Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Defense

Atlanta's defense is severely lacking in the playmaker department, particularly in the back seven. If the quarterback has time to operate in the pocket, it's simply a matter of the offense picking their spots.

As a result, even ordinary offenses can light up the scoreboard, not unlike the Bears in Week 1. Matt Forte compiled 158 total yards, 90 of them receiving, including a 56-yard touchdown. Chicago's receivers hauled in 13 passes for 189 yards. It's an encouraging sign for the Eagles high-powered offense, particularly on the fast track at the Georgia Dome.

RDE John Abraham
Abraham has had nothing short of an outstanding career. He became the 25th player in NFL history to reach 100 sacks last season, and at 33 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. Incredibly, Abraham went to just his fourth Pro Bowl in 2010, and he's already off to a feverish start this season, sacking Jay Cutler twice in the Falcons' Week 1 opener. Only Jason Taylor has more sacks among active players.

Last year, Jason Peters managed to hold Abraham without a sack when Kevin Kolb led the Eagles to a 31-17 win. Unfortunately, Peters reportedly is battling an Achilles/ankle injury, and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The big left tackle said he expects to play, but he could have trouble handling Abraham's speed off the edge as a result. If Peters uncharacteristically needs help in protection, that could create problems on Mike Vick's blindside.

LDE Ray Edwards
The prized free agent addition for the Falcons this season is Edwards, who had eight sacks in each of his past two seasons with the Vikings. However, that was while Jared Allen was receiving most of the attention on the right side, not to mention the disruptive Williams Wall in the middle. Consider us unimpressed.

Edwards possesses neither overwhelming strength or burst, and the fact that he accrued a pedestrian 13 sacks in the three seasons before Allen's arrival in Minnesota suggests he benefited tremendously from the help. Even then, his sack totals have been far from eye-opening. That's not to say he's inept either, and Todd Herremans will only make his second start at right tackle, so there's that to consider. Still, this a battle they should--and need--to win.

Edwards' backup Kroy Biermann will also jump in from time to time. While Edwards had a quiet first week, Biermann collected a sack and a 50-yard interception return for touchdown.

DT Peria Jerry
Jordan Babineaux, Atlanta's top producer against the run, is out for awhile, so the Falcons are hoping they will finally get something out of Jerry. The 24th overall pick in '09, Jerry missed all but two games with a knee injury in his rookie season. He played in all 16 games in 2010, but did not start and had limited impact. Now in his third year, it's sink or swim time, at least until Babineaux returns. The Eagles' ragtag interior held up quite well last week, so unless Jerry suddenly decides to fulfill his potential this week, or the O-line regresses, there shouldn't be anything they can't handle.

MLB Curtis Lofton and WLB Sean Weatherspoon
The Falcons have a pair of young, active linebackers in Lofton and Weatherspoon, who combined to fill out the stat sheet with 18 tackles last week.

Lofton is a steady middle linebacker who won't blow you away with numbers or big plays. The former second round pick entered his fourth season with three sacks and one interception, so he's not a game changer by any stretch of the imagination. He did manage to rack up a season-high 11 tackles against the Eagles last year, but that was with Kolb at the helm, and the pass-run ratio essentially 50-50. Lofton might be a little out of his element against Vick's quick strike offense.

The Falcons are hopeful Weatherspoon will eventually provide the big plays from the linebacker position. Chosen 19th overall last year, he battled a knee injury, and wound up making only five starts as a rookie. Weatherspoon is healthy now though, and brings an infusion of athleticism the unit has lacked in recent campaigns. We wouldn't be surprised if he was the guy you see chasing Shady McCoy around the field, or breaking through the line of scrimmage for a timely sack of Vick.

CBs Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes
Last year, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin absolutely torched Atlanta's corners. Jackson was en route to a huge day with a 34-yard touchdown reception before a vicious blow to the head knocked him out, but Maclin finished what his teammate started, catching seven passes for 159 yards.

The Falcons return the same duo that couldn't cover either receiver in 2010, so there is little reason to think they will have success in 2011. Robinson is a passable veteran who Atlanta picked off last off-season's free agent scrap heap after he fled Houston, his best years far behind him. He's managed just one interception over the last three seasons, so the only highlight reels you'll see of Dunta are the illegal hit he put on DeSean. Shippensburg's Grimes is actually the better of the two at this point, racking up 11 interceptions the past two season. He's held up quite well despite being one of the most targeted corners in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.

Regardless, the secondary is overmatched. The safeties are ordinary, Robinson is a shell of what he was, and unless the defense can get the job done in the trenches, there will be receivers running free all over the place. If the Falcons are going to have any hope of winning this game, they will have to force Vick to make negative plays, maybe pop a couple of balls loose, and hope their own offense can keep pace.

