the final frontier.

The Cleveland Cavaliers that won 12 consecutive games in January are ancient history. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love nursing injuries, a skeleton crew remains. J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and Matthew “Deli” Dellavedova hardly constitute an imposing foursome. Even if Irving and Love can return in a limited capacity for their clash with Golden State, the Eastern Conference will have its most shallow representative since Iverson’s 76ers.

Lebron Dragon 4

A.I. wasn’t nearly the generational talent that Lebron James is. However, at the age of 26, Iverson had accrued far fewer grueling postseason minutes and even he couldn’t triumph in the face of the Kobe-Shaq L.A. Lakers. Make no mistake, the present-day Warriors stand to be every bit as historically dominant as those Lakers. League MVP Steph Curry is averaging over 28 points per game in the playoffs. Scoring like that in the NBA Finals would rank among the series’ all-time greatest performances.

At 30 years of age, Lebron James faces both the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity of his professional life. Rarely does a superstar like James come up against a seemingly unbeatable foe. If the self-proclaimed “king” can overcome incredibly long odds and win his third championship in four seasons, his career will become part of a new and very exclusive .discussion. It seems strange that a 4-time league MVP with two championship rings and an Olympic Gold Medal could possibly have more to prove, but those are the stakes.

What is implied when people talk about the “great” ones in the NBA? Is it simply a game of counting rings that determines greatness? More accurately, those mathematical hurdles serve as a baseline. What matters more is a star’s claim. In other words, how and why is he remembered?

Crafting that legacy is more difficult than it sounds. So many factors are out of a player’s control. Level of competition, timing, team mates, coaching and even social issues all play a role.

Lebron’s career has, at the very least, been unique, but not always for the reasons he’d like it to be. In a way, the injuries to Irving and Love might be blessings in disguise. By finding a way to overcome those setbacks and win four of the next seven games, he can rewrite his own history. James can be remembered not as a mercenary, but a hero who did what could not be done; Whose greatest moment came in Cleveland, not Miami.

The Golden State Warriors should win this series with relative ease. They have the deeper, younger, healthier roster by far. Still, if any player is capable of such a massive upset, it’s Lebron James. At least, if he does, it will make a wonderful story.

Life After 1, 6, 11

Draft Lottery

By: Michael Conroy

Just what is so compelling about the NBA Draft Lottery? Is there an untapped audience clamoring to watch athletes decorated with “pseudo-haute couture” attire as they grin and grimace through a hyper-glorified raffle? No, those optics alone can’t be responsible for shutting down a Buffalo Wild Wings at around 6:30 p.m. on an otherwise random Tuesday. Hope, on the other hand, could do that with its eyes closed. After all, only the hopeful could form a community as inexplicably interested as the Philadelphia 76ers fanbase. Last night, that’s exactly what the NBA was selling.

ESPN had the perfect lead-in to its coverage of the Western Conference Finals opener between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The broadcast played like an — albeit shamelessly milked — Old Spice commercial. In a sense, fans were told: “Look at your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But with the first, sixth and eleventh overall picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, he could smell like me.”

Just think, all of the “stink” emanating from Sixers GM, Sam Hinkie’s controversial tanking strategy in recent years could finally be abating. Watching James Harden square off against Steph Curry, respectively the third and seventh overall selections in 2009, the future of a team with the potential draft capital of the 76ers seemed undeniably bright. Landing just one of their two conditional picks would increase the odds of drafting a difference-maker exponentially. It was an enticing scenario, but one that ultimately eluded the Sixers faithful.

In reality, Philadelphia’s Utopian outcome was never very likely. Still, it’s difficult not to view last night’s haul as a slight disappointment. The third overall selection in the draft is hardly a pittance for any NBA team, but landing outside of the top 2 could prove problematic for the Sixers in the long run.

Russel

Both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are favored to be the top pick, but D’Angelo Russell could be a target for the Lakers at #2. What, then, will Hinkie do if Los Angeles goes off script on draft night? Nerlens Noel flourished in the second half of last season and last year’s third overall selection, Joel Embiid is poised for a breakout rookie* campaign in 2015. The selection of Okafor or Towns would undoubtedly force out one of the other Sixers’ center prospects.

