So What Was and Was Not a Big Deal in Eagles' Sunday Night Loss to Falcons?

So What Was and Was Not a Big Deal in Eagles' Sunday Night Loss to Falcons?

Not all losses are created equal. There are losses in which one team gets plain outplayed in practically every aspect of the game, and never really has a chance at winning. Then there are losses in which two teams match up fairly close with one another, and the final score comes down to the bounce of a ball, or a timely big play. Sunday night was the latter.

The Eagles lost. Even though they did a ton of things extremely well, they also executed poorly on enough plays that it wound up costing them the game. Their uneven performance isn't even that shocking given the sloppy outing they had a week ago, only last night, they were facing an opponent who was poised to take advantage of the many mistakes.

As is usually the case in any hard-fought battle that was given away, some of what happened on the field was a disturbing trend. Then again, some of it was a temporary lapse in concentration, or plain misfortune. After the jump, we'll explain which matters are likely to rear their ugly heads in the future, and which ones we need to forget about as quickly as possible.

Michael Vick's Concussion
On a positive note, Vick was much more efficient throwing the football on Sunday compared to a week ago. On the down side, he got injured. Who had Week 2 in the pool?

It's difficult to make the point this is not a big deal. Concussions are serious business, and there is a good chance Vick will miss a minimum of one game. At best, he's probably a coin flip for the Giants.

Having said that, he was hurt on a freak play. Of all the hits he's taken and will take in the future, shots from his own teammates are the kind I am least worried about. The other tiny bit of good news is Mike Kafka was actually impressive, and Vince Young could be available as well. Their depth lessens the loss of a Vick in the short term.

Of course, we also have no idea as to the severity of Vick's concussion at this point. Maybe he plays Sunday, maybe he misses one game. Maybe he misses a bunch. Until we find out exactly to what extent Vick is injured, it's not wise to conclude one way or another about its gravity. INCOMPLETE DATA

Turnovers
Much of Vick's success last season was predicated on his going the first half of the season without committing a single turnover. Not coincidentally, when he gave it away seven times in the final six games, suddenly they were a .500 team getting bounced out of a post-season bye, needing a miracle to defeat a division rival, and ultimately seeing their season end much too early.

The issue does not look like it's going away any time soon. Vick turned it over three times, and even if you erase the first fumble which wasn't his fault, the other two were bad. The fumble while scrambling toward the end of the first half cost them an opportunity to at least attempt a reasonable field goal, maybe even sneak six, while the interception in the third quarter was simply a terrible decision, whether the defender actually picked it off or not. (More on that a little further down.)

Add in a lost fumble against the Rams last week, and the giveaways are really starting to pile up. In the NFL, you have to win the turnover battle, period. Vick needs to be better at protecting the ball, period. VERY BIG DEAL

Dropped Passes
Jeremy Maclin's drop to kill the Eagles' best shot at retaking the lead late in the fourth quarter was certainly the most memorable, but far from the only one. DeSean Jackson dropped a touchdown. Jason Avant and Brent Celek dropped first down passes. It was an epidemic on Sunday night, and almost every one of them hurt.

Jackson and Celek letting a few get away is nothing new. Maclin and Avant, on the other hand, is slightly more out of the ordinary. Even though Maclin torched the Atlanta secondary for 173 yards, when every one of the primary receivers has a key drop, it's a concern. Unfortunately, you just have to take the good with the bad to a certain extent. SORT OF A BIG DEAL

Offensive Line
I was surprised to see anybody thought they were the issue on Sunday night. Peria Jerry was allowed to walk into the backfield to force Vick's first fumble, but other than that one play, they were solid. They opened holes, and gave quarterbacks time to operate. Don't believe me? McCoy averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and the Falcons recorded zero sacks.

I suppose if this group isn't perfect, somebody is going to assume it's a problem area. They still have to eliminate those awful negative plays, but for the majority of the night, this group got the job done. NOT A BIG DEAL

Defense
The next two sections will detail specific areas of the defense, but first let's look at the group as a whole. Specifically, the Falcons first three touchdown drives all began in Eagles territory--two following turnovers, another after a short punt.

That doesn't mean the defense should give up a touchdown every time either. The Falcons reached paydirt all five times they took the ball inside the red zone, and both of their scoring drives in the fourth quarter went 80 yards.

However, it wasn't an all-around terrible effort. The Eagles caused tons of negative plays, harassing Matt Ryan in the pocket, keeping Turner in the backfield most of the night, and conceding nothing to their wide receivers.

If the crazy offensive numbers around the league are any indication, conditioning appears it may be an issue after the lockout, which favors the offense. The Birds may have run out of juice at the end, contributing to the big plays that led to Atlanta's fourth quarter comeback. The defense doesn't deserve a pass, as we'll reveal in a moment, but there were enough positives to take away that it wasn't completely horrendous either. NOT TOO BIG OF A DEAL... YET

Run Defense
Remove Michael Turner's game-busting 61-yard run from the equation, and the Pro Bowl runner carried 20 times for 54 yards, good for merely 2.7 yards a pop. Even a large portion of those yards (40) came on a handful of nice runs in the first quarter. The rest of the night, Turner was frequently bottled up in his own backfield or for no gain.

Overall, it was not a bad night defending one of the league's most powerful ball carriers. Unfortunately, once he gets going, he can be a load, and that huge gainer changed the complexion of the game. We can't pretend it didn't happen, but we also should not discount how well they defended him the other three quarters. Still, they need to have a complete game against the run before we deflect blame too much, so for now... SORT OF A BIG DEAL

Covering The Tight End
The linebacker everybody seemed to be least concerned about entering this season was Jamar Chaney, but he got schooled in this one. It wasn't just him. The safeties were of no use as well against future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, but when Chaney was moved from his natural position in the middle to strongside linebacker, the thinking was he had the athleticism to keep up with tight ends. Well, Gonzalez is pushing 40 years old, and it just wasn't happening here.

Frankly, this is scary, mostly because there are no obvious solutions. Worse, teams will more readily expose this flaw than ever with the inability of wide receivers to consistently find openings against the Eagles' all-world corners. The biggest takeaway from this game should be they still have major issues in this aspect, and Juan Castillo desperately needs to find a way or the play
er to lock it up. BIG, BIG DEAL

Challenges/Clock Management
First, the challenge that wasn't. In hindsight, it's easy to say the Eagles should have challenged Vick's interception, because it did in fact hit the turf. However, it did not appear any of the players on the field were emphatically indicating the ball was trapped, and none of the initial replays provided an angle that would merit a challenge. Indeed, Andy Reid said after the game they did not have a look.

With that in mind, I'm not sure how angry anybody should be. It's a situation where the head coach is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. If Reid challenges on a gamble and it turns out to be a clean play, you are complaining about how he blew it again.

As for the usage of timeouts when the offense had the ball late in the game, my guess is that was so Reid could talk to his quarterback in crucial 3rd and 8 and 4th and 4 situations. Let's not forget, this was Kafka's first meaningful game experience ever in the NFL. It's not necessarily a bad idea to take some time and make sure everybody is on the same page.

It is what it is. Reid has made enough truly disastrous errors in the past, his infamy has taken on a life of its own, to the point where the man can't call a timeout in any situation without at least one person questioning its use. In this case, it's awfully easy to be an armchair QB, but you also have to consider the realities of the position. NOT A BIG DEAL

Overall
Let's look at the big picture. The Eagles were on the road, against a team that won 13 games last season, who are now 21-5 in the Georgia Dome since 2008. The Falcons were embarrassed last week, and desperate not to fall in an 0-2 hole.

The Eagles scored 31 points on offense, and that was without Vick for over a quarter of action. The defense, except for one lapse, showed marked improvement against the run, and successfully blanketed one of the best wide receivers in the game.

There were a lot of positives here, marred by a few huge negatives. Nobody is happy after a loss, but they dominated in several phases. The Falcons just needed it more on Sunday night, and were able to take advantage of the plays Philly left on the field. It happens, and as long as some of these mistakes can be corrected, the Eagles should continue looking like a serious contender, even when they wind up holding the short end of the stick. Losing in Week 2: NOT A BIG DEAL.

Today's Lineup: Rupp and Franco out, Howard, Ruiz in

Today's Lineup: Rupp and Franco out, Howard, Ruiz in

Going for the series win today, Pete Mackanin has shaken up the lineup.

Maikel Franco is still out. After taking a pitch off the wrist on Friday, Franco was listed as day to day with a sore wrist (see story). Andres Blanco will again hit and play third.

Both Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz crack the lineup today. Ruiz has caught Vince Velasquez just once this season, a five inning shutout with 10 strikeouts vs. the Marlins on May 17. 

Ruiz replaced Cameron Rupp in the third inning of Saturday's game as a precaution after Rupp took a pitch off the helmet. (see story)

After being on fire for much of the past month, Peter Bourjos has posted consecutive 0 for 5 nights in the leadoff spot. He will drop down to ninth today, allowing another hot hitter, Cesar Hernandez to hit leadoff.

Odubel Herrara will remain in the two-spot, where he has looked resurgent in this series, going 6 for 9 with four runs scored. 

Much like Bourjos, Cody Asche has not yet recorded a hit in this series and will be lowered to the seven-hole, while Freddy Galvis will hit sixth.

Velasquez takes the mound for the Phillies today. In his four starts since returning from a biceps injury in early June, Velasquez has been arguably the team's best pitcher. In those starts, the flamethrower has been going deeper into ball games than earlier this season, averaging six innings per start, while allowing just five runs during that span. 

Here is today's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Odubel Herrara CF
3. Andres Blanco 3B
4. Ryan Howard 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz C
6. Freddy Galvis SS
7. Coday Asche LF
8. Peter Bourjos RF
9. Vince Velasquez P

Reuben Frank's way-too-early 2016 Eagles predictions

Reuben Frank's way-too-early 2016 Eagles predictions

Will offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce bounce back from disappointing seasons? Who will the Eagles’ top cornerback be? How many games will Carson Wentz start? Will the Eagles win a playoff game for the first time since 2008?

We take our best shot at these questions and many others facing the Eagles in our way-too-early 2016 predictions.

See you in the comments section!

1. I’ll start with Zach Ertz. He caught 75 passes for 853 yards last year, but I feel like he can do so much more. Sam Bradford and Ertz really clicked late last season, connecting 35 times for 450 yards the last four games of the year. Nobody can keep that up for an entire season, but I think this is finally the huge breakout season we’ve been expecting from Ertz since he got here in 2013.

THE PREDICTION: 90 catches for 1,089 yards.

2. Staying on offense, much has been made of Kelce’s sub-par season in 2015. It was strange to see Kelce, coming off a Pro Bowl season, apparently healthy and in the prime of his career, struggle the way he did. But I still think Kelce is an elite center. Yeah, he’s a little undersized, but he was undersized when he dominated in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl in 2014. He succeeds when he keeps his technique and uses his strength and leverage to overcome his lack of bulk. I think Kelce returns to form.

THE PREDICTION: A second Pro Bowl in three years for Kelce.

3. Sticking with the offensive line, I see Jason Peters also rebounding in 2016. Nobody benefited less than Peters from Chip Kelly’s full-speed, non-stop practices. His body broke down and when he was healthy enough to start, he often wasn’t healthy enough to finish. He made another Pro Bowl, but it was really a lost season for Peters. But with the hurry-up offense gone and a head coach who promises to take it easy on the older guys the way Reid did, there’s no reason Peters shouldn’t rebound.

THE PREDICTION: Peters returns to form and continues his late-career Hall of Fame push with his ninth Pro Bowl in 10 years, the only exception being the 2012 season he missed while rehabbing his torn Achilles.

4. I know he’s No. 3 now, but I’m just going on common sense, which says that if Sam Bradford gets hurt or gets benched, Carson Wentz and not Chase Daniel will replace him. Imagine if it’s Week 13 and Bradford hobbles off the field and Daniel – who has one career touchdown pass in six NFL seasons – jogs out to replace him? It would not be pretty. I say Wentz starts the last four games this year and plays fairly well.

THE PREDICTION: Wentz completes 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

5. I think Jordan Matthews is a good, solid, functional NFL wide receiver, but I don’t think there is a star in this wide receiver group. The Eagles last year were the only NFL team with just one wide receiver with 30 receptions, the first time that’s happened in 26 years (Cris Carter was the only one in 1989). And honestly, I don’t see the situation improving that much. Maybe Nelson Agholor or Josh Huff or Rueben Randle will surprise me, but I just feel like this wide receiving corps doesn’t have the oomph it needs to really compete at a high level.

THE PREDICTION: Matthews catches another 80 to 90 passes but nobody else emerges as a big-time second wide receiving threat, and the Eagles once again go into the offseason desperate for an over-the-top threat like DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin.

6. Moving to defense, I think when all is said and done, Eric Rowe will emerge as the Eagles’ No. 1 cornerback. I wonder about Leodis McKelvin’s ability at 31 years old to run the way a corner has to in a division with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant. Think of some Eagles corners who were 31 and older. Nnamdi. Charles Dimry. Roynell Young and Herm Edwards at the end. The only one who played at a high level at that age was Troy Vincent, and Leodis McKelvin is not Troy Vincent. I think Rowe will have his ups and downs, but, by the end of the year, he’ll be a solid NFL starter.

THE PREDICTION: Rowe leads the Eagles with five interceptions.

7. The Eagles have a lot of different guys who can rush the passer, and in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, there should be plenty of opportunities for them to attack the quarterback. Two years ago, Connor Barwin had 14 ½ sacks and Vinny Curry had 9 and last year Fletcher Cox had 9 ½ sacks and Brandon Graham had a career-high 6 ½. Now, this is a new world, with a 4-3 defense, and nobody is quite sure how all the pieces will fit together. But I do think the Eagles will be among the NFL leaders in sacks.

THE PREDICTION: The Eagles had 37 sacks last year and averaged just 41 during the Bill Davis Era, but I say they get 50 this year, which they’ve only done once since 2003 – in 2011 under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

8. I’m less confident in the back seven, and I’m not convinced the Eagles have solved their pass defense issues. We’ve seen a lot of new faces come and go over the years – from DRC and Nnamdi to Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher – with nothing really changing. The Eagles are the only team in NFL history to allow 25 or more touchdown passes in seven straight years (after not allowing 25 passing TDs since 1989). Malcolm Jenkins is a beast, but a lot of question marks surround him in the defensive backfield.

THE PREDICTION: The Eagles extend their NFL record of allowing at least 25 touchdown passes to eight straight seasons.

9. This group of linebackers scares me. I feel like Mychal Kendricks has a ton of talent, but don’t think he’s ever put together the type of full season he’s capable of. I love what Jordan Hicks did the first half of last year, but I wonder if he can come close to repeating that or if he can stay healthy. Nigel Bradham? Not sure what he brings to the table. And behind that group there’s guys like Najee Goode, Deontae Skinner and Travis Long. There’s talent here, but it’s a precarious group.

THE PREDICTION: By the end of the season, only one of those three linebackers will still be in the starting lineup.

10. It’s silly to make a prediction for the season now, before we even know who’s on the team. But I’m going to do that anyway. I don’t think they’re that bad. But I don’t think they’re that good. I’m a Wentz guy and don’t think the Eagles are really going to accomplish anything substantial until Wentz is behind center. That said, I like Bradford more than most people. I think he’s an adequate NFL starter. But I don’t like his TD-INT ratio and don’t think he can generate enough points against good teams to get the Eagles beyond mediocre. I think the Eagles are missing the elite offensive weapons and defensive playmakers to be a playoff team. In this division, who knows? If the Eagles can go 4-2 in the division and scratch out five wins in their 10 games out of the gate, it could be enough to win the NFC East. But ultimately, I think they’ll fall short. Too many question marks. Too many areas that just aren’t good enough. Too many unknowns with Doug Pederson. The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game in seven years and I fear that number will increase to eight this year.

THE PREDICTION: Eagles go 7-9 this year and finish two games behind the Redskins in the NFC East.

Phillies-Pirates 5 things: Young flamethrowers duel in rubber match

Phillies-Pirates 5 things: Young flamethrowers duel in rubber match

Phillies (45-54) vs. Pirates (50-47)
1:35 p.m. on CSN

A poor start from Aaron Nola gave the Pirates the second game of this three-game set, so the series comes down to Sunday. Both teams will toss out one of their top young pitchers with Vince Velasquez going for the Phillies and Jameson Taillon for the Pirates. 

Five things to know before the Sunday afternoon tilt.

1. Re-examining the Phillies bullpen
With a week to go before the trade deadline, let's take a look at how the Phillies' bullpen has performed before it may lose a piece or two by Aug. 1. 

Over the last 30 days, the bullpen as a whole has been middle of the pack, ranking 17th in MLB with a 4.19 ERA but third in baseball with a 3.18 FIP (fielding-independent pitching). That indicates that the 'pen has done a good job of limiting walks and home runs while striking out enough batters and may just be the victim of bad batted ball luck.

In fact, the bullpen has the second-best walk rate (2.22 per nine innings) in MLB over the last month while it is sixth with a HR rate of 0.74 per nine inning. Could the bullpen be getting better and just need some better luck on balls in play? 

Now to the individual players. The three most intriguing players on the trade market are closer Jeanmar Gomez, set-up man Hector Neris and middle reliever David Hernandez. 

Gomez and Neris appear to have taken legitimate steps forward this year. Gomez has a 2.13 ERA over his last 12 games, spanning 12 2/3 innings. Neris meanwhile has a 2.31 ERA in his last 12 games and has struck out over one batter an inning during that span, continuing to excel with his splitter.

Hernandez, signed to possibly take the closer role in the offseason, hasn't quite hit the stride some would have hoped for. He has struck out 11 batters over his last 10 innings, but he has given up nine hits and six walks during that time, allowing more than 1.5 baserunners per inning. 

Edubray Ramos has been used a fair amount over the last four weeks, making 12 appearances. He has a high ERA to show for it (5.06) however despite showing good overall stuff.

2. Pitching duel of the future?
Both the Pirates and Phillies send two potential righty aces to the mound Sunday in hopes of taking the rubber match of the mid-July series. First, a look into Jameson Taillon, who the Pirates drafted 2nd overall in the 2010 MLB draft.

Once a top 10 prospect in all of baseball, Taillon missed all of 2014 and 2015 with Tommy John surgery and a sports hernia, respectively. The 24-year-old made his MLB debut in June and has become a solid part of the Pirates' rotation.

In his short time in the majors, he's made six starts, going 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA. He's walked just five batters in 34 innings. However, he's also given up four home runs and 35 hits. 

Similar to Saturday's starter, Tyler Glasnow, Taillon is a tall righty who can throw the ball in the upper 90s. At 6-foot-5, he's can be overpowering while bringing a strong curveball that he utilizes as his main off-speed pitch.

Opposing Taillon is arguably the Phillies' best starter this year. Velasquez was drafted in the second round of that same 2010 draft. As he has all season, he continues to overpower hitters with his velocity and repertoire, fanning 98 batters this year. His 3.15 ERA and eight wins are best among the Phillies' young starters.

His last start was his fourth since returning from the disabled list, and he has allowed two or fewer runs in each start. He allowed just one run to the Marlins on Tuesday, giving up three hits and four walks in seven innings. Pitching deep into games like he did vs. Miami is the next frontier for the 24-year-old flamethrower.

3. Appreciating Tommy Joseph's July
Since he was called up for his debut in May, Tommy Joseph has shown flashes of brilliance with the bat. 

However, June was rough for the rookie. He batted just .204 and walked just two times while striking out in 23 of his 96 plate appearances. Sure, he hit five home runs, but when he wasn't hitting for power, he was doing little else.

That has changed in his 15 games this July. He's already hit five homers in just over half the plate appearances and walked six times. The walks are key. He's never been one to draw all that many walks even in the minors, so it shows he may be taking another step in his development. 

In all, he has 17 hits and 10 runs scored in just 44 at-bats and 12 starts this month. He's raised his average to .264 and has a slugging percentage of .529.

He has not only shown that he can mash, which was already an assumption, but also that he can work at-bats and make things happen even when the ball isn't leaving the yard. He's looking more and more like building block.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Cesar Hernandez has quietly hit over .300 in June and July, hitting single after single near the bottom of the order. His two hits and two RBIs pushed the Phillies ahead early in Saturday's loss.

Pirates: Josh Harrison, the opposing second baseman, has had the opposite situation in the last two months. After batting over .325 in April and May, he's hit .218 or worse in the last two months. His season average is down to .270 and his OPS is just .673.

5. This and that
• David Freese has the only prior plate appearance against Velasquez. He's 0 for 1 against him. No Phillies, as one could guess, have at-bats against Taillon in the majors.

• The Phillies haven't won a series against the Pirates since 2013. 

• Pirates closer Mark Melancon has a 1.10 ERA against the Phillies in 15 career appearances. It's his second best ERA against a team he's faced at least 10 times. (He has a 0.63 ERA against the Marlins in 16 games).