A Summary of Last Night's Football GameA Synopsis of This Season: What Went Wrong?

A Summary of Last Night's Football GameA Synopsis of This Season: What Went Wrong?

In a word: everything.

For the fourth time this season, Juan Castillo's defense gave up yet another fourth-quarter lead, allowing the Bears to score 13 unanswered points over the final 16 minutes of the game. They were gashed in the running game once again , allowing the Bears to set the tone with 164 yards on the ground, while the pass rush disappeared, and the secondary let another average wide receiver have a career night.

But not to be outdone, the offense and special teams were arguably worse. Marty Mornhinweg's group only put 17 points on the board last night. Mike Vick committed another turnover in the red zone, the pass protection left something to be desired, and of course, there were dropped passes. And special teams, well... we'll get to those blunders during the course of this review.

Of course, that doesn't absolve the defense. When we say the entire team played poorly, that's exactly what we mean. Everybody is on the hook for the Eagles' 3-5 record, from the punter to the talent evaluators. Once again though, the areas that were largely perceived to be strengths heading into this season had their fingerprints all over this loss, and they continued to put the defense in difficult positions to do their job.

Let's look at how the Bears scored:

1. TD on the opening drive. This was the defense's worst series of the game, allowing Chicago to march 79 yards and eat almost six minutes off the clock before the Eagles ever had the ball. Forte ripped off a couple of long runs, Earl Bennett entered the Philadelphia fans' lexicon, and the Bears took control right out of the chute.

2. Starting from their own 48 after a Michael Vick red-zone interception, Jay Cutler somehow found Earl Bennett on 3rd-and-16, one play after an offensive pass interference penalty gave the Philadelphia defense a second life. The turnover and completion were enough to get into Robbie Gould field-goal range, giving the Bears a 10-point cushion.

3. TD on drive starting from Philadelphia's nine-yard line, following DeSean Jackson's fumble on a punt return with less than a minute remaining the first half. At this point, the Eagles had tied the game, and should have been happy to go into the locker room, but NO. Jackson fields the punt, runs backwards about 10 yards, and has the ball punched free. As if that weren't enough, Jason Babin is shoved into Cutler after a stop on third down, and the officials are all too eager to throw a flag. Misfortune turns a solid defensive stand into seven

4. FG on a drive starting at their own six-yard line. One of the things the Eagles actually did well was use short kickoffs to screw with the timing on Chicago's kick returns, and a nice stop combined with a penalty pinned them deep. But the defense was gashed for some big gains from Marion Barber (17), Bennett (28), and Roy Williams (18), which set the Bears up for a chip-shot field goal.

5. TD to retake the lead on a drive starting at midfield, after Devin Hester was allowed to return a punt for an additional 20 yards. Bennett again had a big gainer (22), then the Eagles were nailed on a questionable late hit Darryl Tapp when he landed on Hester after the ball carrier was down. Tapp appeared to be going down already before the whistle, but sure, tack on half the distance to the goal. The Bears score two plays later.

6. Following the turnover on downs that occurred on the fake punt, the Bears once again have excellent field position, starting at their own 42. This is the fourth scoring drive where they started at least that close or better. At this point, the Eagles defense has been on the field the majority of the time, and Chicago is having their way with them. The Birds have them stopped though, but Nnamdi Asomugha commits a pass interference penalty, which allows the Bears to run another minute-and-a-half or so off the clock before eventually settling for three.

Could the defense have helped themselves out by making a few extra stops? Certainly. Were they put in great position to succeed? Clearly they weren't. The Eagles can't squeeze 17 points out of their offense, give their opponent a short field repeatedly over the course of 60 minutes, and expect to win games like that.

And one last thing, let's not forget the Eagles forced not one, but two Matt Forte fumbles, one of which they returned for their own touchdown. The other, the offense converted for six. That means Philadelphia scored 10 points by virtue of their offense conducting a traditional drive down the field. That's, ahem, not good.

Other notes:

To be fair, how do you not sack Jay Cutler one time?
Chicacgo's quarterback came into Week 9 the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL. He ate the ball more than anybody in 2010. Yet somehow, the Eagles -- tied for eighth with 22 sacks this season -- didn't get to Cutler at all. How does this happen?

First, give Mike Martz credit. He reigned in his usual pass-happy, spread-the-field offense, put some tight ends on the field, and went to work with a ball-control offense. They overpowered the Birds in the running game, and more importantly, they gave the offensive line a huge lift in pass protection.

There is no way the defensive line should have been shut out though, and the blitz was even more ineffective still. Jason Babin is in fourth with nine sacks. Trent Cole had four sacks in five games coming in, and Cullen Jenkins has five. The three of them got no push all game long, and when Cutler was completing key passes on third downs against this allegedly dominant secondary, it was often because the quarterback was given way too much time to hang in the pocket.

The Bears Out-Philadelphia Eagled the Philadelphia Eagles
Chicago held the ball for over 11 minutes in the first quarter, and converted four out of five third downs. In short, they did to the Eagles what the Eagles had done to Washington and Dallas in previous weeks, running the ball and using quick, high-percentage passes to set up reasonable distances-to-go on third down. Keep the opposing team's offense on the sidelines.

The Bears finished the game with a victory in the time of possession battle, holding the ball 33-to-26, but it was their clock control particularly in the first quarter that helped Chicago kill the rhythm the Birds' offense had enjoyed coming into this game. Minus the defensive touchdown, Philly managed just three points in the first half.

Earl Bennett, meet Victor Cruz
Nine days ago, the Eagles eliminated one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, holding Miles Austin and Dez Bryant each to three catches for 27 and 28 yards respectively. They've shut down Pro Bowlers such as Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, and Stevie Johnson over the course of this season.

Yet somehow, a second-year undrafted player like Victor Cruz can kick-start his career against this defense, or in Monday night's case, an Earl Bennett with all of three catches on the season can have a night to remember. Bennett finished with five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown i
n what was arguably the best performance of his four NFL seasons.

Explain that.

Did Andy goof the clock again?
Naturally there were some complaints about the Eagles mismanagement of the clock at the end of the first half. The Bears kicked off with 43 seconds remaining, and Andy Reid still had two timeouts in his pocket. He wound up using only one of them, as the offense got off three plays and moved a total of 13 yards before heading into the locker room.

I have to think because of the way things were going, Reid didn't want to press his luck. Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass running free in the middle of the defense on first down, then they used a timeout on a short gain the following play. Celek picked up a first down with about a dozen ticks left, and the Eagles could have used their final timeout, but then what? The Bears were in a prevent defense, pushing the entire secondary deep so as to not take any chances against those speedy wide receivers. The likelihood of a big play, or even one to get them into field goal range, was slim to none at that point.

The only thing I found questionable about the whole series was why Dion Lewis was allowed to return the kickoff in the first place. Kneeling it for a touchback would have saved seven seconds, and as much as I like the rookie running back, he hasn't shown any evidence that he is a threat to return one to the house. Save that time so the offense can run an extra play or two.

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.