Eagles Take Step Backwards, Lose to Falcons

Eagles Take Step Backwards, Lose to Falcons

If Juan Castillo's dismissal was supposed to light a fire in the locker room, then it was unsuccessful. If it was intended to correct problems on defense, Todd Bowles appeared to have the exact opposite effect.

After holding opponents to 18.8 points per game through six weeks, the Eagles' defense gave up 30 on Sunday. After losing fourth-quarter leads in consecutive games, and seven times over the past two seasons, they surrendered six scoring drives on the first six possessions.

They were a no-show up until the final minutes, or just long enough to tell the remaining home crowd, "Thanks for coming."

Matt Ryan was a surgeon, hitting on 22 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns, while Julio Jones caught five balls for 123 yards, including a 63-yard score. The duo led the undefeated Atlanta Falcons to a 30-17 victory, dropping the Eagles to 3-4.

The game was not nearly as close as the scoreboard would indicate though.
The Falcons were ahead 14-0 in the opening period, 24-7 at the half, and 30-10 at one point in the fourth quarter. They were unstoppable in the early goings, converting on seven straight third downs, ultimately reaching the end zone on their first three possessions.

The Eagles won the coin toss and deferred, sending Atlanta on a methodical, 18-play march that chewed almost nine minutes of clock. Following an ugly three-and-out, the Falcons made the most of excellent field position around midfield. The Eagles matched with six of their own, but Ryan quickly came back with the deep strike to Jones.

Atlanta also went 66 yards in under three minutes to sneak a field goal before halftime.

With the league's 30th-ranked scoring offense entering the week, the Eagles predictably were not up for a shootout -- least of all in wet, windy conditions. By the time the defense finally forced their first punt of the afternoon, it was going to take a Michael Vick miracle to steal a W.

He didn't have it him. Vick was 21 of 35 with a TD and zero turnovers, but only averaged 5.5 yards per attempt, and was under an increasing amount of pressure late in the game. LeSean McCoy was stifled for much of the day as well, carrying 16 times for 45 yards, but added rushing and receiving scores.

It was far from a quality performance by the offense, but dropped in a hole at the very start, it was almost an impossible situation. The Eagles only had three meaningful possessions in the first half, and by then they were already trailing by 17.

It turns out Bowles didn't work like some magic pill that promises to transform any defense into Gang Green in just two weeks or your money back. It was only one game, but they actually regressed, even looked like they had quit by the end. It was enough to make anybody wonder if firing Castillo backfired.

That's not good for Reid, who went into the bye with some major issues on offense, and some troubling trends on defense, but appears to have exited the bye with the same issues on offense, and wholesale problems on defense.

Future Phillies Report: The Bash Brothers are killing it in May

Future Phillies Report: The Bash Brothers are killing it in May

The Bash Brothers are operating at peak efficiency this month for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who can't lose in May.

That's where we'll start this week's Future Phillies Report.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
Cozens is having a Joey Gallo-esque season for Lehigh Valley, hitting for a low batting average (.219) with a whole lot of strikeouts (63) and homers (12). 

He's slowed down some after a torrid start to May, but in 19 games this month he's hit .311 with eight home runs, two doubles, a triple and 19 RBIs. He has six walks and 23 strikeouts.

Cozens was named International League Batter of the Week the second week of May, when he had two walk-off home runs and a game-tying, ninth-inning single.

Cozens has made some improvements against left-handed pitching but he still has a long way to go. Six of his 12 homers this season are off lefties, but he's still hitting just .175 against same-handed pitching with five walks and 30 strikeouts.

The more Triple A pitching he sees, the more comfortable he should become against veterans with good breaking balls and an actual plan on the mound. Keep in mind Cozens doesn't turn 23 until May 31.

Cozens is on the 40-man roster and will probably get a look in September. It would seem unlikely that he'd get a call-up to replace an injured outfielder before then, a relevant topic given the minor injuries this last week to Michael Saunders and Daniel Nava.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AAA)
Hoskins is the one offensive prospect we feature regularly here who I'm confident will be up with the Phillies before September. He continues to impress not just as a power hitter but as a "hitter's hitter" — a guy who controls the strike zone and has few holes.

As productive as Hoskins' April was, his May has been just as impressive. He hit .338 with six homers, 12 RBIs and a 1.063 OPS in April compared to .296 with six homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.045 OPS in May.

Hoskins had a two-homer, five-RBI game last Thursday in a rare Lehigh Valley loss, which snapped the IronPigs' 12-game winning streak.

In total this season he's hit .318 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs, nine doubles, two triples, 24 walks and 27 strikeouts. His consistent production could create an interesting scenario soon because if Tommy Joseph continues to hit, one of them could become a valuable trade piece that could bring back a starting pitcher. 

In Hoskins and Joseph, the Phillies have two powerful, young, inexpensive first basemen who project to hit somewhere in the middle of the order. Why not use an organizational strength to improve an organizational weakness?

Joseph has already shown he can hit for power at the major-league level, but Hoskins' upside seems higher because of his plate selection.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
He's almost there. After 171 plate appearances, Crawford has nearly reached the Mendoza line.

Crawford's multi-hit game Friday made him 10 for 25 over his last six games with a double, a homer, six RBIs, five walks and six strikeouts.

He's raised his batting average this month from .145 to .186, and even when he's slumped he's taken his walks — 25 in 39 games.

Crawford has hit .235 this month with a .358 on-base percentage. If his pitch recognition remains consistent when he reaches the majors — and keep in mind it's a skill he's shown at every rung of the minor-league ladder — it won't matter if he hits .260, he'd still be a valuable two-hole hitter.

This is the hottest Crawford has been all season and the Phillies are hoping he can keep it up for at least another week or two.

