Didinger: Eagles need to help Matthews succeed

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Didinger: Eagles need to help Matthews succeed

Amid his meandering stream of consciousness, Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw did make at least one salient point during Thursdays Eagles-Steelers preseason game. No, it wasnt when he questioned whether Hawaii was part of the United States. (Only since 1959, big guy.)

Bradshaw noted the Eagles were having trouble containing the Steelers ground game and it was because the Steelers were exploiting the gaps in the Eagles Wide Nine defensive alignment. The Pittsburgh linemen were getting clean shots at the Eagles linebackers and middle linebacker Casey Matthews in particular.

On one play, center Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball and ran right through Matthews, dropping him on the seat of his pants. On another, guard Tony Hills drove the rookie out of the play and almost off the TV screen.

Bradshaw reflected on his days with the Steelers when they won four Super Bowls with an undersized middle linebacker named Jack Lambert. He was listed at 220 pounds, but he was closer to 210. He was rawhide tough and nasty as they come, but he still needed to play in a very specific type of defense to be effective.

Pittsburghs defensive coordinator, a crafty old fox named Bud Carson, came up with a beauty. It was called the Stunt 4-3 and put tackle Mean Joe Greene at a 45-degree angle to the center. Fats Holmes, the other tackle, lined up on the centers opposite shoulder. Basically, they put the poor guy in a 600-pound vice.

At the snap, Greene would cave in the center and either Holmes or defensive end Dwight White would loop stunt in coach-speak behind him. The guards were never sure which lineman would be coming through which gap so they were left flat-footed, looking this way and that.

Carsons scheme kept the center and guards occupied so they could not get across the line to hit Lambert. As a result, he was free to do what he did best, that is, use his speed and aggressiveness to fly to the football. The Steelers used that defense to limit Minnesota to 17 rushing yards (on 21 attempts) in Super Bowl IX.

So when Bradshaw saw the Steelers rolling up the Eagles undersized rookie linebacker on Thursday, he said they might want to re-think their defensive scheme. He said if the Eagles intend to go with Matthews in the middle, they need to protect him, something along the lines of what Carson did for Lambert.

Of course, the Steelers had the advantage of having a great front four and Lambert was a special player in his own right. No one is suggesting the Eagles have anything on the line that is even close to Joe Greene and no one is comparing Matthews to a young Lambert, but Bradshaws fundamental point is a good one.

If the role of the coach is to put players in a position to succeed and Andy Reid repeats that mantra weekly the Eagles staff has to take a long, hard look at what it is doing and ask if it is the right way to go.

If they really want to play Matthews in the middle and Reid is sticking with that plan at least through Thursdays preseason game against Cleveland they cant leave him on an island behind the Wide Nine. He is too exposed and too easy a target for a team that wants to run the ball.

If the Eagles would play a more traditional 4-3 with the four linemen in the normal gaps, they could take on the blockers and allow Matthews to play to his strength which is flowing to the ball. He cant do that if he has a 330-pound blocker in his grill. Limit the traffic around him and he might have a chance. That is how Miami got away with having 5-10 Zach Thomas at middle linebacker for years.

One of the things Matthews showed at training camp was keen football instinct, which is not surprising given the fact his grandfather, father and uncle all played in the NFL and brother Clay plays in Green Bay. In practice, he always seemed to take a perfect angle in pursuit. He could see a play develop and get to the ball carrier without a wasted step.

It is something that cant be coached, a player either has it or he doesnt, and thats what excited the Eagles about Matthews and convinced them he could be their starting middle linebacker. But no one was really hitting Matthews in practice and the speed of the game wasnt for real. In Pittsburgh, when the tempo picked up, he was in over his head.

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo explained it as a process. He is teaching his guys to take on blockers with their hands rather than their shoulders. It is a different technique, Castillo said, and the players are still getting the hang of it. Matthews agreed. You dont have as much power in your hands, he said.

Castillo believes this all will work out, but after what we saw in Pittsburgh, it is hard to be convinced. If the 6-1, 230-pound Matthews is left alone in the path of 18-wheelers like Pouncey and Hills, he is going to be flattened regardless of what technique he uses.

It will help when the Eagles get their full compliment of defensive tackles back on the field. Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon will offer Matthews more protection than the tackles have so far. But if the Eagles were planning to adopt this defensive scheme, why they didnt try harder to keep Stewart Bradley who played the middle at 255 pounds and was better equipped to take on the big boys? It makes you wonder.

Matthews took a lot of criticism after Thursdays loss. Everyone, it seemed, wanted him replaced. It wasnt really fair that he was singled out because no one on defense played well. For those who question whether the kid can play in the NFL, relax. He has ability and a world of desire, but he has been thrown into a very tough spot.

As a rookie fourth-round pick, with no spring camps and no OTAs, Matthews has been given the responsibility of playing middle linebacker and calling defensive signals for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Instead of putting him in a position to succeed, the Eagles coaches seem to have done just the opposite.

