Eagles Problems... Solved?

Eagles Problems... Solved?

For the first time in awhile, most Eagles fans are excited about their team, and those who aren't seem to have been quieted for the moment anyway.  It's not obvious right now with the Phillies in full swing and training camp two months away, but there is definitely a positive buzz that was previously missing, the result of an offseason overhaul that made the club younger, faster, and almost certainly better.

How much better, no one can be sure just yet.  It's easy to identify exactly where and how they've improved on the depth chart.  How that applies on gameday is another story.  Will this offseason correct the more mechanical problems that have been recurring on the football field?  We explore two big hurdles the Eagles haven't quite passed yet.

Front Four Pass Rush

The focus of this offseason was clearly set on revamping the offense, unquestionably the right approach.  The defense finished third in the NFL in '08, so with only one major departure from the lineup it's safe to assume this is still an area of strength.  The nagging issue with this group continues to be whether the front four can produce a consistent pass rush, something the Eagles did nothing to address this time around.

It's admittedly a tough lineup to crack with six ends and four tackles already on the roster, but it's not exactly the most satisfying bunch.  The last thing we should do is criticize Patt and Bunk, though they do leave something to be desired in this area.  Cole is legit, so offenses key on him and often force the Eagles to beat them somewhere else.  That's where another player needs to step up.

A case can be made that those guys are already here and had already shown up toward the end of last year.  Howard had his best season in green by far with 10 sacks.  After an invisible first half, Clemons got to the quarterback 4 times over the final nine regular season games.  And we still don't have any idea what to expect from Abiamiri, Laws, or Bryan Smith, though I do like Klecko's return to the rotation. 

It helps the Eagles are able to generate pressure from other areas, but when teams live and die by the blitz, they frequently do the latter.  A veteran quarterback with a quick release can have the ball out before a defensive back even makes it to the backfield.  It makes a huge difference when the defensive line can bring the heat on their own.

Short Yardage and Red Zone Offense

This is the big one.  The Eagles gave the offense a total makeover, and while nobody is going to be complaining about a lack of big plays anytime soon, the question is are they finally able to punch it in for six when they get inside the 20, or ground out that one yard that keeps drives alive.

Looking at short yardage situations first, this would appear to be an emphatic yes.  While Tra and Jon were still serviceable in the passing game, neither was run blocking effectively.  Younger tackles should be able to get lower and create the leverage necessary to push defenders off the line of scrimmage.  A true lead blocker makes all the difference in the world as well, and having Weaver in the backfield not only opens holes, he gives them another ball carrier.

The red zone is substantially less predictable.  It's nice the Eagles won't easily be stuffed when they're on the goalline anymore, and for that reason alone there should be at least slight improvement, but can they throw it in?  Even if Maclin contributes immediately, bigger targets typically have the most success in the shortened field, and Curtis and Jackson haven't proven to be exceptions either.

Enter the tight end position and Brent Celek.  Plenty aren't convinced he is an answer, but when he had opportunities last season, he made the most of them.  4 touchdowns in the team's final four games, including two in the NFC Championship, seem to indicate Celek knows how to find open space in the end zone.  If Ingram can give them anything, the two of them might command enough attention to free up the rest of field.

Obviously that's not much of a sample size though, four games from Celek and zero for Ingram, plus three or four new starters on the O-line and a fullback working with new runners.  It's easy to speculate they're better, and honestly it would be surprising if they didn't show improvement, but it's not a given, and it needs to be if they're going to get over the hump.

Draymond Green says what we all really think about Joel Embiid

Draymond Green says what we all really think about Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid has caught the eye of a Golden State Warrior.

At Golden State's shootaround Sunday night at the Sixers' practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, Warriors power forward Draymond Green said what we all think about Joel Embiid.

"He has a chance to be really f------ good," Green said.

Green and the Warriors will miss Embiid Monday when they tip off against the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center. Embiid will miss two more games to minimize the risk of aggravating his left knee injury. The Sixers are targeting Friday against the Knicks for his return (see story).

Embiid hasn't played since the Jan. 27 game against Houston and has missed 16 of their last 17 games. Still, the 22-year-old has shown, when healthy, he's a special player that Sixers can build around.

In 31 games -- with minute restrictions and missing 27 games, too -- Embiid is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists. He's shooting 46.6 from the field, and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc. Despite running a tremendous Twitter campaign for the NBA All-Star Game, he missed out being an All-Star in his first year. He won the NBA's Rookie of the Month for October, November, December and January. Yeah, we all agree with Green.

But how much of Embiid has Green seen?

"I haven't had a chance to watch him," Green said. "I think he has a chance to be damn good. He's figuring it out. He's versatile. He can do a lot of things."

For more from the Warriors on the Sixers' potential, watch the video above.

Best of NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky ties career high with 32nd win as Blue Jackets top Rangers

Best of NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky ties career high with 32nd win as Blue Jackets top Rangers

NEW YORK -- Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg each scored twice to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots to tie his career high with his 32nd win. Josh Anderson also scored and Oliver Bjorkstrand had two assists to help the Blue Jackets win for the fourth time in five games.

Columbus won for the second time in two days after its bye week and moved past the Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Blue Jackets won three of five in the season series -- including both games at Madison Square Garden -- after losing seven straight meetings coming in.

Rick Nash scored a tying goal for the Rangers early in the first period. Jesper Fast scored in the final second, and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 26 saves (see full recap).

Surging Blackhawks beat Blues on late Anisimov goal
CHICAGO -- Artem Anisimov scored with 5:20 left in the third period to lift the Chicago Blackhawks over the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night for their fourth straight win and ninth in their last 10.

Anisimov beat Jake Allen on the glove side from the right edge of the crease for his 22nd goal after taking a pinpoint cross-ice pass from linemate Artemi Panarin. Tanner Kero added an empty-netter with 2.6 seconds left.

Patrick Kane assisted on Anisimov's winner and scored a power-play goal. Jonathan Toews also had a goal and an assist for surging Chicago, which pulled one point behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith had an assist for his 500th NHL point.

Magnus Paajarvi and Alex Pietrangelo scored for the Blues, who played their first game following their bye week and lost their third straight (see full recap).

Gaudreau's 2 goals helps Flames down Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Johnny Gaudreau had two goals and an assist to help the Calgary Flames beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Sunday.

Micheal Ferland also scored for the Flames. They have earned at least one point in six straight games, going 5-0-1 in that stretch to move into playoff position in the Western Conference.

Victor Rask scored on the power play for Carolina. The Hurricanes have lost six of seven to fall into last place in the Metropolitan Division.

Brian Elliott made 34 saves for the Flames, with his best coming with roughly 15 minutes to play when he stopped Jeff Skinner from point-blank range.

Eddie Lack finished with 21 saves. He made his second straight start for Carolina (see full recap).

Turris, Anderson lead Senators past Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kyle Turris scored the tiebreaking goal in the second period and Craig Anderson stopped 37 shots to lift the Ottawa Senators over the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Sunday night.

Zack Smith had an early short-handed goal for the Senators, who have won four of six.

Jonathan Marchessault scored for Florida, and James Reimer made 31 saves. The Panthers have lost three straight after sweeping a five-game road trip, and dropped their last four home games overall.

Turris put Ottawa ahead when his wrist shot went over Reimer's glove at 9:58 of the second for his 21st goal of the season.

The Senators took a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal by Smith. Reimer blocked a shot from Erik Karlsson, but Smith grabbed the rebound and poked in the puck at 6:28 of the first. Smith has 12 career short-handed goals (see full recap).