Eagles Net Dolphins, Keep Slim Playoff Hopes Alive

Eagles Net Dolphins, Keep Slim Playoff Hopes Alive

It began like almost any other Birds game in 2011 -- with a hilarious mistake.

The Eagles' opening drive fizzled out around midfield, forcing a punt. Chas Henry took the snap, then stepped forward into his kick, only to have a white jersey crash into his leg for the block. Until Nate Allen was able to fall on the pigskin, it was all the way back at the Philadelphia 15-yard line. Three plays later, Matt Moore connected with Brandon Marshall in the corner of the end zone, with Nnamdi Asomugha showcasing his increasingly unimpressive ball skills nearby.

And just like that, the threat was over. Despite an underwhelming performance by the Eagles' offense, which managed to rack up 239 total yards, a 24-point burst in the second quarter provided more than enough cushion to get past the Miami Dolphins, who remarkably were even more inefficient. A safety in the fourth quarter sealed the 26-10 victory, moving Philadelphia up to 5-8, and lurking in the shadows of the NFC East.

Despite holding the Miami offense to 204 yards and forcing three turnovers, we don't want to give the defense too much credit. The Dolphins lost two offensive lineman during the course of the game, including former first overall pick and Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long. Protection breakdowns became commonplace, and before long, Moore was knocked out of the game as well.

Any fourth-quarter comebacks were going to be led by J.P. Losman, who did not prove to be up for the task.

The Eagles wound up finishing the game with nine sacks. Jason Babin had three, bumping him up to 15 on the season, surpassing his personal best. Trent Cole added two, putting him at nine -- one away from his fourth double-digit total in five seasons. Rookies Brian Rolle, Casey Matthews, and Philip Hunt all had the first sacks of their professional careers, Hunt's responsible for adding two points to the scoreboard.

Babin also stripped Moore, his third forced fumble of the season. Asante Samuel also knocked a ball free from Davone Bess, and dove on it for his own recovery as well. Kurt Coleman added an interception on an errant pass by Moore, which the safety returned to the two yard-line.

The turnovers were the difference. The Eagles posted 17 points off of the possession changes, swinging the momentum once and for all in the second quarter. Little more than a minute and a half after punching in his first score, LeSean McCoy carried the rock across the goal line for his second TD of the game following Coleman's INT. Shady now stands one rushing touchdown from tying Steve Van Buren's franchise record 16, as well as one TD behind the total mark.

McCoy otherwise did not have a very strong game though. He wound up carrying a whopping 27 times, but somehow only gained 38 yards. The Dolphins D was successful at clogging running lanes, but far too often McCoy danced and ran backwards, apparently taking those Barry Sanders comparisons to heart. Seriously, roughly half of his attempts seemed to result in a loss of yards.

Michael Vick wasn't much better in his return to action. Number seven went 15-for-30 for 208 yards, a TD, and a pick. He only ran twice for nine yards, but as usual, he took a ton of shots. He didn't quite seem 100-percent, slow to get up on a few, but remained in the huddle for the entire game.

In other words, if you were looking for an afternoon that would inspire confidence in a miracle post-season run, this probably won't do it. After all their injuries, Miami was working at a major disadvantage, and after all, they are just the Dolphins. It's not like the Eagles went out and beat a great team this afternoon.

But a win is a win at this point. Unless you're rooting for draft positioning. In that case, sort of a bummer, eh?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

The Eagles have vowed to get better. 

They desperately don't want to have a performance from their run defense like the one against Washington, when they gave up 230 yards on the ground. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the run defense is "a pride thing" and the guys responsible for the performance, Jim Schwartz included, say things will get better. The defensive coordinator cited bad angles as a reason there were so many missed tackles on Sunday afternoon. 

In all, the Eagles missed 10 tackles and gave up 156 yards after contact — both more than they had given up in the first four games of the season. 

Washington's rushing yards came in some big chunks. Here's a look at some of the key running plays from Sunday as we try to figure out what went wrong: 

This is a key 3rd-and-7 from the Washington 13-yard line. On this drive, Washington ends up scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0, but it doesn't happen without this key third down conversion. 

The Eagles collapse the pocket and force Kirk Cousins to his left. That's exactly what Schwartz said he wants, to force the quarterback to his non-throwing side. Everything at this point is working out perfectly. 

Here's the angle that's really troublesome. At this point, Nigel Bradham (circled in green) has Cousins in his sights, while Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham (farther behind) are in pursuit. Curry and Graham seem to let up in their pursuit when it looks like Cousins will go out of bounds. But he doesn't. 

Schwartz talked about bad angles, and this is the perfect example from Bradham. He overshoots it and when Cousins makes his cut back inside, all of Bradham's momentum is heading toward the sideline. Curry ends up making the tackle but tackles Cousins forward for a big first down. 

This next play was just a little counter draw that ended up going for a huge 45-yard gain. Rob Kelley takes the handoff, which looks to be going right. The entire Eagles' linebacking group bites hard. Still, right end Connor Barwin is free and has a chance to make the play. 

He doesn't. Just a missed tackle. 

Kelley finds some open field. Rodney McLeod is the next guy to beat and Kelley simply turns him around. You'll see Mychal Kendricks enter the frame. Kendricks showed great recovery speed to get back in the play and has a chance to finally bring the running back down. 

Nope. Can't do it. Eventually, McLeod recovers to bring him down. 

This last play ended the game on Sunday. The Eagles punted the ball away with the hope that their defense would stop Washington and give them the ball back. Instead, Matt Jones broke off a 57-yard run on 3rd-and-7. 

Jordan Hicks over pursues, probably thinking the run was going wide. But he loses his gap and Jones is off to the races. 

Once Jones gets past the first down, it doesn't really matter that it was a 57-yard run. It could have been an 8-yarder and the game was over. 

So what did we learn? 

Well, Schwartz was right. Angles absolutely killed the Eagles on Sunday. But when they have a guy wrapped up, they need to bring him down. Sure, that's not Earth-shattering, but they couldn't do it on Sunday and it led to a loss. 

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."