Key matchups to watch in Eagles-Broncos tilt

Key matchups to watch in Eagles-Broncos tilt

DeSean Jackson vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

John Gonzalez had a nice story some days back about these two flashy stars renewing their rivalry. Not only were they going at each other in practice every day over the previous two seasons, they actually have some history on the field.

DeSean Jackson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie crossed paths twice as rookies in 2008 when DRC was with the Arizona Cardinals. In the Eagles’ Week 13 win, DJacc hauled in six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. Then in the NFC Championship, Jackson pulled down six more balls for 92 yards, including a 62-yarder where he beat Cromartie.

DRC seems to be rejuvenated in Denver, and when he’s in the right frame of mind he has the ability to be a top corner. He also still has a propensity for giving up the big play though, as seen last Monday when Raiders WR Denarius Moore shook Rodgers-Cromartie for a huge 73 yard score.

Jackson has looked better so far this season than he has since he made All-Pro in '09, entering Week 4 second only to Atlanta's Julio Jones in receiving yards. The Eagles are going to need big plays to keep up with the Broncos, so expect Michael Vick to look for those big plays down the field.

Lane Johnson vs. Shaun Phillips

The rookie right tackle had the worst game of his young NFL career in Week 3, playing his part in allowing Kansas City’s Justin Houston to rack up 3.5 sacks of Vick. Lane Johnson looks like a strong run blocker already, but veteran pass rushers have been able to give him trouble.

Meanwhile, Denver may be without their best pure rusher in Von Miller (suspension), but the Broncos do have a presence at outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. Phillips notched 2.5 sacks working against Baltimore’s right tackles in Week 1, and is averaging 7.7 sacks over nine seasons in the league. He's not somebody to take lightly.

Phillips is a guy that could give Johnson problems if the rookie is left to handle him one-on-one for much of the contest. Considering we’re talking about Vick’s blind side, the Eagles may want to roll backs and tight ends to the right side to either help with or at least slow down the tackle’s assignment. Otherwise it could be a long day.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham vs. Chris Clark

At least the Eagles are catching something of a break this week, as Denver as a Mile High injury report. A lot of the key players on the report were game-time decisions, particularly in the secondary, but one absence we can confirm is that of Ryan Clady, left tackle for Peyton Manning.

I watched Clady's replacement Chris Clark a little bit on Monday night against the Raiders, and he looked fine. Then again, Peyton was getting the ball out so quickly, often times it didn’t matter – that’s how a good quarterback can protect his offensive line instead of the other way around (hint hint).

Also, Oakland doesn’t necessarily have any pass rushers as good as Trent Cole or Brandon Graham coming off the edge either. True, Cole has looked a tad lost out there when trying to get after the QB both in the 3-4 this season and going back to last. Graham on the other hand has been very effective in rush situations – according to Pro Football Focus, his score is second on the team only to Fletcher Cox despite the fact that linebacker hasn’t played more than 19 snaps in a game yet.

If the Eagles can get Manning into obvious passing situations, I’d like to see what Graham can do against this Clark at left tackle. They need to throw the kitchen sink at this offense today.

Peyton Manning vs. Earl Wolff

Patrick Chung made the trip to Denver and is a game-time decision, but is listed as doubtful on the injury report. That means in all likelihood rookie Earl Wolff will get the start at safety opposite Nate Allen. I expect Peyton Manning to walk out on to the field with kitchen utensils and wearing a bib.

There is no place where Philly defensive coordinator Bill Davis can hide Wolff that Manning won’t find him. If the fifth-round pick is out of position, that’s where the ball is going. If he takes a bad angle against the Broncos’ fleet of 1,000-yard receivers, they will pop off for big gains. As far as first career starts go, this is not the ideal situation to make one.

Of course, Peyton is in such a zone and the Birds’ defense – especially the safeties – so questionable that I’m not sure he really needs to go out of his way to pick on Wolff. The plays may be there to be made all over the place regardless. That said, keep an eye out for how many balls go in the rookie’s direction, as Manning isn't usually one to let a good matchup go to waste.

Prediction

I really think the Eagles have a shot to win today if only based on some of the circumstances surrounding this encounter, but am much to lame to actually call it myself. I’ll put them down to cover the 11-point spread though, and make the game much closer than a lot of folks believe it has any right to be.

Broncos 41, Eagles 38 in a very entertaining back-and-forth battle.

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”

Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

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Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

MIAMI -- In tribute to Jose Fernandez, left-handed hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate as a righty to lead off the first inning of Monday's mournful game.

