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.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.