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.

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Kelly Green

Kelly and Mccoy

Chip Kelly (left) Lesean Mccoy (right)

 

There is an understood road to success in the NFL that has been paved by the careers of Kelly’s forerunners; a path which Chip incessantly diverts from, but we’ve always known this. The coach’s unorthodox methods are what ultimately landed him this job and endeared him to fans. Of late, however, his moves have become progressively more difficult to defend.

The coach hasn’t said much during his tenure in Philly. What he has held firm to is this idea that “culture beats scheme.” On its face, this is a principle that any football fan can rally behind. There’s just one problem: Kelly doesn’t believe it. At least, his actions don’t bear that out.

When the Eagles cut Desean Jackson last year, they made a poor business decision. The move could only be defended under the guise of building culture. That guise was lifted last week, when Lesean Mccoy was traded. The most productive player in Eagles history (at only 26 years old) was jettisoned to Buffalo in exchange for Kiko Alonso, a player with a criminal history who is recovering from his second major knee injury in five years. And yet, there was no widespread outrage, no call for Kelly’s removal.

Whether justified or not, Lesean Mccoy deserved that outrage. He embodied everything the hypocritical masses claim to value in Philadelphia. He was local, a team player who rarely complained and most importantly, an absolute star in the NFL.

Now, the Eagles stand to lose Jeremy Maclin to free agency, adding to a list that includes Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Todd Herremans and others. These decisions were made, fans hope, to free up the cap room necessary to be aggressive when Free Agency begins on Tuesday. However, by gutting the home-grown core of a successful team and overpaying for veterans that fit his mold, Chip Kelly has, quite clearly, chosen scheme over culture.

It’s a fine point to make that the Eagles’ new director of personnel has removed all traces of a previous regime as he rounds up a flock of “his guys.” One thing that point leaves out, however, is the fact that this was all working. The roster that Kelly inherited bought in to a degree that could never have been expected. These were “his guys” as much as any Oregon alum.

More and more, Chip Kelly seems to behave as a dog chasing cars. He preaches culture and then purges it. He supports his players wholeheartedly, then deserts them. Is it possible that Chip really doesn’t know what he’s doing? Of course, it’s also possible that he practices a sort of pathological dishonesty when dealing with the media, his players, and the fans, but is that really any better?

Barring a miracle haul in Free Agency, the team will have spent a second consecutive offseason getting worse. How long do the Eagles have before their record starts reflecting that fact?

Off-season in Philadelphia Pt. 2

Joe Nicholson – USA TODAY Sports

By: Justin Salmasi

Now that the football season is officially over, fans across the nation can begin spending their days and nights over-analyzing the upcoming draft and free agency. With the turmoil and disappointment that smothered what was, at one point, an excellent Eagles season, so many questions remain unanswered. Can this offense take the next step with Nick Foles? Is re-signing Maclin feasible? Can our defense succeed with high school caliber defensive backs? Will we ever find out who Marcus Smith is? The answers lie, at least partially, within the decisions yet to be made this off-season.

If the Eagles want to return to their playoff contending ways, the defense has got to be upgraded. The local media will mind-numbingly beat the dead horse that is a potential move for Marcus Mariota, but it’s time for Eagles fans to see reason. This team will not win a playoff game until it has competency at the cornerback position. Cary Williams shows flashes of talent here and there, but he’s excruciatingly inconsistent and, worst of all, a loud-mouth who rarely “walks the walk.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for him to negate his sporadic positive play with questionable conduct both on the field and in the media. Bless Bradley Fletcher’s heart. The guy is clearly trying to play competitive football. However, his physical limitations make watching him square off against any competent wide receiver a chore. The guy is nothing more than a backup on his best day.

Simply put, there is no way the birds can challenge the likes of Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and DeSean Jackson TWICE a year with the starting cornerback tandem currently in place. They are a 10-win team that can make the leap to contender, but not before they address their biggest weakness this off-season. Listed below are three cornerbacks that can fill the void.

Byron Maxwell

Fresh off a horrendous Super Bowl blunder, the Seattle Seahawks have some financial decisions to make. It’s been well documented that Russell Wilson will be taken care of, Marshawn Lynch could be in line for another extension, and the rest of the defensive backs already have large contracts. Despite what the Seahawks’ front office is saying, the general consensus is that Maxwell will be too expensive to return to Seattle. The Eagles have been burned before by paying the price for over-hyped free agent cornerbacks. However, this is a risk that they must absolutely take. Maxwell is as physical as they come, he’s young, and frequently displays above average coverage skills. Those qualities would automatically make him the best defensive back on the Eagles. Maxwell is a no-brainer.

