Crash and Burn: Eagles Destroy Jets

Crash and Burn: Eagles Destroy Jets

Are the stars aligning for an unbelievable, mad dash to the postseason?

The
Eagles did their part today, roughing up the New York Jets 45-19, thus
moving to 6-8 and keeping their slim playoff hopes intact. Can we still
describe their chances as slim? All they need to do is beat the Cowboys
and Redskins -- two teams they dispatched earlier this season -- and
hope the Giants lose to the Jets next week, then defeat the Cowboys Week
17. Suddenly, it doesn't sound so far-fetched, particularly if they have more efforts like today.

For the second consecutive week,
defense ruled the day, only this time against an offense with a healthy
offensive line and quarterback. The Eagles held the Jets to 241 yards of
total offense, forced four turnovers, and sacked quarterback Mark
Sanchez four times. Three of New York's four scoring drives began in
Philadelphia territory, and all of them prior to garbage time setting
in.

The Birds' D even got the scoring started. The Jets were
marching down the field, with Shonn Greene finding running lanes the
size of those on I-95. As soon as New York started testing the passage
through the air, their luck changed. Santonio Holmes turned up field
after a short reception, and was quickly swarmed by Kurt Coleman and
Claysey Matthews. Coleman's helmet knocked the ball free, and Juqua
Parker recovered, running the ball back 47 yards to paydirt.

It
was Parker's second touchdown of the season, his first coming on a
fumble recovery against the Rams in Week 1, and it was the defense's
fourth TD on the year.

The Eagles would run their first-half lead
all the way up to 28-0. Another unfortunate miscue by Curtis Marsh on
the punt return team gave the Jets the football on Philly's 14-yard
line, but a Sanchez pass went through the hands of Holmes, and wound up
finding a waiting Asante Samuel for his third INT of the season. The
Eagles answered with a 77-yard drive, capped with Mike Vick finding
Brent Celek for the 26-yard score. Vick stook in the pocket and took a
sick shot, and Celek made a juggling grab for what turned out to be a
beautiful score.

It wasn't long before the ball was back in
Vick's hands. A few minutes later, he was racing the Jets defense to the
pylon from 11 yards out for his first rushing TD of the season.
Overall, it was a strong game for Vick, who was 15 for 22 passing with
274 yards and a score. He added 32 more ticks on the ground, and a
meaningless pick to end the first half could not mar the quality of his performance.

Three
plays later, Sanchez was scrambling for a first down -- and his life --
and had the ball poked free by one of the massive paws of Mike
Patterson. LeSean McCoy did the rest of the work, blowing the game wide
open on a nine-yard touchdown run, one of his three for the game.

The
Jets threatened briefly with 13 unanswered points to go into the locker
room, but the Eagles and McCoy quickly added seven more out of the break. By the
time Shady punctuated the fourth quarter with his third score, a shifty
33-yard dash with the game already well out of reach, we had officially
reached garbage time. Once the offense stepped back out on the field, Vince
Young was under center.

McCoy finished the afternoon with 102
yards rushing on 18 carries, and of course, the three scores to shatter
the Eagles' single-season franchise record for rushing and total
touchdowns, previously held by Steve Van Buren (more on that here). It
was also a milestone performance for defensive end Jason Babin, whose
three sacks put him atop the NFL leaderboard with 18. It was Babin's
second three-sack effort in back-to-back weeks, the first Eagle and 10th
player in history to accomplish such a feat, and he is sneaking up on the
single-season franchise record for sacks held by the great Reggie White,
who had 21 in 1987.

It's fun to see these records falling, but
even more fun that it's occuring during what very well might be an
improbable postseason run. There are fans who wish this weren't
happening, and a lot more who still believe it will all be for nothing,
but for the time being, we have life. Can a team just barely squeak into
the playoffs at 8-8 and win a Super Bowl? Sure, it could happen. So,
for now, we're just going to enjoy it, and hope it doesn't come back to haunt this franchise.

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.