Nick Foles Makes First NFL Start Against RG3-Led Redskins

Nick Foles Makes First NFL Start Against RG3-Led Redskins

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It’s safe to say the Eagles aren’t going anywhere this year
after losing five consecutive games, and their season appeared to be circling
the drain weeks ago. You can’t complain that there is no intrigue left for the
Birds in 2012 though. Nick Foles is set to make his first NFL start in
Washington today, and both the immediate and long-term futures of the franchise
could be at stake.

Foles took over for Michael Vick during the second quarter
of last week’s game against the Cowboys, playing quite well at times, looking
very much like a rookie others. He did several things well: threw the ball
quickly and decisively, anticipated receivers getting open, and showed poise
running the offense. He also turned the ball over twice – nearly more – had
some issues with his accuracy, and still needs to adjust to the speed of the game.

That said, you can only take so much from the kid’s debut,
particularly coming off the bench cold after taking limited reps since
preseason ended. This is a much better opportunity for Foles, who worked with
the first-team offense all week, and thus was able to prepare as the starter.

Which of course does not mean anybody should expect the
Arizona product to come in and play lights out football right away, instantly
proving he is the Eagles’ quarterback of the future. The evaluation process is
going to take weeks, if we are even able to tell at all before season’s end. There
will be bumps in the road, and it’s important not to treat every throw as if
the Super Bowl were on the line.

But the Redskins are the perfect opening act. Washington
owns the league’s 30th ranked pass defense, 29th overall.
Injuries have claimed their best pass rusher, Brian Orakpo, and decimated their
safety corps – even if Brandon Meriweather returns to the secondary today as
anticipated, he’s on to his third team, and hasn’t played yet this season.

Obviously Foles will have his chance to attack the Redskins’
secondary. After all, it’s not like Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are going to
adjust the offense to feature more of LeSean McCoy – especially when they see
Washington is ranked seventh against the run.

Nor can you count on Philly’s defense coming to the offense’s
aid. The Eagles have been an absolute mess since Todd Bowles took over following
the bye week, and look like they’ve got a lot of quit in ‘em. They face an
immense challenge today in rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.

Don’t think Vick when you say RG3 just because the
second-overall pick in this year’s draft can also run. He’s an accomplished
passer as well, completing 65.6% of his attempts for 1,993 yards, throwing eight
touchdowns to three picks, all of which is good for a 93.9 efficiency rating. Those
numbers have come largely with a cast of misfits for wide receivers, but help
is on the way. Pierre Garcon has missed all but three games this year, but
Griffin’s most dangerous target could return today.

But Griffin can run, too, a big reason why the Skins have
the second-ranked rushing offense in football. He’s already racked up 529 yards
and six scores on the ground. However, RG3 is not even Washington’s scariest
ball carrier. Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris has been punishing tacklers with
his 5-9, 218-lbs. frame, gaining 4.8 yards a pop on his way to 793 yards so
far.

All of which means Foles will probably need to put points on
the board today to give the Eagles a chance to win, both of which they’ve
struggled to do all season. He won’t be coddled by a strong offensive line, nor
hidden with a power rushing attack. He’ll be operating the 29th-ranked
scoring offense in the NFL.

In other words: good luck, kid.

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Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.