Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Well we had one of those dreaded Philly
sports days yesterday. All three teams in action lost and lost ugly. On
the "Scary to No Big Deal" spectrum, the Flyers take up the scary mantle
because they continue to play down to inferior opponents, making us wonder if they've lost what made them superior, and of course, the playoffs begin next week. The Sixers fall somewhere in the middle in that they got smoked by the Celtics,
but it didn't sting quite as badly because even though we're amped up
for them to be in the playoffs, the expectations aren't quite as high
for them as the Flyers. Plus, the Celtics are undeniably good. The scary
element really is just in that they could be the team that the Sixers
face in round one. Then there's the Phillies, who were slammed back to
earth with a 7-1 loss to the Mets. The opening series sweep is
officially over, and the first loss of the season came to the hated
rival. Otherwise, no big deal, but it was annoying, especially given
that the Flyers were crapping the bed up in Ottawa something fierce, and
the Sixers had the look of the one-and-done many people already thought
they were. 

So what do you have for us, Wednesday? 

At least for the Phillies, there's the hope of seeing some good
baseball. If last night's loss, ugly as it was, shook you at all, you
can get out. I try not to be one of these Fannier Than Thou types, but
seriously, leave. This team is so good that I'm genuinely excited to see
its fifth starter pitch today. It's Phillies-Mets. Screw last night.
Last night is dead. If you got a schedule magnet, take a quick look and
see how dead last night is. The Phils lost on an awful weather night,
which is no excuse considering that it didn't seem to bother the Mets,
but for some reason it makes it easier to discount for me. 

With the staggered start times, I got to see Cole pitch in the first
inning, get into a little bad luck, then pitch his ass off to get out of
it. It felt great to see him work with two runners in scoring position
and David Wright at the plate. It felt as good as seeing the Flyers
score an early goal on the power play. Unfortunately, both teams crapped
out shortly thereafter. The Phillies get a shot to redeem immediately
themselves, with Joe Blanton (he of the World Series W and HR Blantons)
facing Mike Pelfrey tonight. And for me, that inning alone was enough of
a reminder that there's nothing to worry about with Cole, who just had a
rough night. We also saw a few more glimmers from the offense,
especially Jimmy Rollins' continued work from the three hole. How about
that bunt single and stolen base? That was f*cking awesome. 

Tonight's opposing starter got blasted in his debut, including giving up a grand slam on his way to an opening day loss. (Side
note for people who like to say that fourth starters play other teams'
fourth starters, etc.: We're in the second series of the season, and
already, we're seeing a fifth starter play the opening day guy for the
other team. It's fantastic that the Phils have four aces and a pretty
good fifth, but with them and throughout baseball, the matchups are
going to vary based on days off, injuries, and skipped starts.)
 

But the ass-whooping at the hands of the Mets last night could be a
blessing in disguise (if you're still following along with my
Flyers-shame-and-coffee-induced optimism). If you listened to what Charlie Manuel had to say last night after the loss,
he wasn't down in the face like Peter Laviolette was, and with good
reason for both. Charlie knows he has a great hand, but he also knows
that some competition from the Mets now and throughout the season could
be a good thing. The Flyers got complacent somewhere around the All-Star
Game, and look where they are at the moment. The same could happen to
the Phillies if they don't have competition in the standings. Even
before the season, it was looking like the NL East had improved
throughout its ranks. Some competition could be exactly what the Phils
need to keep their minds off the magazine covers and on the field. 

This group hasn't really had a problem with staying grounded, but
we're now entering a third straight season of very lofty expectations,
amplified by the re-addition of Cliff Lee. Even without Chase Utley for a
while, the expectations are no less than a World Series win. 

While I'm no bandwagon Flyers fan, it does help to ease the pain of
one team's loss to know I can just put on another's game the next night
and know they have a damn good shot at winning, even if it's fifth
starter night. The Union also play a US Open Cup game against the DC United
before a huge early season matchup with the Red Bulls at PPL Park on
Sunday. And yes, I'm still really looking forward to the NHL playoffs
and fully expecting this team to show up in the first round.

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DT: What will it cost to re-sign Bennie Logan?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DT: What will it cost to re-sign Bennie Logan?

Bennie Logan set new career highs for the Eagles in 2016 with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, although clearly the bar was low in those particular categories. But while the four-year veteran maybe made a few more big plays than in years past, he was less active overall after making the switch from the nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme to a defensive tackle in a wide-nine, 4-3 alignment.

After racking up at least 55 tackles in his first full two seasons as a starter, Logan managed only 24 in his new role. And while he doubled his quarterback hits from three over 2014-15 to six, his tackles for loss were cut almost in half, from eight, then nine, to five.

