State of the Union: Looking at the Sixers' 2012 Season At the All-Star Break

State of the Union: Looking at the Sixers' 2012 Season At the All-Star Break

This is probably going to come off as insincere—because I guess in
reality, it sort of is—but I'm half-glad that the Sixers dropped their
last five games. Or, perhaps to be more accurate, I'm glad that they
dropped their last five games when they did. More specifically,
I'm glad that they did it on this side of the All-Star Break—not only so
that the team can have a chance to recuperate and hopefully return with
a new sense of purpose, but so that the front office can have a chance
to take a good, hard look at this team and properly size up exactly what
they have.

Because, in the spirit of honesty I've already cultivated, let's say
it straight: This is not a championship team. I think we all knew that,
even at the team's high-water mark of beating four playoff teams in
five games, but some of us (myself included) had allowed all the winning
to get us playing the ol' What If game. What if the Magic or Pacers
knocked off the Heat? What if Derrick Rose never got healthy? What if
the Celtics and Knicks never got their act together? Could the Sixers,
41-41 last year and not expected to be notably better this year,
actually be the team to come out of the Eastern Conference?

The answer now to all of that would appear to pretty clearly be
"no."

Not that the Sixers are exactly in free-fall after their five-game
losing streak—they were all tough games against good teams, four of
them were on the road, the Ballers were at least competitive in all of
them, and they all came without starting center Spencer Hawes (and two
of them without starting power forward Elton Brand). But what this
streak has exposed for the Sixers are the team's very real flaws—they
don't have a real paint presence, either to intimidate on defense or get
easy buckets on offense, they don't have a true go-to scorer to bail
out a stagnant offensive set and make plays late in games, and they
don't have the experience to stay composed when things start to go bad.

Moreover, the advantages they had at the beginning of this
lockout-compressed season are starting to dissipate. When the season
kicked off, the Sixers were able to jump out on teams by virtue of
having personnel that stayed consistent from last season, and having
young legs that didn't take as long to play themselves into shape as
some of the older teams. As other teams that experienced player turnover
in the off-season finally start to gel, and the veterans get their legs
back under them, the Sixers can't really do that anymore. And this is
true all across the league, where the experienced, veteran teams
(Mavericks, Spurs, Heat, Lakers to an extent) are really starting to
thrive, while the younger, deeper teams (Sixers, Blazers, Pacers,
Nuggets) are crashing hard back down to earth.

But like I say, this might not be such a terrible thing. If we had
gone into the All-Star Break just a little hotter, say at 23-11 instead
of 20-14, the Sixers' front office might have been so enchanted with the
idea of getting a top seed that they might think a couple cosmetic
trades—trading a young guy and a draft pick for a pricey veteran backup
big man, for instance—could be enough to help put the team over the top,
when in reality it would probably just make the difference between a
second-round loss in five games and a second-round loss in six games, in
all likelihood. The team is still too far away from the ultimate goal
to make such potentially future-mortgaging deals a good bargain, so it's
good that we know that for sure now, rather than after it's too late.

In my opinion, it's better that we continue to let it ride with this
group, and just take whatever post-season success comes or doesn't
come, without reacting too strongly to whatever the results are. That's
not to say that I don't think Rod Thorn should pick up his phone the
next few weeks—if there's a big deal out there, one that could net the
Sixers a superstar or near-superstar player still in his prime, of
course Thorn should at least listen. But opportunities for such deals
are few and far between, and in the meantime, I'd rather see the Sixers
play out the season with the horses they've got then trade for anything
less than a true impact player. (And despite how well he's been playing
this season and despite his first All-Star selection, I'd still be in
favor of the team trading Andre Iguodala, though I acknowledge now that
this is not likely to happen.)

In the meantime, though...man, I hope that Coach Collins starts to
give a little more responsibility to Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
Neither of them have necessarily deserved it recently, but that's at
least partly a consequence of the fact that Collins doesn't seem to
trust his young guys at all, cutting Evan's minutes and taking the ball
out of Jrue's hands. There are games where it seems like Dougie would
run every single play through Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams,
and while those guys might currently be able to shoulder the load a
little better than Evan and Jrue, is it worth failing to develop these
guys to their full potential, and risking alienating them altogether?

It would be a shame of near-catastrophic proportions if we had to
trade one or both of these guys because they just couldn't get along
with Collins, and it would be nearly as bad if we had to get rid of
Collins to placate the young guys. I really hope some sort of compromise
between playing for the present and playing for the future can be
reached here, where Collins can look to increase the duo's role with the
team without sacrificing their chances in too many (if any) actual
games. It's important, dammit.

