Eagles Return to Primetime Football Versus the Steelers

Eagles Return to Primetime Football Versus the Steelers

Prior to last week's preseason opener versus the Ravens, I cautioned readers not to get too excited about the game, one of the chief reasons being the Eagles would utilize a "vanilla" offensive strategy. As much as it pains me to do so, we need to issue a retraction on that statement.

No offense being run by Michael Vick could possibly be termed vanilla.

The Eagles played their starters for just one series against Baltimore, and Vick marched them straight into the end zone. It didn't seem to matter much what kind of plays were called, or even that the offense was without DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They went right down the field with a series of big plays and accurate passes. It was very satisfying to watch.

With DeSean Jackson back in the lineup for tonight's nationally broadcast meeting against the Steelers, and the starters expected to participate for a full half, we are hoping for more of the same.

They are faced with a slightly greater challenge tonight though as they face off against last year's AFC Champions on their home turf. Vick, in particular, has a lot to prove tonight versus the greatest zone blitzing team of this era. That's right: Mike Vick is going on the watch-list.

It will be interesting to see how much blitzing the Steelers actually do in an exhibition game, but where Vick is at with his ability to read and react to defensive pressure is one of--if not the biggest--keys to this season. We need to see if he can identify where the pass rush is coming from, and whether he knows where the ball goes and if he can get out quickly enough to beat the blitz.

The offensive line took a ton of heat last season, and the right side in particular was not great, but a big problem was Vick holding on to the ball too long and not feeling the pressure. For all the big additions the Eagles have made, if their quarterback doesn't improve and take the next step in that aspect of running the offense, we're not sure how far they can ultimately go.

Here are the rest of tonight's player to keep an eye on:

King Dunlap
Last week, we had Ryan Harris on our watch-list, but he's out tonight with a back injury. First of all, Harris was not super impressive against the Ravens, so the job is still very much up for grabs. Second, Harris had a history of back problems in Denver, so he could be falling out of favor very quickly.

We'll see if Dunlap can seize the opportunity. He showed some improvement in relief efforts last season, but was far from the stabilizing force the Eagles are searching for on the right side. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd also typically favors smaller linemen for zone blocking system, which works against the 6-9, 330 lbs. Dunlap. He could help himself out quite a bit though with a solid outing against one of the NFL's best defenses at pressuring passers.

Winston Justice remains on the PUP list.

Darryl Tapp
Major props to Jim Washburn and every member of the defensive line last week. From the opening snap until the final gun, their unit was by far the best on the field, showing tenacity and getting consistent penetration. The difference between last Thursday and the past several years was remarkable.

A big part of that was Tapp, who in one preseason game nearly matched his sack total for all of last season. The Birds sent DE Chris Clemons to Seattle last year in exchange for Tapp, and while Clemons amassed 11 sacks in 2010, Tapp accounted for merely three. The Virginia Tech product is off to a torrid start in August though, getting to Ravens QB's twice last week, as well as three tackles, one for a huge loss.

Maybe guys like Tapp and Jason Babin will prove the problem here the past two seasons was coaching and schemes all along.

Casey Matthews
For the second straight week, Matthews makes our watch list, which says something how important his development is to the defense. We also didn't see much of the rookie from Oregon last week, just eight snaps in fact, so another reason is we're still waiting to actually see him. However, Bleeding Green Nation put together a nice round-up of reviews on Matthews' brief performance, and it was mostly positive stuff, including CSN's own Ray Didinger.

So far Matthews hasn’t looked out of place. He has been good in camp and he was good again in limited snaps on Thursday. It appeared Matthews might have been fooled on a Joe Flacco to Ray Rice screen pass that gained 23 yards on the opening drive, but it was his tight coverage on the tight end that forced Flacco to hold the ball and allowed Trent Cole to record his first sack later in the first quarter.

Having said that, eight plays is about the smallest sample size there is, so we'll hold off on the excitement for at least one more post.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)