Five Practical Goals For the Second Half of the Sixers Season

Five Practical Goals For the Second Half of the Sixers Season

The Philadelphia 76ers are not going to win a championship this season.
They are pretty far away from winning a playoff series, and in all
likelihood—at four games back of the eighth seed and having already lost
the tiebreaker with the last-one-in Bucks—are not even going to make
the post-season. With all the expectation that this season began with,
we're probably headed for the lottery for just the second time in the
last six seasons.

All that depressing stuff said, we still do have 31 games to play
this year. There's still an ostensible playoff race to be run—even as
far back as the Sixers are, they're still the ninth seed, and within
striking distance of the top eight if things break right—but personally,
I don't think it's one worth making much of a push for, especially if
it comes at any potential cost to the team's long-term future, whether
that means returning players quickly from injury or making short-sighted
deals for veteran talent to help steal a couple wins between now and

Rather, here's five things I'd like to see the team try to do
between now and then. Some may happen, some not, but all are at least
reasonably attainable goals, which could help the Sixers in either the
short or long-term.

1. Try to trade an expendable role player for a young prospect or future draft pick. This
might be tough to do, as the Sixers are a little short-handed on
movable assets at the moment, especially with shooting guard Jason
Richardson—an overpaid commodity, but a reliable one that a contending
team could make use for—out for the year. Still, the Sixers have two
decent role players on short contracts in Spencer Hawes (two years, $13
million) and Nick Young (expiring, $6 million), who are hardly bargains
but could be good low-leverage pickups for a team in need of size or
shooting off the bench, respectively.

The Sixers have been notoriously inactive at the trade deadline in
recent years—I think dealing a second-rounder for Jodie Meeks a couple
off-seasons ago was the only real in-season trade of consequence made by
Philly since the Iverson deal—and most reports concerning the team have
them standing pat between now and the deadline on Thursday. Still, if
DiLeo and company can do their due diligence and at least see if there's
a late first-rounder to be had, or a project big or wing we can snag
for Hawes or Young (neither of whom are really in the team's long-term
plans), it'd be a nice chip to have while rebuilding over the next
couple years.

2. Continue to develop Arnett Moultrie. The project big man
already on the Sixers' roster has shown some flashes over the last few
weeks, moving well without the ball and fighting for rebounds down low.
But he's badly in need of more reps to find himself in the flow of the
offense (or occasional lack thereof), and that means more minutes,
especially as Thaddeus Young continues to rehab from injury. I'd like to
see him get more PT with Jrue and some of the first-unit guys, though
with Thad returning at the starting four before too long, perhaps it
makes sense to get him acclimated to playing with Evan Turner, Jeremy
Pargo and the rest of the bench unit. At the very least, let's get him
entrenched in the rotation, comfortable and confident and not worried
about Doug yanking his minutes in favor of Damien Wilkins or the ghost
of Tony Battie or whoever.

3. Stick with Evan. Yes, he's struggled lately. Yes, he very
well might continue struggle for the rest of the season. But they're
probably not going to trade him before the deadline, and he has more of a
chance of being a key, long-term part of the team than any other wing
player (not counting Jrue) on their roster. If Coach Collins starts
futzing with his PT now, trying to teach him "lessons" and further
undermining his occasionally fragile confidence, he might alienate or
ruin him entirely. If Turner proves that he just just can't be relied
upon long-term, then we'll figure out what to do about him in the
off-season, but in the meantime, there's no real upside to doing
anything but giving him as much of a chance as possible to prove that he
can be.

4. Keep on driving. Even if Evan's final stat line from his
pre-All-Star Break performance against the Bucks ended a mediocre one—20
points on 8-19 shooting, though that was still his best scoring night
in two weeks—the way he was consistently taking the ball to the basket
was heartening, looking for foul calls that weren't quite materializing.
He did still get four shots at the line, above his season average, and
the team shot 24 times at the charity stripe for the game, the most the
team had in nearly two months. 

If Evan and company keep it up, you have to think eventually he'll
get those calls, and maybe so will Jrue and the rest of the Sixers, who
have been pathetic (though not surprisingly so, given that the team has
been bottom-five in FTAs the last few seasons) in getting to the line
this season. It's the first step in the long process of getting this
offense back to efficiency, but it's a necessary one, and it'd be a nice
precedent to start over the last few months of the year.