Marcus Peters

This target may be a bit of a reach, especially when considering the culture that Chip Kelly has begun to implement in the Eagles organization. As far as on-the-field talent goes, Marcus Peters is the best cornerback talent coming into the draft. Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton has even compared him favorably to Darrelle Revis. His gritty physicality and superb ball-hawk tendencies make him a prospect that the Eagles would be extremely lucky to land. However, character concerns surround the talented Washington product. After multiple scuffles with the Husky coaching staff, Peters was ultimately dismissed from the team. He will have to explain that situation, as well as why teams should trust that he has since matured. Hopefully he can handle public speaking in a high pressure environment better than his proclaimed mentor, Marshawn Lynch.

Trae Waynes

Perhaps the safest, albeit blandest cornerback prospect in the draft, Trae Waynes possesses consistent coverage skills and above average athleticism. He has an adequate height at 6’1″, and displays great leadership intangibles that can prove to be invaluable in an NFL locker room. With a listed weight of 183 lbs, some analysts are worried that Waynes may lack the necessary bulk to continue playing at the same competitive level, but Waynes is still very young and will continue to grow, the Eagles would be undoubtedly improving upon their biggest deficiency if they land the Michigan State prospect.

The Philadelphia Eagles are both near and far from Super Bowl contenders. Near in quantity of need but distant in quality. Both the cornerback and quarterback positions may be the most difficult to scout and fill in the sport.  Whether Foles is or isn’t the guy, Mariota isn’t a reasonable option. Aside from the Heisman trophy winner and Famous Jameis (also not happening), there aren’t any incoming QBs worth a look in the first round. Barring the unthinkable Foles will be the starter in 2015. The Eagles cannot afford a second-consecutive first round reach. If bona fide talents such as Peters or Waynes are available at #20, the Eagles should pull the trigger.

Off-season in Philadelphia Pt. 1

Thomas B. Shea

By: Michael Conroy

There are many words one might use to describe this looming Eagles’ off-season. If you use the word “rebuild,” Eagles’ General Manager Equipment Supervisor, Howie Roseman may just leap from behind nearby foliage and strangle you. No, “rebuild” isn’t quite the term I would use either. For the sake of accuracy, I’d say the team, and organization for that matter, are due for a “fleshing out.”

How we describe what’s happening in the coming months is not overly important. The simple fact is this franchise has serious needs at key positions from the field to the front office. The question heading into the spring isn’t whether or not these needs will be addressed, but how and to what degree?

A few years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles felt that they were a few needs away from a championship and went “All-in” to assemble a Dream Team that would haunt Philly fans for years. Will that past misstep affect the choices made now? Will Chip Kelly, the new power in personnel, mortgage the future to acquire his quarterback? Trying to predict the answers to these questions is an exercise in futility, but then so is betting the NFL and a few people seem to enjoy that anyway. So I’ll propose a few changes of my own. Whether these come to fruition or not is inconsequential, so long as they give you even the faintest cause to pay closer attention.

Front Office

It’s hard to tackle the Eagles’ roster problems before discussing the open seat at General Manager. In reality, though, this may be the least important decision yet to be made overall. Whoever fills that empty seat in the Philadelphia front office will be, effectively, a lame duck from the outset. There’s simply no way, with the recent battles Chip Kelly has fought over personnel, that the 3rd year coach hires anyone that might challenge his vision for the team. This is a pivotal draft for Kelly’s prospects not just as Head Coach of the Eagles, but at the professional level whatsoever. It’s difficult to imagine Chip placing that responsibility in anyone’s hands but his own. I can’t say I’d want it any other way were I in his position. So the decision to bring on as General Manager will be a lateral move at best.

Contract Conundrums

The second most pressing decisions facing the Eagles concern Cary Williams, Brandon Graham, Jeremy Maclin, and Lesean Mccoy. While only two of the aforementioned players are actually free to walk this off-season, Mccoy and Williams have contracts with cap numbers that demand revision.

It would be difficult for the team to retain all four of these players, but not impossible. That being said, it would be best for both the team and Graham if the two part ways. The former Wolverine has truly blossomed into an effective 3rd down player recently, but the Eagles have struggled to find a place for him in other game situations. Brandon Graham will be looking for starter money this off-season and will likely have suitors. This is a case where I like the player, but hate the fit.

