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

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint in a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 2015 first-round pick deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – After every Phillies road game, it’s customary for reporters to enter the clubhouse and stop into the manager’s office to collect a few observations from the ol' skipper.
 
On Wednesday night, Pete Mackanin, still in his uniform pants and red undershirt, took the unusual step of leaving the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field and approaching a group of reporters as they waited in the hallway outside the room.
 
What gives?
 
Did the toilets overflow or something?
 
Well, in a sense, yes.
 
The stink of a 12-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves led some of the team’s elder statesmen to call a players-only team meeting (see Instant Replay). That meant Mackanin had to do his postmortems outside in the hallway.
 
“I don't know who called it, but it’s nice to see,” Mackanin said. “Somebody cares.”
 
Catcher Cameron Rupp revealed that the meeting was called by veterans Ryan Howard and A.J. Ellis. The Phillies have lost five of their last six games and given up a ridiculous 63 runs over that span. They lost, 17-0, Sunday in New York and blew a 6-0 lead in losing, 7-6, Tuesday night in Atlanta. Losing by a 10-spot on Wednesday night added to the embarrassment and dropped the Phillies to 70-88 with four games remaining in the season.
 
“We have some older guys, Howie and A.J. that have been around and they don’t want to see guys stumble to the finish line,” Rupp said. “Finish hard, finish strong. We’ve had a good year in a lot of guys’ eyes. We’ve improved on last year. There has been a lot of good things we can build off and that’s what the message was – continue to work and get better.
 
“There are four games left – don’t quit,” Rupp said. “Come to the ballpark expecting to win and see where it takes you. We got pushed around the last couple of nights and in New York. Stuff happens. It’s part of the game. But with four games left, there’s a lot that each player can prove.
 
“A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else’s season.”
 
The Phillies play their final game at Turner Field on Thursday night – the Braves will open a new stadium next year – then return home Friday night to play the Mets, who are locked in a tight race for the National League wild card.
 
The weekend series against the Mets will mark Howard’s last three days in a Phillies uniform.
 
He has swung the bat lately like a man who still has pride. His part in the team meeting reflected that pride.
 
“A.J. and I felt like having a quick meeting and that we did,” Howard said. “We need to refocus on these last four games. We got beat up tonight. We have to put a halt to that momentum and refocus on the last four games.
 
“It’s important to finish strong. It would be easy to cash it in, but we want to go out on a high note and we have four games to try to do that.”

Mackanin admitted the series in New York – three losses in four games to the Mets – “took the life out of everybody” and the malaise followed the Phillies to Atlanta.
 
“It's all about pitching,” Mackanin said. “Pitching keeps you in games. That's why we won 70 games. Now we're not getting the pitching.”
 
The Phillies have struggled to score runs all season. In fact, they are the only team in the majors not to reach 600 runs. (They have 599.) But recently, the pitching has gone downhill, especially in the bullpen.
 
Mackanin tried to give the bullpen a break on Wednesday night. That’s why he had Adam Morgan suck up five innings on a night when he didn’t have it. The lefty allowed 10 hits and nine runs in his final start of the season.
 
“It’s pretty bad,” Morgan said. “It’s not the way that I wanted to go out.”
 
Morgan made strides recently as he picked up a two-seam fastball and used his changeup more. But he is 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA.
 
“Below average,” said Mackanin, assessing Morgan’s season. “It wasn't a successful season for him. He has ability, but the numbers matter. If you want to go by the numbers, they're not good. It doesn't mean I don't like him. It doesn't mean he doesn't have a future. At some point, you have to put up numbers.”
 
Speaking of numbers, the Phillies have put up some awful numbers against the NL East. They are 16-35 against the NL East in their last 51 divisional games.
 
“I look at the team statistics,” Mackanin said. “When you're 13th, 14th and 15th in 10 of those categories, that tells you all you need to know.
 
“We're down at the bottom in hitting. We're sinking fast in pitching.
 
“As far as a yardstick to measure, I look at those stats. Numbers matter. They tell you the story.”
 
In four days, the story of the 2016 Phillies will be over. Maybe Wednesday night’s players-only meeting will inspire a couple of final wins.

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