Evaluating Bryce Brown

Evaluating Bryce Brown

He’s eclipsed 160 yards rushing in each of the last two
games. He’s drawn comparisons to the explosive Bo Jackson. Suddenly the Eagles
have options with respect to their backfield, specifically LeSean McCoy, who
signed a five-year contract worth $45 million over the summer.

There is no doubt rookie runner Bryce Brown is bursting with
talent. That’s why the front office took a seventh-round flyer on a kid who
carried the ball just 104 times during a tumultuous collegiate career. But is
Brown really a star in the making, a silver lining in this darkest of seasons,
or are we seriously overreacting after two NFL starts?

Here’s what we know right now: Brown is a naturally-gifted
running back that possesses 4.4 speed in a six-foot, 223-lb. frame, making him
both difficult to catch and to bring down. He can catch the ball out of the
backfield. He is a willing blocker. In many respects, Brown looks like the
total package.

Where I draw the line is that we already know definitively
that this kid is the real deal. As impressive as these recent performances have
been, it is far too early to anoint Brown the next big thing. He certainly has raw
ability, but at this point, there are still more questions than answers.

Small sample size

Two games. Two outstanding games, but only two games
nonetheless. I’m not sure what the exact number of carries is before I become completely
convinced, but I’m not there yet. My apprehension probably has a lot to do with
a specific black mark on these breakthrough performances.

Ball security

As has been well documented, Brown has put the ball on the
turf three times in these last two games, which in my mind overshadows – if not
erases – a great deal of what he accomplished. He lost two against the Panthers
last week, which were converted for three points, but also ended a drive in
Carolina territory, and of course the fumbles against the Cowboys was returned
for the decisive touchdown.

In no way are we laying the blame for either loss on a
rookie running back, but we can all count. Those points would’ve helped. Look
no further than the Eagles’ last two seasons to see how closely turnovers
correlate to wins and losses. The fact is, Brown can run for 6.5 yards per
carry for the rest of his life, but if he coughs up the rock once every 14
carries, he can’t be a primary back in the NFL, or at any level.

We’ve seen notable backs Tiki Barber and Ahman Green get
over their fumbling issues, but in both cases it took years. Brown might be
worth the wait, but a lot can happen between now and whenever he learns to hold
on to the football.

Competition

Another reason I’m not getting too amped up over the last
two games: consider who they have played. Carolina is ranked 25th in
the NFL against the run, and Dallas tumbled all the way to 18th
after Sunday night – plus the Cowboys have been hammered by injuries.

Does that detract from Brown’s efforts? No, but the
information is relevant. Most backs are experiencing greater success against
the Panthers, and increasingly the Cowboys as well. Let’s see what Brown can do
against even an average run defense, let alone a good one.

Improved offensive
line?

It is worth noting that before Brown relieved McCoy, who is
out with a concussion, the All-Pro back was not having his best season. Shady
was averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and managed to cross the goal line just
twice through 10 games. Much of the blame can be heaped on the offensive line,
which has been decimated by injuries, none more integral to the running game
than the loss of left tackle Jason Peters. Philadelphia averaged over seven
yards per attempt on off-tackle runs to the left in 2011.

Yet all of a sudden, Brown is running wild, averaging 6.5
yards per carry, and scoring four touchdowns. McCoy’s long run on the season is
34 yards, Brown’s is 65. So if the line is so terrible, how is it the new guy
is able to find so much space?

Believe it or not, one of the answers might be the offensive
line has been improving. They’re not at the point where anybody should get
excited, but some recent changes are starting to pan out, particularly on the
right side. Fifth-rounder Dennis Kelly moved to tackle after the injury to Todd
Herremans, and looks more competent there than he did at guard. Veteran Jake
Scott was signed off the street a month ago and quickly pushed Danny Watkins
out of his job, whether he was injured or whatever.

The combination is working, so who knows, perhaps McCoy
would have or will look better behind the new look as well. Brown might be
benefitting from good timing.

Character

My concerns extend beyond what Brown has done on the field
the last couple weeks. How did the Eagles come to find this gem of a player in
the seventh round of the draft?

The short answer is he left Tennessee for some reason after
one season, and then quit the team at Kansas State apparently after a dispute
over playing time. He was involved with several NCAA investigations during his
time in college football. Lots of question marks there. I haven’t seen or heard
anything during his time in Philadelphia that would lead me to believe the kid
has a bad attitude or is a problem of any kind, but his strange past ought to
make you wonder.

Putting it all
together

Everything I’ve seen of Brown dating back to the preseason
tells me he has the ability to be a number one back in the NFL, but let’s slow
down. There are enough potential issues here to be worried what we are seeing
could be a flash in the pan.

Plus, how quickly we forget the Eagles already have a star
running back in their employ. Lest you forget, here are the numbers Shady McCoy
piled up just a season ago: 1,309 rushing yards (4th), 5.2 yards per
attempt (4th), 1,674 yards from scrimmage (4th), 20 total
TD (1st).  Obviously that’s
not a knock on Brown, nor does it mean he can’t be useful, but the Eagles are
paying McCoy a ton of money to carry the load, so I suspect he will resume his
role whenever he’s ready to go.

It’s a good problem to have. McCoy is locked up, Brown is
under contract through 2015, and he can’t even receive an extension until the
final year of his rookie deal, so there is plenty of time to let Brown’s
trajectory play out. He’s off to an amazing start, but there is much work still
to be done.

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Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.