For Williams and Mccoy, the situation is similar but their respective outlooks could not be further apart. It is clear that Cary Williams is not entirely happy here in Philly. He also makes much more money than he would command elsewhere. That being said, he’s a solid replacement level corner in today’s secondary-starved NFL and adds value (however little) to a defense that cannot afford to go backwards in 2015. In the end, it would be wise to allow Cary Williams to play out the final year of his ridiculous contract and then move on.

As for Lesean Mccoy, some restructuring is in order. His current contract has a few variables for the 2014-15 season, but any way you slice it, he’s due an inordinate sum of money. The 26 year-old running back has openly admitted he is willing to restructure his deal, which is a good start, but he’s not going to take any drastic pay cut during his prime years. The team would eat upwards of $4 million in dead money if they decided to move on from their star running back right now. In the end, it makes sense to bring Lesean Mccoy back and work with him to get his cap number down over the next 2 seasons, pushing those more difficult conversations further down the road.

The primary dissuading factor in the decision to re-sign Jeremy Maclin is a man named Riley Cooper. His cap hit is set to soar to a baffling $4.8 million in 2015; an outrageous number when compared to his contributions on the field this season. If the Eagles re-sign Maclin, they will likely have sown upwards of $50 million into a pair of wideouts that, more often than not, amount to a league-average pairing.

It’s important to remember that Maclin also just turned in his first full 16 game campaign of elite play in the NFL. Is there any guarantee that Jeremy Maclin doesn’t take a step back next year? In fact, a regression following a career year is probably the more likely scenario. Couple that prospect with that of an expensive under performing running back and you’ve got a situation that would make Marty Hurney proud. Ultimately, I believe in Maclin and so do the decision-makers in the team’s front office. A deal will get done for better or worse.

Some other minor targets to retain include Chris Polk, Cedric Thornton and Casey Matthews. Thornton leads the way in this pending free agent group. His run stopping ability is an important component for any team that plays in the same division as Dallas. Matthews has finally come into his own as a role-player in the line-backing core and Polk showed flashes this year, gaining tough yards in big spots for the Eagles. If he can be retained at a reasonable cost, he should be.

There are many pressing issues facing the Philadelphia Eagles. The team has uncertainty at Quarterback, and severe deficiencies in the secondary. The offensive line is another year older in 2015. Could the Eagles get younger in that area? These concerns will be addressed in Free Agency and the draft. We’ll dive into both in the coming weeks.

Week 1: Odds and Endings

gus

courtesy of Jaguars.com

As the first wave of NFL games rolled in on Sunday, I could have sworn I heard sleigh bells. Anticipation had been building for months over what feels like it should probably be a national holiday by now. This was Football Christmas morning and these games, yet to kick off, loomed like beautifully wrapped presents beneath a tree. Much like the holiday it felt like, this day would soon shed its good tidings and shower us all with anxiety and contempt. Now we sit, pretzel style a midst the shredded paper of potential that once wrapped the bare realities before us, left only to tally up our respective hauls and figure out who got screwed. Here are your first weekly Odds and Endings.

Endings

Jacksonville

At Halftime on Sunday, it was Philadelphia that looked like a better candidate for my first “Ending” of the season. Alas, this game told us less about Philly than it did about Jacksonville, who collapsed in spectacular fashion en route to a devastating defeat. 34 unanswered points spelled a soul-crushing second half for the Jags and their fans who have 16 weeks left to sift through the wreckage of their once hopeful season. Sorry, guys.

Odds

Pittsburgh (+3) @ Baltimore

There’s no way. There’s just no possible way that a football team could have a worse week to prepare for a football game against a hated, physical division rival. Baltimore opened their season with an ugly loss to Cincinnati in which Joe Flacco was asked to throw the ball 62 times. By now we are all well aware of the distractions that sandwiched the loss regarding a team captain and locker room leader. If history has shown us anything, it is that these situations can bury teams. Couple that with an unrealistically short turnaround and I’d have taken the Steelers to win this game in Baltimore and given 10 points. The Ravens and Steelers always seem to play close games, but if Pittsburgh can’t buck that trend in this one, it’s hard to imagine their season extending very far into January.

Miami (-1) @ Buffalo

I could not have been more certain, at halftime on Sunday, that the Patriots were about to rout an opponent. I’ve seen that game too many times over the years to believe in anything different. When the Dolphins corrected course and ran it down New England’s throat, it felt like I was seeing something important. Nobody imposes themselves on a Brady-Belichick team. Not that way. But Miami did and they aren’t going to apologize. Buffalo may have secured an unexpected win of their own, but the Bears aren’t the Patriots.

