Lurie Takes a Mulligan on His Eagles

Lurie Takes a Mulligan on His Eagles

What if every NFL team were given one mulligan per game?

What if Andy Reid could re-think the decision to go for it on 4th and 1 against the Giants? What if Alex Henery could re-try either of his two missed field goals against the 49ers?

What if the Bills had to line up and actually punt or run a play after Juqua Parker jumped offside? What if Andy threw the mulligan flag after Asante Samuel left Jaiquawn Jarrett on an island with Larry Fitzgerald?

What if the Eagles had do-overs on last-gasp drives where Jeremy Maclin dropped a fourth down pass in Atlanta, and fumbled the ball away against the Niners? What if they had another chance after Jason Avant failed to haul in the pass that moseyed into a defender's hands in Buffalo? What if immediately after DeSean Jackson put the ball on the carpet at his own nine-yard line, they could have simply made the Bears punt the ball again?

How many more games would the Eagles have won had they used a mulligan on any of their nine turnovers in the red zone this season?

What if the Eagles were given even just one mulligan this season?

Clearly, they would be in the playoffs.

If Jeffrey Lurie doesn't want to admit he's making excuses for Andy Reid and his club's 8-8 record, at least not publicly during Tuesday's news conference, then I suppose I'll have to be the one to play devil's advocate; and the fact is, if Lurie is unable to explain why he believes the Birds will rebound under Reid next season, that's probably because he can't figure out how they fell on the wrong side of the postseason in the first place.

Just look at all the things that had to go wrong to lose those games. It was quality players constantly coming up small, often multiple times during the same sixty minutes. When you factor in some of the hard luck the Eagles fell on -- making massive roster and schematic overhauls during a condensed offseason, the occasional bout of questionable officiating, and of course, a few untimely injuries -- with all due respect, Mr. Lurie, you could come up with all the excuses in the world.

As Lurie so deftly touched on, the Eagles missed the playoffs for only the third time in the last 12 years. Previously, they were decimated by injuries and a fractured locker room in 2005, then in '07, Donovan McNabb was still working his way back from an ACL the previous year. Both seasons, there was logical rationale -- or excuses -- for the disappointing outcomes, and the team was back in the tournament the following year.

This season, you can take your pick of what the excuse is, and if Lurie is right, you can count on the Birds making it back to the postseason.

It's fully understood how difficult it will be for a large portion of the fan base to stomach another year of Andy ball, and chances are an overwhelming percentage of those folks were already off the head coach's bandwagon before this season transpired. After 13 years, any head coach is bound to become a polarizing figure, and most of the people hunkered in with the anti-Reid crowd simply feel his time came and went.

Even those of us who have the tendency to support Andy are conflicted about seasons like 2011, when the expectations were much more in line with Super Bowl appearance than .500 finish.

But then there's what could've been. One turnover, one penalty, one catch, one kick, one tackle, one challenge, one stand, one bounce, one yard; any of them could have meant one more win and one playoff berth. Spread across multiple games, one play in each loss could have been the difference between two, three, maybe even four more wins.

The Eagles have Pro Bowl caliber talent at nearly every position on the field. They have the best head coach for the quarterback who will be under center in 2012. They are on a four-game winning streak, and as fashionable as it is to point out the quality of their opponents -- or lack there of -- good teams beat bad teams in the NFL, so the important part to remember is they handled their business in the end.

Jeffrey Lurie realized that, so he made the most unpopular decision an owner can make.

He took a mulligan on 2011.

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

There are seemingly countless metrics one can use to detail Joel Embiid's supremacy as a Sixer, but perhaps no stats more clearly tell the story of how indefatigable the rookie has been this season than those of his free-throw shooting. Despite ranking just eighth on the team in total minutes, he's already gotten to the line 215 times this season and made 169 of them, about 250% more than the second-most made FTs on the team (Ersan Ilyasova, 65). What's more, his seven games with ten or more free throws attempted is already more than Thaddeus Young (six), Evan Turner (three) or Jrue Holiday (zero) ever had as a Liberty Baller. 

But yesterday against the Bucks saw JoJo hit a new level with his foul drawing. Despite essentially being shut down by the Bucks in the first half -- I can't remember if he even had a single bucket at the break -- The Process eventually imposed his will in Milwaukee in a major way, parading to the line in the second half, ending with 22 points (as well as 12 rebounds and five blocks) on 4-9 shooting, getting to the line an astounding 18 times. 

Who was the last Sixers giant to accomplish such a feat, you might wonder? Well... 

Yes, it's been an impressive season for our double-redshirt rookie, and every game he seems to add another immortal name to his list of historical analogues. But not until now could we afford to mention him alongside the great Henry "Lickface" Sims, two-year Process legend whose 18 trips to the free-throw line on April 4, 2014 totally helped us win that random late-season game against the then-rebuilding Boston Celtics. As impossible as it once seemed, it now appears that soon, Embiid's folk herodom will be as self-evident and undeniable to the Sons of Sam as that of Hammerin' Hank himself. 

Get this guy to the All-Star team already.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped, and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that, and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing and that’s a fair criticism on the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal before he turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside on the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t trust the process with the Flyers. Just enjoy the course.