Eagles Defense by the Numbers Through Four Games

Eagles Defense by the Numbers Through Four Games

Lately we've been running Filmroom Friday around this time, but you may have noticed my plate has been a little full this week, so I didn't have a chance to really dig into the coaches' film. I expect my schedule to remain hectic next week as well, so if you've been enjoying those posts, we'll try to get back at it over the bye.

But now that some folks are finally starting to come around on Juan Castillo -- very slowly, I will add -- we thought it would be helpful to look at some of the numbers that explain why.

Truthfully, I don't think Castillo has been given quite enough credit for the Eagles' defensive turnaround yet. Sure, it's only been four games (although really eight dating back to last season), so it's understandable some are still skeptical. Then again, four games into 2011 people were already calling for the man's job, if they ever gave the hire a chance in the first place.

Another dynamic at work here is the Eagles haven't exactly seen many top offenses yet. Cleveland and Arizona have two of the least efficient attacks, and the Giants were banged up. The Steelers, Lions, Falcons, and Saints are the next four opponents, and each figures to test what this unit is made of.

Regardless of competition, nobody can say Castillo's crew hasn't their job though. Here's a rundown on some of the numbers:

POINTS PER GAME

Philadelphia is in a three-way tie for 10th as opponents are scoring 20.8 points per game -- but hold the phone. Two touchdowns against the Eagles this season were opposing defenses taking Michael Vick turnovers to the house. Even if you want insist the point after counts anyway, the Birds' D is actually allowing 17.8 points per game, which would be tied for sixth.

That number is even better going back to 2011. Per Reuben Frank, the Eagles have been the second-stingiest defense in the NFL over the last eight games, allowing 13.8 PPG. Coincidentally, only the Steelers have been better.

YARDS

By the NFL's standard, Philadelphia has the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL -- allowing 298.2 yards per game -- and they're getting it done by being solid all around. They are 12th against the run (91.5), 11th in yards per carry (3.8), and are even more impressively seventh against the pass (206.8), tied for third in yards per attempt (6.2).

Of course, the passing numbers are probably aided by the fact that Brandon Weeden and Kevin Kolb are among the four quarterbacks they've faced, but still solid nonetheless.

THIRD DOWNS

A big difference for the Eagles this year has been their ability to get off the field on third down, especially in a long distance situations. Opponents have converted just 14-of-52 tries on third down, a rate of 27% -- third best in the NFL. They've held strong when the offense goes for it as well, allowing the sticks to move one time in four tries on fourth down.

TURNOVERS

Teams were successful at protecting the football against the Birds last season, but at least quarterbacks are turning the ball over at a higher rate. Philly is tied for fourth with four other teams at six interceptions a piece, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie owning three of them alone -- which also happens to be tied for the league lead.

Surprisingly the Eagles haven't had much luck with loose balls, recovering just one fumble so far, though they did have a second one called back due to a penalty.

RED ZONE

The Eagles have been horrible in the red zone the past few years, historically bad even. That won't be the case in 2012. Philadelphia is tied for fourth in red zone scoring, allowing a touchdown only 33% of the time. That means two out of three trips will either result in three points, or none at all. Certainly that's made a huge difference in all those tight one- and two-point victories.

Curiously, while the defense has posted some tremendous numbers through four games the defensive line hasn't really gotten it going just yet. They've certainly made an impact pressuring quarterbacks and stuffing the run, but a season ago they finished with 50 sacks. So far in 2012, seven, ranked 21st in the NFL. They're on pace to finish with almost half of last year's total.

So while you might argue the level of competition has helped skew the numbers in the Eagles' favor to a degree, imagine how much better they could be if Trent Cole and Jason Babin start to get hot. My guess is once that happens, and after a few strong efforts against some of the top-flight competition coming up, soon everybody will be happy to admit the Castillo's defense is one of the toughest units in the league.

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. -- Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

The Sixers made some roster tweaks on Wednesday night.

The team waived forward Carl Landry and center Tibor Pleiss, while officially announcing the signing of guard Anthony "Cat" Barber.

The Sixers were expected to cut Pleiss, who was acquired last Friday in a trade with the Jazz. On July 21, Barber and the Sixers reportedly agreed to a partially guaranteed deal.

Landy, a 32-year-old veteran, played one season with the Sixers after being acquired last summer in a trade with the Kings, a deal in which he was essentially a toss-in as it revolved around bringing Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia. Landry, who was under contract for 2016-17 at $6.75 million, battled injury to start 2015-16 and ended up playing in 36 games (12 starts), averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Barber, 6-foot-3, 173 pounds, will fight for a roster spot at point guard during training camp. The 22-year-old went undrafted in June after declaring following his junior season at NC State in which he averaged 23.5 points per game, seventh most in the country and best in the ACC.