Of course, Sam Hinkie tends to view all players as assets, so the idea of taking Jahlil Okafor may be slightly more tenable. Regardless, if the 76ers are truly building something, wouldn’t it be better if the blocks fit together?

It’s true that the Philadelphia 76ers are playing the long game and their fans have clearly bought in, but just because people are patient, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re buying tickets. It’s always easier to suffer the journey when you can make out the destination in the distance.

Two superstars clashed on a national stage last night. The 7-minute lottery extravaganza was fun, but James Harden and Stephen Curry were the main event. The pair represent the highest rated offensive prospects drafted in the past decade. Third on that list could be a 76er next month. A good Point-Guard in the NBA makes his entire team better. D’Angelo Russell could facilitate the offensive growth of Philadelphia’s young roster through crucial developmental years. He may have been Hinkie’s pick at #1 overall.

In the end, it might come down to which Center the Lakers favor and whether the Timberwolves take him first. That might just cost the Sixers their chance at Russell. Los Angeles could even leverage their superior positioning to gain assets from Philadelphia. As it stands, Philly will be hoping once again just over a month from now. Perhaps those dreams won’t be dashed.

It’s Still Shady in Philadelphia

Demarco Murray, new Philadelphia Eagles running back

Demarco Murray, new Philadelphia Eagles running back

By: Michael Conroy

Somehow, someway the Philadelphia Eagles always manage to keep us on our toes. Yesterday, The franchise made just their latest in what is becoming a long line of splash moves, inking former Cowboys running back, — and defending rushing champ — Demarco Murray to a 5-year, $42 million contract with upwards of $20 million guaranteed. Whether or not his signing is a responsible appropriation of resources is, at this point, irrelevant. Murray is now an Eagle, focused — like the rest of us — on bringing that elusive first championship to Philadelphia.

There’s no question that Demarco Murray is a talented runner. What’s less certain, however, is how well that talent will make the transition into Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme. We looked to the tape for some answers.

Due to their difference in physical stature, you may be under the impression that Murray and Lesean Mccoy have little in common. In reality, they’re running style is nearly identical. The former Cowboy did most of his damage running outside of the tackles, from a traditional “I-Formation,” in 2014.

Mccoya1

For the sake of comparison, we can take a look at a play the Eagles ran quite often last season. It’s about as close as Chip Kelly’s playcalling came to that of Jason Garrett. One key difference you’ll notice between the two systems is that the Eagles almost never use a fullback. This is important as Demarco Murray frequently used the blocking of Tyler Clutts to set up his larger gains. Still, the Eagles frequently bring tight-ends into the backfield in a fullback role.

mccoya2

Post-snap, all of the action immediately flows to the left. You can even see second-level Cowboys players beginning to lean. It looks as if two or three lanes have already opened wide.

mccoya4

This is the same play, believe it or not. Sanchez quickly spins and makes a delayed handoff to Mccoy, countering the aggressive movement of the Dallas defense. Here is where things get interesting. Mccoy knows where this play is designed to go, but he cuts back. He sees a linebacker coming up to meet him in the hole that’s been created. This is where a true “North-South” runner might put his head down and get that four yards his team has already blocked for.

mccoya6

Instead, Mccoy makes a drastic cutback and gets skinny between two of his guards. By and large, these risky cutbacks and shifty maneuvers are what made Lesean “Shady” Mccoy a star in the first place. The cannot be said for the downhill “workhorse” back, Demarco Murray…or can it?

Murrayd5

Here, we see an almost identical play being run by the Dallas Cowboys with no fullback in the backfield and the quarterback taking the snap under-center.

Murraye1

Romo takes the snap and starts to his right. A deliberate step from Murray really sells the second-level Eagles defenders that this play is headed toward the right side of the field.

Murraye2

Instead, Demarco Murray cuts back to the left, away from the action where a gaping hole seems to be opening. Again, this is where a true one-cut north-south runner would head up behind tight-end James Hanna, netting a sizeable gain.