Meanwhile, there should be another priority for the team
post-All-Star Break that has little to do with their final record:
Getting Spencer Hawes back 100% healthy. I've wondered if the minor
silver lining to Spencer's extended injury woes since starting the
season like an MIP candidate is that he might have hurt his contract
value to the point where the Sixers can sign him in the off-season
without totally blowing their cap space, but that just presents another
problem—we still don't know just how good this guy is.

Were the numbers Spencer put up the first few weeks of the season
what we can expect from him year-round, or was it just the result of a
small sample size and some poor scouting reports? And even if he is for
real, will his persistent back and knee issues make it a moot point? We
need to at least get some kind of read on this before season's end, so
we have an idea of just how much Spence is worth spending for when he
becomes a free agent in the off-season. Otherwise, we might end up
letting him walk and having him burn us elsewhere, or over-committing to
him and paying a limping stiff eight digits a year for the next
half-decade. I'm not sure which is worse, and obviously I'd prefer to
avoid either.

Even with the recent losing streak, it's been a fun season so
far—and should be a fun All-Star weekend, with Turner playing in the
Rising Stars game (Go Team Chuck!) and Iguodala of course repping the
East in the Game proper. But when the season kicks off again next
Tuesday against the Pistons, it'll be critical that the team stays the
course, playing for the present but keeping one eye towards the future,
and not letting their emotions get the better of them in one direction
or the other. We still have the chance to make this season a real
success for the 76ers, whether it be through a playoff series win,
another year of solid player development, or a legitimately team
re-shaping new acquisition. And hey—we could still get that new mascot
by year end. You never know.

Eagles-Redskins 5 things: One-side rivalry and it's getting ugly

Eagles-Redskins 5 things: One-side rivalry and it's getting ugly

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +2.5

With a 5-7 record, the Eagles may be all but eliminated from postseason contention, although if they're not going to the playoffs, at least they can take a division rival down with them.

At 6-5-1, the Washington Redskins still have a shot at the playoffs, but a loss at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday could prove devastating to their cause. And while playing the role of spoiler might not be what the Eagles had in mind at this point in the year, should they manage to come away with the win, their own slim hopes aren't necessarily finished just yet.

In other words, there's plenty left to play for this week. That, plus an opportunity to reverse some disturbing trends should be motivation enough.

1. It's getting ugly
The fact that the Eagles enter Sunday mired in a three-game losing streak is only part of the problem. It's how they're losing.

The Eagles have actually dropped seven of their last nine, but at one point, they were at least competitive. Their first four defeats were all by a touchdown or less, or an average just under five points per game. None of the last three have been particularly close however, and the disparity has only gotten worse — by 11 against the Seattle Seahawks, by 14 to the Green Bay Packers and by 18 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Most distressing during that span is the lack of offensive production by the Eagles, averaging exactly 14 points per game during the streak and topping out at 15 in Seattle. Their previous low score this season was 20.

It's getting late in the year, when fatigue and injuries can take their toll on a young, thin roster, which is what's happening here. Regardless, the Eagles need to show some signs of life this week, before this season spirals completely out of control

2. One-sided rivalry
Though these NFC East foes meet twice per season, you have to go back more than two full calendar years to find the last time the Eagles were victorious in the series.

The last time the Eagles defeated Washington was in September 2014 in a thrilling 37-34 tilt at the Linc. Since then, the Redskins have taken ownership of the rivalry, winning four straight matchups for the first time since 1985-87.

The current streak has been especially depressing however, as it's also served to eliminate the Eagles from postseason contention each of the past two seasons. While that wouldn't be the case this time around in any technical sense, a loss would make a playoff berth almost impossible to secure.

If nothing else, the Eagles are playing for pride Sunday. After all, nobody wants to let an opponent they see twice a year secure the kind of bragging rights Washington holds now.

3. Anomaly or cause for concern?
Last time these two teams met, the Eagles authored one of their worst defensive performances of the season. 26 first downs and 493 yards of total offense surrendered remain season highs, although perhaps most alarming was the way the unit was gashed on the ground.

Washington ran for 230 yards in the 27-20 win, as Matt Jones racked up 135 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries with a long gain of 57 to pace the offense, while Robert Kelley ripped off a 45-yarder as well. As inconsistent as they are, this was very unlike the Eagles. Only three other opponents have even gone over the century mark against this group, so it's one thing they generally do well.

The question is whether the Eagles were merely having a bad day, as they are prone to do, or if Washington exploited something. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan was injured in the second quarter, a huge blow to the run defense — although it was struggling before that happened.

One thing is certain, and that is the Eagles can't let anything like it happen again on Sunday. All three games this season in which the defense gave up over 150 yards on the ground have resulted in losses.

