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?

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

At times during the 2016 season, the Eagles' defense looked like the best unit in the league. And at other times … it didn't. 

By the end of the season, the Eagles averaged out to be a middle-of-the-road defense. And the way ProFootballFocus ranked it makes sense.

PFF ranked the Eagles' secondary as the absolute worst in the league, but in it's list of front sevens, released on Tuesday, the Eagles came in at No. 2 behind just Seattle. 

Here's what PFF said about the Eagles' front seven: 

"It was a difficult decision between the Eagles and the Seahawks for the No. 1 spot, as this front-seven propped up a hodge-podge secondary to form one of the league’s most effective defenses for a good portion of the season. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox finished with the third- and fourth-highest pass-rushing productivity marks at their respective positions. Philadelphia’s front-seven also features a budding star in second-year linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led all players at the position with five interceptions."

Graham received the highest grade among the Eagles' front seven with a 93.3, while Connor Barwin received the worst at 42.1. Graham was the only Eagles player to make the PFF All-Pro team this year. To prove that stats don't always tell the full story, Graham finished with a half sack more than Barwin (6 1/2 to 6). 

While the Eagles' cornerback trio of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills ranked 79th, 107th and 120th out of 120, respectively, their players across the front seven were much, much better. 

Hicks was ranked as the seventh-best middle linebacker and Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were both top-10 outside linebackers in 4-3 defenses. Graham was the top-ranked 4-3 defensive end and Cox was the fifth-best interior lineman.