LeSean McCoy vs. Browns Run Defense and Four Other Key Match-ups on Sunday

LeSean McCoy vs. Browns Run Defense and Four Other Key Match-ups on Sunday

LeSean McCoy vs. Browns run defense

One of the few areas we didn't cover in our chat with WFNY's Scott Sargent earlier in the week was the Browns run defense, which ranked 30th in the NFL last season. Don't expect it to be a whole lot better right off the bat in 2012, either.

Cleveland lost defensive tackle Phil Taylor to a torn triceps over the offseason, and the promising second-year player will miss at least the first part of the season. The injury weakens a front four that even with Taylor's presence allowed 4.4 yards per carry in '11. Further compounding the issue, the injury to Chris Gocong and suspension of Scott Fujita has left the Browns with a collection of nondescript linebackers surrounding D'Qwell Jackson in the middle. Rookies will see significant action on both the defensive line and at outside linebacker.

Meanwhile, Michael Vick did not get much playing time during the preseason, what with his injuries and all. Obviously Andy Reid will try to get him into the flow of the game, but if the quarterback shows any rust, it makes sense to lean heavily on the running game to secure this outcome. Look for a big day from LeSean McCoy, and plenty of touches for either Dion Lewis or Bryce Brown -- or both -- late in the game once the Eagles have their opponent on ice.

Jason Babin vs. Mitchell Schwartz

An area we did address with our Cleveland counterpart was the match-up of the Eagles defensive line against the Browns offensive line, and specifically Babin against Schwartz. A second-round pick out of Cal, the rookie Schwartz is starting his first game at right tackle, and right out of the gate he draws 18 sacks in 2011 as his assignment.

Schwartz could very well be a capable player, maybe even good enough to stonewall Pro Bowlers, but this is his first day, and Babin has made a fool of even the most proven commodities. The Browns will undoubtedly help Schwartz with TE Ben Watson, and the good news for them is they have perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas working against Trent Cole on the other side, but Babin has to be frothing at the mouth while staring across at his competition. It could be a long day for Brandon Weeden in the backfield once #93 gets going.

Eagles linebackers vs. Trent Richardson

The Browns coaching staff will be looking for some way to take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback, and they have a shiny new toy in Richardson, who is seemingly healthy after a preseason clean-up procedure on his knee. In the Eagles wide-9 scheme, it's seemingly a question of when, not if, Richardson will get into the defense's second level, which is where they struggled so much last season.

This is where we'll finally get a glimpse of what exactly the team acquired when they traded for DeMeco Ryans in the middle. Ryans didn't make a bunch of plays in the backfield or anything like that this summer, but he did show a knack for getting off of blocks -- something Eagles linebackers have really failed at in the past -- and he was always in the right position, so instead of runs breaking into the secondary for seven yards, eight yards, or more, most were ending after three or four.

And tackling is a huge part as well. Richardson is an absolute beast of a man who squats 700 lbs. like it's no big deal. Getting this guy to the ground is not easy. Again this is an area where Ryans traditionally excelled, though putting hands on such an insane athlete is no simple matter either. Mychal Kendricks demonstrated he can swarm the ball carrier, but his ability to wrap up will be put to the test against Richardson, as will Akeem Jordan's, who took over for Brian Rolle late in camp.

Eagles wide receivers vs. Sheldon Brown

Joe Haden has escaped suspension (for now), so Cleveland's second-ranked secondary remains intact for Week 1. Haden is on the verge of superstardom in this league if he can convert on a few more big plays, so don't expect DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin to just go easily flying by the guy.

Sheldon Brown is another story. As we mentioned in our look back on the trade that sent the former Bird to Brown town, Sheldon has remained a mostly reliable corner for that defense, but his age is definitely beginning to show. Brown was never the guy who ran the fastest 40 time, but now that he's lost a step or two, he can be a liability in deep coverage, especially against the type of weapons Vick has.

Make no mistake, the Browns aren't likely to let Jackson or Maclin go running by their decrepit cornerback. There will be plenty of safety help over the top, as there always is whenever Djacc is on the field. Whether or not the Eagles can expose this apparent mismatch will be one of the keys to the game however -- not necessarily for big plays, but can the receivers create separation on the short and intermediate routes where Sheldon is stuck in one-on-one situations.

Brent Celek and Clay Harbor vs. Browns linebackers

Once again those outside linebackers are coming into play, only this time if they are asked to cover the Eagles' tight ends. If Vick has trouble finding targets on the outside, he may have his security blankets down the seam instead.

After a slow start in 2011, Celek turned it on down the stretch. As long as he's not required to help constantly in pass protection -- a major concern again this season with King Dunlap at left tackle -- he can be a serious weapon in the passing game. Harbor could find himself taking on a more prevalent role in the offense as well, particularly against a defense that could be prone to a two tight end attack that forces mismatches on outside linebackers. Again, the Browns were stingy against the pass last year, and we all know Andy Reid wants to throw the ball, so heavy involvement of Celek and Harbor might be a potential solution.

