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.

Jackie Robinson's historic Dodgers contract on display in Philadelphia

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Jackie Robinson's historic Dodgers contract on display in Philadelphia

A piece of modern baseball history will be on display in Philadelphia for the next couple of weeks.

The original contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947 that allowed him to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball will be featured at the National Constitution Center from May 26 until June 5.

Mikalai Kontilia, CEO of Collectors Cafe, the company loaning the contract to the Constitution Center, brought both the Dodgers document and the contract Robinson signed with the minor league Montreal Royals in October 1945 to The Comcast Network's Breakfast on Broad show on Tuesday morning.

"What's amazing is, these contracts, finally, after 60-some odd years, have been unearthed, discovered and the American people can finally see the Jackie Robinson contracts," Kontilia said.

The Dodgers contract plays an important role in American history, and not just in terms of sport. Many people point to then-Dodgers owner Branch Rickey signing Robinson as a starting point in the American civil rights movement.

Kontilia said a historic documentarian appraised the contracts at a value of $36 million.

For more on the contracts, check out the video above.

Jim Schwartz on missing Fletcher Cox: 'He’ll catch up'

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Jim Schwartz on missing Fletcher Cox: 'He’ll catch up'

As the Eagles kicked off their second round of voluntary OTAs on Tuesday morning at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s best player was still MIA.
 
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is staying away from the team as he awaits a long-term contract extension for big money. He hasn’t been at any of the team’s voluntary workouts this spring and the first mandatory date isn’t until June 7.
 
As the Eagles install a new defense, how much is Cox missing?
 
“It’s voluntary, so you can only do so much,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday afternoon in a near-30-minute press conference. “Fletch was drafted in a scheme similar to this. He’ll catch up. But I’m sure there will be some carryover for him. I assume he’s a fast learner and I assume he’ll pick things up quickly.”
 
Without Cox on Tuesday, veteran free agent pickup Mike Martin worked with the first-team defense at tackle next to Bennie Logan. Last week, at the first open OTA practice, Taylor Hart filled in for Cox.
 
When asked if he has spoken with Cox since taking the job, Schwartz declined to comment, saying he prefers to keep private conversations with players private.
 
And by the third consecutive Cox question – this one about how Cox will eventually fit into his defense – the veteran NFL coach was ready to move on.
 
“Why don’t we do this: that’s probably enough Fletcher Cox speak,” Schwartz said. “Let’s just talk about the guys that are here. I really can’t comment on the guys that aren’t here. I haven’t had any experience with those guys. So anything I’d say would really be hypothetical, to tell you the truth.
 
“I did look, as the whole defensive staff did, we evaluated last year, what guys did. And he certainly had an impressive year last year. And we think that scheme-wise and technique-wise, what we’re going to do is going to fit him very well.”

Phillies-Tigers 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson's 2-strike changeup key

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Phillies-Tigers 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson's 2-strike changeup key

Phillies (25-20) at Tigers (22-22)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies actually lost a one-run game. 

Their six-game road trip started off with a 5-4 loss Monday night — which makes them 14-4 in one-run games — against a Tigers lineup that showed just how much power it has. Miguel Cabrera homered twice, and J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos added solo shots of their own. It was an all-around rough night for Phillies pitchers, but they have a chance to even the series tonight at Comerica Park.

Let's take a look at the matchup:

1. Keep 'em in the park
Comerica Park favors pitchers more than hitters, but the Tigers and Phillies made it look small on Monday, hitting a combined six home runs. Oddly enough, all were solo shots.

Jeremy Hellickson hopes tonight for more success than Vince Velasquez had Monday. Hellickson struggled with the home run ball earlier in the year, allowing nine in his first seven starts. He didn't allow one in either of his last two starts, but the Marlins and Reds aren't as loaded offensively as the Tigers.

Detroit has clicked at the plate over the last week, belting 17 home runs over its last six games. J.D. Martinez has three of them and Cabrera has five. With those two batting second and third, Hellickson needs to be sharp in the first inning. 

The opening frame has been a problem for Hellickson all season — his opponents have hit .289 with an .883 OPS, six doubles and a homer. His first-inning ERA is 7.00 this season and 5.75 over the last two.