Jacksonville @ Washington (-6)

As an Eagles fan, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of Jacksonville this Sunday. Let me rephrase: I had no choice but to watch a lot of Jacksonville, and was not surprised to find out that they are not a competent football team. Even an average NFL team could have closed that game out in the second half, but the Jaguars certainly aren’t that. Incessant Chad Henne designed roll-outs aside, Allen Hurns won’t be quite so blatantly ignored in Washington, where the ‘Skins have just enough weapons to score the 24 points it will take to put away Jacksonville.

Dallas @ Tennessee (-3.5)

On paper, the Cowboys looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL coming into this season. Their performance on Sunday did nothing to alter that perception in my mind. Tennessee looks like they’re going to be one of those early season juggernauts who sputters after week 10. Bad luck for Dallas on the road this week.

Arizona (-3) @ New York Giants

You’d never think a 35-14 score could make a game seem closer than it was,but the Giants were worlds apart from Detroit on Monday Night Football. Arizona comes rolling into town with a fast, athletic defense and a competent deep passing game, capable of shredding that week New York secondary. I expect this game to be far closer in the first half than it has any right to be, but Arizona will pull away late in the 3rd quarter.

New England (-3) @ Minnesota

This week will be the ultimate test for Tom Brady, facing the second of two early season juggernauts in the Vikings in Minnesota. While the Vikings put together an impressive win on the road in week 1, the Patriots simply don’t lose back to back games. I’d rather be the guy who hopped off this bandwagon a week late than the one who jumped off 19 weeks too early. New England gets things together in a tough spot and wins 27-20.

New Orleans @ Cleveland (+7)

I was never a believer in the Saints this season. I have no idea where all of this hype came from, but somehow I’m in a position to take 7 points and a solid home team against the saints outdoors. I won’t hesitate. Remember, this New Orleans defense was the worst in NFL history just two years ago. A lot has changed since 2012, but not enough.

Atlanta @ Cincinnati (-5)

Ignore the mirage of Matt Ryan’s monster performance in week 1. Granted, he did what should be expected at home against a hapless defense, but the Bengals are playing tight, efficient football on offense and defense. The line of scrimmage will belong to the Bengals all afternoon and the Falcons will be pushed up and down the field.

Detroit +3 @ Carolina

Carolina wrestled a win away from the hilariously overvalued Buccaneers last Sunday. That’s cute, but the Lions are a real, complete team on a mission and Matthew Stafford looks completely locked in. How many years of dominance did this Lions’ core waste under the questionable leadership of Jim Schwartz? It’s more than a little depressing to think about.

St Louis @ Tampa B– you know what, who the hell cares?

Seattle @ San Diego (+6)

Now here’s a compelling game. If you’re a real football fan, interested in figuring out this season’s direction as soon as possible, this is your barometer game. It’s got stakes, personality, proximity and 2 great defenses fighting for their footing in a league with no room for error. The Chargers have home field advantage and too much to lose, and the 6 points being afforded to the Chargers is too much to pass up on in a game as close as this one should be. I think San Diego wins outright by a score of 23-20.

Houston @ Oakland (+3)

I cannot, in good conscience, take Ryan Fitzpatrick and lay 3 points on the road under any circumstances. Having rookie, Derek Carr under center may actually work to the Raiders’ advantage as they are forced not to test the will of madman, J.J. Watt. Hand-offs, hand-offs, and more hand-offs are in store if either of these teams know what’s good for them.

New York Jets (+8) @ Green Bay

Again, I’m in the strange position of asking why everybody thinks the Packers are suddenly supposed to be good. Almost a mirror image of the Saints, this team is living off of the reputation of its Quarterback. In a sport where it takes 53 men to fill a roster, that plan is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Rex Ryan defenses are always better than they have any right to be and they always travel. I don’t know if the Jets can win this game against a desperate Aaron Rodgers but I’m fairly certain they won’t lose by more than a touchdown, even if the final score is 7-0.

Kansas City (+13) @ Denver

By and large, double-digit favorites don’t cover. By and large, Andy Reid doesn’t field awful football teams. By and large, Division rivals don’t blow out division rivals. There are just too many rules that would have to be broken for the Broncos to run the Chiefs out of the stadium on a short week this Sunday, though I must say I was tempted. Kansas City looks awful and they probably aren’t a playoff team, but they won’t lose this game by 13 points.

Chicago (+7) @ San Francisco

I won’t give the 49ers a medal for beating up on what might be the worst team in the NFC this season. The way that game started, San Francisco probably should have won by a much wider margin. Meanwhile, the Bears come into this game 0-1 and desperate. They cannot afford this loss and they won’t. The Niners are declining and this is the week we start to notice. The Bears win this game 30-27.