After one pitch, Gordon switched to his customary left side -- and homered in the first at-bat for Miami since the death of Fernandez in a boating accident.

Gordon pulled a 2-0 pitch from New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon over the wall in right for his first homer of the season. He tapped his chest after crossing the plate and waved toward the sky, and then sobbed as teammates hugged him in the dugout.

It was another heart-tugging moment in a succession of them over the past two days.

The atmosphere was funereal at Marlins Park three hours before the first pitch, with players going through their pregame stretching in eerie silence.

Then someone cranked up the sound system, and bouncy reggaeton reverberated throughout the ballpark. It was a nudge toward a return to normal, as the Marlins and baseball began to move on without Fernandez.

The animal race at the end of the fifth inning was canceled, along with other in-game entertainment, and most of the Marlins' hitters decided to forgo walk-up music. But there was a game against the Mets, the first for the Marlins since their ace died early Sunday.

"This is shallow, but the show goes on," Marlins president David Samson said. "There has been a lot of talking and a lot of crying and a lot of praying and a lot of trying to make sense of something you can't make sense of. There is no sense to a life ended like that, in a way that is so meaningless.

"It's our job to make his life matter, so we're going to do that forever, and forever starts today."

Fernandez made his major league debut against the Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night in his final start of the season. Instead, Miami and the Marlins mourned the loss of the 24-year-old pitcher, whose talent and captivating personality were a combination unmatched in the sport.

Fernandez and two other men were killed when his 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a rock jetty that extends off the southern tip of Miami Beach at about 3:15 a.m. Sunday, a medical examiner said.

Fernandez was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday before his start was moved back a day. The change may be the reason he decided to go on the late-night boat outing.

"If he had pitched yesterday, maybe fate would be different," Samson said. "I've been thinking about that a lot."

Manager Don Mattingly said, "Obviously it crosses your mind."

The Marlins' game Sunday against Atlanta was canceled, and when they took the field Monday for batting practice, Fernandez's name and number hovered over the field on the huge video screen. Gordon wore a T-shirt that said "RIP," with a photo of Fernandez shaped as the "I."

For the game, the players decided to wear Fernandez's No. 16, with hastily made uniforms flown in. His number was also stenciled on the back of the mound.

The pregame ceremony included a slow, solemn solo trumpet rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Following the national anthem, New York manager Terry Collins led his Mets across the field to share hugs with the Marlins, and fans briefly chanted "Jose, Jose."

The Marlins then clustered around the mound and put their hands to the dirt. Some scratched out Jose's number or a message of love, and some just rubbed the mound -- his mound. His career record at Marlins Park was 29-2.

Fans established a makeshift memorial on the plaza outside the ballpark entrance, leaving dozens of flower arrangements -- daisies, carnations, roses and lilies, the result as colorful as Fernandez's personality. There were also candles, and messages scrawled on balls, balloons, photos and jerseys.

The situation was emotional even for the Mets, who are in the thick of the chase for an NL wild card with one week left in the season. On their dugout wall hung a Mets jerseys with Fernandez's name and number.

"Hearts are heavy," New York outfielder Jay Bruce said. "From a professional standpoint, you just try to prepare and play the game and respect the game. But I can't even imagine what it's like over in that other clubhouse."

Collins spoke about Fernandez in the present tense.

"He epitomizes what the game's about," Collins said. "Our game is bigger than a lot of things. It will always go on. We'll remember Jose. You've got to play the game in his honor. He would want to be out there."

Plans for a public funeral had not been finalized, but it was expected to be Thursday, the Marlins' final off day of the season.

Fernandez defected from Cuba at age 15, won the NL Rookie of the Year award and became a two-time All-Star. His enormous popularity in South Florida bridged the divide between the franchise and fans antagonized by too much losing and too many payroll purges.

Fernandez left behind a girlfriend who is expecting their first child, the mother who came with him to the United States and the grandmother who helped raise him.

On Sunday evening, the entire team took two buses to Fernandez's family home and met for 45 minutes with his mother, grandmother and other relatives and friends.

Fernandez's agent, Scott Boras, spoke to reporters near the batting cage -- or at least tried to. He said he paid his respects to the family before coming to the ballpark.

"His mother wanted me to tell everyone how she felt," Boras said. "She showed me pictures of him as a boy. She actually made his uniform when he was 7 or 8, with Cuban red pants."

Boras then cut short the interview because he couldn't stop crying.