Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Ravens with CSN Baltimore

Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Ravens with CSN Baltimore

Every week during the 2012 season we're going to hit up some of the most knowledgeable people on the Internet when it comes to the team the Philadelphia Eagles are playing that particular Sunday. This week, we have J. Michael, Ravens Insider for CSN Baltimore.

Kulp: There was a surprising amount of noise about Joe Flacco in the offseason. It's a contract year for the Audubon, NJ native, and cynics jumped on Flacco's assertion that he is not only a top-five quarterback in the NFL, he's number one. Flacco responded on Monday against Cincinnati by posting one of the best games of his career (21/29, 299 Yds, 3 TD). Is there reason to believe we are going to watch him develop into an elite quarterback in year five?

J. Michael: Flacco has a quiet, understated confidence. But he’ll tell you, he’s already there as a top five guy. He’s just not paid like one -- yet. The main thing you’ll see different this season is that now he has the weapons, particularly with Torrey Smith to stretch the field, his statistics will show it, too. He’s passing on first downs, including on first down in the red zone. That’s never happened before. They’re passing to set up the run, making the offense less predictable. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell has a lot to do with that. Flacco has a greater voice in the offense and Caldwell, who worked for years with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, has given him more confidence to meet that high bar Flacco has set for himself.

The Ravens used a third-round pick on Bernard Pierce out of Temple in April's draft. He was in for 12 snaps on Monday, spelling Ray Rice at times, and finishing the game with four carries for 19 yards. Baltimore's offense traditionally calls for 100 carries or so for whoever is behind Rice, so what can we expect out of the local product this season?

About 100 carries is on target. Coach John Harbaugh really likes Pierce. He likes his ability to run tough inside and bounce outside to get around the edge. Pierce was slowed by a hamstring injury in training camp and has yet to hit his full stride. I think he’s a few games away from showing his best form. Based on the way this offense is developing, if the Ravens can continually get early leads that’ll mean more rushing opportunities in the second half when they’re trying to just move the sticks and kill the clock. That’s where Pierce would come in.

2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles during the offseason. He is perhaps best known for his pass rushing prowess, racking up 14 sacks a season ago, but Suggs is a demon in run support and coverage as well. How did the Ravens counter his absence against Cincinnati?

The run defense was the most shaky area of the Ravens’ performance in the opener. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got 91 yards on 18 carries for Cincinnati, and if it weren’t for that huge deficit he would’ve gotten more touches and easily rushed for 125 or more.  They have replaced Suggs and Jarret Johnson, who left as a free agent to San Diego, with first-time starters Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan. Harbaugh seems convinced the problem isn’t a talent dropoff but communication and technique. If they’re able to solve tighten up the run defense – because the secondary is among the best in football – this defense can be every bit as good as last season. But that’s a big if. The run defense is going to take time to evolve. It might be too much to ask for all of those problems to be solved by Week 2.

The Eagles barely escaped rookie-laden Cleveland with a week 1 win. Meanwhile, a very well balanced Ravens team took it to the Bengals so badly they were able to get their backup QB some work in the fourth quarter. This leaves some in Philadelphia more than a little worried heading into the home opener this Sunday. Still, this is the NFL, and a lot can change in one week. If you were the Eagles, what would be the Achilles' Heel you would target on Sunday?

I’m a firm believer that what happened in the past stays there and has little to do with the future. Different teams. Different location. Different stage. Different motivation. The secondary is the strength of this defense. But given the uneven performance of the Ravens’ defense against the run I’d ground and pound them there until they prove they can stop LeSean McCoy. The Ravens’ offense wants to dictate the pace with the no-huddle and wear out Philly’s defense. Control the ball and wear them down instead. If they run the no-huddle and score quickly, the downside will be the Ravens’ defense has to return sooner than expected and face McCoy again. This will test just how much Ray Lewis, 37, has left after 14 tackles in the opener. Defensively, the Eagles must test this offensive line that has new faces in Ramon Harewood and Kelechi Osemele. They blew open holes for Rice to average 6.8 yards per carry, but the pass blocking wasn’t always as good. Flacco was sacked three times. He was almost picked off several times in part because of pressure, but the Bengals couldn’t cash in.

