In-House Notes from Opening Night at the Birds

In-House Notes from Opening Night at the Birds

As Matt P. already detailed the larger narrative of last night's game, we figured we would add in some other notes of interest for those of you who can't get enough football in August.

So fortunate to be in attendance last night, I was able to scrape together these in-house notes without the guiding hand of the broadcast. Maybe Tolly addressed these in detail. Maybe he didn't. Either way, I'm sure he did it with style.

Think of this as a "who was wearing what and how they looked" kind of thread. Oh, and if you're down for the not-so-subtle impact of post-lockout rule changes, you're in the right place. And now here we go with that which was overwhelmingly noticeable from last night's Eagles-Ravens preseason opener…
1. Vince Young's Familiarity with the Offense—An Attempt to Exhaust Ronnie Brown

While Kulp did his best to convince you of Vince Young's overwhelming capability as a quarterback in the NFL yesterday, we would all do well to temper that optimism with the realization that VY remains unfamiliar with the offense today. And, to borrow from Seinfeld, "it's not like there's anything wrong with that." The guy has had only—what?—less than two weeks to learn the offense that has long-been considered one of the complex in football.

With exactly that in mind, coach Andy Reid announced prior to last night's game that the playbook would be scaled down for the opener in the interest of letting some of the new players show off their athletic skills without having to constantly think their way through the process. When asked for his response, Young seemed grateful for the reprieve, mentioning that his goal for the evening was simply "to make sure I get the guys out of the huddle."

Leading the offense for 17 plays, Young would throw just five times, completing three attempts. Through he dropped back on three other occasions, those plays would result in a sack, an intentional grounding penalty and a 6-yard scramble to pick up a first down.

As VY was doing his best Shane-Falco-dance-around-the-throw-up-in-the-huddle ("Look at it this way, it's the first thing they're doing as a team!"), Ronnie Brown was doing his best not to get injured in the preseason. On those 17 plays spearheaded by Young, Brown touched the ball 10 times, finishing with a total of 9 rushes for 22 yards and 1 reception for 7. After touching the ball more than 50% of the time he was on the field, Brown must have felt like he was still a member of the Dolphins.

And though his contributions Thursday night still aren't any indication of his potential usage rate once the season starts, it was nonetheless entertaining to see what he could do. Hopefully, for the sake of LeSean McCoy and the Eagles rushing attack, Brown isn't so overworked in the preseason as to potentially injure himself, his unfortunate shortcoming in years past.

2. "We Re-Signed Brian Westbrook and He Changed His Name? Oh, that's Ronnie Brown"

While it was great to see No. 36 swinging out for a screen pass and making a guy miss on the sideline, it was a little disheartening to realize it wasn't Brian Westbrook.

For fans perhaps opposed to recycling B-West's number so quickly, Philly.com's Sheil Kapadia has authored a piece explaining the necessity of using 36 in the preseason. Bottom line, Brown won't be keeping the number when it comes time for the real Week 1.

"...An Eagles spokesman said the No. 36 is temporary. The Eagles have 90 guys on their roster and seven retired numbers. That doesn't leave many other options open right now."

Kapadia goes on to discuss not only the acceptable use of No. 36, but also numbers 5 and 20. It's a good read about the honoring the past, while nonetheless moving forward. As you'll be able to tell from a quick look at the article's comment section, retiring numbers is an especially divisive issue and—from a fan's perspective—more often based on subjective emotion than any sort of objective metric.

3. Nnamdi as a Red Zone Threat, Just Kidding, But Seriously…

Alright, that cat is huge. Watching Nnamdi line up across from receivers he's as tall, if not taller than is certainly a departure from the days of our once-small secondary.

Having not seen much of Asomugha's career on the west coast, it's absolutely no wonder that he's become as dominant as he has with that combination of height, speed and athleticism. I know we didn't sign Plax, but maybe Vick can start throwing jump balls to Nnamdi. Just a thought. Not for real. But maybe…

Oh, and while we're discussing new cornerbacks and old jersey numbers, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took the field last night in what was once-Troy Vincent's No. 23. Is it a big deal? No. But do we notice these things? Yeah. (Note: The Eagles are advertising DRC jerseys with the No. 45 in their game day programs, so he too may be in line for a jersey change.)

4. Post-Lockout Rule Changes [In two parts labeled "A" and "B"]

Separate from the doling out of $9 trillion dollars and making sure retired players receive the healthcare they so deserve, there were a few rule changes attached to the return of football. Two of those adjustments proved evident Thursday night, leaving some fans, and even Andy Reid, at least a little confused.

A. Kick-offs Now Take Place from 35, Hope You Weren't a Fan of the Return Game

Seeing as how I got a beer, went to the bathroom once or twice and left with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, this stat may not be exact, but I did not once see a kick brought back out of the end zone.

In the interest of making the game safer and its players less susceptible to injury, kick-offs have been moved forward, resulting in less of an opportunity to return the football. One needs only to think of Ellis Hobbs' special teams incident last year to understand at least some of the motivation behind the move.

Still, at no point did you ever think "this guy is going to take off."

