Eagles Bounce Back -- Are They Ready?

Eagles Bounce Back -- Are They Ready?

It wasn't always pretty, and the road was paved in part by a few favorable breaks. Still, seeing the Eagles gradually separate from the Browns, then deliberately put them away, should provide the Delaware Valley some relief.

The Birds' defense pitched a shutout for three quarters, while Michael Vick overcame a turnover and some shaky play from his offensive line to guide the offense to 17 points. That was more than enough for the reserves, who rolled to a 24-14 victory.

However, there were plenty of questions remaining after the game. Vick took a beating, and while the Browns might surprise people this season, they are, after all, the Browns.

The number one thing that stood out on Thursday night was the play along the interior of the offensive line, particularly rookie center Jason Kelce, who was making his first NFL start.

On one hand, Kelce was visibly effective when run blocking, getting to the second level on several occasions. In fact, he had one of the key blocks downfield on Ronnie Brown's 13-yard first quarter touchdown run to put Philly up 7-0.

On the other, Kelce had several hiccups in pass protection, most of them leading to the quarterback getting maimed. He and fellow rookie Danny Watkins did not seem to be on the same page at all during the first few series, which lead to a bunch of missed assignments.

Unfortunately, it's the quarterback who pays the price for those, and pay he did--early and often. Vick coughed up the ball in their own zone on his first pass attempt when 334 lbs. defensive tackle Phil Taylor came steamrolling through the line of scrimmage, nearly leading to a Cleveland score.

As terrible as that sounds, butterflies may have been partly to blame. Kelce eventually settled down, allowing Vick to establish a rhythm. The quarterback went 7-for-11 for 71 yards on his final three series, adding an eight-yard touchdown run of his own.

Considering the rough start, we're not sure Kelce showed enough to win the job over veteran starter Jamaal Jackson, but he was impressive in some ways. King Dunlap has also been fine at right tackle each of the past two weeks, which should alleviate some concerns at the blind side.

But... It's the Browns...
The Browns didn't do themselves any favors in this one either. Cleveland muffed two punts--including a particularly hilarious play in the first quarter where one of their own guys knocked the returner over and the kick subsequently fell on him--both leading to touchdowns.

The Eagles' special teams also blocked a field goal, preventing the Browns from getting on the scoreboard after Vick's fumble.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came untouched off the edge, giving the club their second blocked kick in consecutive weeks. Bobby April's unit is setting up nicely as long as Alex Henerey and Chas Henry's promising preseasons carry over once the real thing starts.

Even the refs got in on the act of gift wrapping the game for the Birds. Vick's touchdown run was set up by a questionable penalty.

Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson had a free break to the quarterback--a missed assignment by LeSean McCoy at first glance--causing a Vick pass attempt to sail away for an interception. Jackson was flagged for roughing the passer, apparently for driving his helmet into Vick's chest, though it was at least debatable. Nonetheless, the play was reversed.

Defense Carries the Night
Despite everything that went wrong for the Browns, we're not sure it would have mattered anyway. The Eagles' run defense was vastly improved over last week's performance against Pittsburgh, including the verbally maligned Casey Matthews.

Of course, it helped Cleveland seemed intent on throwing the ball for whatever reason. QB Colt McCoy found little room on the edges, and was picked off by Asante Samuel to open the second quarter. Pressure was an issue as well, with Mike Patterson, Trent Cole, and former CFLer Philip Hunt notching sacks.

Meanwhile, Matthews saw action in all four quarters as they try to prepare him for Week 1, though seventh round rookie Brian Rolle replaced him in some obvious passing situations. Matthews was a factor in the passing game too, and it looked like he started making strides against the run as well.

Also of note, Jamar Chaney had an excellent pass breakup to prevent a possible score. He showed off some excellent cover skills, flanking running back Peyton Hillis to the end zone where he was in perfect position to knock the ball away.

Wrapping Up
As for the backups, Vince Young had his best outing yet in an Eagles uniform, going 9-for-12--albeit for only 58 yards--and added a 10 yard scramble for six points. On the down side, Nate Allen ran with the second team all night, and it's beginning to look like he may not be a big factor once this season begins.

Once again, if you're looking at the big picture, this game didn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme. If you were hoping for clear cut answers at potential problem areas, I don't think you got many. If you wanted to see a dominant effort against an opponent perceived to be weaker, this probably didn't quite satisfy you.

The greatest takeaway from these three games: the Birds survived them without any significant injuries. With many of the starters likely finished for the preseason, and the real deal a little more than two weeks away, they could have their full complement of players when they head to St. Louis on September 11.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points (at the time of this posting), and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

Editor's Note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

The improvements have been obvious for the 76ers this season. Just months removed from a franchise-worst 10-72 record, the Sixers have begun to see return on their rebuild with rookie Joel Embiid leading the charge.
 
December will be a big month for the team as it looks to rise in the Eastern Conference. Attending an upcoming game won’t come attached with big ticket prices, either. With several marquee opponents headed to Wells Fargo Center over the next four weeks, including the Lakers, Celtics and Raptors, fans can find relatively inexpensive ticket prices on the resale market all month long.
 
On TicketIQ, a ticket search engine that pools tickets and data from over 90 percent of the resale market, the average resale price for 76ers tickets in December is just $58. That makes December among the cheapest months to see the Sixers this season.

 
With the Lakers in town for a December 16 game, it will be the only 76ers home game this month that commands an average resale price above $100. On TicketIQ, 76ers vs Lakers tickets own a $112 average and the most inexpensive are listed from $27 each. It will be the Lakers’ sole visit to Philadelphia this season.
 
The Celtics will be the Sixers’ second most expensive opponent this month, but their December 3 visit is currently averaging nearly half the price the Lakers are seeing when they’re in town two weeks later. As it stands now the average resale price for tickets against the Celtics is $69 with a get-in price of $13.
 
The Nets, Pelicans and Raptors are all generating similar demand for their respective stops in Philadelphia later this month. With all three teams visiting over a six-day period between December 14 and 20, no game will average over $55 on the secondary market. Tickets start from as low as $7 each to when Anthony Davis and the Pelicans come to town on the 20th.
 
For those fans with interest in attending the most inexpensive games at Wells Fargo Center this month, the struggling Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets will serve as the most affordable opponents to see in action in December. The Magic play the Sixers on Friday night, where last-minute 76ers vs. Magic tickets are averaging $43. Their next home game against the Nuggets have an average resale price of just $35.