Eagles defense deserves credit for taking advantage of limited offenses

Eagles defense deserves credit for taking advantage of limited offenses

You wouldn’t think it just to look at the group on paper, but the Eagles’ defense has played well more often than it has not this season. To reiterate, they’ve had more good games so far than bad.

Yes, I’m aware Philadelphia is ranked 31st overall in total defense and 30th in points allowed. Yes, defensive coordinator Bill Davis has been jamming the square pegs leftover from a bad 4-3 defense into the round holes of a sophisticated 3-4, to varying results.

When you look at what the unit has done on a game-by-game basis though, the Birds actually have demonstrated an ability to handle the more one-dimensional offenses they’ve come across. It’s played a huge role in both of the club’s wins this season, and they arguably should have one more.

Way back in Week 1, the Eagles managed to keep Washington’s offense off the board until late in the third quarter. With Robert Griffin III getting his first live action under center for the burgundy and gold since tearing his ACL in January, the Birds honed in on Washington’s running game. Of the two touchdowns they did score, one was aided by a Jason Avant fumble in Philadelphia territory.

In Week 3, Davis took advantage of the fact that Alex Smith is not the type of quarterback who beats a defense vertically. The Eagles again focused their attention toward shutting down the run, and this time were able to keep Kansas City’s offense out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Philly surrendered one touchdown in 60 minutes despite the Birds offense committing a whopping five turnovers and losing time of possession 2-to-1.

Then just this past Sunday, the Birds ignored the Giants’ pathetic ground attack altogether, especially once David Wilson exited with an injury, choosing instead to erase big plays through the air. The plan was largely a success, as New York did threaten with three touchdown drives and some good fantasy days for two of their three wide receivers , but the pressure eventually got to Eli Manning who turned the ball over three times.

On the flip side, a pair of signal callers were able to decimate Philly’s patchwork defense. But Philip Rivers seems to be in the midst of a career renaissance, and Peyton Manning must be a cyborg or something.

The key at this point would in fact appear to be the quality of opposing team’s quarterback. Rivers and Manning are both in the zone to start with this season, already franchise quarterbacks that when provided enough time will pick apart any defense. The Eagles haven’t been able to consistently rush the passer, and if he has time to throw, there are matchups in that secondary waiting to be exposed—particularly at safety.

RG3 is probably going to go be an elite NFL quarterback someday, but he was clearly rusty coming off of a light training camp and no preseason. Alex Smith is a quality game manager, but he’s not the guy who’s going to spin the ball all over the field and carry a team to victory. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, but without a running game or much help from the offensive line, he looks less than ordinary.

That seemingly bodes well for several of Philly’s upcoming games. Some of the quarterbacks on the schedule include third-round rookie Mike Glennon this week in Tampa Bay, decrepit Carson Palmer in Arizona, whoever happens to be starting in Minnesota come December, and Eli and Griffin one more time each.

Of course, they have the likes of Tony Romo, Terrelle Pryor, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Stafford to worry about too.

Overall, the Eagles’ defenses has had several games which they can build upon this season. Nothing is going to change the fact that they lack playmakers at safety, or a true nose tackle who can occupy blockers and create push at the line of scrimmage. Yet despite numerous personnel issues, they’ve been able to get the job done the majority of the time.

The points per game stat isn’t even entirely fair to Davis’ unit. The Eagles have conceded 28 points to opponents directly off of offensive giveaways returned for touchdown and special teams miscues. That’s almost one score for each game they’ve played, and if counted separately would reduce the defense’s PPG allowed from 31.8 to 26.2—which still isn’t great mind you, but does separate them from the dregs of the league a little bit at least.

That’s probably about the kindest thing you can say about the defense at this point—they might be closer to league average than out-and-out bad. If they can stay the course against the Bucs on Sunday, and all indications are they will, the Eagles have a good chance to get back to .500 this week.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

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The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

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OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).