All Eyes on Eagles’ Defense in Second Preseason Game – What We Want to See

All Eyes on Eagles’ Defense in Second Preseason Game – What We Want to See

The Eagles’ defense has been taking a beating all week. First they had to fight Tom Brady and 10 of his best friends last Friday, the result of which was – to put it bluntly – an ass whoopin’. And over the six days since, observers have been picking over the scraps, questioning everything from the defense’s preparedness to switch to the 3-4, to the lack of tackling throughout training camp.

None of which was entirely unfair. The Birds’ defense allowed the Patriots first-team offense to march down the field for six on both of their possessions, the unit surrendered 31 points total – that number easily could have been higher – and they were gashed for two huge running plays that went for over 50 yards. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Such a ghastly performance supported fears coming into this camp that Philly’s defense might somehow be worse this year than it was last, when (as I probably needn’t remind you) surrendered the fourth-most points in the league. They don’t appear to have all the parts necessary in their front seven to make a 3-4 alignment work, and the rebuilt secondary is a huge question mark. Neither of those concerns was eased much from what we saw.

Of course, this was game one in a new scheme under a new regime, and it’s worth noting the opponent was one of the NFL’s elite. New England hasn’t won fewer than nine games in a season since the last millennium. Their starting quarterback is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. To begin with, maybe that wasn’t the most level of playing fields.

With that in mind, I think what I want to see most of all in game two versus the Carolina Panthers is some overall improvement, however marginal. Start small. Don’t allow a 62-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Don’t make Cam Newton look like Brady. A concept Eagles fans might want to get used to: a good season for their D would probably be middle of the road. Let’s see if they can take a step in that direction tonight.

Here’s what we’re watching:

How the defense handles Cam Newton’s mobility

The Eagles don’t have many dual-threat quarterbacks on their schedule this season, but they will see Robert Griffin III twice, including in the season opener. The fact that Brady can pick the Birds apart is not surprising, sort of a given actually – there are few like him. The secondary should fare better against Newton, a career 58.9% passer, but let’s see how the defense handles somebody back there who can also make plays with his legs. Newton has run for over 700 yards in each of his first two seasons, and at 6-5, 250, he’s a haul to bring down. It’s a whole different kind of test this week.

Get hats on the ball carrier

Missed tackles weren’t as much of the problem last week as some would have you believe. There were some, but the Patriots actually missed more. For the Eagles, the problem more often than not when there was a breakdown was they weren’t even in position to make a tackle. On Stevan Ridley’s 62-yard run, nobody touched him until he was caught from behind, same on LaGarrette Blount’s 51-yard jaunt. Not sure which is worse, but let’s have fewer of both, okay?

Young linemen stepping up

This one is for both sides of the ball. Last week Vinny Curry, Bennie Logan, and Damion Square all made tremendous impacts on the defensive line, blowing up numerous plays in the backfield. All three did it against second-string offensive linemen though. It would be nice to see them rotated in with the first group so we could see them against starting-caliber players. On the other side of the ball, Lane Johnson had a fantastic debut in midnight green as the starting right tackle. Let’s hope he keeps it up.

LeSean McCoy in Chip Kelly’s offense

Shady will play tonight, so it will be our first glimpse into how dangerous he can be in Chip’s offense. Jason Peters is still nursing a hamstring, so McCoy won’t have his full cast of offensive linemen in front of him, but it should be exciting to see what he can do and how he’s utilized. Will we see him lined up in the slot at all, something we saw a little bit of at practice? Reuben Frank has more on why the fourth-year back could be in a for a big season.

[Update: Jason Peters is in uniform, may play tonight after all.]

The quarterbacks

Round two of Chip’s QB derby goes off tonight. By most accounts, Mike Vick has gained a slight edge over Nick Foles, but it will be Foles who gets the first chance under center tonight (as determined by a rotation). I am really starting to enjoy the competition, especially after last week when Vick hit DeSean Jackson on a 47-yard bomb, and Foles tried to one-up him with a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive. It gave me a sense that there is no wrong choice here – even if that’s probably not the case.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).