Philadelphia (+3) @ Indianapolis (-3)

You’ll notice I didn’t actually make a selection for this game. That’s because this is a clear-as-day push if I’ve ever seen one. Indy is at home and needs this win exponentially more than Philadelphia does. Neither team’s secondary is playing particularly well right now. On Monday Night Football, the Eagles and Colts are going to move up and down the field, making each other look helpless. The Over/Under is 53.5 and it makes me chuckle. I’ve never been more sure of an exact score in my life. Colts make me sad and win 37-34.

Week 2 of the magnetic theater that is the NFL begins tonight on Thursday Night Football. How many endings will this week bring?

The Departed

Spencer Hawes (left) and Evan Turner (right)

by: Michael Conroy

As the new General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, Sam Hinkie was always going to explore ways to reinvent his roster. The flurry of activity in the waning hours of Thursday’s trade deadline was, in a way, just the dropping of a second shoe. Generally speaking, I’ve never been a big proponent of purging veterans as a precursor to a rebuild. In the NBA, colossal youth movements seldom turn out how they were planned. Most young players need to walk into an established culture and grow under veteran leadership. For this team, however, at this moment, The Sixers made the right call.

Evan Turner is not who we wanted him to be. At this point in his career, it’d be laughable for fans not to have arrived wholeheartedly at that conclusion. It’s equally comical and all the more frustrating that Turner hasn’t arrived there with us. Maybe some day he will, but if/when he does, it won’t be as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. What the Sixers received in their trade with Indiana is irrelevant. Sam Hinkie had assessed his team and decided to move on from a player who just never seemed to get it. For all of his physical ability, Evan Turner struggled mightily with his decision-making on the court. In a leadership role on a rebuilding team, he simply didn’t bring much to the table.

Turner seems like a nice enough guy. He takes care of himself in the media and off the court. He’s never been a distraction, but he seems to be more concerned with who he might still become than who he has firmly proven himself to be. The Sixers just couldn’t wait around any longer.

When the trade was announced that would send Spencer Hawes to Cleveland, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I’ve always had my issues with him as a player but it’s impossible to deny that a Center with Hawes’ skillset has value in the NBA. Earl Clark showed flashes as a Laker last season but few would consider him an asset to the Sixers. The two 2nd round draft picks are a nice consolation prize for what should have been a better deal.

The obvious elephant in the room in this situation is the long-term status of Thad Young, who may have been the Sixers’ most substantial trading chip. He’s a good player who consistently performs up to a certain set of standards. While many believe Thaddeus will be the catalyst for some draft night deal, I find that scenario a bit far-fetched. The draft class of 2014 is a hallowed one in the eyes of many team executives. If a first-round pick in this year’s draft wasn’t on the table at the deadline, I can’t see that changing by June 26th. Though Young has voiced his displeasure about the state of the franchise, he’s still under contract and, unlike his recently departed team mates, holds value for a rebuilding team.

And so, the Philadelphia 76ers have finally blown it up. Very little remains of the Doug Collins era. The continued development of Michael Carter-Williams and the upcoming draft are pivotal, but every young team needs veteran leadership. Sam Hinkie has decided that Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes were simply the wrong kind of veterans. The rebuild has just grown exponentially in scope. In the immediate future, a lot of terrible basketball awaits, but this franchise is undeniably back in motion. While it may get worse before getting any better, at least the 76ers might finally be moving towards better days.

Soundtrack to a Season: 2013-2014 Philadelphia Flyers

Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers kicked off their season the right way, racing out to an early lead and playing a tight and physical game. In the end, however, it simply wasn’t enough to overcome a tremendous effort from one man on the other side of the puck. There were plenty of positives to take away from the from this game, but coming in second always sucks even if it is just one game out of 82.

Track 1: 2nd Sucks

Last night, the Philadelphia Flyers took their first steps into a larger world, wading into the uncharted waters of the 2013-2014 NHL season. Whether or not the orange and black stand to see much success in the near future is still a mystery and last night’s game did little to aid any predictions one might make.

In fact, we learned much more about the Maple Leafs in the Flyers’ season opener than anything else. Playing in Montreal just 24 hours prior to what would be a very physical struggle, Toronto made the 455 mile journey to Philadelphia. After a predictably slow start, the Leafs began to assert themselves as the game went on.

