Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Defense

Atlanta's defense is severely lacking in the playmaker department, particularly in the back seven. If the quarterback has time to operate in the pocket, it's simply a matter of the offense picking their spots.

As a result, even ordinary offenses can light up the scoreboard, not unlike the Bears in Week 1. Matt Forte compiled 158 total yards, 90 of them receiving, including a 56-yard touchdown. Chicago's receivers hauled in 13 passes for 189 yards. It's an encouraging sign for the Eagles high-powered offense, particularly on the fast track at the Georgia Dome.

RDE John Abraham
Abraham has had nothing short of an outstanding career. He became the 25th player in NFL history to reach 100 sacks last season, and at 33 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. Incredibly, Abraham went to just his fourth Pro Bowl in 2010, and he's already off to a feverish start this season, sacking Jay Cutler twice in the Falcons' Week 1 opener. Only Jason Taylor has more sacks among active players.

Last year, Jason Peters managed to hold Abraham without a sack when Kevin Kolb led the Eagles to a 31-17 win. Unfortunately, Peters reportedly is battling an Achilles/ankle injury, and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The big left tackle said he expects to play, but he could have trouble handling Abraham's speed off the edge as a result. If Peters uncharacteristically needs help in protection, that could create problems on Mike Vick's blindside.

LDE Ray Edwards
The prized free agent addition for the Falcons this season is Edwards, who had eight sacks in each of his past two seasons with the Vikings. However, that was while Jared Allen was receiving most of the attention on the right side, not to mention the disruptive Williams Wall in the middle. Consider us unimpressed.

Edwards possesses neither overwhelming strength or burst, and the fact that he accrued a pedestrian 13 sacks in the three seasons before Allen's arrival in Minnesota suggests he benefited tremendously from the help. Even then, his sack totals have been far from eye-opening. That's not to say he's inept either, and Todd Herremans will only make his second start at right tackle, so there's that to consider. Still, this a battle they should--and need--to win.

Edwards' backup Kroy Biermann will also jump in from time to time. While Edwards had a quiet first week, Biermann collected a sack and a 50-yard interception return for touchdown.

DT Peria Jerry
Jordan Babineaux, Atlanta's top producer against the run, is out for awhile, so the Falcons are hoping they will finally get something out of Jerry. The 24th overall pick in '09, Jerry missed all but two games with a knee injury in his rookie season. He played in all 16 games in 2010, but did not start and had limited impact. Now in his third year, it's sink or swim time, at least until Babineaux returns. The Eagles' ragtag interior held up quite well last week, so unless Jerry suddenly decides to fulfill his potential this week, or the O-line regresses, there shouldn't be anything they can't handle.

MLB Curtis Lofton and WLB Sean Weatherspoon
The Falcons have a pair of young, active linebackers in Lofton and Weatherspoon, who combined to fill out the stat sheet with 18 tackles last week.

Lofton is a steady middle linebacker who won't blow you away with numbers or big plays. The former second round pick entered his fourth season with three sacks and one interception, so he's not a game changer by any stretch of the imagination. He did manage to rack up a season-high 11 tackles against the Eagles last year, but that was with Kolb at the helm, and the pass-run ratio essentially 50-50. Lofton might be a little out of his element against Vick's quick strike offense.

The Falcons are hopeful Weatherspoon will eventually provide the big plays from the linebacker position. Chosen 19th overall last year, he battled a knee injury, and wound up making only five starts as a rookie. Weatherspoon is healthy now though, and brings an infusion of athleticism the unit has lacked in recent campaigns. We wouldn't be surprised if he was the guy you see chasing Shady McCoy around the field, or breaking through the line of scrimmage for a timely sack of Vick.

CBs Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes
Last year, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin absolutely torched Atlanta's corners. Jackson was en route to a huge day with a 34-yard touchdown reception before a vicious blow to the head knocked him out, but Maclin finished what his teammate started, catching seven passes for 159 yards.

The Falcons return the same duo that couldn't cover either receiver in 2010, so there is little reason to think they will have success in 2011. Robinson is a passable veteran who Atlanta picked off last off-season's free agent scrap heap after he fled Houston, his best years far behind him. He's managed just one interception over the last three seasons, so the only highlight reels you'll see of Dunta are the illegal hit he put on DeSean. Shippensburg's Grimes is actually the better of the two at this point, racking up 11 interceptions the past two season. He's held up quite well despite being one of the most targeted corners in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.

Regardless, the secondary is overmatched. The safeties are ordinary, Robinson is a shell of what he was, and unless the defense can get the job done in the trenches, there will be receivers running free all over the place. If the Falcons are going to have any hope of winning this game, they will have to force Vick to make negative plays, maybe pop a couple of balls loose, and hope their own offense can keep pace.

Give and Go: How much credit does Brett Brown deserve for Sixers' improvement?

Give and Go: How much credit does Brett Brown deserve for Sixers' improvement?

With the team at the All-Star break, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we analyze the job head coach Brett Brown has done this season.

Haughton
Brown's performance has already resulted in more wins than any other season under his leadership, but it continues to be a complex judgment.

He's still tied to an extremely young roster, which lends itself to the high number of turnovers, mistakes coming out of timeouts and defensive breakdowns. 

However, he has managed to get several players to show growth in their games and make sure the Sixers remain balanced even with Joel Embiid's emergence. That can also be attributed to Brown's emphasis on state of play and not state of pay.

He turned to T.J. McConnell ($874,636 salary) at starting point guard over Sergio Rodriguez ($8 million) because the second-year pro has proven to be a better fit and has routinely moved Gerald Henderson ($9 million) from starter to reserve.

