Phils Lose Series As Offense Bottoms Out

Phils Lose Series As Offense Bottoms Out

For a moment, Jimmy Rollins finally appeared poised to produce some runs from the three spot. Down 2-0 in the third inning with one out and runners on first and second, J-Roll lined a 1-1 curve ball deep to left that would have scored at least one, and potentially tied the game. Ryan Braun gave chase as the ball hung in the damp night, and instead the left fielder stabbed it out of the air in front of the wall (not pictured). Ryan Howard would ground out to end the threat.

Rollins' shot was one of several well-hit fly balls Brewers outfielders were able to snare, as Randy Wolf earned his third career win over the Phillies, and the Milwaukee bullpen pitched three scoreless innings to secure a ghastly 9-0 shutout. It was the first time the Fightins have been blanked this year.

The game may as well have ended on Rollins' near-miss, because the offense certainly was finished. Shane Victorino's double to set up that scoring opportunity would prove to be the final base hit of the game for the Phils, one of their whopping two. Carlos Ruiz, hit by a pitch in the fourth, was the last baserunner until only two outs remained in the ninth inning.

While the bats were a major disappointment, you have to credit the Brewers' pitching and defense to some extent. With the exception of the hanger he threw Rollins, Wolf kept the Phillies' hitters off balance for much of the night. He pitched six strong innings, striking out five. Most of the trouble Wolf did actually experience, he got himself into as a result of his three walks. The guys behind the mound bailed him out of the rest of the tough spots, particularly the very active and rangey outfield.

The game was still close until the seventh inning, when the Brewers were finally able to break it open. Trailing 3-0 with runners on, Charlie Manuel was hoping Roy Halladay could get through the inning so they could pinch hit for him in the bottom half. When Ryan Howard was unable to snag a sharply hit groundball off the bat of Prince Fielder that increased the lead to four, it was David Herndon time.

The next batter, Casey McGhee, found a pitch right in his wheelhouse, and gave it a ride over the left field fence to make it a 7-0 game. The inning would drag on further, and it was a nine-run deficit until all was said and done. At that point, Manuel began lifting starters from the game, including Ruiz who earlier had a Halladay pitch hit him in an unprotected area on his foot.

Fielder and Braun were a two-man wrecking crew, combining for five hits, four runs, and two RBI's on the night. Halladay was tagged for six earned runs in 6.2, and while it clearly wasn't his best stuff, he didn't pitch that bad. The Brewers did not hit many balls hard, but they were able to string together enough offense to score in the second, third, sixth, and seventh innings. Two of those runs were credited to Doc on the Herndon bomb.

Getting back to the Phillies' offensive woes, there is some cause for concern on the whole as they haven't scored more than four runs in over a week. It's been true for some time already they aren't as potent as when they delievered a championship in 2008, and we may be beginning to see some cracks with the current makeup of the lineup.

This is baseball though. The first 10 days, they were knocking the cover off the ball. Now they've come back to earth a little. It's a long season.

AP Photo

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

The Eagles have vowed to get better. 

They desperately don't want to have a performance from their run defense like the one against Washington, when they gave up 230 yards on the ground. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the run defense is "a pride thing" and the guys responsible for the performance, Jim Schwartz included, say things will get better. The defensive coordinator cited bad angles as a reason there were so many missed tackles on Sunday afternoon. 

In all, the Eagles missed 10 tackles and gave up 156 yards after contact — both more than they had given up in the first four games of the season. 

Washington's rushing yards came in some big chunks. Here's a look at some of the key running plays from Sunday as we try to figure out what went wrong: 

This is a key 3rd-and-7 from the Washington 13-yard line. On this drive, Washington ends up scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0, but it doesn't happen without this key third down conversion. 

The Eagles collapse the pocket and force Kirk Cousins to his left. That's exactly what Schwartz said he wants, to force the quarterback to his non-throwing side. Everything at this point is working out perfectly. 

Here's the angle that's really troublesome. At this point, Nigel Bradham (circled in green) has Cousins in his sights, while Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham (farther behind) are in pursuit. Curry and Graham seem to let up in their pursuit when it looks like Cousins will go out of bounds. But he doesn't. 

Schwartz talked about bad angles, and this is the perfect example from Bradham. He overshoots it and when Cousins makes his cut back inside, all of Bradham's momentum is heading toward the sideline. Curry ends up making the tackle but tackles Cousins forward for a big first down. 

This next play was just a little counter draw that ended up going for a huge 45-yard gain. Rob Kelley takes the handoff, which looks to be going right. The entire Eagles' linebacking group bites hard. Still, right end Connor Barwin is free and has a chance to make the play. 

He doesn't. Just a missed tackle. 

Kelley finds some open field. Rodney McLeod is the next guy to beat and Kelley simply turns him around. You'll see Mychal Kendricks enter the frame. Kendricks showed great recovery speed to get back in the play and has a chance to finally bring the running back down. 

Nope. Can't do it. Eventually, McLeod recovers to bring him down. 

This last play ended the game on Sunday. The Eagles punted the ball away with the hope that their defense would stop Washington and give them the ball back. Instead, Matt Jones broke off a 57-yard run on 3rd-and-7. 

Jordan Hicks over pursues, probably thinking the run was going wide. But he loses his gap and Jones is off to the races. 

Once Jones gets past the first down, it doesn't really matter that it was a 57-yard run. It could have been an 8-yarder and the game was over. 

So what did we learn? 

Well, Schwartz was right. Angles absolutely killed the Eagles on Sunday. But when they have a guy wrapped up, they need to bring him down. Sure, that's not Earth-shattering, but they couldn't do it on Sunday and it led to a loss. 

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."