4. Can't stop, won't stop?
It's official: Kirk Cousins has the Eagles' number. Not only does Washington's franchise quarterback hold a 3-1 record in the series, but he's carved up his division rival with surgical precision while doing it.

Cousins had a ho-hum day in their first meeting this season, completing 18 of 34 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His line over four games is far more impressive, as he's averaging 336.3 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Cousins has not experienced quite such loft success against the rest of the NFC East, with a combined record of 3-7 against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. He's played particularly poor against the Giants, throwing for fewer total yards than he has against Eagles in one less game, with five touchdowns to eight picks. It definitely seems like an Eagles thing.

And Cousins' game is likely continue to be successful against this Eagles defense. He likes to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which this secondary really struggles against, and he has the receivers to do it. Even in a losing effort, his numbers should look pretty good.

5. A peek at the standings
As unlikely the playoffs may be, the Eagles have a shot if they can turn their fortunes around against Washington.

If either the Atlanta Falcons or Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose Sunday, the Eagles can be no worse than one game back of the NFC's sixth and final playoff berth. That doesn't begin to delve into any tiebreakers, and as many as five teams could still be ahead in line for that spot — including Washington — but it would be a start.

Do the Eagles even belong in the playoffs? Would they honestly have a chance if they made it? Would missing out this season and getting a higher draft pick be better for the franchise anyway? Those are questions for another column.

All we're saying is there's a chance.

Eagles-Redskins predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Redskins predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles (5-7) come into Sunday's game against the Redskins (6-5-1) on a three-game losing streak.

The Redskins exposed the Eagles' defense the last time these two teams met almost two months ago on Oct. 16.

Here are our (cough) expert predictions for this Week 14 matchup.

Dave Zangaro (4-8)
After losing three straight games, I couldn't pick the Eagles against just about any team in the NFL. Maybe Cleveland. Maybe Chicago. 

But against Washington? Nah. Can't do it. 

Sure, I know Washington comes into the Linc on a two-game losing streak, and they're clearly not a top team in the NFC. It just doesn't matter. Kirk Cousins is a decent quarterback and Washington clearly has enough weapons to shred the Eagles like they did for 493 yards in the first meeting. 

For the Eagles' offense, Carson Wentz hasn't looked good in a long time and this week he enters with a few of his skill position players banged up. 

This looks like another loss to me. 

Washington 26, Eagles 20

Derrick Gunn (5-7)
The Eagles are an embarrassed, desperate team, and a win over the Redskins could lift the weight of what has been a downward spiral. Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews returned to practice this week, but can they jolt this offense back to life? Carson Wentz has played like a rookie the last three games, and the once stout defense has crumbled.

So here come the Redskins, losers of two in a row but still very much in the playoff conversation. The Redskins' defense is beat up and could be missing several key players, but unfortunately for the Eagles, Washington's offensive weapons are relatively healthy, except for tight end Jordan Reed, who's listed as questionable with an AC joint sprain. Matt Jones and Robert Kelley pack a punch out of the backfield. 

Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been in a zone. Over their last six games, Cousins has averaged 352.6 passing yards, plus he's thrown 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. 

The Eagles remember what Washington did to them back in Week 6, but I feel their revenge motives will fall short.

Redskins 27, Eagles 17

Ray Didinger (5-7) 
With all the talk this week about effort and players dogging it, I fully expect the Eagles to come out focused and fired up at home Sunday. Here's the problem: I just don't know if they are good enough to win the game. Motivation is one thing, but talent is another and right now, the Eagles are lacking in that area.
 
The players have been called out by their coach, by the media and by the fans so if they have any pride at all they will come out and play hard against the Redskins but I look at the matchup of this Eagles' secondary against the Washington receivers — especially a hot DeSean Jackson (25.3 yards per catch the last three games) — and I don't see a happy result.
 
Redskins 24, Eagles 17

Andrew Kulp (6-6)
Not sure if the Eagles really are in freefall mode or if they've simply been unable to overcome injuries while facing some better than advertised opponents. Either way, they have plenty to play for, because Washington has been embarrassing them for awhile now. With Jordan Matthews back and against a less than stellar D, I predict an end to the losing streak, so long as they finally come up with an answer for Kirk Cousins.

Eagles 26, Redskins 24

Corey Seidman (5-7)
Close game, better performance from Carson Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder, over the middle with Jordan Reed and short with Pierre Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27

Andy Schwartz (5-7)
It's simply come to this. I can't pick the Eagles to win a game the rest of the season until they do.

I want to think the offense will benefit from the return of Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews. And I want to think the defense will play with desperation and break out of its "slump" and make some big plays.

But I won't believe it until I see it.

Redskins 24, Eagles 16