Logan did miss three games with a hip injury, which who knows how that might've affected him over the final eight games. In the four contests prior to getting hurt, he already had 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble, three quarterback hits and three tackles for loss, so there was a marked difference in impact beforehand.

Regardless, that must make it difficult for the Eagles to evaluate his performance, which is kind of a problem, because Logan is due to become a free agent. How does the front office go about determining his value in this defense?

It's not an easy question, and the first thing you have to ask is who takes Logan's place in the starting lineup? In terms of an in-house replacement, the individual numbers don't indicate a huge drop-off with Beau Allen. Allen only recorded a 0.5 sack and failed to force a fumble in '16, but finished with five more tackles, the same number of tackles for loss and one less quarterback hit than Logan in 55 fewer snaps.

The Eagles would need to address depth at the position if they went with Allen, but that path wouldn't necessarily cost as much money as retaining Logan. A proven disruptor up the middle — especially in the right scheme — can command a lot on the open market.

Take a look at the contract fellow LSU product Michael Brockers got from the Rams back in September. Brockers received a three-year extension worth over $33 million with $18 million guaranteed. Granted, a lot of that is tied to a roster bonus he doesn't seem poised to be with the club to earn in 2017, but even just his salary for last season totalled nearly $7 million.

That was coming off a season in which Brockers posted 44 tackles, 3.0 sacks, zero forced fumbles, eight tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Those are a step up from Logan's totals in '16, but not necessarily better than some of his previous campaigns.

Again, it's difficult to determine Logan's exact value, but to the right team, he could certainly be worth upwards of $5-6 million per year. Tough to say whether the Eagles would be willing to go there, especially given their tight cap situation.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES UNDER CONTRACT

Fletcher Cox
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $9,400,000

Cox probably didn't live up to the expectations that come with a contract worth $100 million — the second-highest total for his position — but he's still one of the most dominant interior linemen in the league. The five-year veteran better get used to the fact that he's going to face constant double-teams the next few years, because the Eagles don't have a pure pass-rush specialist on the edge who can take over games. With that in mind, 6.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits probably aren't enough from Cox, although when he's at his best, he can carry the Eagles to victory. Just look at his first three games of the season, all wins: 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Either way, $63 million in guarantees says he isn't going anywhere for awhile.

Beau Allen
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $705,562

Allen proved to a perfectly serviceable rotational player in 2016, plus added another position to his resume. He can play fullback in a pinch, which is impressive in itself for a 327-pound man. Hard to say whether Allen is starter material. According to Pro Football Focus, Logan still charted better against the run among qualifying interior linemen — although Allen was above average — but the Wisconsin product was the more productive of the two when it came to rushing the passer. If the goal here is primarily to save money, the Eagles should be able to get away with Allen and a cheaper veteran or early draft pick aside of Cox, who makes sure everybody else across the line is getting one-on-one treatment anyway.

Taylor Hart
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $690,000

Not going to lie, I was a little surprised to see Hart is still on the roster. Depth issues led to the Eagles bringing him back, although he never suited up. The former fifth-round draft pick has now been active for a grand total of 15 games in three seasons. Scouting reports suggested Hart would be better off in a 3-4 alignment, but even that is suspect at this point.

Destiny Vaeao
Age: 23*
Cap Number: $540,000

An undrafted rookie out of Washington State, Vaeao had his moments. His strip-sack against the Bears in Week 2 was a big play, and he got the quarterback again in the first meeting against the Giants. Otherwise, Vaeao was pretty quiet. He figures to be competing for his spot on the roster in 2017, although if Logan leaves, it might be difficult finding enough bodies to rendering a prospect with a full season's worth of experience expendable.

Aziz Shittu
Age: 23*

Shittu had a standout preseason, racking up six tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. That was enough to land the undrafted rookie out of Standford on the Eagles practice squad, though it might be telling that they liked Vaeao and even Hart more. Nonetheless, Shittu signed a futures contract at the conclusion of the season and will be an interesting name to keep an eye on come training camp.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Bennie Logan
Age: 28*
2016 Cap Number: $1,842,023

To be fair, Logan probably made more of an impact than the numbers indicate. The Eagles' wide-nine just doesn't feel like the ideal fit. A case could be made Logan was transforming into arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL prior to the switch. Filling a gap and building a wall at the line of scrimmage seem to be his strengths, not so much getting upfiekd and attacking quarterbacks. Again, we'll allow for the possibility Logan wasn't 100 percent all season, and he could certainly continue to develop with more experience in this role. If it were my money, it would be all about price. If we're talking the lower end of the spectrum, maybe $4.5 million, it's easy to justify bringing him back. Once that price tag soars — and it certainly may — it simply may not make much sense for the Eagles anymore.

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."