Thats their fault, not his.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

Rookie Alexander Rossi pulls off upset win at 100th Indianapolis 500

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Rookie Alexander Rossi pulls off upset win at 100th Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS -- A new era for the Indianapolis 500 arrived in the form of a most unfamiliar driver.

An American, no less.

Alexander Rossi outlasted his faster rivals - and his fuel tank - for a stunning victory Sunday in the historic 100th running of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing." The unlikely win allowed the long-suffering Andretti family to celebrate in the biggest race of their storied careers and it left the top drivers in the field fuming over Rossi's good fortune.

Rossi was a 66-to-1 long shot and certainly not the driver anyone would have picked to win. But the 24-year-old Californian used fuel strategy to outsmart a handful of drivers who had the most dominant cars in the race.

Rossi stretched his final tank of gas 90 miles to cycle into the lead as others had to duck into the pits for a splash of fuel in the waning laps. He was sputtering on the final lap, working his clutch and getting screamed at by team co-owner Bryan Herta to conserve fuel, and he ultimately ran out of gas after taking the checkered flag.

His victory celebration came only after his Honda was towed to the party. He sat in the car for some time before climbing out to take that sweet sip of milk.

"I have no idea how we pulled that off," he declared.

"I really was focused on taking it one lap at a time," Rossi said. "The emotional roller-coaster of this race is ridiculous. There were moments I was really stoked, really heartbroken, really stoked. I was like, `Wow, I'll need to see a psychiatrist after this.'"

Rossi didn't have the speed of Carlos Munoz, who was charging hard over the final 50 miles. But Munoz also had to stop for gas and didn't have a chance to race his teammate for the victory, even though Rossi was running on fumes and completed the final lap at a snail's pace of 179.784 mph.

The Colombian settled for second in a 1-2 finish for Andretti Autosport. He seemed devastated after his second runner-up finish in four years.

"I was really disappointed when it comes with fuel and you lose the race because of that," Munoz said. "I was really disappointed to get second. Half a lap short. What can I say? The only thing I'm clear about is that I will win this race one day."

Munoz has contended at Indy before and he's proven to be fast at the speedway.

Rossi? Well, not many know much about him at all.

He's an IndyCar rookie who has chased a ride in Formula One since he was 10. He left for Europe when he was 16 and never pursued a career in American open-wheel racing. But stuck without a ride this year, he made the decision to return to the United States to race and became the ninth rookie to win the 500 and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001.

Rossi understood full well that it was strategy that got him this win, and he knows what an Indy 500 victory means.

"I have no doubt it's going to change my life," he said.

Although he's a relief driver for Manor Racing in F1, Rossi has no scheduled F1 races and IndyCar right now is his top commitment. He was lured back to America this year to drive for Herta in a partnership with Andretti Autosport. Herta was the winning car owner in 2011 with Dan Wheldon, the actual 100th anniversary of the first race in 1911, and now can claim a win in the 100th actual race.

"I can't compare (the wins) other than to say I am so happy," Herta said. " I can't overstate how hard it was for Alex to do what I was asking of him on the radio."

This Herta effort relied heavily on its alliance with Andretti, and the family was hoping Marco Andretti would give them their first Indy 500 title since patriarch Mario Andretti won in 1969.

Instead, Marco Andretti never contended on a day at least three of his teammates were clearly among the best in the field. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell combined to lead 64 of the first 119 laps, but the Americans were knocked from contention when Bell clipped Castroneves as he left pit road. The contact caused Bell to crash into Hunter-Reay.

"Ryan and Townsend looked really good up front, we thought they would be the team to beat," team owner Michael Andretti said. "Unfortunately, they had their problem in the pit, which I could not believe, and I thought that may have been our shot at winning."

Herta decided to gamble with Rossi on fuel strategy, and it's the only thing that made him a late contender.

As the laps wound down, American Josef Newgarden and Munoz repeatedly swapped the lead. Both had to stop for gas, Rossi moved into the lead and it was all his from there.

Michael Andretti earlier this month was voted by the 27 living winners as the best driver never to win the race, but he has now won the 500 four times as a car owner.

"I knew Alex was going to try (the fuel strategy), and we said `Alright, if he's going to try it, we're going to try something else (with Munoz)," Andretti said. "To come home 1-2 is just incredible. It was amazing. I don't know what to say, it's a great day, to be a part of history, to win the 100th running, and to win it with a 1-2 finish is just incredible."

Newgarden finished third and was followed by Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand as Chevrolet drivers took spots three through six.

Newgarden, along with Hunter-Reay, Bell, Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe, had the strongest cars most of the race. Hinchcliffe, the pole winner who missed this race last year after a near-fatal accident in a practice session, faded to seventh despite being one of the best cars in the field.

"If I was in Alex's position, I'd be the happiest person in the world right now, I wouldn't care how we won the damn race," Newgarden said. "Everyone was on different strategies, and they played that strategy. Those guys, to put it politely, weren't as strong as us. They didn't have as strong a chance to win, so they had to mix it up. It worked out at the end for them."