Then of course, there has been Brown's handling of the Sixers' mashup at center. The coach has found each guy minutes when he can and, according to the players, been up front about all potential minutes and trade scenarios.

Perhaps Brown's finest job this season has come in a role he thought was over: team delegate. Once Sam Hinkie exited and Bryan Colangelo proclaimed he would be more open with information, Brown certainly had to think his days of standing in front of the media to explain every single thing going on with the franchise were over. Think again. 

Still, Brown's been there each day, answering just about every question thrown his way from injuries to trade rumors. If nothing else, he deserves to be commended for dealing with that ... again.

Hudrick
It's amazing what a few NBA-caliber players can do.

After accumulating a 47-199 record over his first three seasons, Brown has led the Sixers to a 21-35 mark so far this season. Sure, much of the credit for the team's success has to do with adding legitimate NBA talent (and a legitimate NBA star in Embiid). With that said, you're finally starting to see Brown's fingerprints on the Sixers.

A protégé of Gregg Popovich's with the Spurs, Brown preaches defense and ball movement. The Sixers' defense has been a catalyst for their success this season. As Brown says in his Bostralian accent, the defensive end is where the Sixers' "bread is buttered." 

With unselfish players with decent court vision like Dario Saric and Gerald Henderson added to the mix, the Sixers don't look like a total disaster in the half court. They're ninth in the NBA at 23.5 assists per game. They haven't finished higher than 15th in the league in any of Brown's three seasons. 

When you consider what Brown has gone through and how he's managed to keep everything positive, it's incredible. Hinkie pegged Brown as his guy, knowing that Brown was an excellent teacher and had the right attitude to deal with losing. You have to be encouraged by what you've seen out of Brown and the Sixers this season.

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

VOORHEES, N.J. — They had taken another “0-for” on the power play on the road and lost a game in which they deserved to at least get a point.

Dave Hakstol had seen enough. Numbers don’t always tell a story. Yet, in the Flyers' case, they did: 4 for 42 on the power play over 12 games, including that 3-1 loss at Calgary.

The next morning in Edmonton, Hakstol met privately with Jakub Voracek to discuss, among other things, the power play. That night, Hakstol moved Voracek off the first unit power play and replaced him with Ivan Provorov.

He then told Shayne Gostisbehere to change his location on the power play on the half wall and let Provorov, the Russian rookie, worry about the blue line.

In the two games since, the power play is 3 for 6 and has the Flyers back up to ninth in the NHL after falling to 13th during that 12-game span of utter futility.

How the power play goes tonight against the Washington Capitals is critical if the Flyers have any shot of taking points away from the top club in the league.

“It’s a little bit different look,” Hakstol said. “We’re comfortable with either of the setups we have there. Whether it’s with Jake on the flank of the [Claude] Giroux unit or having Ghost there.

“Both are effective. Within the game, we can go back and forth with the other. We’ve had some pretty good play out of the other unit, regardless of the setup.”

Provorov has a very accurate point shot. Gostisbehere has the hardest shot of any on the top unit. The rest of the first unit – Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t changed.

“We can’t score,” Provorov said bluntly. “We needed to change something up to spark the scoring. It definitely helped us. Now the two units have a different setup in the zone.

“Just a little different. It took us first game to get used to. We did pretty good in the second game [Vancouver].”

Ghost has never played the half-wall. He thinks this will help him snap a 32-game goal drought. He had three assists – two on the power play – against the Canucks on Sunday.

“It’s completely different,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve always been at the top [blue line]. It’s definitely a different perspective from that view. I think I’ll get a lot more shots and plays that can be made.”

Voracek watches him when that unit is on the ice and offers advice after the shift.

“I have been talking to Jake a ton for pointers,” Gostisbehere said. “When I am out there, if you see something I could have done, please tell me. He is such an easy guy to talk to. He will give you the pointers right away.”

Hakstol said moving Ghost closer to the net has a payoff.

“He is in a pure one-timer side there if he gets himself in the right position,” Hakstol said. “But there is still some work we have to do there in terms of his overall positioning in that spot.

“He brings a different element than Jake does in that spot. Both of them were very, very effective in that spot. They just have different weapons.”

Even though there have been changes, Voracek still rotates back to the first unit if Provorov is on the ice the previous shift before the power play begins.

Because of Travis Konecny’s knee and ankle injuries, Sean Couturier’s second unit has changed the most. Mark Streit anchors from the point with Coots, Nick Cousins and Matt Read below the blue line and Voracek on the right-wall.

That unit has more player rotation on the ice than the top unit.

Hakstol doesn’t buy the argument the Flyers' power play crashed because it became too predictable. 

“In the game now, there’s not much hidden,” Hakstol said. “Everyone knows what the other team is trying to do, regardless of 5-on-5 or special teams.

“For us, it was a good time to make a small change that changes the look for our guys on the ice.”

Loose pucks
• A dozen players showed up for the optional morning skate at Skate Zone, more than half of what was expected. 

• Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight against Washington. 

• On Tuesday, Voracek got hit with a puck below the belt, during a tip drill in which Voracek tipped a shot into himself. “Feeling better,” he said today. 

• This morning was goalie Steve Mason’s turn to get hit. He took a point shot from Andrew MacDonald in the mask. Mason was temporarily shaken but no damage to either him or his mask.  

Lineup
F:
Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Voracek
Raffl-Cousins-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning
Gostisbehere-Streit
Del Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth