Potential Hang-ups in Spags to Birds

Potential Hang-ups in Spags to Birds

Now that speculation over last week's report suggesting Steve Spagnuolo was set to join the Philadelphia Eagles as their new defensive coordinator (which is not really what the report said) has quieted down some, let's look at why you might want to consider tapping the breaks on that theory. Yes, there is evidence these two are not exactly a match made in heaven.

Bare in mind, we're not saying Spags won't ultimately land with the Birds. After all, the former Jim Johnson disciple will listen to what Andy Reid has to say, and vice versa, if for no other reason than due diligence. However, the recently-terminated head coach will have plenty of options on the table, and there are reasons to believe Juan Castillo's demotion or dismissal is not a given.

Performance
We know what kind of coach Spagnuolo can be. His Giants defense led the charge for New York's 07-08 Super Bowl run, ranking seventh in the NFL, then holding one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history to 14 points in the championship game. NY also ranked fifth the following season.

That hasn't translated into recent success though. As a head coach, his Rams ranked 22nd overall this season, and second-to-last against the run. They were never better than 19th overall during his three-year tenure.

Meanwhile, in his first season coaching defense in decades, Juan Castillo's unit ranked eighth. It seems odd you would replace a coach who has a top 10 defense with somebody who hasn't coached a good defense since he was employed by another team -- which is exactly the kind of thinking that could justify returning Juan next season.

Fit with Washburn
Only a year ago, the Eagles made the unusual decision to hire a defensive line coach before settling on a defensive coordinator. That seems to be the biggest reason behind why the club couldn't find somebody more experienced than Castillo to take the job, but it made one thing perfectly clear: Andy Reid was a fan of Jim Washburn's wide-nine front.

But as Sheil Kapadia demonstrated the other day on Moving the Chains, Washburn's philosphies probably don't mesh with Spagnuolo's. This season, the Eagles rarely dropped their linemen into coverage, which was in stark contrast to the Rams, who did so with great frequency. By extension, Castillo blitzed very rarely, yet the Birds tied for the league-lead in sacks.

It's no secret that Spags, as his mentor did, loves to blitz. But by choosing Washburn, Reid indicated a desire to get away from that approach. If the two philosophies can't co-exist -- and it appears they couldn't -- the Eagles would have to scrap a scheme they previously were desperate to employ in favor of one they wanted to shift away from.

Stability
One of the underlying themes in 2011 is how all the changes made in the offseason may have impacted the Eagles' performance, particularly in the early goings. Much has been made about the way this defense gelled as the year progressed, and how that momentum could carry over into next season.

Replacing Juan Castillo would erase all of that. The players would be working in their third defensive system in as many years, which makes it challenging to build any cohesion from one season to the next. Plus, some of them might not fit in the new schemes -- notably Jason Babin, who seems to be tailor-made for the wide-nine, or likely starting cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who have three career sacks between them.

Granted, some of that talk about change having a role in their struggles was in part based around having a shortened offseason due to the lockout. That being said, there is something to be said for not making major overhauls in back-to-back offseasons.

Loyalty
A noted observation about how he conducts his business, Reid will rarely throw one of his guys under the bus. Even if he keeps Castillo on staff as a position coach, Reid would be doing the man a tremendous disservice by replacing him at defensive coordinator.

If he's fired or even demoted, Castillo could gain a negative reputation around the league. Who is going to give him another try at coordinator in the future if he was "so terrible" at his job, he couldn't even be entrusted with a second chance? Even if they find him a coordinator job on another team, he would almost definitely be on a shorter leash than most coaches.

The truth is, Castillo hasn't been given the rightful opportunity to prove himself yet, and Andy knows that. Worse things could happen than being shuffled to linebackers coach or some other, lesser role. Reid has great admiration for Castillo though, and if he's truly interested in helping him succeed, he's not going to chop the man's legs out from under him.

A Better Job Out There?
There sure are a lot of hoops for Spagnuolo to jump through here, no? To become defensive coordinator, it seems likely he'll have to keep Castillo on his staff, not to mention the issue with Washburn running a conflicting scheme. Spags might be willing to keep an open mind, but most guys want to bring in their own staff.

Previously, we examined the possibility he could return as the defensive backs coach instead. As unlikely as it sounds, he may do it for one year to help Castillo, or if he feels he could be part of something special here.

But it seems as if, either way, there will be a better job available for a coach of Spagnuolo's caliber. Here, it doesn't appear he would have complete control, and that's if the top job is even available. Elsewhere, larger shake-ups are in order, and he would be able to build his own program.

We'll see. We know a lot of folks are convinced it's happening, but Steve Spagnuolo's path back to the Birds is not as clear cut as people are making it out to be.

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS -- New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power -- and dominant on the inside -- the U.S. men's basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"There's a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "These are very good guys."

A U.S. team that hasn't lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

"Nothing is for sure," Durant said. "We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way."

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

"Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world," Argentina's Luis Scola said. "That's a big difference in their favor."

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren't any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

"The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be," Krzyzewski said. "But we really have an inside presence on the boards."

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony -- the only two players from the 2012 team -- to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green's 12 minutes the least played by any American.

"We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves," Anthony said. "If it's not fun it's not worth it. We're going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we're going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal."

