Eagles Offense vs. Saints D: Stoppable Force Meets Moveable Object

Eagles Offense vs. Saints D: Stoppable Force Meets Moveable Object

At 17.1 points per game, Philadelphia features the NFL's 28th ranked scoring offense in the NFL, while they have also given the ball away 17 times, tied for the fourth-most. Their inability to protect the football and convert opportunities into points is the biggest reasons why the Eagles are standing at 3-4 today.

Tonight the Birds will be faced with their best opportunity to break that trend when they face off against the league's worst defense in New Orleans.

How bad is the Saints' defense? Two clubs have surrendered more points than New Orleans this year -- Tennessee and Buffalo -- but none can even come close in yards allowed. The Saints are dead last at 474.7 yards per game, with the next closest being the Bills at 417.9. That's a difference of 56.8 YPG, a gap that is larger than the one separating Buffalo from the next 10 defenses.

New Orleans is not much better in one phase than another, either. They've allowed the most rushing yards per game this season (170.1), though just barely. The Bills are right there with them (169.5), and are probably actually a worse unit based on a per carry average and touchdowns. Either way, that's nearly 30 yards more on the ground than the 30th ranked run defense.

Yet amazingly, the Saints' pass defense might be an even bigger issue. After an idle Sunday, New Orleans dropped to 31st in YPG (304.6), and they are last place in a slew of other categories. 9.1 yards per attempts is a full tick above the 29th-ranked pass D, and not surprisingly, opposing quarterbacks are most efficient versus the Saints with a passer rating of 110.6.

One lesson for Eagles fans: it just goes to show a defensive coordinator is only as good as the talent he has to work with. Back in January, the city was clamoring for Steve Spagnuolo, who had been fired from his head coaching job in St. Louis. He wound up in New Orleans, which seemed like a great gig at the time, but the roster is lacking the parts to succeed on that side of the football.

Whether the Birds are able to take advantage is another story. The offensive line is down to two starters from last season's group -- Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans -- and LeSean McCoy is averaging 2.6 yards per carry over the last three games behind the patchwork unit.

While that disappointing trend figures to break on Monday, the Eagles will likely need to put points on the board to keep up with Drew Brees, and that means an improved effort from Michael Vick, too. Vick has done some things well in recent weeks. He's completed over 60% of his passes in four consecutive games, and thrown six touchdowns to just two interceptions. However, he's also been inconsistent, and the offense simply hasn't scored enough.

Even if Vick does snap out of his funk tonight, and tosses his best game of the season, what will it mean? Picking apart the Saints' miserable defense will hardly restore confidence in the offense.

On second thought, perhaps the real question is what will it mean if Vick can't move his troops up and down the field and into the end zone?

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.