Dave Hakstol did Steve Mason a favor by challenging Sabres' 3rd goal

Dave Hakstol did Steve Mason a favor by challenging Sabres' 3rd goal

Many, though not all hockey games, have a tipping point or pivotal moment that factors into the outcome.
Sometimes it’s obvious what it was and when the moment occurred. Other times, it’s overshadowed by something else on the ice.
Ask the Flyers which moment would define their come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory over Buffalo on Tuesday and the response will be virtually unanimous: when Dmitry Kulikov leveled Jakub Voracek with a high hit that made contact to the head in the third period.
Voracek was forced off the ice under the NHL’s concussion protocol.
That hit incensed the Flyers, who went on to score two power-play goals and tie game, 3-3. The comeback was on.
Yet there was a less obvious but significant point that happened late in the second period, and it concerned goalie Steve Mason.
Matt Moulson had given Buffalo a 3-0 lead on Michal Neuvirth at 15:43, when Flyers coach Dave Hakstol elected to make a goalie switch.
Rather than call a simple timeout to buy Mason some warm-up time and allow his team to collect itself on the bench, Hakstol challenged the goal, claiming “goalie interference.”
Replays won’t show any direct interference on the shot itself. Neuvirth was speared several seconds before the play developed.
Hakstol knew the goal would likely not be overturned, but his strategy was to buy time for Mason and his team. By using a challenge, he knew the review process would take a lot longer than the 60-second timeout.
Either way, he was going to use his only timeout.
“You know what, I think we needed a timeout at that time, anyway,” Hakstol said coyly. “Pretty low probability of it being successful. Everything worked out well in the end.”
Mason appreciated what his coach did, too. Buying extra time for you?
“Yeah, probably,” Mason replied. “Regardless of the situation, you’re sitting on the bench, you know? You’re not really gauged as much as when you’re playing, obviously. So, you just try and ramp things up as quickly as possible.”
Mason had two saves in that shortened period, five in the third period and one in the overtime to register his second victory.
“There’s a never-quit attitude in this room,” he said. “We showed in Chicago — we were just talking about that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to close that one out.
“But guys have a belief that you get one [moment] and it comes. [Travis Konecny] got us going with his first NHL goal, which is great. The guys really pushed to capitalize on their chances.” ​

