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

57 early-entry candidates withdraw from 2016 NBA draft

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57 early-entry candidates withdraw from 2016 NBA draft

NBA prospects have been testing the waters and putting out feelers to the gauge interest levels of organizations during the pre-draft process. As a result, 57 early entry-candidates have withdrawn from 2016 draft eligibility. 

Among those are Villanova’s Josh Hart, who worked out for the Sixers and made his decision close to the deadline (see story), and Kris Jenkins. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame also worked out for the Sixers and will return for his senior year. 

Below is a complete list of entry entry candidates that have withdrawn:

Abdul-Malik Abu, North Carolina State 
BeeJay Anya, North Carolina State 
Ian Baker, New Mexico State 
V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame 
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana 
Antonio Blakeney, LSU 
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson 
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier 
Amida Brimah, Connecticut 
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky 
Dillon Brooks, Oregon 
Elijah Brown, New Mexico 
Deonte Burton, Iowa State 
Antonio Campbell, Ohio 
Conor Clifford, Washington State 
Charles Cooke III, Dayton 
Bakari Copeland, Maryland-Eastern Shore 
Moustapha Diagne, Northwest Florida State 
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon 
D’Andre Downey, Stillman College (AL) 
Vince Edwards, Purdue 
Jimmy Hall, Kent State 
Josh Hart, Villanova
Josh Hawkinson, Washington State 
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin 
Ike Iroegbu, Washington State 
Justin Jackson, North Carolina 
Kris Jenkins, Villanova 
Que Johnson, Washington State 
Peter Jok, Iowa 
Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Travion Kirkendoll, Centenary College (LA) 
Dedric Lawson, Memphis 
Marcus Lee, Kentucky 
Makai Mason, Yale 
Jahmal McMurray, South Florida 
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina 
Dallas Moore, North Florida 
Jalen Moore, Utah State 
Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb 
Malik Newman, Mississippi State 
Marc-Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast 
Cameron Oliver, Nevada 
Alec Peters, Valparaiso 
QJ Peterson,VMI 
Malik Pope, San Diego State 
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut 
Corey Sanders Jr., Rutgers 
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue 
Rakish Taylor, Anderson University (SC) 
Ethan Telfair, Idaho State 
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State 
Melo Trimble, Maryland 
Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton 
Andrew White III, Nebraska 
Alec Wintering, Portland 
Zeek Woodley, Northwestern State 

Jim Schwartz's defense path was molded, in part, by Jevon Kearse

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Jim Schwartz's defense path was molded, in part, by Jevon Kearse

Jim Schwartz is famous for his use of the wide-9 alignment and the 4-3 defense in general. That's the scheme he's had success with in the NFL. That's what he brings to the Eagles.

Yet somewhere in an alternate universe, Schwartz is coaching a 3-4 defense right now, all because the Tennessee Titans never drafted Jevon Kearse.

OK, that might be a stretch considering Schwartz learned under coaches such as Marvin Jones and Gregg Williams, who are also known for the 4-3. Then again, the Eagles' defensive coordinator revealed when he was hired by the Titans as an assistant in 1999, the defense was actually using quite a bit of 3-4. Kearse changed everything, and is in part responsible for Schwartz's preference in scheme to this day.

"When I first went to Tennessee, we based out of a lot of 3-4, but it probably came from just the personnel we had," Schwartz recalled.

"We drafted Jevon Kearse. There was a line of thought that Jevon Kearse was gonna be a 3-4 outside linebacker or he was gonna be a defensive end. We decided to try to make it as simple as we could for him, put him at one spot and just let him attack and rush the passer and let him play the edge.

"We had some success with that, then found other guys in the scheme that fit."

Some success is putting it mildly.

Eagles fans might best remember Kearse for four injury-prone seasons between 2004-07 when he failed to live up to a massive free-agent contract, totaling just 22 sacks. As a first-round pick in 1999, however, "The Freak" burst on to the scene with 14½ sacks, earning Defensive Rookie and Player of the Year honors en route to the first of three consecutive invitations to the Pro Bowl. Kearse had accumulated 47½ sacks after five seasons in Tennessee.

