Eagles Opposition Report: Bills Offense

Eagles Opposition Report: Bills Offense

The Buffalo Bills are one of the NFL's surprise teams through the first month of the season, sitting at 3-1 largely due to their offensive prowess. They are fourth in the league averaging 33.2 points per game, anchored surprisingly by their rushing offense, which has been good for 137 yards per game (5th) and 5.3 yards per carry (4th). That could spell bad news for the Birds' 30th ranked run defense.

RB Fred Jackson
Quite possibly the most underrated back in the NFL, even his own team has never seemed convinced of Jackson's ability. Despite gaining nearly 2,000 yards on the ground between 2009-10, the Bills continually attempted to place other runners ahead of him on the depth chart, but those road blocks wouldn't slow him down.

The job was finally all Jackson's entering this season, and he's turning it into a career year. He's currently on pace to rush for almost 1,500 yards, while averaging an astounding 5.8 ypc. Jackson also has four touchdowns, more than halfway to a personal best. Plus, he's dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield too, with 13 receptions for 147 yards.

Already 30 years old, Jackson probably doesn't have many years left as a feature back, but he's clearly playing his best football right now. At 6-1, 215, he presents a challenge for any defense, let alone one that isn't tackling or covering very well at the moment.

RB C.J. Spiller
Since being selected ninth overall in last year's draft, Spiller has fallen out of favor with the Bills coaching staff. His athleticism makes him extremely dangerous every time he steps on the field, but the offense hasn't been able to harness that ability. Spiller also has ball protection issues. The defense has to keep their eyes on him whenever the Clemson product is in the game, but he's primarily a kick returner now -- with two career special teams touchdowns so far.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick's is an interesting case. The Harvard grad made his NFL debut with the Rams in '05, and wasn't that bad considering he was a seventh round rookie on one of the worst teams in the league. He eventually wound up the starter in Cincinnati after another Carson Palmer injury, and again, they could have done worse. By the time the Bills finally got a hold of him in '09, nobody imagined he could turn into a franchise quarterback -- and now it may be happening before our very eyes.

Fitzy has been one of the most efficient QB's in the league through four games. The first reason for his success is his refusal to make mistakes, throwing three interceptions and taking just two sacks this season. He's also made major strides as a passer, with career highs in completion percentage (63.4), yards per pass (7.2), and is on pace to surpass 4,000 yards. His improvements have caused a slight dip in his rushing yards, but don't let those numbers fool you, because he will take off.

Interestingly enough, Fitzpatrick is playing himself into a huge contract extension in Buffalo -- and more importantly, a playoff berth. Oh, and he also shrieks like a girl:

WR Stevie Johnson
You can't talk about Fitzpatrick's success without mentioning Johnson, who has been the greatest benefactor of his quarterback's newfound comfort zone. Johnson had a breakout season in 2010, going over the 1,000 yard mark with 10 touchdowns, and he's proving that was no fluke. With 24 catches for 314 yards and three touchdowns, he's on track to surpass all of his totals from last season, while averaging the exact same 13.1 yards per reception. The seventh round pick out of Kentucky in '07 fell in the draft due to 4.6 speed, but his 6-2, 210 lbs. frame makes him a tough cover for even a physical corner like Nnamdi Asomugha.

WR David Nelson
The most important player on the Bills' offense you may not have heard of, when Nelson reaches paydirt, his team usually wins. Undrafted out of Florida last year, the 6-5 wideout had an almost immediate impact in Buffalo's offense last season -- but when Fitzpatrick started targeting him in red zone, they went on a little streak. In 15 career games, Nelson has touchdown catches in four games. They've won three of those, and in all the rest, they are a lousy 2-9. Nelson will often work out of the slot, so anticipate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie drawing the big man in coverage.

TE Scott Chandler
It took five years, but the Iowa product has finally found a home in the NFL. Despite starting his career with the Chargers in '07, Chandler never had a catch until joining the Bills late last season -- and entering 2011, just one for eight yards. However, he's broken out as a red zone threat, scoring four touchdowns thus far, which accounts for over a third of his total receptions. The Eagles have struggled to cover tight ends in the red zone, or anywhere else, as is typical, so if Buffalo finds themselves in scoring position at any point, you can be they'll be looking for number 84.

LT Chris Hairston
The Eagles will catch a bit of a break on Sunday, as starting left tackle Demetrius Bell will not play due to injury. He'll be replaced by Hairston, a 6-6, 332 lbs. fourth-round rookie out of Clemson. We don't know much about the kid, other than it's his first career start at one of the most difficult positions in football, going against a defense tied for first in the NFL with 15 sacks. Likewise, Hairston will catch a break too, with Trent Cole and probably Juqua Parker both out on Sunday, but if the Eagles are going to shut down this potent offense, the key to the game might be bringing pressure to Fitzpatrick's blind side.

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue on. Or at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday with John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4 but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

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Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has a word of advice for rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere when the two meet each other as opponents in this fall's World Cup of Hockey.

"The last few weeks, I told him to keep his head up," Giroux said Friday night on a conference call after both players were added to World Cup rosters.

"I'm pretty excited to go on the forecheck against him. It's pretty impressive what this kid has been able to do this year. To see it right beside him, he's got so much potential.
 
"To be on this team will only help him be better."
 
Giroux was named to Team Canada's roster, while Gostisbehere, the NHL's top rookie defenseman, was penciled in on Team North America (see story).

You may recall Giroux was overlooked by Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
 
"That was a little disappointing," Giroux said. "Any time you have a chance to represent your country and go play for them, you hope to get the call. I was a little disappointed for that. To be able to be on this team, I'm excited and I"m ready for the challenge."

Team North America is a unique blend of age 23-and-under players who will compete in the eight-team tournament starting in mid-September.

Whether the veteran athletes competing for other countries take this young stars contingent seriously on the international stage is subject to debate.

"I hope some teams would take us seriously," Gostisbehere said, "because I think we're pretty darn good. It's a different dynamic.
  
“You don’t have the veteran presence per say, but some of the guys on the team have been playing in the NHL for three years already. It’s definitely going to be a fun experience.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was also named to the tournament, playing for Team Europe.
 
“I am really surprised and excited,” Bellemare said in a statement. “I am happy that the way I played with the Flyers has helped me get a chance to play in the World Cup for Team Europe. I think this is going to be a celebration of hockey and it is surreal that I get to be in the middle of it.”
 
Both Giroux and Gostisbehere have been rehabbing at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, since their hip and abdominal surgeries on May 17.

Bellemare will go into the tournament fully healthy, while Giroux and Gostisbehere will not. Giroux had reservations about undergoing surgery if it meant his exclusion from the tournament, sources said.
 
“The surgery was a little question mark,” Giroux said. “Maybe not so much for me, but for them. I don’t know what they were thinking. The rehab has gone very well right now. There’s no issue as to why I wouldn’t be ready for that tournament.”
 
Gostisbehere is no stranger to serious rehab from surgery. He missed nearly all of the 2014-15 season as a Phantom with a torn ACL in his left knee.
 
“It’s the same sort of rehab I did with my knee,” Gostisbehere said of his current rehab.  “We’re going to keep going down the line knowing something is at the end of the line for us. We gotta really focus.”
 
The 23-year-old Gostisbehere, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which will be announced in late June, said he was humbled by the selection.
 
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “The whole format of the tournament is pretty cool to see. … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
 
The Flyers have eight players competing. Chicago has an NHL-high of 12.