Top to Bottom, Eagles' Offense Is Offensive in Victory

Top to Bottom, Eagles' Offense Is Offensive in Victory

Michael Vick chucked four interceptions on Sunday, but spent a good portion of the afternoon running for his life. LeSean McCoy lost a fumble, although 54 yards from scrimmage were called back on penalties. Jeremy Maclin piled up 96 yards receiving and a touchdown, yet he too drew the hanky and later dropped the potential game winner. The offensive line struggled to keep an aggressive Browns pass rush out of the backfield, and still Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg opted for a run-pass ratio close to 3:1.

No one individual can shoulder all of the blame for the pitiful offensive effort that hangs over the Eagles' 17-16 win over Cleveland. Almost every player in the huddle had a hand in this stinker, with the coaching staff sharing plenty of responsibility in what became a proverbial perfect storm. The complete lack of play-calling balance, inability to consistently keep the quarterback clean, and constant shooting themselves in the foot very nearly, perhaps should have cost Philadelphia a game on Sunday.

The worst part is, there were few signs of it turning around any time soon, especially with the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens opening the Linc next week.

The problems began up front for the Eagles, as they often will. On the heels of a strong training camp to earn the job over free agent acquisition Demetress Bell, King Dunlap looked lost at left tackle. A measurable drop-off from Jason Peters was anticipated, but not only did Dunlap fail to assert himself in the running game (the second level is a mystery to this guy), his pass blocking was suspect as well while working across from journeyman defensive end Frostee Rucker for much of the day.

While Dunlap certainly didn't do a thing to win over skeptics, the returning linemen weren't a whole heckuva lot better. Pass protection was generally poor, particularly in the first half, and literally the only guy whose name was not called for at least one holding penalty was Todd Herremans. The unit improved as the game wore on, but it's tough to suggest with any confidence that we've seen the last of these problems.

Naturally the instability in front of Vick contributed to a subpar outing under center. No. 7 was sharp in fleeting moments, completing 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards and two scores, including the game winner with 1:18 remaining. He also made plays with his feet when he had to, buying precious seconds and scrambling four times for 28 yards. Those numbers along with the majority of his big plays were overshadowed by the four picks though, one of which was returned for the six points that handed the Browns a fourth-quarter lead in the first place.

That interception, and another that preceded it, had absolutely nothing to do with the pass rush. Vick twice had a comfortable pocket, made a bad read, and proceeded to throw right into coverage. Can't put those on anybody but the quarterback. It's hard to give him a pass for the pair he coughed up on the run, either -- once slinging across his body, another side-armed out of the intended target's reach. What's more, the Browns left others on the field, including just one play prior to Harbor's clutch grab.

Vick's seeming regression was more difficult to comprehend given that Cleveland was able to create much of the confusion by employing some of the same old tricks that have proven to rattle the erratic passer in the past. The Browns brought additional pressure by blitzing, often from a familiar area too -- the secondary. The hope was with his first full offseason as the starter in Reid's system, Vick might learn to cope when the defense sends extra rushers, but it still appeared to be a blind spot on Sunday.

Some of Vick's issues quite honestly may stem from missing so much action during the preseason. He participated in all of 12 snaps thanks to injuries, so there was concern in advance of kickoff that he might not be ready to hit the ground running. Afterwards Reid admitted Vick was probably rusty, and he eventually led the team on 16-play, 91-yard march to victory, so as a fan you can only hope everything else about his performance blows over.

As awful as both Vick and the offensive line were for stretches, the game plan was easily most confusing of all. The Eagles called 60 passes compared to 23 runs (minus three kneel downs) against a defense that ranked second versus the pass compared to 30th versus the run in 2011.

The previous season's trends aside, the flow of the action dictated an adjustment, yet it only happened once the Eagles lost the lead late. When they went into the locker room for halftime, Philly was ahead 10-3, with McCoy carrying seven times for 50 yards. After Cleveland pulled within four following a pick Vick during the third quarter, the offense went three consecutive series without calling a designed run, resulting in two consecutive three-and-outs and the pick six. Suddenly trailing 16-10, McCoy was reinstated into the offense, finishing with 20 carries for 110 yards.

It could be that Reid and Mornhinweg lost faith in the running game as big gain after big gain was trailed by yellow flags, but that wasn't the official explanation. The head coach said they believed they could exploit their opponent through the air. Even if that were the case, his reasoning flies in the face of the fact that Birds' offense lacked the ability to execute a crisp passing attack on this occasion, when at least they were experiencing some success on the ground.

Not to mention the Browns could barely move the ball themselves. Cleveland's offense managed 210 yards of total offense, 12 first downs, no TDs. They couldn't find paydirt from their best starting field position of the day, at the Philadelphia 22. Not so sure there was any need to "exploit" their defense as much as there was an incentive not to turn the ball over and give the opponent extra chances.

On a positive note, play-calling balance is something that likely corrects itself. While the Eagles under Reid have been known to be pass heavy to their detriment, and will rear its ugly head from time to time, it's a problem that's become less prominent in recent years.

The state of the offensive line and Vick's progression as a pocket passer on the other hand are things that won't change merely on a whim -- bad news with the NFL's third-ranked defense from a year ago heading to town. Maybe Vick and the men charged with keeping him upright can turn it around before then, but based on what we saw in Cleveland, there are not many reasons to feel positive about that great of a transformation taking place over the course of week.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.