Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Sixers Blow Out Magic, Somehow Only Win By 5

Well, it's not quite the feel-good win that it was looking like with
two-and-a-half to go, but it's a win nonetheless, and during a stretch
such as this, we'll certainly take it. In many ways, the Sixers caught
the Magic at the right time—whether you want to attribute it to a
team-wide slump or just a general lack of heart or effort, the Magic
were just straight missing shots tonight (again), including a 1-18
shooting stretch and a nine-point third quarter that had Enrico and I
wondering if the Magic weren't about to break their franchise low of 56
points in a game—set about a week ago in Boston.

But then a weird thing happened—the Magic's garbage time unit started to
surge against the Sixers. All of a sudden, the treys that were clanking
all night starting dropping, including a Glenn "Big Baby" Davis
28-footer that must rank among the more unlikely buckets of the season,
and for two-and-a-half minutes, the Magic could do no wrong on offense.
The Sixers said bye-bye to their streak of winning home games by ten
points or more as Orlando cut the lead to single digits, forcing the
Sixers to make free throws (always an interesting proposition with Andre
Iguodala and Evan Turner) and taking a couple months of Coach Doug
Collins' life. A J.J. Redick three at the buzzer cut the lead to 74-69
as time ran out, resulting in a five-point win that, while never really
in question as of the third quarter, still felt more head-scratching
than victorious.

Much credit must go to the Sixers' defense for shutting down the
Magic—Orlando missed a couple open shots, but mostly their threes (on
which they were 7-22 for the game) were taken on the run, off quick
releases, and/or late in the shot clock, thanks to the scrambling Sixers
D. (Special credit as always must go to 'Dre—opposing small forward
Hedo Turkoglu, having his best season in years, was kept to three points
on 1-9 shooting.)

The defense on Dwight was doubly impressive, considering the Sixers only
had one real center on the roster tonight, Dwight's old teammate Tony
Battie. Tony, Lavoy and especially Elton Brand did a good job of not
giving up anything easy to D-12, forcing him to make legit basketball
moves and/or knock down foul shots to score his points. Sometimes he
did, sometimes he didn't, but his success rate was kept at a sustainably
low level, so that the Sixers weren't forced to double, and could stay
glued to their knockdown shooters. It was about as well as the team
could expect to play the league's most dominant big man, especially with
Spencer Hawes still out and Nik Vucevic an emergency valve on the
bench.

Meanwhile, it wasn't a pretty game for the Ballers on offense—only two
Sixers shot 50% or higher, the 3-5 Battie and the 4-7 Evan Turner—but
they got the job done in a grind-it-out game, with Brand keeping the
team afloat early and Lou coming alive at just the right time in the
third to get the team a little separation. You never want to shoot 38%
for a game, but in the slow-down, half-court style that both teams were
playing here, it wasn't completely unseemly either, and at the least,
the team never stopped moving the ball, ending with 22 assists to the
Magic's 11.

So what do make of those final two-and-a-half minutes, then? Well,
ultimately it was sort of a moot point, since the Magic never really got
into striking distance of the Sixers before the clock ran out. But it
was a little disconcerting to see Collins hollering at the young guys on
the sidelines during timeouts for letting Orlando chip away at what
should have been an unimpeachable lead, and actually making him sweat it
out a little. This might have been a time for DC to show a little
patience with his young team, to remain firm but understanding that the
game was, for all intents and purposes, out of reach for the Magic, and
that the Sixers phoning in the last few after playing impossibly hard
for 46 might not be the biggest crime in basketball. If the team starts
to tune Collins out in a year or two—as his teams have historically done
around that time period—we'll look back on games like tonight as early
warning signs.

Ultimately, though, despite whatever the final score says, the Sixers
were the significantly better team tonight at the Wells Fargo Center,
and we now start the toughest stretch of the season with a one-game
handicap. Next up will be a much tougher challenge: The Chicago Bulls,
they of the best record in the East, on Wednesday night. It'll be the
toughest opponent the Ballers have faced at home thusfar, and will be
another chance for that "statement win" the team has yet to secure this
year. In the meantime, Philly is 15-6, and 4-1 against other Eastern
Conference teams who would be in the playoffs if the post-season started
today. If they're still considered unproven at this point, they're
certainly one of the greatest unproven basketball teams in all of 21st
century hoops.