Midway through the 2nd period, Toronto’s skating legs returned and the weary squad began winning races to the puck. They gave the Flyers everything they could handle along the boards, overcoming SIX short-handed situations along the way. Toronto gutted one out and deposited the final two goals it would take to put away the Flyers for good.

The men in blue skated into Wells Fargo Center and muscled the air out of the building. It was a truly impressive performance by what appears to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

As far as the Flyers were concerned, the effort wasn’t anything to be ashamed of overall. Philadelphia played what was, for the most part, an uncharacteristically tight game. Passes were crisp and on target and some new faces dazzled to create multiple opportunities in front of the net.

The lone goal for the home team came as a result of some blue-collar work from the newly added Vincent Levavalier, who carved out some space for himself behind Jonathon Bernier before finessing a pass to a wide open Brayden Schenn in the slot.

Schenn buried the chance with six seconds left in the 1st period. Unfortunately for the Flyers, that’s all Bernier was prepared to concede. Despite numerous quality looks for Philadelphia, including a penalty shot from Wayne Simmonds, the new Leafs goaltender held on and stole his first victory of the season.

It’s hard to be pleased with any Flyers loss, but the Flyers showed encouraging signs in defeat. Giroux looked no worse for the wear after his off-season injury scare. He played quarterback for the team all night, setting up his mates with fantastic looks. As long as the Captain keeps at it, the points will come with time. Brayden Schenn, Mark Streit, and the aforementioned Lecavalier all made an impression in the game, but there was another player whose performance stood out.

Sean Couturier has gotten much stronger. He was in the mix along the boards and even out in front of the net on multiple occasions and looks to be coming into his own. That growth will be important as the Flyers have taken a remarkable stand behind he and Schenn as their franchise cornerstones during their recent rumored trade negotiations.

One major concern that has reared it’s ugly head for the second consecutive year (it would appear) is the Flyers’ lack of accuracy when firing on net. Philadelphia was on the power-play for twelve minutes versus the Maple Leafs and, at times, it appeared as if  Jonathan Bernier was the center piece of a shooting gallery.

Still, far too many shots soared wide of the net. When a goalie is as hot as Bernier was last night, you can’t afford to help him out by missing the net. This is a problem that plagued Philly for most of the 2012 shortened season and it’s one they have to overcome to beat the best teams in the NHL.

The night left much to be desired for Philly fans, but the hockey season is a marathon and the path is not a straight one. There will be many twists and turns along the way for every team. To try and use last night as a vantage point for looking ahead would be foolish.

Montreal awaits on Saturday and the Flyers set out having a respectable foundation to build upon. The bullies have at least 4,860 minutes of ice time left to correct what they could not on opening night.

Picking Poisons

Michael Vick (left) Nick Foles (right)

By: Justin Salmasi

It’s that time of the year. OTAs are finished and minicamp is on the horizon. Chip Kelly has already garnered both praise and skepticism for “shaking things up” with his nutrition advocacy and unorthodox offseason training regimens. However, the giant elephant in the room still remains; who will be the starting quarterback for the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles? I certainly have a strong opinion as to who should start, but my opinion doesn’t factor into Chip Kelly’s decision making. Here is a mostly unbiased analysis of the pros and cons of the two most viable contenders for the starting quarterback position.

Michael Vick

PROS:

Who can forget about that miraculous campaign #7 had in 2010?  Vick showed no rust after spending nearly two years incarcerated. In fact, he displayed better arm strength and accuracy than he ever had during his tenure in Atlanta. Defenses had to remain modest at all times, because if this Virginia Tech product wasn’t going to beat you with his arm, he certainly was going to make you pay with his legs. Defenses didn’t know whether to blitz or remain in shell coverage at times, which is why Michael Vick was runner-up only to Tom Brady in MVP voting during his awe-inspiring comeback year. 2010 was indeed the Michael Vick Experience Version 2.0.

2010 showed that he still has the ability to be a duel-threat quarterback if put in the correct system. Chip Kelly’s past systems would logically suit an athlete with Vick’s skillset, if of course that is what he plans to implement in Philadelphia. He’s got a strong arm and quick legs, which are two qualities that are becoming more and more important in this new NFL era of read option offense.

CONS:

Philadelphia Eagles fans would like their last two years back. However, 2012 wasn’t entirely his fault when you consider that nearly the entire starting offensive lineup was injured, so I will keep the focus on 2011. After nearly coming off of an MVP season, Vick was in his first stage of his identity crisis. Is he a pocket QB or a scrambler? His 30 TDs dropped to 19, his interceptions emphatically rose from 6 to 14, and the man just looked lost out there trying to read coverages.

