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.

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

There are seemingly countless metrics one can use to detail Joel Embiid's supremacy as a Sixer, but perhaps no stats more clearly tell the story of how indefatigable the rookie has been this season than those of his free-throw shooting. Despite ranking just eighth on the team in total minutes, he's already gotten to the line 215 times this season and made 169 of them, about 250% more than the second-most made FTs on the team (Ersan Ilyasova, 65). What's more, his seven games with ten or more free throws attempted is already more than Thaddeus Young (six), Evan Turner (three) or Jrue Holiday (zero) ever had as a Liberty Baller. 

But yesterday against the Bucks saw JoJo hit a new level with his foul drawing. Despite essentially being shut down by the Bucks in the first half -- I can't remember if he even had a single bucket at the break -- The Process eventually imposed his will in Milwaukee in a major way, parading to the line in the second half, ending with 22 points (as well as 12 rebounds and five blocks) on 4-9 shooting, getting to the line an astounding 18 times. 

Who was the last Sixers giant to accomplish such a feat, you might wonder? Well... 

Yes, it's been an impressive season for our double-redshirt rookie, and every game he seems to add another immortal name to his list of historical analogues. But not until now could we afford to mention him alongside the great Henry "Lickface" Sims, two-year Process legend whose 18 trips to the free-throw line on April 4, 2014 totally helped us win that random late-season game against the then-rebuilding Boston Celtics. As impossible as it once seemed, it now appears that soon, Embiid's folk herodom will be as self-evident and undeniable to the Sons of Sam as that of Hammerin' Hank himself. 

Get this guy to the All-Star team already.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped, and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that, and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing and that’s a fair criticism on the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal before he turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside on the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t trust the process with the Flyers. Just enjoy the course.