Murraye3

Much like Lesean Mccoy, Demarco Murray hesitates. He has a clear path to a positive play, but he wants more. Murray allows his trailing blocker to get out in front and seal off the Philadelphia defender.

Murraye5

In down-right Shady-esque fashion, Murray gets skinny between his blockers and squeezes through, into the second-level of the Eagles’ defense.

This is just one comparison between the two running backs, but it certainly appears that Demarco Murray is a far more comparable back to Lesean Mccoy than many believe. There is, however, one area where one might think Demarco Murray must be an upgrade over Lesean Mccoy. That is in the dreaded redzone.

Murrayf1

Situations such as the one pictured above have plagued the Eagles for the better part of a decade. At times it seems laughable that those final 2-3 yards would be so maddeningly difficult to pick up. Surely, a back as big and strong as Demarco Murray will be able to remedy this situation, right?

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Here, Murray takes the ball from Romo, sprinting towards the goal line with just over five yards to gain. Granted, the goal line is muddled as it’s likely to be in any NFL game, but all the same, the Dallas o-line has created enough room for their running back to head up the middle like a battering ram and push his way to 6 points.

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Instead, Murray decides against a down-hill approach. He exhibits familiar finesse tendencies, cutting back and seeking out less contested running space. Because this was a game against the Philadelphia Eagles defense, and because they desperately needed this win, of course he found that space and scored. Still, it’s easy to recall instances in 2014 when this finesse approach cost the Philadelphia Eagles dearly. This isn’t to say that this style hasn’t been effective for both Mccoy and Murray,, but that — stylistically — the two aren’t far apart.

It’s easy to make an assumption based on height and weight, that Chip Kelly acquired a more powerful running back in Demarco Murray; one that might better fit his fast-paced system. But even if Murray is the more powerful back, he certainly doesn’t run like it. In reality, the former Cowboy is a shifty runner who prefers to do his damage outside the numbers. Fortunately, for the Eagles, he’s pretty damn good at it.

We’ll certainly become more familiar with Demarco Murray in the coming years. If he can remain healthy, his role in Chip Kelly’s offense will be vital. Just don’t expect Murray to be someone he is not.

Gone Fishing

Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly

By: Justin Salmasi

Ah, Free Agency is officially upon us. Sure, the first contracts won’t be signed until tomorrow, but overreaction is running rampant in Philadelphia. While some of the criticism may be warranted, it’s important for Eagles fans to understand what they are upset about. Every move the Eagles made yesterday can be explained.

Caught the Big Fish Cornerback

The Eagles’ biggest problem last season was that they couldn’t stop the passing game if their lives depended on it. Regardless of who the opponent was, the Eagles’ incompetency at the cornerback position consistently put the opposing offense in a position to score. That problem was certainly addressed by the signing of Byron Maxwell. The Eagles may have overspent, as does every team during Free Agency, but MAXWELL IS NOT ASOMUGHA. Not only does Maxwell have above average coverage skills, he is a workhorse with a chip on his shoulder. He was drafted in the 6th round and has steadily improved with each passing season. His physicality and aggressiveness are second to none, and that’s going to come in handy playing in a division with the likes of Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., DeSean Jackson, and Victor Cruz. The Eagles did the right thing, throwing all that money at him. This was a slam-dunk signing.

Frank Gore Makes Sense

Before you start whining over his age, think carefully about what you’re getting in Frank Gore. Despite being 32, Gore has proven that he is durable and can be a bell cow back. He has played 14+ games in every season other than 2010, when a broken hip held him to 11. Furthermore, he has carried the rock 250+ times in every season since 2010, and rushed for 1000+ yards in 8 of the last 9 years. With his North-South style, Gore is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s running scheme. Last season, Gore had a higher yards-per-carry average (4.3) than Shady (4.2). We love Shady and wish him well, but he ate up a lot of cap space and there was no way the Eagles would be able to bolster the defense had they kept him. Gore will be a significantly more affordable alternative even if the move resulted in a slight downgrade. Since he is a short-term solution, whoever we end up drafting should be able to take the reins by the time his contract is up. Until then, you should expect Gore to continue his adequate workhorse ways for the next two seasons.

