Eagles a Comedy of Errors in Thursday Night Blowout

Eagles a Comedy of Errors in Thursday Night Blowout

This was the definition of giving a game away. Every single
point the Cincinnati Bengals scored in a 34-13 win against the Eagles was the
direct result of a hilariously unacceptable mistake – and the act went
on just one minute into the game

• Second play from scrimmage: Jeremy Maclin is
tracked down from behind and has the football punched out by defensive end Carlos
Dunlap on a wide receiver screen. Cincinnati gains possession at the
Philadelphia 44-yard line, drives six plays for a touchdown. 7-0.

• Next series: Following a three-and-out, there is
some confusion getting the punt coverage unit on to the field with Clay Harbor running on late, so who knows whether they are even lined up correctly. Daniel Heron
drives Marvin McNutt backward into Mat McBriar, who winds up kicking the ball right off of his own man. The Bengals take over at Philly’s 11, leading to an
easy field goal. 10-0.

Having watched this team all season, you got the feeling it
was already over right there, seven minutes in. The Birds fought back though,
and actually controlled the action for the equivalent of one half of football.
Nick Foles got the team on the board with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Riley
Cooper, while a pair of strip sacks of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton by
Brandon Graham and Cullen Jenkins led to Alex Henery field goals.

You read correctly. The Eagles actually took a lead into the
locker room, one they still held 10 minutes into the second half. Then all of this happened in the span of
five plays from scrimmage.

• Midway through the third quarter: Eagles have good
field position at Cincinnati’s 47. Nick Foles takes a shot downfield, but the
ball is criminally underthrown to Jeremy Maclin. Leon Hall makes the easy
interception, and returns it 40 yards into Philadelphia territory to set up
another short march. 17-13.

• Next drive, two plays later: Nobody blocks
defensive end Wallace Gilberry as he shoots right up the middle unattended. He
disrupts Foles’ handoff to Bryce Brown, who has his eyes closed and has already
lost possession before there is even impact. Gilberry picks up the rock and
takes it in himself. 24-13.

• The very next play: Foles connects with Harbor on a sharply-threaded pass down the seam, where the target is greeted almost
immediately by defenders. Safety Chris Crocker puts his helmet on the ball then
recovers his own forced fumble, while a short return places them inside the red zone.
31-13.

• The ensuing kickoff – seriously: Josh Brown
kicks the pigskin short and high in the air, sending it hurtling to earth into the breadbasket of Cedric Thornton on the coverage unit. He drops it, and
immediately boots it directly to Taylor Mays, who is already in field goal range.
34-13.

All things considered, the defense played well. The front
four was the most active we’ve seen all season, sacking Dalton six times. Not
surprisingly, the coverage looked far better behind them, getting hands on
seven passes. It all took its toll on the second-year QB, who connected on 13
of 27 attempts for 127 yards, not to mention superstar wide receiver A.J.
Green, who was limited to six receptions for 57 yards. The two did connect for six
late in the game however on a goal-line pass that was nearly impossible for Dominique
Rodgers-Cromartie to defend.

Unfortunately, the offense could not capitalize on a couple of opportunities
to put some distance between themselves and Cincinnati. Foles was 12 of 24
for 145 yards in the first half, and had managed not to get sacked at all, but
the Birds were only able to convert one of their three trips to the red zone
into a touchdown.

Then things got out of hand. Due to all the turnovers, Foles
only had nine more attempts in the final 30 minutes, as the Bengals dominated
time of possession nearly 38 to 22. The rookie finished 16 for 33 with 182 in a
hopeless situation. It didn’t help that Brown was stifled for the second week
in a row, either. He gained 34 yards on 16 carries.

Those numbers were all pretty meaningless though compared to
the five turnovers and blocked punt that resulted in 34 points for their
opponents. Take away even half of those, and maybe this would have been a game.
Instead, it was a total humiliation.

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.