2010 could also be looked at as an anomaly from a statistical perspective. Michael Vick played all 16 regular season games only one time in his 10-season career (2006). Vick completed over 60% of his passes only once in his 10-season career (2010). Vick passed for over 3000 times only twice in his 10-season career. The bottom line is, what he did in 2010 could have very well been due to teams preparing for Kevin Kolb, (the incumbent starter in 2010) having minimal tape or time with which to prepare for #7.

Nick Foles

PROS:

At a time of flux, Nick Foles came in and did an admirable job as the Philadelphia Eagles interim quarterback. He was thrown to the wolves, and still managed to have a passing yards-per-game average that would have been second to only Andrew Luck for 2012 rookie QBs. His game against Tampa Bay showed that he may possess that “clutch gene” that many Philadelphians say McNabb and Vick lacked. He’s got a long way to go before that’s a proven quality but the bottom line is that this kid has tangible potential. I’d even compare his playing style to Joe Flacco and Eli Manning, both of whom are Super Bowl champions.

CONS:

Although this hasn’t been the case during this year’s OTAs, Foles arm was called into question many times during 2012. Many wonder if he can throw the long ball with velocity on a consistent basis. It doesn’t matter if the ball goes 65 yards if the final product is a wobbling duck. Furthermore, Nick Foles is not exactly Collin Kaepernick. Using a QB with his athleticism in Chip Kelly’s Oregon-style read option offense would garner more laughs than many of Adam Sandler’s recent films. The truth is that the jury’s out on Foles and whether he can be that complete quarterback that is immeasurably important in today’s NFL.

My Take:

Michael Vick can still play QB, but it shouldn’t be for Philadelphia. He should have been gone last year with Andy Reid. Like Reid, I respect Vick and everything that he did for the city of brotherly love, but last year was as apt a time as any to make a fresh start. If he isn’t going to bow out gracefully, he runs the risk of being metaphorically run out of town, which is something I don’t think any of us is hoping for. There’s a reason why his 10-year, 100 million dollar contract was reduced to a 1-year, incentive based contract this offseason.

While Nick Foles was erratic at times, he was thrown into the worst possible situation for a rookie quarterback. The Eagles’ offensive line was completely decimated by injury, Desean Jackson was done for the year with I-don’t-want-to-injure-myself-for-nothing-itis, Maclin was questionable week-in and week-out, and the defense was…well, the defense. Nick Foles might very well be incompetent and a bad fit for the Philadelphia Eagles, but 2012 should not be the deciding factor in the argument. Foles has a strong arm and surprising poise at times. Let’s see what the kid’s made of.

It Doesn’t (Always) Get Better

We’ve all made comments in passing during the McNabb-Reid era Eagles’ reign about how special sustained success in the NFL can be. These comments may have been shamelessly placed between brazen criticism more often than not, but I’d like to think that most Philadelphia sports fans conceded some level of appreciation for what the 2000’s Eagles were able to achieve. Five appearances in the NFC title game and one thrilling trip to the Super Bowl opposite the best coaching-quarterbacking combination in a quarter century isn’t a bad consolation prize for a franchise that still hasn’t claimed a Lombardi trophy.

As obvious as the Eagles’ success in the past decade has been, an overwhelming sense of expectation surrounds the 2013-2014 season. This is a completely understandable side-effect of the prosperity this franchise has seen of late. After all, if teams like the Steelers, Packers, Giants and 49ers can maintain a winning culture for as long as they have, it’s only fair to assume that the Philadelphia Eagles are capable. Or maybe it isn’t.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ success in the 2000’s was not only an unsurpassed level of sustained excellence for the franchise, it was an unmatched one. In 1999, the Eagles were historically one of the NFL’s least impressive franchises. A decade of great football can go a long way to help rid an organization of such stigmas but the after years of such golden eras are almost more important.

It’s only natural to assume that, with a new, highly touted coaching regime and young talent, that the only direction to go from a 4-12 campaign is up. The fans from Cleveland, Detroit and Jacksonville might have a problem with your line of thinking there. The NFL has done a remarkable job of selling its fans a very valuable commodity: hope. Hope is what keeps the seats in stadiums filled through five to ten to fifteen years of futility. Sometimes hope is rewarded and other times…the Browns.

The underlying point I’m trying to make here is that this hope that Philadelphia Eagles fans are clinging to now is not a backed currency. Only time will tell whether the Eagles can roll into another decade of good football or sink back into mediocrity. While it’s not wrong to have an optimistic outlook on the post-Reid Eagles, fans would be better off keeping their hopes and expectations separate.

