The Eagles, Matt Cassel and the unpredictability of the NFL

The Eagles, Matt Cassel and the unpredictability of the NFL

Over the course of a season, there are always going to be weeks that remind us we can never be too sure about anything in the NFL. A club that’s won five straight loses to an inferior opponent missing its best player. A defense that’s held nine consecutive teams to 21 points or less gets tagged for 48 by a replacement-level quarterback.

The Philadelphia Eagles are neither immune to that phenomenon nor different from anybody else. This season alone, we’ve seen Nick Foles tie a league record with seven touchdown passes in a game, and we’ve seen him complete a putrid 37 percent of his passes in another, which are the kind of unexplainable highs and lows that still leave people scratching their head.

So in many ways, Sunday was just another day in the NFL, in that all it took was 60 minutes against the 4-9-1 Minnesota Vikings to challenge our carefully-constructed perceptions about this Eagles squad, their defense in particular.

The Vikings. With reigning MVP Adrian Peterson and a litany of key players out with injuries. With Matt Cassel under center.

Cassel has a pedestrian 83.1 passer rating over a nine-year career. Last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, he committed twice as many turnovers (19) than he had games played (9). He hadn’t thrown for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a game since 2010. In fact, Cassel has thrown for over 300 yards in just eight of his 66 career starts; he’s thrown for less than 100 yards eight times—nine including playoffs.

The guy was an undrafted player who wasn’t even the starting quarterback in college. His claim to fame is quarterbacking a New England Patriots team with Randy Moss and Wes Welker to a 10-5 record, then bilking the Chiefs out of a ton of money for four years.

None of that mattered this week though. Cassel was in command from the outset, completing his first nine passes. One of those was a 57-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings, one the most flawless deep balls anybody has completed all season, eluding the pass rush to hit the wide receiver in stride over the top of the defense.

Cassel was unflappable in the face of pressure all afternoon, getting rid of the football quickly or standing tall in the pocket with a defender in his face to deliver a strike when the situation called for it. He was precise, completing 74 percent of his passes. He was prolific, going for 11 yards per attempt en route to 382 total. He was efficient, limiting mistakes to three sacks and one interception off of a tipped pass.

And he did it all without much help from the running game. Matt Asiata managed to punch the ball into the end zone three times from the goal line, but when the dust had settled, the third-string back had averaged just 1.7 yards on 30 carries. According to's Reuben Frank, his 51 yards were the second-lowest total ever for a player with 30 attempts.

Maybe this game was more about Matt Cassel than it was the Eagles’ woeful secondary. Sure, they played poorly, but the same unit held the likes of Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Matt Stafford in check over the previous nine games—not exactly a murderer’s row, but all capable of posting a nice line.

Likewise, the same defense that allowed Jennings (11 REC, 163 YDS, 1 TD) to go over the century mark for the first time this season has handled the likes of Vincent Jackson, Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson this season.

After the game, even Chip Kelly conceded "Cassel was on fire."

For that matter, maybe the Vikings didn’t get enough credit coming into the contest. People looked at the record, the injuries—in addition to AP, the backup running back, the no. 1 tight end, a starting offensive lineman and their top three cornerbacks were all out—and, of course, Cassel, and assumed the Eagles should win in a walk.

Except nobody has won in a walk in Minnesota lately. The Vikings are 3-2-1 over their last six games. They’re legitimately tough.

Call this a trap game if you must, and yes, cornerback and safety will need to be addressed by the front office this coming offseason, for depth at the very least. But perhaps more than anything else, the Eagles’ collapse against the Vikings was simply brought about by an incredible individual performance from an unlikely source. It wouldn’t be the first time, and the way the NFL works, it won’t be the last.

Penn routs Yale, 42-7, behind Alek Torgersen's four TDs


Penn routs Yale, 42-7, behind Alek Torgersen's four TDs

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Alek Torgersen threw four touchdown passes, three to Justin Watson, and Penn rolled to a 42-7 victory over Yale in the first night game in Yale Bowl history.

Torgersen completed 16 of 23 passes for 229 yards and rushed for 66 yards. Watson had 10 receptions for 166 yards with touchdowns covering 5, 41 and 35 yards.

Torgersen moved into a tie for second with 47 career TD passes and Watson moved into fourth in career receptions (161) and touchdowns (17) for the Quakers (4-2, 3-0 Ivy Leauge).

