Eagles-Redskins Storylines and Predictions: Can Birds' D Keep RG3 and Alfred Morris from Spoiling Chip Kelly's Debut?

Eagles-Redskins Storylines and Predictions: Can Birds' D Keep RG3 and Alfred Morris from Spoiling Chip Kelly's Debut?

Is RG3 Ready?

There’s already more coverage of Robert Griffin III than you can shake a stick at – even I wrote about him last week – so chances are you’re sick of hearing about the Redskins’ quarterback. We won’t spend dwell on this, but it’s worth noting RG3 is only eight months removed from tearing his ACL, and didn’t take a single snap during the preseason.

Prediction: Griffin is not sharp tonight. Maybe the knee is 100% or close enough, but teams can’t simulate the speed and intensity of an NFL game at practice, where he was also limited for much of the summer. If this were Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, I’d be a bit more confident they could shake off the rust quickly, but RG3 swag or no, he’s still a second-year QB with a lot to learn.

Skins’ Running Game vs. Eagles’ D

Alfred Morris and the Washington’s vaunted ground attack versus the Philadelphia’s defense is the mismatch of the night – at least on paper. Morris finished second to only Adrian Peterson last season with 1,613 rushing yards, while the Redskins averaged an NFL-best 169.3 yards per game. The Birds’ D meanwhile was dead last at stopping the run this summer, surrendering 163.5 YPG and a league-worst three runs over 40 yards in preseason action.

The good news is the Eagles’ issues there might be correctable up to a point. I broke down the main culprits behind the huge gains here, which each involved either losing backside contain, the deep safety taking horrible angles to the ball carrier in the open field, or some combination of the two. In any case, these seem more like mental issues than lack of talent.

If defensive coordinator Bill Davis can get his players to eliminate the 50-60 yard runs that haunted them in the preseason, the Eagles still probably won’t have the makings of an elite unit, but they’ll at least stand a chance at making a few more stops this year.

Prediction: I don’t see the Eagles shutting down Morris, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll run wild, either. Morris’ long run during last year’s rookie season was 39 yards (including playoffs), and he only cracked 30 on one other occasion. He still averaged a very effective 4.8 yards per carry though, so the Birds will have their hands full.

Does Defense Matter?

Speaking of the Birds’ defense, the number one reason most fans and media types don’t think the Eagles are destined for any better than 8-8 this season – and in most cases, worse – is just that. Philadelphia was ranked near the bottom in 2012 in points allowed (t-30th) and opponents’ passer efficiency rating (31st), and now they are making a difficult transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 under Bill Davis. There is a chance things could get ugly on that side of the ball.

The question is, if the offense under Chip Kelly is as good as we think it has to potential to be, how important is defense actually? Brent Cohen of Eagles Rewind and Bleeding Green Nation posed this question back in August, and the answer he came up with might surprise you: an average or above-average defense – while no doubt helpful – is not mandatory. Plenty of teams have won or appeared in the Super Bowl in the last 10 years with suspect defenses, but none without a quality offense.

So as long as Michael Vick and company can keep the chains moving and the scoreboard lighting up, and Washington doesn’t lay a 40-spot on Monday Night, Philly should have a shot to win.

Prediction: Although they won’t be good in any classical sense, the Eagles won’t be quite as inept on defense as everybody seems to be expecting. If Griffin isn’t sharp and the Birds can avoid the kind of complete breakdowns that have plagued against the run, there is a chance they will force enough to stops to get out of Washington with a W.

Chip’s Debut

Obviously the big story in Birdland is Chip Kelly making his first official appearance on the sidelines as the Eagles head coach. Naturally we’re all curious about the offense – what Chip has up his sleeve, what the pace will be, and most of all whether it will work in the NFL. We’ll finally have a lot of answers by the time clock reaches zero.

As far as debuts are concerned, they don’t always go so well. Zach Berman wrote about the time Kelly lost his first game as the head coach at Oregon to Boise St. Bob Brookover delves into look the rocky starts the Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid eras got out to in Philadelphia. And both Inquirer writers could have told us to simply look around the league, as Chicago’s Marc Trestman is the only first-time NFL head coach in 2013 to win in his debut so far.

It’s a big night for the future of the Eagles, but history and the percentages suggest it might not be all that memorable.

Prediction: The fact that it’s Chip Kelly’s first game in the NFL likely has zero impact on the outcome. He has head coaching experience, so it shouldn’t be an issue of managing the game. It’s only a matter of whether or not his system works and there’s enough talent on the roster to pull it off.

Final Thoughts

I have a ton of respect for RG3 and think he’ll be a very good quarterback for years to come, but I would be a little surprised if he was at his best on Monday night. Provided Morris doesn’t rip off a 200-yard game, and the Eagles’ offense…

Well, we really don’t know what to expect from the Eagles’ offense. My gut tells me they’re going to be good. What we saw during the preseason (third in the NFL with 397.0 yards per game) suggests they’re going to be good. The up-tempo pace practically dictates they’re going to be good – in 2012, seven of the eight teams that ran the most plays from scrimmage also had a top-10 offense.

So assuming the Eagles’ offense is in fact good, and the defense doesn’t wind up getting totally embarrassed, they’ve got a good shot to win in Chip’s debut. My final prediction is counting on Griffin having somewhat of a rough start though.

Prediction: Eagles 37, Washington 27

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).