Kearse's final trip to the Pro Bowl came under Schwartz, who ascended to defensive coordinator in 2001, a post he held until being named head coach of the Detroit Lions in '09. Afterward, he served one year as defensive coordinator for the Bills. In 14 NFL seasons, Schwartz has coached eight different linemen to double-digit sack seasons.

Some of that production is the result of a system that allows linemen like Kearse to play fast and attack.

"Philosophically, the thing that's guiding that has been try to make it as simple as we can," Schwartz said.

"It's a coach's job to make a complex scheme simple for the players. It's our job to make it so that they can digest it. There's a lot of things that are going on, on the field — offensive tempo, different personnel groups and formations — there's a million different things going on and they have to process all that stuff. Our job is to streamline the information and allow them to play fast, give them confidence."

Through his experiences, Schwartz has come to believe the 4-3 defense — when equipped with the right personnel up front — is the best method to attack offenses in today's NFL.

"I think that the other part of the 4-3 is when you can affect the passer with four guys, you're not forced to blitz to get pressure on the quarterback, you're in a very good position," he said. "I've been there before when you can't get pressure and you have to blitz — it's not a great feeling. You want to blitz on your terms. You want to be able to blitz when you want to, when the situation is right, not, 'We can't get any pass rush unless we do it.'

"So allowing those guys to keep it simple, to be able to pressure with four and not make yourself skinnier so to speak in coverage can also take some big plays away from offenses."

It's difficult to argue with the results. Schwartz has three previous stints as either a defensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL, during which his units have four top-10 finishes in yards allowed as well as a pair of top-five rankings in points surrendered. Perhaps most impressive of all are the three occasions in which Schwartz's defense finished third the league in takeaways.

Schwartz inherits plenty of talent on the Eagles' defense, particularly along the defensive line. Connor Barwin has twice attained doubled-digit sacks in a season, while Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry have both eclipsed nine. Brandon Graham and Marcus Smith are former first-round picks, too.

Don't expect this defense to look identical to what Schwartz has done at previous stops, though. While he may be known for a particular approach or brand of football, Schwartz plans to tailor the Eagles' defense to the personnel he has, just like the Titans did with Kearse in Tennessee all those years ago.

"Every year will be a little bit different," Schwartz said. "Our terminology is a little bit different, cast of characters is a little different, and if we're on the right track, we'll put the players in the best position to best use their talents.

"What we did in Buffalo was a little different than what we did in Detroit, which was a little different from what we did in Tennessee, but it's all designed to try to make the most of what you have."

Phillie Phodder: The Ryan Howard drama, trade chips and bat flips

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Phillie Phodder: The Ryan Howard drama, trade chips and bat flips

CHICAGO — The Phillies are here for what figures to be the toughest test thus far in their surprising break from the starting gate — three games against the Chicago Cubs, a team built to win the World Series and so far looking as if it can do just that. The Cubs were the first team to reach 30 wins this season, are 14-6 at home, and averaging a National League-best 5.69 runs per game, over two more than the 3.3 runs the Phillies are putting on the board per contest.

The series will be interesting even beyond the test the Phillies will receive because we could see another progression in the raging Ryan Howard drama.

In Tommy Joseph, the Phillies have a player worthy of taking away playing time from the struggling Howard. Joseph started at first base the last three games in Detroit, hit in the middle of the lineup and did so with authority. Phillies management is on record as saying it needs an injection of offense to support the good pitching the team has gotten. If it is committed to that idea, then Joseph needs to keep playing. He will start Friday afternoon against lefty Jon Lester. He should start again on Saturday and Sunday when the Phillies face right-handed pitchers.

Will he?

The guess here is that Joseph starts one of the weekend games with Howard getting the other. That right there would be a continuation of the phasing out of Howard from the lineup. If Joseph delivers against right-handed pitching, the Phillies owe it to their fans and the players who have put together this quick and entertaining start to keep playing him.

But this whole drama remains a sticky situation on a lot of levels. Howard is not walking away from the more than $25 million that remains on his contract and he shouldn’t. But there’s no way he’s going to be happy sitting on the bench and it’s difficult to envision him contributing as a reserve player/bat off the bench. He has a tough enough time making contact while getting regular at-bats. How’s he going to hold up as a reserve?

Poorly.