Following the USA-Mexico soccer game Wednesday night, the touch lines were still visible on the field's surface. Colored over in black so as not to be distracting, though still noticeable, Wednesday's end-line provided an especially interesting perspective on the new return game, as it worked to effectively bisect the end zone. With the benefit of that added perspective, it was easy to see that nearly every kickoff landed in the last five yards of those end zones. Some kicks sailed out the back entirely.

Granted, the wind will work to change some of the dynamic as the season progresses, but return game figures to become far less of a factor in football given the new rules, an obviously difficult realization for specialists like Devin Hester and Leon Washington. Already voicing opposition to the change, Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs tweeted:

 “I see an immediate amendment on the kickoff rule either b4 the end of the year or beginning of next year bc without that part of the return game it might as well be a scrimmage....”

After watching exactly what you did at the Linc Thursday night, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was similarly moved to comment: “To me, it will swing the balance of the play dramatically to the kickoff team.”

Even with all that in mind, another trip to Cribbs' Twitter page will reveal his celebration of a 103-yard return during the third quarter of last night's San Diego Chargers-Seattle Seahawks game.

B. "Marty, Should We Challenge?" "They're Already Reviewing it, Andy." "Oh, Really?!"

What would have potentially been a Mike-Kafka fumble returned for a touchdown during the third quarter was called back after an official review.

Looking up at the video screen and walking the length of the sideline toward the north end zone, Andy repeatedly reached for the red flag dangling from his pocket. Though he never pulled it out, his gestures indicated that he was certainly considering it.

What those in attendance later came to realize was that the officials had already overturned the play themselves. While I couldn't see if anyone actually went under the tent, or if the referees just huddled to get the call right, this was the first instance in which the new replay rules may or may not have come into effect.

In short, all scoring plays are now reviewable without a coach having to weigh the benefit of objecting to a play versus the risk of losing a timeout. So, for those of you who cringe every time Andy has one of these decisions to make, you can all take some comfort. At least some of the responsibility, some of the time, has been taken out of his hands.

Regardless of whether or not video reviewed was used—again, I couldn't really tell—the Kafka-not-fumble did expose one of the new rule's coolest wrinkles. What if Raven running toward the end zone had the presence of mind to purposefully step out of bounds just before reaching the goal line?

Granted, he would have to be more than confident in his offense's ability to convert from the one-yard-line, but since it wasn't a scoring play, the turn of events would have forced Reid to potentially gamble a timeout without the benefit of an automatic review. There is a Brian-Westbrook-lays-down-at-the-one-to-keep-the-clock-moving moment in some bright athlete's future if he is smart enough to realize it.

Like the new rules? Hate em? Think Nnamdi should be on the field every play, offense and defense (still kidding, maybe)? Want more, less of Ronnie Brown? Predisposed to hate DRC out of love for Troy Vincent? See you in the comments.

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn was ready to try anything to get a win for his Auburn Tigers.

Malzahn relinquished offensive play-calling duties. Following his daughters' advice, he traded his usual game-day visor for a cap. And then, when the clock expired and LSU players were celebrating an apparent last-second win, the Auburn coach put all his faith in a ruling he couldn't control.

Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals and Auburn beat No. 18 LSU 18-13 on Saturday night after officials ruled Danny Etling's apparent last-gasp scoring pass came after time expired.

Malzahn said he knew there were only zeroes on the clock before the snap to Etling.

"I was pretty confident time had expired," Malzahn said. "It was just a matter of going to the booth and confirming it."

Etling rolled to his right and found D.J. Shark in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard pass, setting off a short-lived celebration by LSU players (see full recap).

Hornibrook proves he's ready in Badgers' win over Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- By the time Alex Hornibrook's first start was over, there wasn't much question about whether he could handle one of the toughest road tests in the Big Ten.

Hornibrook threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, and 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned its early-season showdown with No. 8 Michigan State into a rout, beating the Spartans 30-6 on Saturday.

"You've got to have respect for a guy whose first start is against a Michigan State defense," Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said.

"He's going to come out the next game and do even better. I think he's just getting his feet wet."

The freshman quarterback outplayed fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor, his Michigan State counterpart. The Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were the better team in the first half and then outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the third quarter (see full recap).

No. 23 Rebels find their rhythm, beat No. 12 Georgia 45-14
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly faked the handoff and then took off running toward the end zone. A few seconds and 41 yards later, the quarterback had cruised through the middle of the Georgia defense and into the end zone untouched.

It was pretty much that easy for the Rebels all afternoon. Ole Miss finally built a lead it couldn't give away.

No. 23 Ole Miss rolled to a 45-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia on Saturday, building a 31-0 lead by halftime and a 45-0 advantage by midway through the fourth quarter.

Kelly threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) broke a 10-game losing streak in the series dating to 1996 (see full recap).

Dobbs rallies No. 14 Vols to 38-28 win over No. 19 Gators
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This time, Tennessee delivered the comeback.

And in the process, the Volunteers took out 11 years' worth of frustration on Florida.

Joshua Dobbs accounted for five second-half touchdowns Saturday and No. 14 Tennessee erased a 21-point deficit to beat No. 19 Florida 38-28 and end their 11-game losing streak in the annual series.

"I didn't see anybody blink," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "Nobody flinched. They just kept playing."

This marks the first time Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has beaten Florida (3-1, 1-1) since 2004. The Volunteers had lost to Florida by one point each of the last two years despite leading in the fourth quarter of both games (see full recap).