In front of the first sellout in Indy 500 history, Rossi stunned the more than 350,000 fans in attendance. He was in Monaco this time last year for F1's signature race, unsure of what his future held.

"I had no idea I'd be in IndyCar, I had no idea I'd be in the Indy 500," said Rossi, who becomes the 70th winner in race history.

He will now also become the 103rd face on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy.

Instant Replay: Cubs 7, Phillies 2

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Instant Replay: Cubs 7, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Phillies completed a dreadful road trip with a 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon.
 
The Cubs swept the three-game series by a combined score of 17-5.
 
The Phils were 1-5 on the trip. They lost two of three in Detroit to start the trip.
 
The Cubs tagged Phillies starter Vince Velasquez for seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings Sunday.
 
The Cubs belted six homers in the three games. The Phillies had two and they both came late in Sunday's game after they were down, 7-0.
 
The Cubs have the majors’ best record at 34-14.
 
The Phillies have been held to two or fewer runs 19 times this season. They head home with a record of 26-24.
 
Starting pitching report
Velasquez was tagged for nine hits and seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.
 
Velasquez did not have a good trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8 ⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs.
 
The righthander is 5-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 10 starts.
 
Cubs’ right-hander John Lackey gave up just four hits and one run in seven innings.
 
Cubs starting pitching held the Phils to three earned runs in 22 ⅓ innings in the series. And Jake Arrieta did not pitch.
 
Bullpen report
Brett Oberholtzer walked three in 1 ⅓ innings, but did not allow a run. 
 
At the plate
Tyler Goeddel homered for the Phillies’ first run. Tommy Joseph homered in the ninth.
 
The Phillies were out-hit, 10-6. They had just six extra-base hits in the series. The Cubs had 11.
 
The Cubs used three hits, none of which were hit particularly hard, to score a run in the first inning. Miguel Montero crushed a 2-0 fastball from Velasquez over the wall in right to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the second and Ben Zobrist made it a 5-0 game with a three-run shot off Velasquez in the third.
 
In the field
A day after manager Pete Mackanin praised him for his defense, shortstop Freddy Galvis had a tough day in the field.
 
His 44-game errorless streak ended in the fifth inning when made just his second error of the season.
 
Two innings earlier, with two outs in the third, Galvis failed to make a play on a scorching one-hopper by Kris Bryant. The play was scored a hit because it was hit so hard, but Galvis had made plays like that before. The play proved pivotal because it extended the inning. Velasquez then issued a two-out walk, setting the table for Zobrist’s three-run homer, which gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead.
 
Joseph started at first base as manager Pete Mackanin sat Ryan Howard for the second time in a week against a right-hander pitcher. Joseph made a nice defensive play with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning.
 
Health check
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint ends Wednesday. The team can bring him to the majors at any time or option him to the minors when the rehab stint ends.
 
Up next
The Phillies return home Monday to start a 10-game homestand that includes visits from the Nationals, Brewers and Cubs. Here are the pitching matchups for the series against the Nats:
 
Monday night – RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.97) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (3-4, 2.71)
 
Tuesday night – RHP Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) vs. RHP Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52)
 
Wednesday night – LHP Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (5-4, 4.05)

NBA draft profile: Providence PG Kris Dunn

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NBA draft profile: Providence PG Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn

Position: Point guard

Height: 6-4

Weight: 205

School: Providence

Point guards are coveted on NBA rosters, and a team could land a long-term solution with Dunn. Last season, he averaged 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.5 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. The Sixers met with Dunn at the draft combine and plan to work him out as well. In order for the Sixers, who hold the first, 24th and 26th picks, to acquire Dunn, they would have to make a trade to move up in the selection order. 

Strengths
Dunn brings a physical presence to the one spot. At 6-foot-4, he has a 6-9 wingspan and can create size mismatches at the point guard position. Dunn is athletic with strong leaping abilities, which allows him to move well without the ball to the basket and attack the rim as well. While Dunn can score (16.4 points per game), he also averaged 2.5 steals per game this season.

Beyond the numbers, he has immeasurable mental strength and focus after overcoming obstacles to reach the highest level of basketball.

“You’re going to get someone who works hard every day,” Dunn said at the combine. “I like to say I’m a blue collar worker. Nothing was ever given to me and I go after it with everything I have.”

Weaknesses
As an NBA point guard, Dunn has to be disciplined running the floor. At times in college he went for the highlight play over fundamentals, resulting in turnovers (3.5 per game). He will have to improve shot selection in the pros. Dunn took 21 more field goal attempts from his junior to senior season but actually made one less year to year. He also shot 69.5 percent at the line. 

How he'd fit with the Sixers
The Sixers had a revolving door at the point guard position this season. They didn’t have a consistent starter until late December when they traded to re-acquire Ish Smith, who is a free agent this summer. Dunn could be their point guard for the future. 

NBA comparison
Dunn has been compared to Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall. At the combine, Dunn said he liked that comparison because of Wall’s defensive skillset.

Draft projection
Dunn is projected to be drafted as high as in the top five. He could be selected lower, though, given teams close to the top already have point guards.