OF Roman Quinn (AAA)
I wrote about Quinn at length on Monday, outlining the reasons why he should be called up by the Phillies (see story).

Entering play Tuesday, he had hit .333 with a .424 OBP in May, fueling Lehigh Valley's surge by contributing at the top of the order.

Quinn would, right now, be a defensive upgrade for the Phillies, and it's not as if Saunders has done a whole lot to keep his job anyway.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams has homered three times in his last six games. All three were solos, but one was a game-tying shot in the ninth inning and his home run the next day was a game-winner in the 10th.

The ninth-inning bomb went to the opposite field and was off veteran big-league closer Joe Nathan. Both were good signs — that Williams' power can travel to left-center field and that he did it against a pitcher who's had a lot of success and experience.

On the year, Williams is hitting .258 with an on-base percentage right around .300. He has six walks and 47 strikeouts. For the 700th time, that's a concern and it's probably always going to be there. To make a difference in the majors, the Phillies will need Williams to produce about 30-35 doubles and 15-20 homers per season. In that regard, the recent uptick in barreling balls is a promising development.

2B Scott Kingery (AA)
The most surprising storyline in the Phillies' farm system this season is Kingery's home run jump. The guy has 14 homers already before Memorial Day. He hit five last season.

The quick assumption would be that Kingery is taking advantage of Reading's homer-friendly ballpark, but six of the 14 homers have come on the road.

On the season, Kingery is hitting .290/.369/.665 with eight doubles, four triples, 14 homers, 28 RBIs, 17 walks and 31 strikeouts. He's also 9 for 10 in stolen base attempts. And he's committed one error all season.

This has been a breakout year for Kingery, who will make the jump to Triple A in 2017 if this continues. 

C Jorge Alfaro (AAA)
Alfaro has been striking out a lot lately. He has 27 strikeouts and no walks — you read that right — in 70 plate appearances this month.

His batting line has dropped to .281/.308/.410 with 10 extra-base hits in 146 plate appearances. 

Like Williams, Alfaro is probably never going to show enough plate selection to be a true superstar. But there's some more confidence Alfaro will be able to hit in the majors, and if he can hit .260 with power and a strong arm behind the plate, that might be enough.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (High A Clearwater)
A stiff neck has kept Sanchez off the mound since our last Future Phillies Report, but he remains the Phillies' highest-upside pitching prospect and maybe their highest-upside prospect overall. 

He has 28 strikeouts and three walks this season with a .211 opponents' batting average, and he still hasn't allowed a home run in 104 pro innings. He has a blazing fastball and above-average command, especially for an 18-year-old.

Carson Wentz building rapport with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith

Carson Wentz building rapport with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith

For a few weeks now, Carson Wentz has been throwing to his new weapons, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, in an attempt to grow their chemistry.

Something was different on Tuesday.

"The biggest thing is we get comfortable on air and now all of a sudden, there's a body in the way," Smith said. "It's weird. But you have to get open against somebody. Just have to knock the rust off these next few days. A lot of us have been playing long enough. We just need to be where [Wentz] expects us to be."

On Tuesday morning, the Eagles kicked off their OTAs, the voluntary practices that lead into the mandatory minicamp in mid-June. And for the first time this spring, offense and defense went head-to-head in full-team drills (see 10 observations).

It was just the latest step in the progress of building a rapport between the quarterback and his top receivers, who were added during free agency.

"I don't think it's too tough," Jeffery said. "I think it's just working each and every day. He knows what type of player I am; I know what type of player he is. It just makes it better. Just keep working."

Wentz said in addition to on-field work, he and his new receivers (and new RB LeGarrette Blount) will be looking to sneak in as much extra time together as possible. That extra time will come in the locker room, in the training room, in the film room and in the cafeteria, wherever and whenever they can.

At least now, thanks to OTAs this week, they'll have tape against the defense to look back at and use to get on the same page.

"It's a work in progress," Wentz said. "No doubt about it. It's a work in progress with guys I've been here with a year now. It's just an ongoing process. You're putting in new plays, new routes, things are always changing. So it's a process, but I feel very comfortable with them at the same time. But again, we're still just going to continually build that relationship."

While Tuesday was just the first day of practice in a long process leading up to the season, both Jeffery and Smith showed off their respective skills.

While Jeffery is quiet off the field, he already made plenty of noise in Day 1 of OTAs.

"It's been great with him," Wentz said. "He plays on time, he knows what he's doing, his catch radius is impressive. That's the first thing that jumps out at me. I'm just looking forward to continuing to build that relationship."

Jeffery is the big receiver with a huge catch radius, while Smith is the speedier receiver, even though he still has good size at 6-0, 205 pounds.

Were both their skills on display at Day 1 of OTAs?

"Definitely," cornerback Patrick Robinson said, shaking his head.

Jeffery and Smith are still the new guys in town, but they both worked with the first team on Tuesday, while Jordan Matthews played in the slot (more on him here). (Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham worked with the twos; rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson worked with the threes.)

For Matthews, playing in the slot with Jeffery and Smith outside should help him quite a bit in 2017. So the Eagles' slot receiver said he was glad to have them added to his team.

"Both of them bring a lot of production," Matthews said. "Both of them are playmakers in their own different ways. The biggest thing I like, too, is in a room full of guys, you need competition. That's going to be what elevates guys' level of play. When you bring in two guys like that, who have had production over a long period of time, and they're also willing to come out here and work during the voluntary part of the offseason, you're going to have everybody get pushed."

Matthews has spent a ton of time with Wentz over their year together and already has a great relationship and chemistry with his quarterback.

Now it's up to Jeffery and Smith to catch up. And they're off to a good start.