Jeremy Maclin Chose to Leave

This is the complaint that really separates the logical fans from the emotional ones. For those that aren’t aware of the situation, the Eagles offered Maclin a contract. They wanted Maclin to return to Philadelphia. According to Rotoworld, Jeremy Maclin’s contract in Kansas City guarantees him $11 million per year. I’m sorry, but it’s time to put sentiment aside. $11 million per year is way too much money for a good, not great, receiver. Maclin was a pivotal piece of our offense, but make no mistake, he is not Calvin Johnson. He is not AJ Green. He is not Dez Bryant. $9 million per year is what the Eagles were offering, and that is no slap in the face to Maclin. Devin McCourty took a pay cut to stay with his team. Randall Cobb took a pay cut to stay with his team. Jeremy Maclin did not take a pay cut to stay with his team. Understandably, he took the money and I’ve got no problem with that, but only an ignorant fan would blame Chip and company for this. The loss creates yet another hole that will certainly have to be filled in Free Agency and/or the draft, but this too shall pass.

Eagles fans need to breath. The ship is not sinking, moves are being made, and Free Agency hasn’t even officially begun. It’s completely reasonable to have doubt or skepticism, but never forget that Chip Kelly’s decision-making has produced 20 wins in two years. Losing key players and former faces of the franchise is always a difficult pill to swallow, but Chip deserves the chance to do what he was brought here to do. He has never adhered to common logic as a coach, but has been successful at every level thus far. Keep Calm and have a cheesesteak.

Break the Silence

Center, Jason Collins

I began to write this column knowing wholeheartedly that, by doing so, I would be immediately undermining the point I wish to make. Still, I feel strongly enough about the subject that I was willing to give it a shot.

I want to begin by asking the media as a whole a simple question. What on Earth are we doing with this Jason Collins story? Let’s really step back for a moment and think about what happened yesterday. Jason Collins, a veteran NBA player, became the first active professional athlete in the United States’ four major sports to “come out” publicly and announce that he is gay. When you put it that way, it’s easy to see why this has become such a massive story in the sports world and beyond.

Make no mistake, this was a notable event. It’s worthy of reflection, significance and discussion, but on day two of this post-homosexual-professional-American-athlete world, this has devolved into something that I’m not sure Jason Collins can even be proud of. 

Let me explain. Before yesterday, we knew there were professional athletes with varying sexual preferences in America. Very few people would dispute that what happened was a likely scenario. So, when Jason Collins took a commendable step in disclosing details about his orientation, there was a palpable sense of relief in his words. There was a feeling of relief from his audience as well. In the immortal words of one Bob Sugar, “Finally, someone said it.”

As cathartic an experience as it was, the purity of Collins’ acknowledgement lasted just about twenty-four hours. Today, the prevailing narrative has completely shifted from one man’s brave declaration to something far less noble.

Today, the story seems to be about how “we” are all supposed to deal with this. How are the “rest of us” supposed to treat Jason Collins and other gay athletes? How should a team deal with his locker-room presence next season? The news cycle has been dominated by this story and it’s “ripple-effect.” It’s become a national sensation, but those peripheral distractions should not be so paramount to the discussion.

Maybe I’m naive for thinking that the bigger this story becomes, the less progressive our society seems. I don’t feel like talking about how much of a bombshell this is reflects very well on our tolerance at all. At what point does the media cross that fine line between covering a story and covering themselves, covering a story? Wherever that threshold may be, I can’t help but feel that it’s somewhere behind us.

I could be wrong. This story might warrant such incessant dissection. There is no doubt that Jason Collins did something courageous and noteworthy yesterday. Perhaps his affirmation should have been given a little more room to breathe, though. I think we should be coming to a point in our nation’s history where Jason Collins is looked at as a professional basketball player who happens to be gay and not a gay man who happens to play basketball.