2. Changes from Hellickson
He enters 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA. Over his last two starts, Hellickson's given up just two earned runs in 13 innings, putting 11 men on base and striking out 13. He's faced 57 batters since last allowing a home run for his longest homerless streak of the season.

What's been the biggest difference for Hellickson in his last two starts? He's turned to his changeup, his best pitch, more often with two strikes. In his first seven outings, Hellickson threw the changeup 18 percent of the time with two strikes. His last two starts, he's thrown it 48 percent of the time with two strikes. It's completely fooled the opposition, which is 0 for 17 with 11 strikeouts against Hellickson's changeup over that span.

Hellickson has by far the highest swing-and-miss rate of changeups in all of baseball with 57 in 184 pitches (31 percent).

Look for Hellickson to continue utilizing that pitch tonight. Here are some of the Tigers' numbers this season against right-handed changeups:

Cabrera: 1 for 11
Castellanos: 1 for 10
Justin Upton: 1 for 7
J.D. Martinez: 0 for 7

Current Tigers are 30 for 95 (.316) lifetime against Hellickson. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has done the most damage, going 8 for 25 with three doubles, three homers and five walks. Cabrera is 4 for 11 with a homer. Upton is 5 for 13 with two doubles and two homers.

3. Not the same Verlander
Now 33, Justin Verlander is not the same fireballer he was in his prime. In 2011, the year he won AL Cy Young and MVP, his fastball averaged 95 mph. This season, the pitch has averaged a career-low 92.1. 

Here's a look at the difference for Verlander's pitches the last three seasons compared to his peak of 2009 to 2012:

2009-12
Fastball: .254 opponents' batting average
Curveball: .152
Changeup: .196
Slider: .209

2014-present
Fastball: .263
Curveball: .248
Changeup: .275
Slider: .227

His pitches just haven't had the same life and bite as they once did. We've seen this happen to a number of former aces over the last few seasons: Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay. When the decline happens, it happens fast, especially for guys who pitch so many innings every year. It's not as drastic for some as it is for others. King Felix has been able to remain effective despite diminished velocity by mastering his offspeed pitches. That's something Lincecum, Cain and Sabathia have been unable to do.

Verlander is sort of in between. Since the start of 2014, he's 23-24 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 61 starts. He hasn't been horrible but hasn't been great either.

This season, Verlander is 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA. He's struck out 60 and walked 20 in 57 innings. He's on a roll entering tonight's game, having allowed just four runs over his last 22⅓ innings with 27 strikeouts.

Current Phillies have only 34 career at-bats against Verlander and 18 belong to David Lough. Ryan Howard and Andres Blanco are 0 for 3, Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 2 and Peter Bourjos is 1 for 8.

4. Franco breaking out?
Maikel Franco has had back-to-back multi-hit games for the first time since April 22-23, when he hit three home runs and drove in seven in the first two games of a series in Milwaukee.

Is he finally breaking out of his lengthy slump? Every time over the last few weeks that it's looked like it, he's followed with a few hitless games. 

Franco does appear to be seeing the ball better, though. He's walked just 11 times all season but four have come in his last seven games. In his last five, he's reached base nine times in 19 plate appearances with a double and a homer.

5. This and that
• Odubel Herrera, who was pulled from Monday's game for not hustling out a groundball, has followed an 0-for-11 skid by going 5 for 7 in his last two games. He's batting .335, and his .901 OPS is 10th among all NL outfielders, ahead of guys like Starling Marte, Hunter Pence, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez.

• Herrera's five errors lead all MLB centerfielders. Nobody else has more than two.

• Colton Murray's soaking up three innings last night allowed David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez to rest despite Velasquez's recording just 12 outs. Hernandez has had two full days off. Getting these guys some rest will be crucial moving forward. Neris is on pace for 86 appearances, Gomez 83 and Hernandez 72. Last season, only one reliever in the majors (St. Louis' Kevin Siegrist) had 80-plus appearances.

• Tommy Joseph entered Monday 0 for 7 with four strikeouts against right-handed pitching, but he had a double and a homer off Mike Pelfrey. 

• Ryan Howard is 4 for 52 (.077) with 22 strikeouts over his last 18 games. His .156 batting average ranks last among 180 qualifying major-leaguers and his .226 OBP is 177th.