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

CINCINNATI – Normally upbeat and positive, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz gave a terse answer, at least by his standards.

After the Eagles’ 32-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay), a game that was probably the worst of his young career, Wentz was asked about his proclivity for overthrowing his targets.

“Bad throw,” Wentz said blankly. “Just like last week.”

Those bad throws have been coming more and more frequently in recent weeks for the second-overall pick. After throwing one interception in his first five games, he’s thrown 10 in his last seven, including his first three-interception day on Sunday. A common thread has been overthrows.

When head coach and former QBs coach Doug Pederson was asked about those high throws from his prized quarterback, he said, “It’s strictly mechanics.” Pederson elaborated, saying they need to get Wentz off his back foot and stepping into throws. And then there were batted passes too.

“There were opportunities, obviously,” Pederson said. “Again, he's a young quarterback who missed a lot of time in the preseason, but now we just need to keep cleaning those things up.”

There might be a problem, though.

Wentz doesn’t seem to think there’s anything to clean up.

After Sunday’s embarrassing loss, the rookie said his mechanics feel the same now as they did when the Eagles started the season with three consecutive wins, before he had ever thrown a pick in the NFL.

“I don't think it's the mechanics,” Wentz said. “You make mistakes. Things happen, and that's just the bottom line.”

Is there anything that could be affecting his mechanics?

“I don't think so,” Wentz said. “You throw the ball 60 times, you're going to miss some. That kind of happens.”

Wentz seemed hesitant to take blame for his shaky play on Sunday (see breakdown of Wentz's performance), but he is right. Sixty passing attempts is an awful lot. In fact, it’s a record for an Eagles rookie and it’s the second most passing attempts a rookie quarterback has ever thrown in a game (Chris Weinke threw 63 in 2001).  

The reason for that, at least partially, on Sunday was the Eagles’ never got going offensively and their defense was porous at best, which led to the Bengals’ taking a 19-0 lead into halftime (see 10 observations from the loss). They had to try to throw their way back into the game.

“You never want your quarterback to throw 60 times, coming from behind,” Pederson said. “We put ourselves in a bind early in the football game. It’s going to be a learning lesson for him, obviously. We have to take a hard look at it. But by no means, the fact that he stood in there and still led the football team. He took some shots, but still stood in there and just shows you the kind of character and the toughness we have.”

For Wentz, who was once though to be the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, the last couple months have been understandably difficult.

In the first four games of the season, he had a passer rating over 100 three times. He hasn't broken 100 since then and his 58.2 rating on Sunday was the second-worst of the season, behind his 52.4 in a winning effort against the Vikings.

“You just can't get down,” Wentz said. “You've got to stay optimistic. Obviously, the results are tough as of late. We're kind of on a skid. Like I've been saying, this is a good group of guys, a good locker room. Guys are in it until the end.”

It’s important to remember that, initially, Wentz wasn’t drafted to play this season. The original plan was to have him sit this season, but he was thrust into action after the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford.

Ultimately, Wentz will be judged for his play in years to come. For now, though, he and the Eagles have to try to find a way to fix this.

How do they do it?

“Obviously, we're on a skid,” Wentz said. “There's nothing really to change. We've just got to lock in and we've got to be more disciplined. At the same time, you don't get down. That's what I've been saying. This locker room, guys aren't going to get down. We've just got to be better with our discipline and just keep attacking. Obviously, we're in a tough spot, but we've just got to take it one game at a time.”

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

CINCINNATI -- It wasn’t all that long ago that the Eagles were proud owners of one of the NFL’s finest defenses.

Just a few weeks ago.

Coming out of that Atlanta win that elevated the Eagles to 5-4 and left them in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt, the defense ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, fifth in sacks, fourth in takeaways and fifth on third down.

Pick a category, they were exceptional.

Pick a category, they’re not anymore.

The once-dominating defense continued an alarming downward spiral Sunday, allowing an undermanned Bengals team to score on its first six possessions on the way to a demoralizing 32-14 win over the Eagles at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay).

“Our goal is to get into the playoffs and give ourselves a shot to get to our ultimate goal of the Super Bowl,” cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. “As you can see right now, it’s not happening.”

Any hope the Eagles had of reaching the playoffs has evaporated. After their third straight loss and seventh in their last nine games, they’re officially playing out the string.

And not doing it very well (see 10 observations).