This is to say that it doesn’t always get better. Sometimes teams just fall apart. Sometimes fans wallow in misery for 20 years, getting excited about that new first round draft choice and their young talent that never pans out. It would be wrong of me to demand that the specter of these possibilities be at the forefront of every fan’s mind. It is equally misguided, however for us to dismiss such thoughts as simple pessimism.

Despite the overwhelming sense of hope that surrounds this new era of Eagles football, it is possible that we don’t see the success we’re used to for a very long time. I’m not telling anyone anything they didn’t already have lurking in the back of their minds. It is not my desire that we all expect the worst from the Philadelphia Eagles going forward. If reading this makes you think more fondly of the years that have passed, I believe that’s a healthy return. Maybe the possibilities of future failures will force us to appreciate smaller victories during the next decade. Would that be so bad?

Maybe the next ten years will be prosperous ones for the Eagles franchise. Maybe Chip Kelly and Matt Barkley will right all of the wrongs of previous regimes and set a new “gold standard” for Philadelphia football. But if they do, let’s cherish every moment with thoughts of the failures that could have been. Let’s do ourselves a favor as fans. Let’s not expect it.

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On Why We Love Sports: Chris McNamara

I am the mad scientist supreme of sports blogging.  While you may think that to be a bit pretentious — arrogant, even — I simply love to freak out and Hulk Smash conventional wisdom.  Think of me as Doc Brown from Back to the Future, although without the crazy hair and the 1.21 Giga…whatever.  Anyway, there’s nothing selfish about caring that much is there?

Chris McNamara

To me, there’s always more to life, and sports, than meets the eye. I am incredibly passionate about pretty much anything worth talking about.   Philadelphia sports in particular are just one of those creative vehicles through which I release vast amounts of energy.  If you read anything I ever compose or listen to what I have to say (P.S. there’s a lot!), know this: you may love me, or you may hate me, but it will be one hell of a ride.

You will also get a lot of nerdy references and gibberish that you won’t understand unless you were born in the 90’s.  But I am an equal opportunity nerd so don’t be confused or feel frustrated if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

The truth is I’m not here to tell you anything that’s supposed to be life-altering.  If that becomes the case then more power to you, but this is a bit of an experiment of my own.  I want to push boundaries and make things uncomfortable.  I don’t want this to be just any run-of-the-mill sports blog section.  Although my intention is to never be outright belligerent, being a fan can get pretty intense.  People would say that being a fan prevents one from being truly objective.  I would have to disagree with that statement.  It’s like having a little brother that you’re totally allowed to pick on, but if anyone else does it you want nothing more than to rub their faces in concrete.  You have express license to analyze, dissect, and stitch back together whichever sibling is behaving badly.

I’ve been a fan of Philadelphia sports my entire life and in running with my previous statements, see it as a Brotherhood of sorts.  It is not a gang!  When it comes to Brotherly love, bumps and bruises are to be expected.  We are a complicated bunch who act like we’ve always got something to lose.  Most of us become emotionally invested in one, if not all four professional sports teams at an early age. When they lose miserably, we lose miserably.  So my lovely readers will get a taste of disdain in the highest.  I do however, like to believe that this make the victories all the sweeter.

Sports in general are great action, comedy, and drama crammed all onto one giant stage.  There are heroes, villains, and even crazy people who we don’t know what to think about so we just laugh at them (I’m looking at you Andrew Bynum).  That’s the great thing about professional athletes in the city of Philadelphia: sometimes they can be heroes and villains at the same time.  Alas, this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this matter.  I will analyze the crap out of players, teams, managers, etc.

I’m not superstitious about sports, but I’m pretty damn religious about it.  Shut up, it makes perfect sense!  It’s not your grandfather’s stuffy football religiousness or daddy’s college basketball obsession; this is hardcore stuff people.  I accept all forms of hysteria into my life but I have a particular interest in new school thinking.  Moneyball is my personal bible.  I don’t say that lightly; I’m dead serious.  That book changed my damn life, not just the way I look at baseball.

I try not to read too deep into things but at this point in my life it’s inescapable.  What can I say?  In college I majored in spazzing the f–k out (English, actually, if you were wondering) with a minor in BS.  Along the way I’ll chastise the Eagles constantly for being inadequate, ridicule the Flyers for being all or nothing all of the time, the Phillies for getting carried away with success and not making it last, and the Sixers for just being dumb.  That’s it for now.  I know nothing’s perfect, but you’ll enjoy my intensity, and perhaps one day appreciate the sheer depth of my madness!