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

TORONTO -- Brad Marchand scored a short-handed goal with 43.1 seconds left and Canada beat Team Europe 2-1 on Thursday night to win the World Cup of Hockey.

The Canadians won the best-of-three finals 2-0.

Patrice Bergeron tied it with a power-play goal with 2:53 left in the third, and Marchand won it with a shot from the slot.

Canada has won 16 straight games, including two Olympic gold medals, since losing to the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.

Carey Price made 32 saves for the Canadians, who started slow before ending the tournament with a furious rally that fired up a once-quiet crowd.

Zdeno Chara scored early for Europe, and Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves for the eight-nation team.

Sidney Crosby was named MVP of the tournament with three goals and a World Cup-high 10 points.

After getting that award, he was presented with a silver World Cup of Hockey trophy and he skated with it around the ice just months after hosting the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career.

He set up the tying goal, passing the puck off the boards to Brent Burns, whose shot just inside the blue line was redirected by Bergeron's raised stick.

Crosby was stewing after each of the first two periods.

When the game was over, he was sporting an ear-to-ear smile.

The Canadians closed the game in impressive fashion after a lackluster start.

In front of an unenthusiastic crowd and a lot of empty seats in the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadians started flat and the Europeans made them pay for their apparent apathy.

Unlike the last two times Canada trailed briefly to the U.S. and Russia, it could not come back against Europe quickly.

It looked as if it wasn't going to be Canada's night when John Tavares had a wide-open net to shoot into, but hit the right post from the bottom of the right circle. Earlier in the same shift, the New York Islanders forward missed the net on a one-timer opportunity.

Canada averaged 4.4 goals over the first five games of the tournament, giving Price plenty of support. It didn't score as much in the final game of the tournament, but two goals were enough to win thanks to Price.

Chara, a Slovakian and Boston Bruins defenseman, scored from the left circle with a wrist shot through traffic two teammates created in front of the net off a short, soft pass from Andrej Sekera in the slot.

Crosby was part of a scrum at the end of the first period in which his helmet was knocked off near Europe's net at the end of the first period. After the horn sounded to end the second, Crosby lingered on the ice to shot at Swiss defenseman Roman Josi.

Crosby was clearly frustrated, playing with a pair of Boston Bruins, Marchand and Bergeron, who had combined for 22 points through the first five games.

Europe outshot the Canadians 12-8 after the first period and 27-21 after the second.

The Canadians had three power plays over the first two periods and failed to take advantage, falling to 2 for 17 with an extra skater. On one of their power plays, they needed Price to make stops on breakaways.

Canada had a man advantage again early in the third period, but only got one shot on Halak, a Slovak and Islanders standout, on the possibly pivotal power play.

Crosby had a chance to score with 7-plus minutes left, but Halak kicked the shot away with his right skate.

Europe seemed as if it had a chance to score late when Drew Doughty was called for high-sticking with just under 2 minutes left, but Canada was the team that took advantage when Marchand got the puck into open space and beat Halak with a shot to win the first World Cup since 2004.

Instant Replay: Braves 5, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Braves 5, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson’s final start of the season — and possibly his final one with the Phillies — was cut short by a sprained right knee Thursday night (see story).

Hellickson left the game against the Atlanta Braves after 3 1/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up losing, 5-2, in their final game at Turner Field. The Braves swept the three-game series. The Phillies have lost six of their last seven and are 70-89.

The Phillies went 82-91 over 20 years of visiting Turner Field. The Braves will move into a new stadium next season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson gave up just one hit and no runs in his 3 1/3 innings. He walked none.

The right-hander finished the season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Hellickson is eligible for free agency this winter. The Phillies would like to get draft-pick compensation if Hellickson signs elsewhere, but they must extend him a $17 million qualifying offer for 2017 and he must reject the offer in order for the club to get that pick.

Atlanta’s Josh Collmenter pitched seven innings and held the Phillies to one run. He gave up six hits, walked none and struck out four.

Bullpen report
Struggling Jeanmar Gomez entered a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He gave up a walk and a tie-breaking double as the Braves took the lead. The Braves scored three more times against Gomez in the frame to put the game away.

At the plate
Odubel Herrera’s RBI single in the third inning gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. It was the Phillies’ 600th run of the season. They were the last team in the majors to get there.

Aaron Altherr cut the Braves' lead to three with a two-out RBI single in the ninth.

Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer against Colton Murray in the sixth.

Swanson walked and scored the go-ahead run on Matt Kemp’s double against Gomez in the bottom of the eighth.

Up next
The Phillies return home Friday night for the final three-game series of the season. They will play the New York Mets, who are battling for the National League wild card. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday night — RHP Alec Asher (2-0, 1.66) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (3-2, 2.56)

Saturday afternoon — RHP Phil Klein (0-0, 12.15) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (14-8, 3.42)

Sunday afternoon — RHP Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60)

Sunday afternoon’s season finale starts at 3:05 p.m. The team will make a special on-field presentation to Ryan Howard at 2:30.

Howard did not play Thursday night. He is expected to start all three games against the Mets. The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017 and he will become a free agent.

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