Who's after LeBron? CSN's top 25 NBA players poll

Who's after LeBron? CSN's top 25 NBA players poll

No matter how much you rely on analytics and logarithms in determining who are the best players, ultimately it becomes about judgment.
Should win shares have a greater value than a player’s winning percentage in the playoffs? Is defensive rating a better barometer about a defender’s ability than say, defensive field goal percentage differential?
And how much do you weigh how they fare versus playoff teams and non-playoff teams?
A legitimate case can be made for all those numbers and many, many more, being used to rank the top 25 players.
When I started looking at the data and breaking down what’s worthwhile and what’s shall we say, is worthless, it became pretty clear that this should not be a one-person job.
So I enlisted the help of my fellow CSN Insiders who each bring a different but valuable perspective to the ranking of players.
And so the only thing that made sense was to take all of our rankings, compile them together and voila! We made a beautiful, bouncing list of more than two dozen players.
The scoring for this is pretty simple.
Each Insider picked 25 players, ranking them from Nos. 1-25. Their No. 1 pick received 25 points, No. 2 got 24, No. 3 got 23 and so on.
Here is the first CSN Top 25 NBA Players list, in addition to our "others receiving votes" group.
25. Al Horford, Boston (19 points)
“You can find others with better stats not on this list, but Horford’s track record of success in Atlanta (playoff trips every year he was there, five trips out of the first round in eight postseasons he played in) makes him worthy of being a top-25 player in the NBA.” – A. Sherrod Blakely
24. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (22)
“He can’t shoot free throws, but he can rebound and play defense with the best of them. Jordan didn’t deserve his All-NBA first team selection, but he’s still a high quality big...as long as Chris Paul is tossing up lobs.” – James Ham
23. Andre Drummond, Detroit (23)
“An emerging center who’s the league’s second-best finisher and rebounder, and without that free-throw problem, he would be higher. But … how close to his ceiling is he already?” – Vincent Goodwill
22. Marc Gasol, Memphis (24)
“One of the best passing big men in the game and also one of its best defenders. Has a soft shooting touch and off-the-charts basketball IQ.” – Jason Quick
t-20. Kyle Lowry, Toronto (32)
“Lowry came into the 2015-16 in the best shape of his career. The result was a career year and a two seed in the Eastern Conference. At 30, Lowry may have peaked, but if he can hold this level for another year or two, the Raptors will continue to post 50-plus wins.” – James Ham
t-20. Carmelo Anthony, New York (32)
“One of the more complete scorers but hard to evaluate as he hits the back end of his career; Probably the last season as a primary player on a good team, if the Knicks are to be one.” – Vincent Goodwill
19. John Wall, Washington (42)
“After being All-Defense two years ago, Wall fell off because of bad knees that required surgery on May 5 and yet he still averaged 20 points and 10 assists last season. At 6-4, a big, physical point guard with top-notch speed. Improved mid-range shooter off the bounce but still not a threat in catch-and-shoot situations or from the three-point arc.” – J. Michael
18. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (56)
“Coming off an injury-plagued season that limited him to 35 games, Griffin still has a ways to go in diversifying his game. Fixing his footwork would help as would moving the ball quicker to create for teammates, but now he's trying to extend his range to the three-point arc. That can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.” – J. Michael
17. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota (63)
“The potential is frightening. Towns burst into the league last season and performed well-beyond his rookie year. He enters his second season with a dominating skill set and a year of wisdom from Kevin Garnett.” – Jessica Camerato 
16. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio (65)
“Owns deadly combination of inside moves and silky mid-range shot, which includes an unblock able turnaround jumper.  Also an above-average defender who can block a shot then beat his man down the court.” – Jason Quick
15. Jimmy Butler, Chicago (75)
“One of the best two-way players in basketball, perhaps the most unlikely player this high on this list. Is there another leap in performance for a guy who’s made three already in his career?” – Vincent Goodwill
14. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland (82)
“His playoff run and more importantly, Finals performance, showed he’s the perfect complement to LeBron James. Not a pure point, but perhaps the best scorer ever at the point guard position.” – Vincent Goodwill
13. Klay Thompson, Golden State (89)
Comment: “Cold-blooded shooter from deep has the temerity to play fabulous defense on the opponent’s more dangerous backcourt player. A two-way All-Star.” – Monte Poole
12. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento (96)
“Cousins will take note of his ranking and treat each of us accordingly. He too has a list. And we are all now on it. He’s the best big in the game and he’s primed for the biggest season of his career.” – James Ham
11. James Harden, Houston (101)
“He could get just about any shot he wanted to in the past, and now that he’s going to be the starting point guard, there’s no reason why this guy shouldn’t lead the league in scoring, handily.” – A. Sherrod Blakely
10. Damian Lillard, Portland (102)
“A superb leader who makes everyone in his locker room better, Lillard is also a fearless shooter who craves the big shot. Needs to improve his defense and his shooting percentages, but is emerging as one of the game’s best playmakers.” – Jason Quick
9. Anthony Davis, New Orleans (103)
“Davis, a double-double machine, is returning from injury. Will he play more than 70 games for the first time in his career? It remains to be seen how much Davis will help the Pelicans improve from their 30-win season.” – Jessica Camerato 
8. Draymond Green, Golden State (115)
“At 6-7, can defend an All-NBA center such as DeAndre Jordan or switch onto an elite point guard such as Chris Paul and win those battles. Green isn't a system player. He is the system for Golden State, which allows the other All-Stars on the team to prosper while he does a lot of the dirty work.” – J. Michael  
7. Paul George, Indiana (129)
“Can score, rebound, defend and now with a clean bill of health, George and his retooled Pacers teammates will be a force in the East this season.” – A. Sherrod Blakely
6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (134)
“An elite defender and floor general, the nine-time All-Star is also probably one of the NBA’s best competitors, which rubs off on his team. At age 31, the question is how much longer can he continue to check the young point guards?” – Jason Quick
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (149)
“Leonard's impact on the Spurs will be magnified this season following the retirement of Tim Duncan. Look for the two-time Defensive Player of the Year to try to get his team back atop the West.  – Jessica Camerato
t-3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City (155)
“Tied for 3rd with his new arch nemesis? Westbrook will statistically flourish in his new role as King of the Dust Bowl. It may not lead him to a Western Conference showdown against Durant and his Warriors, but it’s hard to count him out.” – James Ham 
t-3. Kevin Durant, Golden State (155)
“Famous for scoring from deep, he is deadly on the block, a default rim protector, the best rebounding small forward alive and has a full grasp of the team game.” – Monte Poole
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State (162)
“Back-to-back MVP, including first unanimous winner, his incredible shooting range stretches defenses like no one we’ve ever seen. A legitimate game-changer. – Monte Poole
1. LeBron James, Cleveland  (175)
“DJ Khaled’s “All I do is win” hit from 2010 really should be the soundtrack to LeBron James’ career which now includes title bling in two cities – Miami (2 titles) and Cleveland – that could not be any more different. Hands down, he’s the best in the game right now.” – A. Sherrod Blakely 

Others receiving votes: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto (15 points); Mike Conley, Memphis (15); Paul Millsap, Atlanta (14); Hassan Whiteside, Miami (13); Isaiah Thomas, Boston (8); Gordon Hayward, Utah (7); Chris Bosh, Miami (3).