5. Try to get at least...what, ten games in with Andrew Bynum and a full roster?
Hoping for just about any amount of time spent on the court for Andrew
Bynum this season seems arrogant and naive at this point. Is ten games
too much to ask for? Very possibly, but boy would even that be huge for
this team—to get some sense of playing with one another, to hopefully
pitch Bynum on his future with the Sixers (and the organization on the
idea that he has a future with the Sixers), to give the team something
to build on when hopefully the whole roster is returned for the
following year. If we can't get even that, it's going to be a long and
emotionally trying off-season, for sure.

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

They were great before the bye. They were bad since.

The Eagles rallied against the Lions only to lose late because of two turnovers. Then last week at Washington, they laid an egg.

But on Sunday, they looked like the pre-bye team — at least defensively — and handed the Vikings their first loss of the season.

"This is a team that for two weeks in a row has kind of got their lip bloodied a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said after the 21-10 victory (see Instant Replay). "The Detroit game, obviously feeling sick about that one, and then last week in Washington not playing well and up to our potential.

"These guys are professionals. They know how to get themselves ready to go. I don't feel like I have to motivate them. ... They really took it upon themselves this week to really make the corrections, No. 1, from last week and the adjustments. The veterans, the leadership stood up today, took command of the game, and that's what you like to see from this group."

More from Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz:

The defense
If the Eagles were going to win this game, the defense would have to dominate.

It did (see story).

The Vikings finished with only 282 yards from scrimmage — or 52 more than the Redskins rushed for last week against the Eagles.

The Eagles held Minnesota to 93 yards rushing (3.4 per carry) and battered Sam Bradford, who was 24 for 41 for 224 yards with a pick and a garbage-time TD. They sacked him six times (they had zero last week) and forced him to fumble four times. Bradford entered the game without a turnover this season.

"I think the guys just put it in their mind to play better than last week," Pederson understated. "Our defensive line really came off the ball today, really took it upon themselves to just attack the line of scrimmage and play on their side.

Two of the Eagles' three takeaways occurred in the red zone and in the first quarter, when the game was scoreless. They picked off Bradford on 3rd-and-goal at the 6 and forced a fumble on 1st down at the 17.

"It's huge," Pederson said. "Our defense playing as well as they did down there and stopping them. ... It was fun to watch our defense today. That's the defense that we expect every week going forward."

Bring the heat
The Eagles blitzed more than they had all season (see story). 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prefers to let his front four bring the pressure, but it hadn't worked the last two weeks, and now they were facing Sam Bradford, who was familiar with the scheme.

"Anytime you know a quarterback on the other team and kind of know his strengths and weaknesses and things like that — just try to give him some different looks, put some pressure on him from different areas," Pederson said. "It was a great game plan. ... Sometimes just changing things up to help your guys be in position — we benefitted from that today, and guys did a nice job."

Going for two after a made PAT
Midway through the second quarter, Pederson took a point off the board and decided to go for two after the Vikings were penalized for hitting Caleb Sturgis on an extra point, which was successful.

Wentz made the conversion with a QB sneak.

"It was kind of a no-brainer, because you get the ball at the 1," Pederson said.

"I've got a lot of trust in our guys. If you don't work those situations in practice and talk about those situations, then yeah, negative things can happen. But I felt totally 100 percent confident in our guys to execute that play."

Another "no-brainer"
Pederson hasn't been afraid to go for it on fourth down — the Eagles entered the game 4 for 4 on fourth downs — and on Sunday he converted another.

On the aforementioned drive, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-2 at the Vikings' 44. After unsuccessfully trying to draw the Vikings offside, the Eagles called timeout ... and sent the offense back out to go for it.

"Sometimes at that point, they feel like you're going to rush the punt team out there and burn the timeout," Pederson said, "but I went with the offense. I just had total confidence that we were going to get the first down.

"It was a kind of, again, a no-brainer — almost like the two-point conversion."

The play was an run-pass option ... until Wentz dropped the snap. He then ran six yards for the first.

"Obviously when he dropped it, at that point, it was run all the way," Pederson said. "But great execution."

"One more shot"
With 15 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles had the ball at the Minnesota 17. 

