Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Breaking down matchups the Eagles could potentially exploit against their upcoming opponent was often an exercise in futility during the Andy Reid era. It didn’t matter whether the Raiders had the 32nd-ranked run defense in the NFL or winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour in Cincinnati. The Birds were throwing the football.

Chip Kelly on the other hand says he’s all about coaching to the personnel, which you have to think means attacking the opponent’s weaknesses – and in the case of the San Diego Chargers, there appear to be quite a few of them. Below we look at some of the key players in Philadelphia's home opener on Sunday and attempt once again to predict how it will all play out on the field.

Favorable: Trent Cole vs. King Dunlap

Remember last year when Jason Peters went down and everybody condemned the Eagles’ front office for not having quality depth at left tackle? Well, the guy who wound up replacing Peters is a starter in San Diego.

We all know what King Dunlap is. He’s somebody you’re just hoping to get by with at left tackle, preferably for only a game or two – not all season like the Chargers are resigned to doing. Godspeed, Philip Rivers.

Dunlap’s primary assignment will likely be Trent Cole, who looked rejuvenated in the Birds’ Week 1 win over Washington – not lost in the switch to outside linebacker like many people expected. The two-time Pro Bowler registered four tackles (1 TFL), a forced fumble and two hits on the quarterback.

Cole, 30, is coming off of his worst season in the NFL with just three sacks in 2012. He looked like his old self on Monday though, only at a new position. Dunlap and Rivers by extension should be in for a long afternoon at the Linc provided Cole's rebound continues.

Favorable: DeSean Jackson vs. Derek Cox

The Chargers’ best cornerback is Derek Cox, who they acquired from Jacksonville through free agency. So just to be clear, even the Jaguars – the Jaguars! – ultimately didn’t want the top corner now in San Diego.

Defenses could do worse than Cox, but he’s not a guy you can count on to shut down elite wide receivers. The fifth-year veteran was part of a crew that conceded 146 yards off of 12 receptions to Andre Johnson against the Texans in Week 1.

DeSean Jackson may not be Andre Johnson – who by the way is quietly building a Hall of Fame resume in Houston – but DJacc proved he can still be a huge threat against the Redskins. The two-time Pro Bowler caught seven of the nine passes intended for him, going for 104 yards and a 25-yard score.

It’s all downhill from there for the Bolts’ cornerbacks, so whoever is lined up on Jackson, the receiver should have the advantage. San Diego is better suited for stopping the run, and they might place added emphasis in that phase after the Eagles racked up 263 yards on the ground on Monday night. Look for Chip Kelly to exploit the Chargers through the air with Jackson as the go-to target.

Favorable: Brent Celek and Zach Ertz vs. Bront Bird

San Diego used their second-round pick on inside linebacker Manti Te’o in April’s draft, but he’s expected to be out with a foot injury. Standing in for Te’o is this Bront Bird character The Evster is so up in arms over, and aside from having a funny name, he’s not a very good football player. Here’s what John Gennaro of the Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue had to say about the backup’s performance in Week 1:

Hoooooo boy. Want to know why Bront Bird led the Chargers in tackles last night? It's because [Texans head coach] Gary Kubiak's gigantic playsheet had written "Throw/run at Bront Bird" in every box.

Bird is terrible. He was good last year, he was bad in 2011, he obviously does some things well....but he can not be a starter. Not for another game. Not ever.

Bird was beat badly in man coverage by tight ends on two touchdown passes inside the red zone against Houston – one by the respectable Owen Daniels, the other by a relatively anonymous Garrett Graham. Daniels caught another TD earlier in the same game in the area vacated by Bird on play-action.

Quite simply, Bront is a liability in coverage. He doesn’t have the speed or the instinct to keep up with Brent Celek or Zach Ertz, which means one or both of them should have a favorable matchup in the passing attack whenever No. 97 is on the field.

Unfavorable: Brandon Hughes vs. Vincent Brown

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher is out with a concussion, but don’t expect a huge drop-off from his replacement. Brandon Boykin will slide over from his usual position in the slot in two-receiver sets, and if training camp and preseason football are any indication, he’ll do fine on the outside.

The problem that arises is who takes Boykin’s place in nickel packages. Boykin told reporters that he will reprise his role in the slot when San Diego shifts to three receivers, making fourth-year veteran Brandon Hughes the likely candidate to take Fletcher’s place in those situations.

If Chargers head coach Mike McCoy sticks with last week’s lineup, it means Hughes would see a lot of Vincent Brown on the perimeter. A third-round pick in 2011, Brown remains a bit of an unknown for the Bolts. He had some decent outings in his rookie year, but missed all of last season with a broken ankle.

Brown wasn’t much of a factor against the Texans, catching just two passes – although one went for six points. If he and Rivers can get on the same page however, Hughes is a replacement-level player who can be beaten.

Prediction

When I look at the depth chart for San Diego, I see a team that has far more numerous and glaring holes than the Eagles. Philip Rivers shoulders a lot of the blame for the franchise’s recent downturn, but he doesn’t get much protection in the pocket, nor does he have many weapons with which to work.

Meanwhile, one game in it looks as though it could be awhile before defenses figure out how to slow Chip Kelly’s offense down, and if they sell out to stop the run – or even if they don’t – big plays should be there in the passing game. It will come down to whether or not Mike Vick can hit them the way he was able to in Washington.

Throw in the fact that the Chargers are traveling across the country on a short week, coming off a demoralizing loss in which they blew a 21-point lead at home, and it could be a rough outing for the visitors. I like another convincing victory for the Eagles on Sunday.

Score: Eagles 41, Chargers 23

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not immediately available, but Sproles is due to earn $3.5 million in base salary in 2016. Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).