The Eagles, Matt Cassel and the unpredictability of the NFL

The Eagles, Matt Cassel and the unpredictability of the NFL

Over the course of a season, there are always going to be weeks that remind us we can never be too sure about anything in the NFL. A club that’s won five straight loses to an inferior opponent missing its best player. A defense that’s held nine consecutive teams to 21 points or less gets tagged for 48 by a replacement-level quarterback.

The Philadelphia Eagles are neither immune to that phenomenon nor different from anybody else. This season alone, we’ve seen Nick Foles tie a league record with seven touchdown passes in a game, and we’ve seen him complete a putrid 37 percent of his passes in another, which are the kind of unexplainable highs and lows that still leave people scratching their head.

So in many ways, Sunday was just another day in the NFL, in that all it took was 60 minutes against the 4-9-1 Minnesota Vikings to challenge our carefully-constructed perceptions about this Eagles squad, their defense in particular.

The Vikings. With reigning MVP Adrian Peterson and a litany of key players out with injuries. With Matt Cassel under center.

Cassel has a pedestrian 83.1 passer rating over a nine-year career. Last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, he committed twice as many turnovers (19) than he had games played (9). He hadn’t thrown for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a game since 2010. In fact, Cassel has thrown for over 300 yards in just eight of his 66 career starts; he’s thrown for less than 100 yards eight times—nine including playoffs.

The guy was an undrafted player who wasn’t even the starting quarterback in college. His claim to fame is quarterbacking a New England Patriots team with Randy Moss and Wes Welker to a 10-5 record, then bilking the Chiefs out of a ton of money for four years.

None of that mattered this week though. Cassel was in command from the outset, completing his first nine passes. One of those was a 57-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings, one the most flawless deep balls anybody has completed all season, eluding the pass rush to hit the wide receiver in stride over the top of the defense.

Cassel was unflappable in the face of pressure all afternoon, getting rid of the football quickly or standing tall in the pocket with a defender in his face to deliver a strike when the situation called for it. He was precise, completing 74 percent of his passes. He was prolific, going for 11 yards per attempt en route to 382 total. He was efficient, limiting mistakes to three sacks and one interception off of a tipped pass.

And he did it all without much help from the running game. Matt Asiata managed to punch the ball into the end zone three times from the goal line, but when the dust had settled, the third-string back had averaged just 1.7 yards on 30 carries. According to CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank, his 51 yards were the second-lowest total ever for a player with 30 attempts.

Maybe this game was more about Matt Cassel than it was the Eagles’ woeful secondary. Sure, they played poorly, but the same unit held the likes of Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Matt Stafford in check over the previous nine games—not exactly a murderer’s row, but all capable of posting a nice line.

Likewise, the same defense that allowed Jennings (11 REC, 163 YDS, 1 TD) to go over the century mark for the first time this season has handled the likes of Vincent Jackson, Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson this season.

After the game, even Chip Kelly conceded "Cassel was on fire."

For that matter, maybe the Vikings didn’t get enough credit coming into the contest. People looked at the record, the injuries—in addition to AP, the backup running back, the no. 1 tight end, a starting offensive lineman and their top three cornerbacks were all out—and, of course, Cassel, and assumed the Eagles should win in a walk.

Except nobody has won in a walk in Minnesota lately. The Vikings are 3-2-1 over their last six games. They’re legitimately tough.

Call this a trap game if you must, and yes, cornerback and safety will need to be addressed by the front office this coming offseason, for depth at the very least. But perhaps more than anything else, the Eagles’ collapse against the Vikings was simply brought about by an incredible individual performance from an unlikely source. It wouldn’t be the first time, and the way the NFL works, it won’t be the last.

Was Roy Halladay's perfect game really seven years ago?

Was Roy Halladay's perfect game really seven years ago?

Where were you seven years ago today? I'd put my money on a number of Phillies fans spending their Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 2010 lounging out on the beach at the Jersey Shore just as I was.

But that night — just 14 miles from where the Phils will take on the now-Miami Marlins tonight — Roy Halladay tossed just the second perfect game in Phillies history, striking out 11 Marlins en route. Yes, that was the same Halladay who earned 55 wins over the course of four seasons in Philadelphia and pitched a no-hitter that same season against the Cincinnati Reds in the opening game of the NLDS.

It was a magical night at Dolphin Land Shark Sun Life Stadium. Anyone who wasn't watching the Flyers lose Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-5, probably remembers Shane Victorino tracking down Wes Helms' deep fly to dead center as well as the incredible game called by Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. And then there's the 27th out as third baseman Juan Castro cooly collected the Ronny Paulino ground ball, spun and fired to Ryan Howard at first base.

So what's Doc doing now you ask?

Well, if his Twitter is any indication, Halladay has not stepped too far away from the game of baseball. During the weekend, he posted a series of tweets with his son Braden's high school baseball team, Cavalry Christian (Clearwater, Florida), as they completed a perfect 30-0 season and won the Florida 4A state title with Halladay as one of the team's assistant coaches.