Pederson sent out the field goal unit for a 35-yarder, but when the Vikings called timeout to ice Sturgis, it gave Pederson time to change his mind.

The offense came back onto the field. Wentz threw incomplete to Jordan Matthews in the end zone, and then Sturgis came back and hit the field goal.

"Take one more shot," Pederson said. "Max the protection. It's two-man route. It's either a completion or an incomplete pass."

Wentz said there was "a little indecisiveness on the sideline," but once the play was decided on ... 

"It was just a max protect throw to Jordan or throw it away," Wentz said. 'It was pretty plain and simple: Don't take a sack."

All's well that ends well
Wentz botched a handoff. He threw two ugly interceptions in the first quarter. 

OK, those things happen (see Wentz's overall evaluation).

But he also dropped three snaps. How?

"I'm not really sure," Wentz said. "I just have to catch the ball, for starters. Some of them were a little off, but those are the things that we have to clean up."

On one of the dropped snaps, he converted the 4th-and-2. On another, he recovered and found Darren Sproles for a 19-yard gain.

Now, about those interceptions. On the first, he overthrew a blanketed Brent Celek. On the second, he forced a throw to Nelson Agholor with too much purple around.

"That one was 3rd-and-12, and there's no need to force that one," Wentz said. "As a quarterback, sometimes that happens. There's really no rhyme or reason. You see things and you kick yourself in the tail after the play, but you learn from it and move on."

Picks aside, Wentz's numbers weren't pretty — 16 for 28 passing for 138 yards with a TD. Pederson said Wentz "might have been pressing a little bit early" but overall "played efficient."

"Love the way he settled in," Pederson said. "There was no panic for him and any of us on the sideline."

Big V
Wentz was sacked five times last week. On Sunday, he wasn't sacked at all.

The Eagles at times max-protected, but they also benefitted from the improved play of rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was in his second game in place of suspended Lane Johnson.

Pederson said he didn't help Vaitai as much as he did against Washington.

"I felt he kind of settled in this week, did a nice job," Pederson said. "The run game obviously helps. ... We were in some two tight-end sets a little more today, and that obviously helped him a little bit. We'll evaluate the film tomorrow, but I thought overall he did a nice job."

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

For the first 40 yards of Josh Huff’s kick return touchdown on Sunday, he went untouched.

When he got to the Eagles’ 42-yard line, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was the only guy left in his way.

Huff ran through him.

“Yeah, I can’t let a kicker tackle me,” Huff said. “If he would have tackled me, I really would have been pissed at myself.”

The 170-pound Walsh couldn’t make the tackle and was sent spinning as Huff ran through. Fifty-six yards later, Huff took off from the 2-yard line, flipping into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead in an eventual 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).

Huff said he knew he was scoring as soon as he saw that he had just the kicker to beat.

With the Eagles’ down 3-0 and with their offense sputtering through the first quarter and change, Huff’s play was a game-changer (see 10 Observations).

“Josh did a great job on the return,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores.”

After Wendell Smallwood’s kick return touchdown last week, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have had kick return touchdowns in back-to-back games. They also have the NFL’s only two kick return touchdowns of the season (see Standout Plays).

“It’s super cool,” Smallwood said. “Now teams have to pick their poison. They can’t go away from one. They can’t say they’re not going to kick to Smallwood, then they kick to Huff and he takes it. I think we’re going to get a lot of teams’ attention.”

Huff also had a role in the Eagles’ offense against the Vikings. He caught four passes for 39 yards, including two that picked up first downs. His 14-yarder in the third helped set up the touchdown that sealed the win for the Eagles.

This season hasn’t been great offensively for Huff. He is clearly the Eagles’ fourth wideout and came into Sunday with just eight catches for 24 yards.

“Obviously, I want to play good on offense, but we have three great guys in front of me,” Huff said. “I’m doing what I can to stay ready and I’m at my best when those guys do need me. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing my job and as long as I stay ready, today was evident. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.”

Huff finished off his 98-yard kick return touchdown the same way he finished off his 41-yard receiving touchdown in New England last year: With a flip.

Huff took off from the 2-yard line and did a front flip, landing in the middle in the black end zone on his backside.

“It’s just something that happens,” Huff said. “Everybody says I should have stuck the landing, but I’m not a gymnast.”