Durant finished as the game's high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

NEW YORK -- Giants Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford made three errors for the first time in his career, with his wild throw in the eighth inning giving the New York Yankees a 3-2 win Friday night that sent San Francisco to its season-worst sixth straight loss.

The Giants held the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, but haven't won since. They also lost catcher Buster Posey, who fouled a ball off his right foot and left with a bruise. X-rays were negative and he was listed as day to day.

Masahiro Tanaka shut out San Francisco for six innings, giving up four singles. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner went seven innings, allowing two runs.

The Giants nicked Dellin Betances in the seventh, pulling within 2-1 on a walk, a double by Denard Span and a wild pitch. That ended a streak of 31 scoreless innings by Yankees relievers.

A double by Giants pinch-hitter Mac Williamson off Andrew Miller (6-1) tied it in the eighth.

But the Yankees bounced back for the fifth win in six games, and didn't need to hit the ball hard to do it (see full recap).

Kemp homers twice in Padres' victory
WASHINGTON -- Matt Kemp homered twice and drove in four runs, rookie Luis Perdomo pitched seven solid innings and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

Kemp hit a solo shot in the first inning and gave San Diego the lead for good with a three-run homer in the fifth. He has six homers in his last six games and the Padres have homered in 20 straight, the longest streak in the National League this season.

Perdomo (4-4) gave up two first-inning runs, then limited the National to two hits over the final six innings of his longest outing. Brandon Maurer pitched 1 1/3 innings for his fourth save.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy homered for Washington. The Nationals have lost four of five.

Tanner Roark (9-6) turned in his shortest outing since June 5, lasting just five innings. He allowed five runs on four hits and surrendered two homers in a game for the first time this season (see full recap).

Fowler sparks Cubs' win over Brewers in return
MILWAUKEE -- Dexter Fowler led off the first with a homer and drove in three runs in his first game back from the disabled list, powering the Chicago Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night.

Fowler went 3 for 4 with a walk and scored twice after being sidelined more than a month with a strained right hamstring. His two-run double to left with the bases loaded in the second drew rousing cheers from the bevy of Cubs fans visiting Milwaukee.

Jason Hammel (9-5) allowed four hits and two runs over five-plus innings for his second victory since the All-Star break for NL Central-leading Chicago. He never trailed after Fowler slugged a 3-1 pitch from Jimmy Nelson (6-8) over the center-field wall to lead off the game.

Hernan Perez had a run-scoring double for the Brewers, and Ryan Braun hit a solo homer.

There were so many fans in Chicago shirts that their boos drowned out cheers from Brewers backers when Braun stepped to the plate in fourth. Braun went deep to center on the first pitch of the at-bat from Hammel for his 14th homer of the year.

Hammel departed after allowing a leadoff double to Scooter Gennett in the sixth with the Brewers trailing 4-2. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. then retired the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters in order, capped by strikeouts of Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches total (see full recap).

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Zach Eflin wasn’t the normal youth pitcher while growing up in Oviedo, Florida.

Though the lanky right-hander had the arm strength to overpower hitters, he concentrated more on pitching inside and keeping the ball low in the strike zone than trying to blow his fastball by everybody.
 
“I didn’t start throwing a slider or curveball until I was 16 or 17,” Eflin said. “I was taught at an early age that establishing the inside part of the plate allows you to throw your changeup effectively and opens things up so you can throw all your pitches. I wanted the changeup to be an effective pitch for me.”
 
The Phillies' rookie is showing in the early part of his major-league career that he learned his lessons well.
 
The 22-year-old had his best outing yet Friday night when he pitched a three-hit shutout — the first of his nascent career — to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Eflin struck out six, had no walks and used an efficient 100 pitches to notch his second complete game. He also went the distance July 5 against the Atlanta Braves when he pitched a six-hitter and threw 92 pitches.
 
“One of the most exciting things about this season has been seeing the improvement of so many of our young pitchers,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Zach has made such great strides in a short period of time.
 
“I’m happy for him. He’s a hard worker and a personable kid. He’s done a really good job.”
 
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start and is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in eight outings since being recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The consistency Eflin is showing at such a young age is quite surprising in light of getting rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto.
 
“What impressed me the most after that debacle in Toronto is that Zach came back the next day and knew exactly what he needed to do in order to be successful and that was keep the ball down,” Mackanin said. “He’s been keeping the ball down ever since.”
 
Mackanin then smiled.
 
“He’s becoming one of my favorite pitchers,” the manager said.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road. Elfin got them off on the right foot at a venue where the Phillies were a combined 0-6 during the previous two seasons.
 
“It was great to pitch a shutout, a lot of fun,” Elfin said. “Having been out on the mound in the ninth inning before really helped. I knew I could finish the game.”
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning.
 
Franco was hit in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-6). He then singled in the top of the third before undergoing X-rays that were negative.

Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Franco had his hand wrapped after the game and said he did not know if he would be able to play Saturday afternoon. The ball hit Franco in the same spot where he suffered a fracture last August that caused him to miss most of the last six weeks of the season.
 
“I was scared at first because it was sore and was getting puffy,” Franco said. “I felt better [after getting treatment], though. I think everything will be fine.”