Tre Solomon rushed for 120 yards, seven shy of the career high he set a week earlier, on 15 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run, for Penn, which won its fourth straight. Cameron Countryman had a 10-yard touchdown reception and Karekin Brooks had a 13-yard run for his first career touchdown.

Penn, which led 35-0 at halftime, finished with 508 yards and held the Bulldogs (1-5, 1-2) to 229.

Instant Replay: Temple 46, South Florida 30

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Instant Replay: Temple 46, South Florida 30


Despite some hiccups along the road this season, Temple is now right where it planned on being to start 2016: atop the American Athletic Conference East Division.

Temple turned the tables on run-oriented South Florida to gash the Bulls for 319 yards rushing (210 coming from Ryquell Armstead) in a 46-30 win at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night.

The Owls (5-3, 3-1 AAC) avenged last season’s blowout with the win and, more importantly, moved into a first-place tie in the conference’s East Division. With back-to-back victories over South Florida and Central Florida, Temple now holds tiebreakers over the two closest teams in the East standings.

South Florida (6-2, 3-1 AAC) had its three-game winning streak snapped.

Turning point
After falling behind 23-20 on a quick three-play, 84-yard touchdown drive, the Owls’ defense looked like it might allow the floodgates to open for good.

However, Temple’s offense picked up the D by scoring in just three plays of its own. Jahad Thomas and Isaiah Wright churned out big runs before Armstead broke free around the right side for a 42-yard touchdown.

Even with South Florida getting good field position on the next possession thanks to a taunting penalty by Armstead, the Owls’ defense was able to pick up on the momentum. The unit forced a three-and-out and then blocked the ensuing punt to get the ball back at the Bulls’ 20-yard line.

Two plays later, Thomas scampered into the end zone from nine yards out to give Temple a double-digit lead.

Big men on campus
Armstead did the heavy lifting for Temple. He racked up 20 carries for 210 yards, to become the 10th back in school history to reach the 200-yard rushing plateau. He ran in scores from 76 yards and 42 yards out. The 76-yarder was TU’s eighth-longest touchdown run in school history. 

Jahad Thomas increased his streak of two-TD games to six with a pair of rushing scores in the second half.

Phillip Walker was efficient for the Owls as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 209 yards with one TD and zero interceptions.

Ventell Bryant had five catches for 115 yards to top the 100-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career.

Linebacker Stephaun Marshall led Temple with eight tackles while Delvon Randall had seven tackles and an interception. Averee Robinson had a pair of sacks for the Owls and Romond Deloatch tacked on a sack for a safety.

For USF, the dynamic duo of quarterback Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack combined for 377 total yards and four touchdowns.

Inside the box score
• Matt Rhule improved his all-time record to 23-23 with the win.

• Temple moved to 4-1 at Lincoln Financial Field this season.

• South Florida had won nine straight AAC East Division games prior to Friday night.

• USF entered the game ranked eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (268.4). The Bulls were held to 165 against Temple.

• Praise Martin-Oguike blocked an extra point to give him an NCAA-leading five blocked kicks in his career.

Friday’s game marked the third all-time matchup between the two schools.

South Florida rolled to a 44-23 win over then-ranked No. 22 Temple last season, while TU took the first-ever meeting, 37-28, back in 2012.

Commish chats
The Big 12 Conference announced earlier this week that it would no longer be seeking teams for possible expansion.

That decision certainly wasn’t made for a lack of effort as over a dozen schools were rumored to be potential expansion candidates, including American Athletic Conference programs Houston, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Tulane.

The possibility of an AAC team defecting to a Power 5 conference didn’t bother Commissioner Mike Aresco. For him, it’s all good publicity for the up-and-coming American.

“It spoke volumes about the fact that our schools are the ones that everybody looked at in terms of being in a P5 (Power 5 conference) and we were the schools that the Big 12 looked at for the most part,” Aresco said before Friday’s Temple-South Florida game at Lincoln Financial Field. “The majority of our schools and at times it almost seemed like it was virtually all of our schools and exclusively our schools.

“The truth is, that really gave us the kind of publicity and attention and a lot of it was good. Our schools are good schools and we played well. Houston had the big win in the meantime against Oklahoma. That was priceless publicity. We probably haven’t gotten that kind of branding and recognition nationally any other way.”

What’s next?
Temple will be back at the Linc next Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. matchup against Cincinnati.

South Florida returns home next Friday for a big tilt against No. 24 Navy.