If Joseph continues to emerge, the Phillies will have to consider releasing Howard. Either that or they ride out the final four months of his contract with him sitting on the bench. Neither solution is comfortable. As one of the franchise’s greatest players and a champion, Howard is going to end up on the team’s Wall of Fame someday and it would be nice if he showed up at the induction. Would a release sour his relationship with the organization forever? It’s a factor that the Phillies can consider because they are still in a rebuild and, as well as they’ve played so far, it’s tough to see them staying in contention for the long haul. If this team was projected to win, then it’s a different story. If there was ever a year to suck it up and let Howard leave with dignity, it’s this one. But if carrying Howard as a reserve leads to a cumbersome situation in a young clubhouse, maybe parting is the best solution.

Regardless of the endgame, Joseph needs to keep getting regular at-bats because the baseball still matters.

                                                                      ***

While Odubel Herrera’s three-run home run and subsequent bat flip dominated Wednesday’s win over Detroit, several other players made contributions. Andres Blanco, with his typical booster shot of energy, plus two hits, an RBI, two runs scored and the team’s first steal of home since 2009, was one of them. Jeanmar Gomez, who only out of Pete Mackanin’s desperation got a shot at closer in early April, was another with his 17th save.

If the Phillies’ lack of offense catches up with them and they fall out of the race, Blanco and Gomez could be trade chips for the team. Blanco’s ability to come off the bench and contribute on both sides of the ball could be attractive to a team that is ready to win in October. He won’t bring back a game-breaking talent, but it would be worth taking a chance on a young minor-league arm, a lottery ticket, that could ultimately develop into something.

Gomez’s big season has the feel of lightning in a bottle. He’s done a terrific job getting saves without typical closer’s stuff. He relies on touch, feel, location and pitching savvy. He makes hitters get themselves out. How long can it last? Who knows? But Gomez deserves kudos and very well could ride his unexpected success to a spot in the All-Star Game. Shortly after that, if the Phillies are out of the race, the front office should look to cash in on his unforeseen value, which will never be higher, and deal him to one of the many teams that will be looking for bullpen help. Gomez could help a contender in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning and if he keeps pitching well, might bring back a decent return.

Jeremy Hellickson and Carlos Ruiz could also be trade chips in July — if the Phils fall out of the race. We talked about that recently with Ruiz.

If the Phils stay in the race, the front office would probably have to hang on to at least several of these players. Trading players, even role players, could send a bad message to fans if the team still has a chance at the postseason. The exception would be Hellickson. It could make sense to deal him either way and use his departure as an opportunity to bring up the next young arm from the minors. Hellickson has pitched well lately and it would benefit the team in more ways that one if he continued to do so.

Switching over to the glass-half-full side … there is a chance the Phillies will pursue a bat to boost their anemic offense, but the decision to even make that move is still a ways away. Matt Klentak made it pretty clear that he needs to see more from this club over the next month or so before he goes after a bat in a trade. And Klentak is not about to compromise the rebuild to add a bat for short-term contribution. In other words, he’s not about to trade away prospects for outfield bats that might get in the way of Nick Williams, Roman Quinn or Dylan Cozens rising to the majors in the next year. The Phillies do have money. If an opposing team wants to move an expiring contract — someone like a Jay Bruce — and it would cost the Phillies more on the money side than the prospect side, that could be a fit for the Phillies.

If they stay in the race.

                                                                      ***

Getting to Herrera’s bat flip … it was fun. And this scribe believes the kid when he says it was natural. But there’s risk involved in something like that. Herrera is a kid that loves to play the game and loves to be on the field. But he needs to beware that if he flips his bat on the wrong guy, he’s going to end up with a broken batting helmet or a broken rib. You can talk about new-school ways and making the game fun again — as if it ever stopped being fun — but pitchers are competitors and they don’t like being shown up, be it intentional or not. They didn’t in the old school and they don’t in the new school. This scribe loves players who play with emotion, energy and exuberance, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating your successes. Heck, Babe Ruth used to tip his hat rounding the bases. But there is a limit. Herrera is the Phillies’ best player and he has a responsibility to stay on the field. He might want to think twice before he goes with a “big air” bat flip on his next home run because if he does it on the wrong pitcher, he might get hurt.