No One Goes 82-0, Probably: Sixers Get First L of Season Against Knicks

No One Goes 82-0, Probably: Sixers Get First L of Season Against Knicks

It feels like we were overdue for a game like this, despite the fact
that we've only technically played one game so far this season. The New
York Knicks simply outplayed the Philadelphia 76ers today, in virtually
all phases of the game, largely because at this point in the season,
they're probably a considerably better team. More on that in a minute,
but the end result for this afternoon was a 100-84 Knicks victory that
was never really in question from the first quarter on.

Despite
all the bad moves and worse PR for the Knicks front office that you've
no doubt heard about this off-season—letting Jeremy Lin sign with the
Rockets largely out of spite, trading for a bunch of
past-their-past-their-prime veterans, losing to the Lakers in the Steve
Nash sweepstakes, even losing Amar'e Stoudemire to injury for the first
two months of the season—the end result for New York is a team that,
whether by design or dumb luck, actually makes a lot of sense.

The
team's construction, as currently constituted isn't totally unlike the
Iverson-led Sixers teams of the early '00s, building around Anthony's
transcendent offensive talents with smart, veteran role players that can
play defense, move the ball and hit open shots—the one exception being
J.R. Smith, who's there to play poor-man's Melo with the second unit.
I'm not sure how it'll play for New York against more star-studded
lineups in the post-season, or once nominal secondary star Stoudemire
returns from injury, but so far so good for these Knicks, who have won
two games against playoff teams by a combined 36 points, and appear on
track to win a lot of games this regular season.

Meanwhile, it
might be a bit strong to say that the Sixers never had a chance today,
but the odds were certainly against them, especially with the early-game
loss of Jason Richardson to an ankle strain. (Damn you, front row
photogs!) The team needed Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Evan Turner to
step up in our most consistent wing scorer's absence, and the trio
combined to shoot 9-30, effectively torpedoing the team from the
outside. Nick Young was especially ghastly, adding nothing beyond his
non-existent shooting stroke, killing the team's momentum with a dumb
box-out foul on Jason Kidd just as they were making a run back in the
second half, and ending with a -29 for the game, which seems generous if
anything.

Turner was better than the Swagged One, but not much.
As he'll likely do throughout the season, he was able to contribute via
the defensive boards, actually scraping together a double-double for
the afternoon, and he managed to get to the free-throw line six times (a
team high by far, sadly), hitting all six. But his outside shot was
predictably flat, his ball-handling was sloppy, and he got burned on
defense repeatedly by the likes of Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith, closing
late on shooters and failing to switch in time. To say we need more
from Turner to have a chance to stay competitive in Andrew Bynum's
elongated absence would be an understatement, but let's say it anyway:
Evan, you gotta do better than this.

The positives today came
from Jrue Holiday, who kept the team in the game with his outside
shooting, draining five of six behind the arc for 27 points. Still,
Jrue's distribution was off, as his seven assists came with six
turnovers, and his outside shooting belied a passiveness getting into
the paint, as the Damaja took nary a shot from the free-throw line
today. Meanwhile, it was good news, bad news with Thaddeus Young, who
scored 16 points in the paint but needed 14 shots to do it, and who
collected an impressive six offensive rebounds, but didn't grab a single
board on the defensive glass. Spencer Hawes was effective early but got
into foul trouble quickly, largely thanks to some aggressive driving
from Carmelo Anthony.

Oh yeah, speaking of Melo—the Sixers
didn't have a prayer against him. Now, Anthony gets his against all
teams in the end, and he averaged about 20 a game against the Sixers
last year as well, but with All-Defensive stopper Andre Iguodala digging
in against #7, he needed a whole lot of shots to do it, shooting less
than 37% against Philly for the year. He had no such trouble against
today's Sixers, blowing by the likes of Evan Turner and the hopelessly
over-matched Thaddeus Young, scoring 27 points on efficient 10-18
shooting, and sending the ball in its route along the perimeter for an
inevitable open Knicks three-pointer when the team attempted to double.
We here at the 700 Level fully believed it was time to let Andre
Iguodala go when we traded him last off-season, but you don't give up a
player that good without occasionally feeling his absence, and today was
one of those games.

The Sixers will get another chance against
these Knicks tomorrow night at home, and with Melo and the Knicks
hopefully getting a little less love from the refs and with Coach
Collins getting a chance to retool his defensive gameplan, maybe the
Sixers will fare better. But Anthony's dominance today shows us what
we're missing with our star center Andrew Bynum riding the bench, and
what a disadvantage we're going to be at without it against teams with
players like him until Bnum's return. In any event, the Sixers wings are
gonna have to step it up considerably in the team's next few
games—Jrue's not gonna hit five three-pointers too many more times this
season, and he can't make Collins' prediction of being a top-five assist
guy a reality as long as his teammates are clunking their open jumpers.

Still, we knew the undermanned Sixers were gonna lose some
games like this early, so there's no reason to panic about one such
defeat. Split the early season-series tomorrow night, and we can
certainly live with the loss today. Too early in the season to start a
losing streak already, anyway. 

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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