Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Defense

Statistic that may surprise you: the San Francisco 49ers boast one of the top defenses in the NFL, currently ranked seventh in yards allowed (306.3 per game) and in points (17.3 points per game). Of course, two of their first three opponents this season have been the offensively challenged Seahawks and Bengals, so we'll soon find out whether or not they are for real.

ILB Patrick Willis
Any conversation about the Niners defense begins and ends with Willis. It's a cliche thing to say, but he is the heart and soul of this unit, and everything they want to do revolves around #52. At 6-1, 240, he is one of the most active linebackers in the NFL, whether it's stopping rushers cold, covering tight ends, or rushing passers. A Pro Bowler in each of his first four seasons, and a first team All-Pro selection in three of those, there's really only one way to get around having Willis in the ball carrier's facemask, and that's by going over the top -- not that you couldn't see him 50 yards downfield.

ILB NaVorro Bowman
An underrated piece of the league's third-best run defense (62.7 yards per game), the Penn State product takes over Takeo Spikes' spot as a run-stuffing inside backer. He's impressed so far in his first season as a starter, racking up 30 tackles through three games. If the Eagles commit to a ground attack again on Sunday, Bowman will have another productive game, because...

NT Isaac Sopoaga
It was widely assumed Aubrayo Franklin moving on to New Orleans would be a huge loss for this defense, but so far Sopoaga has filled his role just fine. Sopoaga has played in different spots along the 49er line during his seven-year career, but mostly at left defensive end prior to this season. Right now, he's proving his 6-2, 321 lbs. frame can draw and fight the double teams that give Willis and Bowman the lanes to be aggressive and attack the line of scrimmage. Needless to say, the interior of an offensive line that struggled to get push in short yardage situations against the Giants front last week will have their hands full on Sunday.

RDE Justin Smith
One of the most consistent defenders on San Francisco's D, Smith came over as a free agent from the Bengals in 2008. He's put up at least six sacks in each of his first three seasons there, plus he's a solid two-way player who has earned Pro Bowl recognition in back-to-back seasons. He'll be working on Jason Peters' side, and while usually we talk about how that impacts the game in pass protection, this week it will be interesting to see if Peters gets to those second-level blocks while he fights off the tenacious Smith.

OLBs Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson
So where do the Eagles attack this offense? Thankfully, the 49ers become much more pedestrian along the edges. First, the defense lacks the great edge pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware or Clay Matthews that really make these 3-4 defenses go. Brooks and Haralson have both had their moments -- Brooks has 11 sacks over the past two years as a situational player, while Haralson once reached eight QB takedowns for a season -- but neither of them are somebody that requires extra attention.

CB Carlos Rogers
An old friend of the Eagles, we last saw Rogers in a Redskins uniform, as they were getting torched 59-28 in the middle of their comical 2010 season. A first round pick of Washington in 2005, he's been steady enough to hold a starting job from year to year, but is merely average. His interception last week was only the ninth in his career, so he's generally not a playmaker, nor is he somebody who is going to shut down premier wide receivers.

CB Tarell Brown, SS Donte Whitner, and FS Dashon Goldson
The rest of the defensive backs are a largely faceless mish-mash. Brown is the other starting cornerback by default, Whitner is dealing with a hip injury, and we're not really sure about Goldson, who had a big-play laden 2009, but was around the ball significantly less in 2010.

Clearly the way to attack this defense is through the air, but the Eagles' passing attack has looked inefficient during the first three weeks. There needs to be more focus from the receiving corps, and Michael Vick is going to have to suck it up and play through immense pain, because the numbers suggest they won't be able to lean on Shady McCoy this week.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

ap_841901862648.jpg

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

052716_okafor_noel_slide.jpg

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

052816-provorov-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_694956611777.jpg

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.