Vince Young, Part Two

Vince Young, Part Two

As you are likely aware by now, Vince Young will make his second start in an Eagles uniform today, the level of competition becoming significantly better in round two. We're talking Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots -- winners of three Super Bowls over a four-year span. As I heard on sports talk radio over the holiday weekend, Sunday's opponent is the true gold standard in the NFL over the past decade.

VY is up to the task though. The Birds' faithful largely remain skeptical about Young's ability to quarterback a pro football team, many of them specifically questioning his talent as a passer. However, he has an opportunity to put such notions to rest versus a Pats defense that ranks 32nd in the league when it comes to defending against aerial attacks.

All things being equal, New England faces more passing attempts than most clubs. They have one of the league's most prolific offenses, which means their opponents are frequently playing catch-up, or need to chuck it just to stay in the game. The Patriots have faced the fourth-highest total of attempts, but their opponents' passer efficiency rating ranks 14th, which is still better than the majority.

Still, they are by no means great, plus they're banged up. The Pats are without CB Devin McCourty, their first-round pick in 2010, and SS Patrick Chung. They released starting safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders from a year ago. Some of the names that will be on the field in the defensive backfield are CB Kyle Arrington -- who may have seven interceptions, but was little more than a camp body for the Eagles a few years ago -- and SS Josh Barrett, a seventh-round pick by the Broncos out of Arizona State in 2008.

It's a tad thin to say the least, but shifting the focus back to Young, he certainly stands to capitalize. The rush to conclude he isn't a stellar passer is strong, yet there is plenty of evidence that's not exactly the case. Initially it seemed VY got better as last Sunday night's game against the Giants went on, but the statistics actually confirm that was the case.

Young completed 83% of his passes in the second half at the Meadowlands, going for roughly two-thirds of his yards and the game-winning score. He shook off the rust and led the offense an 18-play, nearly nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter. Of course, it was only one game, but naturally I wasn't surprised. The idea Young isn't a decent passer was debunked pretty easily over the summer by some of our own research.

Young had greatly improved during his final two seasons in Tennessee. All his vital numbers were better -- completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns-to-interceptions, even winning. He was already taking the next step in a career marked with achievements such as a Rookie of the Year award and a trip to the Pro Bowl. Why the VY experiment ultimately failed there is complicated, but it wasn't necessarily performance based.

And when you compare the level of talent from there to Philadelphia, it's no contest. They didn't have an explosive down-field threat like DeSean Jackson, nor a tight end capable of posting a 1,000 yard season like Brent Celek. They didn't have quality depth like Jason Avant or (ugh) Steve Smith, or much emerging talent like Riley Cooper (that should be good for a laugh). The most Vince Young ever had was Chris Johnson when the runner was still blowing through opposing defenses.

Eagles fans need to forget the wonky delivery, the antics that caused him to lose his previous coaching staff and locker room, and understand that Young has never had an opportunity like the one he's getting here, in a huddle supposedly bursting at the seams with talent. Whether or not they can actually beat the Patriots is anybody's guess, but if they don't, it probably won't be for lack of Michael Vick. Young is an able passer, and he'll have an ample number of chances to showcase that this week.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).