Over the last four years, the Ravens have in many ways resembled the early 2000s Eagles, with star-studded rosters that have successful regular seasons followed by deep playoff runs, but ultimately so far failing to get over the hump. Fans and local media soured on Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid over time. What's the vibe like in Baltimore these days, especially feelings toward Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh?

No such chance that’ll happen here. This city has a love affair with Harbaugh and Flacco. Even though he’s in a contract year, Flacco doesn’t moan or complain publicly about it. His demeanor is low profile and humble and fans realize the weapons he’s had to work with weren’t adequate over the last few years. Both of these guys are media savvy, which makes them beloved. Baltimore is a big city but has the mentality of a small market. I talked with Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, on Tuesday night and he kept saying that Flacco’s silence – and his play on the field – is all the leverage he needs. The longer the Ravens wait, the bigger the pricetag if he keeps performing like he did in the opener. GM Ozzie Newsome has yet to pick up the phone and say ‘Let’s negotiate.’ But it’ll happen before the season is out. Flacco isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Neither is Harbaugh.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.83 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there." (See story)

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Tonight's Lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's Lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

Temple football announces future series with Boston College and Duke

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Associated Press

Temple football announces future series with Boston College and Duke

Temple football starts its training camp next week, but the Owls have made another splash in the future scheduling department. This time, the opponents come from the ACC.

The program announced Friday it has agreed to future series with Boston College (2018 at BC and 2021 in Philadelphia) and Duke (2022 in Cameron, North Carolina and 2023 in Philadelphia). Temple also announced a game with Bucknell in Philadelphia in 2019 announced dates for previously confirmed future matchups with Maryland and Rutgers and 2017's season opener at Notre Dame.

The Boston College series is intriguing because it will be the renewal of an annual series from when the programs used to meet every year in Big East conference play. The Eagles hold a 28-7-2 all-time advantage over the Owls. Temple's last win against Boston College came in 1999 when the Owls earned a 24-14 victory. Of course, the matchup will be even juicier if former Temple head coach Steve Addazio is still leading Boston College in two years. But with the way the program floundered to a 3-9 record, earned just one win against an FCS program and went winless in ACC play last season and doesn't have a bright outlook this season, don't hold your breath that Addazio will be there.

The Owls have never met the Dukies on the gridiron.

Temple's non-conference slate this season includes home dates against Army (Sept. 2), Stony Brook (Sept. 10) and Charlotte (Sept. 24) and a visit to in-state rival Penn State (Sept. 17).

Friday's announcements come on the heels of an announcement earlier this month that confirmed Temple will play a three-game set with national powerhouse Oklahoma. That series is set to start in 2024.

Below is a list of dates for Temple's future games against non-conference opponents:
2017 – at Notre Dame - Sept. 2, vs. Villanova - Sept. 9, vs. UMass  - Sept. 16, at Army - Oct. 21
2018 – vs. Villanova -  Sept. 1, vs. Buffalo - Sept. 8, at Maryland - Sept. 15, at Boston College - Sept. 29
2019 – vs. Bucknell - Aug. 31, vs. Maryland - Sept. 14, at Buffalo - Sept. 21), vs. Army - Oct. 26
2020 – vs. Idaho - Sept. 12, vs. Rutgers - Sept. 19
2021 – at Rutgers - Sept. 4, vs. Boston College - Sept. 18
2022 – at Duke - Sept. 3, vs. Rutgers - Sept. 17
2023 – at Rutgers - Sept. 9, vs. Duke - Sept. 16
2024 - at Oklahoma - Aug. 31
2025 - vs. Oklahoma - Sept. 13
2028 - at Oklahoma - Sept. 2