Six of their last seven opponents have scored 26 or more points. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced have combined for five touchdown passes, no interceptions, 932 passing yards, zero sack yards and a 71 percent completion percentage.

Worst of all, they’ve allowed points on 17 of 27 meaningful drives over the last three weeks in losses to the Seahawks, Packers and Bengals.

“It’s very disappointing,” Fletcher Cox said after his eighth straight game without a sack.  “As an organization and as a team, it’s very disappointing.

“Today was not one of our days. We’ve got to get off the field on third down, we’ve got to minimize the penalties, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get our offense the ball back.”

We knew the offense would be a work in progress. Young and banged up. But the defense — especially the defensive line — was supposed to be the strength of this team. An elite unit.

Instead, they’ve been terrible. And getting worse.

“We had a bunch of goals this year,” Brandon Graham said. “We’re prideful men, and we don’t like to go out like this.”

How does a defense go from one of the best of the league the first half of the season to one of the worst the second half?

By allowing a historic number of third-down conversions (22-for-43 the last three weeks), by not forcing turnovers (three straight games without an interception), by not getting pressure (one sack for zero yards the last three games, no sacks the last two games), and by committing penalties at a near-record pace.

“It’s frustrating, man,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “Past couple weeks have been frustrating. To not get off on third down when that’s something we do well? And the past couple weeks to not get it done? It sucks. 

“We’re mad at ourselves. We got them into these 3rd-and-long situations but it’s one thing or another, and they convert it. Frustrating.”

During their current three-game losing streak, the Eagles have no interceptions and one sack. 

Their top playmakers – Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jordan Hicks, Cox – have been largely ineffective.

They Eagles did force a couple fumbles Sunday long after the game had been decided, but nobody on this defense has made a meaningful impact play since Leodis McKelvin picked off Matthew Ryan in the Falcons game.

A month ago.

“If you don’t make those plays, it keeps the drive moving, you can’t get off the field on third down, you can’t get turnovers, you can’t get sacks … all the things that made us us good all season,” Carroll said.

“That’s what we hung our hat on and the past couple weeks we haven’t been able to get them and you see when we don’t get them what an offense can do. 

“We have to get back to what we do, and that’s getting turnovers, getting after the quarterback and getting off the field on third down.”

On the heels of brilliance from Wilson and Rodgers, Dalton completed 23 of 31 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, a 130.0 passer rating.

The Bengals even ran for 80 yards as the Eagles allowed 400 or more yards for the third time in a row, something that’s only happened twice previously in franchise history.

“You all see it out there,” McKelvin said. “We can’t expect to win when we have those type of mistakes and not executing plays. We can’t go backwards. On both sides, we can’t go backwards. We can’t go backwards as a defense, we can’t go backwards as an offense. We’ve got to make those plays.”

This is the first time in 33 years the Eagles have had a three-game stretch in which the defense totalled just one combined sack and interception. 

It’s really hard to be that ineffective.

“It is uncharacteristic of us,” McLeod said. “Have to credit teams sometimes, but a lot of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in a lot of ways, not doing the things we need to do defensively to win games. 

“Most of the time early in the year we got turnovers, we got stops, and helped the team win. We’ve just got to find ways — myself included — to help us out any way we can.”

The Eagles have lost three straight games by double digits after opening the season with three straight wins by double digits.

They’re clearly not headed in the right direction, and the defense is leading that charge.

First six weeks? They allowed 12.5 points per game, and the Eagles were 4-2.

Last six weeks? They’ve allowed 26.2 points per game, and the Eagles are 1-5.

“It felt like we were playing pretty well on first down and getting killed on third down,” Hicks said. “In third-and-long situations, those are situations where usually we win. We didn’t win them today. 

“Credit the offenses we’ve played, they’ve taken care of the ball, but we’ve got to do a better job getting turnovers, setting our offense up and getting them field position. 

“That’s what defense is all about. Being aggressive and getting the ball back for your offense, and we haven’t been able to do that.

“We made some plays (at the end), but it’s too little too late. We’ve got to come out from the start and play with that type of intensity.”

It doesn’t look like the Eagles have quit. They’ve just stopped making plays.

At every position.

“It’s not lack of effort, we just have to self-evaluate ourselves and get back to the way we were playing before and figure it out,” McLeod said.

“I believe we’re going to stay together. It’s just disappointing because we work so hard and to fall short of what we ultimately want to do, it’s hard as a player.”