Filmroom Friday: How Reid Is Setting Vick Up to Fail

Filmroom Friday: How Reid Is Setting Vick Up to Fail

This isn't another story about play-calling balance, which has been rightly questioned, although perhaps blown out a bit out of proportion as well. The NFL is a passing league, so the Eagles do need to be able to throw the ball -- maybe not to the tune of 25 to five in the first half, but as Marty Mornhinweg explains, that number is probably skewed against Arizona. A two-minute drill, multiple long down and distances... they were in a number of situations that dictated pass.

That said, everybody would like to see a bit more Shady in the offense, but that isn't what really concerned me when I watched last week's coaches' film. In the first half, the Eagles were doing the same types of things in the passing game that weren't working two weeks ago in Cleveland: attacking the defense vertically, and giving Michael Vick few other options.

That includes running.

One of the things I've been hearing and reading a lot is the Eagles are not using Vick correctly. The premise goes that Andy Reid is trying to turn Vick into a pocket passer, thus taking away from what made him a star in the first place, his running ability.

I don't believe that's really the case at all. It's not that Reid doesn't want Vick to run, he simply doesn't want him to run as the first or second option, and for good reason. That didn't really work in Atlanta, and it's never really worked anywhere. But this idea they don't want him running is absurd, and debunked rather easily when you look at the amount of called runs and rollouts that get him out of the pocket -- almost run/pass options in Vick's case.

To some extent, the problem is the passing attack is not making it easy for him to run. Let's look at Vick's first fumble against Arizona. This is going to be a two-man route by the receivers at the top, with the quarterback rolling the pocket to their side.

Uh oh. Five guys are covering two, and wouldn't you know it, those receivers are not open! Guess Vick will have to take off running in the opposite direction. (A reader points out Celek was probably supposed to release into the flat here, and it appears he begins to do so right at the end. That likely would have drawn the LB inside the circle on the left to the sidelines, which it appears would have opened the WR curling back to the QB. Obviously, that doesn't happen.)

It looks like he has blockers, but this play is going nowhere fast since there were two linebackers on the right side whose only responsibility was peering into the backfield. Why were they essentially standing there, twiddling their thumbs? At least in part because there are no receivers running routes anywhere near them.

Clay Harbor is finally going to release as a safety valve here, but Vick's in trouble. He's going to pull it down rather than make the risky throw. Unfortunately, the pursuit from the backside is going to catch up to him, and the ball winds up on the carpet anyway.

I'm not sure I've seen a single one of these two-man routes work for the Eagles yet, and mostly I've noticed it working to their detriment. Remember D'Qwell Jackson in Week 1? He diagnosed the play, ran toward the only receiver in his time zone, and had himself a pick-six.

Let's look at another example similar to one that occurred in Cleveland, only this time it's not how many receivers, but where they are all at. Here we have the Eagles passing in a three-wide, two-back set. Stanley Havili is going to run a route, leaving McCoy to block.

McCoy basically whifs on his man, linebacker Daryl Washington. At this time, I'd like to point out McCoy is no Brian Westbrook in protection. He's willing and usually capable, but he's missed quite a few blocks already this year. Anyway, Vick is going to spin and avoid a sure sack, buying himself precious little time to get rid of the ball.

But what's this? The only guy within a country mile of Vick is Havili, who has a defender draped all over him. Everybody else is manned up 20 yards down the field with safeties over the top, and even if one of them was open, how is Vick going to set his feet and make a throw while a linebacker is hunting him down from behind? Meanwhile, look at all that open field in the short and intermediate ranges -- it's a shame nobody, not one guy, is running a route there.

No chance for Vick to take off, either. He's not going far to his left with that spy over there, and with bodies in front, he has to cut to get out of the backfield. That split second is enough time for Washington to chase Vick down from behind.

This type of play design is one out of probably a couple dozen similar examples from this season alone, and it's not just the fact that defenses aren't giving up the deepest part of the field, though that is part of the problem, too. Say there's a breakdown in protection -- and no matter how good or bad the offensive line is, there will be a breakdown on occasion -- what is the quarterback supposed to do when the token checkdown is covered, and everybody else still has their back turned to the line of scrimmage?

Vick is suffering from the lack of options. The coaches understandably want to leave guys at home to help block, but that's making it harder to find an open receiver. When they are sending multiple routes deep and the defense predictably takes that away, the play is shot. Nobody is just going to let Vick run wild, either.

In my opinion, the Eagles need greater variance in their route combinations, with receivers working every level of the field, and more of them, too. It makes Vick susceptible to pressure, especially via the blitz, but his decision making has to be allowed to sink or swim. Give him two or three targets at different levels in the same window, and let him get the ball out. If teams want to come after him, and the Eagles are utilizing every blade of grass, somebody is going to be open. If not, more defenders are going to be busy actually chasing somebody instead of standing around with their hands in their pockets -- which that could theoretically open up more space for Vick to scramble as well.

Whether Vick can execute that type of offense, who knows. The one thing that is certain is these all-or-nothing passing plays have not been the answer.

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies’ losing streak against the Washington Nationals this season rose to nine games in a 2-1 loss Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The Phils gave up five first-inning runs and had just nine hits in being swept in the three-game series. They had four hits Monday night, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
 
The Phils entered the game hitting .239 as a team. Only San Diego was worse in the majors.
 
The Phillies have lost three in a row and seven of their last nine.
 
Starting pitching report
Adam Morgan absorbed his ninth loss but had the best of his 16 starts in the majors this season. The lefty gave up a first-inning home run to Jayson Werth then did not allow another run until there were two outs in the seventh. He was one strike away from getting out of the frame with a 1-1 tie when he gave up a full-count RBI single to Wilson Ramos.
 
In all, Morgan gave up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out five. He had entered the game with a 6.50 ERA and lowered it to 6.21.
 
Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (10-9) held the Phillies to two hits and a run over six innings.
 
Bullpen report
Blake Treinen, Marc Rzepczynski and Shawn Kelley closed it out for the Nats. Manager Pete Mackanin pinch-hit Ryan Howard against the lefty Rzepczynski with two outs in the eighth. Howard, hitting .138 against lefties, struck out. Rzepczynski stayed on for the ninth. He walked Cesar Hernandez to lead off the frame then got Odubel Herrera to bounce into a double play before handing off to the righty Kelly. Herrera has two sacrifice bunts this season, but was not asked to get one down on this occasion.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis clubbed his 15th homer, a solo shot in the fifth, for the Phillies’ only run.
 
Werth’s homer in the first inning was his 20th of the season. It was a bomb to dead center. It came off the bat at 107 mph and traveled 453 feet. Werth also homered in the first inning of Monday night’s game. He has reached base safely in 55 of his last 57 games.
 
Ramos’ tie-breaking hit against Morgan came one batter after Anthony Rendon extended the seventh inning with a two-out double.
 
Ramos leads major-league catchers with 71 RBIs.
 
Reinforcements coming
The Phillies will add three players from the minors on Friday (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80) vs. RHP Joel De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66)
 
Saturday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.21) vs. TBA
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Jake Thompson (1-4, 7.86) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (4-9, 3.12).

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.