He also tweeted to honor fellow Phillie Jim Bunning — the only other Phillies pitcher to ever throw a perfect game — after the baseball legend died Friday night at the age of 85.

End to End: Who's the better fit for Flyers, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick?

End to End: Who's the better fit for Flyers, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
 
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
 
The topic: Who would be a better fit for the Flyers, Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier?
 
Dougherty
I don’t believe either one would necessarily be a better fit than the other for the Flyers. This is a case where either player matches what the orange and black need: a top-six centerman. It’s safe to say with either Hischier or Patrick, they will come away from Chicago with a substantial piece they can add to their puzzle. I’ve felt they needed another lottery forward.
 
They’re getting one now, but which player would I prefer to see as a Flyer? That would be Patrick because, for me, he’s the safer bet who is closer to the NHL than Hischier. Now, I don’t believe the Flyers should draft based on who will be here quicker. That would be asinine. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to see either one of them in Philadelphia next season.
 
Patrick has been atop the rankings for this class for two years now. He dominated the WHL as a 17-year-old two years ago, and despite injuries last season, he still ruled play. Plus it’s hard not to be enamored with Patrick’s size. At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he’s a big right-handed pivot. Hischier is listed at 6-foot, 176 pounds. He’ll have to get stronger.
 
That’s not saying Patrick doesn’t need to add more muscle to his frame, but at 6-3, 198, he has a solid frame that should be able to handle the wear-and-tear of an NHL season. Sure, he does have some durability questions, but it’s not to the Joel Embiid level of concern.
 
Both players play a solid 200-foot game, which is something GM Ron Hextall preaches. Neither is deficient in his own zone. Patrick is more of a physical player than Hischier. The Brandon center has a solid combination of speed, power and skill, which is attractive.
 
Hischier has many of the same traits as Patrick, but he’s the flashier of the two. Ultimately, this is a discussion for the Devils more than the Flyers. New Jersey has to decide which one they want, and then the Flyers get the other. From afar, Hischier seems more of a fit to what the Devils need and factor in his rise over the last few months, I think he’ll be a Devil.
 
And that means Patrick will be a Flyer. Which is perfectly fine with me.

Hall
If I had to pick, I think the Flyers need more of a player like Hischier than Patrick.
 
The good thing is they can't go wrong with either 18-year-old.
 
Hischier seems to come with a higher ceiling offensively and greater potential to put up star numbers at the center position. The playmaking ability is what changes games and the teams that score are the teams that win.
 
"He's such a strong offensive player, he's completely fearless — you cannot intimidate him," Cam Russell, the general manager of Hischier's junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, said (see story). "If you watch him play closely, you'll see that he's the first one on the puck and I've never seen a player roll off hits like he does in the corner. I can't think of a time when he was run over or contained in the corner, he's just so strong, so quick and so agile with the puck."
 
What's really appealing about Patrick is you know what you're getting: a proven two-way center that focuses on defense just as much as offense. He'll bring everything to the table and he looks to be the safer pick.
 
He has "elite" potential, too, in his own right.
 
"He won't let anybody down," Grant Armstrong, the general manager of Patrick's junior club, the Brandon Wheat Kings, said. "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league."
 
So, the Flyers are in an excellent spot. I'd like to see Hischier fall to the Flyers, but Patrick should excite fans, as well.
 
And the funny thing is the Flyers won't have to decide between the two.

Paone
Let's get this part out of the way before I go deeper into this question: both Patrick and Hischier are great fits for the Flyers.

Both are impact forwards who should be able to help sooner rather than later. And with the way the Flyers struggled offensively last season, that's just what the doctor ordered. So they really can't go wrong here and, as I said on Sunday, I do feel it comes down to simplest terms as the Flyers should take whomever New Jersey doesn't out of Patrick and Hischier.

But this question is about the better fit between the two.

Let's think about it this way: We all have a bunch of t-shirts that fit, but we all have that one t-shirt that fits just right. And when we're in a pinch and need something to wear, we always go back to that t-shirt that fits just right.

And the "just right" fit here for the Flyers is Hischier.

The guy just brings an energy to the ice when you see him play. He has a dynamic way to him that when you watch him play, your eyes are just drawn to him. So many times last season the Flyers seemed so lethargic and slogged through periods and games. They needed an energy boost. Hischier can help bring that needed jolt.

On top of that, the high offensive ceiling for Hischier has to appeal to the Flyers, as Jordan said above. That's just what they need. Nothing against Patrick, seen as more of the two-way player. But the two-way center has been the Flyers' preferred way of thinking for so long now. Nothing against a two-way center, but the Flyers need more of a dynamic, playmaking center and Hischier is that. It's time for something different.

The Flyers are going to get a darn good player at No. 2 no matter what, but Hischier is the better fit here and now.