What Got into the Defensive Line?

What Got into the Defensive Line?

There wasn’t much of substance to take away from Thursday
night’s pitiful loss to the Bengals, besides the fact that the Eagles are an incredibly
undisciplined team. You couldn’t pick a single player out of a lineup and
charge him with the crime of setting off the bomb that leveled the crowd at
Lincoln Financial Field. Andy Reid remains a suspect, but I imagine even he
would have liked to throw his hands up in despair over that effort.

Despite the nature of that loss, there was one positive to
take away from this disaster, that being the play of the defensive line. Two
weeks after firing Jim Washburn, who was apparently insubordinate on top of
coaching in an ineffective unit, the front four suddenly exploded for six
sacks and a pair of forced fumbles of quarterback Andy Dalton.

With the presence of the wide-9 greatly diminished – the
alignment remains in use, but is not nearly as prevalent – suddenly the Eagles’
pass rush looks reenergized. Brandon Graham, the 2010 first-round pick whose
career many fans had left for dead, enjoyed a breakout performance, notching 2.5
sacks and a strip. He split one sack with the 12th overall pick in this year’s
draft, Fletcher Cox, who also got to Dalton once on his own.

Cox had been having a nice rookie season anyway, taking over
as the clubhouse leader with six sacks. On the other hand, Graham’s arrival
could be spectacular news for the defense. He’s now registered 4.0 sacks over
the last three games since replacing the departed Jason Babin – amazing what a
little playing time can do for a guy – giving him 5.5 for the season.

Some of the veterans appear to have been revitalized by the
change as well. One season removed from reaching double digits for the fourth
time in five years, Trent Cole recorded his first full sack since Week 1,
suggesting calls of his demise may have been premature. Even Cullen Jenkins got
in on the act, knocking the ball loose to earn his second sack in two weeks.

To be fair, Cincinnati had surrendered the eighth-most sacks
in the league entering this week, so maybe the numbers are a tad inflated. Of
course, there have been times this season when the Eagles couldn’t so much as pressure
an opposing team’s quarterback regardless of the quality of their offensive

What happened?

The answer is both obvious, and not. It’s easy to chalk it
up entirely to Washburn’s wide-9, but that doesn’t entirely make sense.
Philadelphia led the NFL in sacks with 50 last season, 46 of those coming from
the front four alone, and Tennessee was perennially among the league leaders
during his 12 years there. Detroit is also notorious for its use of the scheme,
and while they aren’t number one or anything, they’ve posted a respectable 30
sacks this season, putting them right in the middle of the pack.

More likely it’s dialing it down that has done the trick for
the Birds. New defensive line coach Tommy Brasher has mixed it up with a
variety of rushes, attacking different gaps and using more stunts, which has
given the defense an element of surprise. We can only intimate that Washburn
had far too much power, which forced defensive coordinator Todd Bowles – and Juan
Castillo before him – to be inflexible with their play calls.

Whatever the reasons, the change has been evident. The Eagles
have racked up eight sacks over the past two games, compared to 20 in the 12
previous. That’s almost unbelievable when you think about it.

There is always the question of sample size, too, as has
been the case with many of the recent developments on the field. Then again, we
already knew a guy like Cole was one of the most talented defensive ends in the
NFL. We knew Jenkins still has some production left in the tank. At this point, it’s
probably even fair to say we knew Cox can play at this level. As for Graham, he
had been having a nice season with the snaps he was given to work with. Perhaps we
are witnessing him turning the corner with the help of some fresh guidance.

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Flyers-Sabres 5 things: Forget about Monday's final result

Flyers-Sabres 5 things: Forget about Monday's final result

Flyers vs. Sabres
7:30 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live starts at 6:30

After a hard-luck 3-1 loss in Montreal to the Canadiens on Monday, the Flyers (2-3-1) return home Tuesday to the Wells Fargo Center to face the Buffalo Sabres (1-2-1) for the first time this season.

The Sabres are struggling early on this year, so Tuesday night could be a prime opportunity for the Flyers to get back on the winning side of things.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

1. It’s a new day
Despite the result, the fact of the matter is the Flyers played a very good road game on Monday in Montreal against the Habs. Shots on goal were just about even (Montreal held a 33-32 advantage) and the Flyers had excellent opportunities to tie late in the game, but a fully healthy Carey Price had other ideas. Steve Mason was great with 31 saves, many of the difficult variety, and he had no chance on Brendan Gallagher’s winning deflection late in the third. It was a seesaw battle and the Habs wound up on top when the final buzzer sounded. It goes that way sometimes.

But Tuesday is a new day, and the Flyers have a chance strike right back against the Sabres. Forget Monday’s final result. If the Flyers play the way they did Monday, they’re going to win plenty of games.

“Overall we played a pretty good game,” head coach Dave Hakstol said after Monday’s loss. “Certainly we can do better, obviously not coming out with the points. We’ve got to turn the page real quick and get ready to go for a home game tomorrow night some 19 to 20 hours from now.”

Even though Monday night’s result is still fresh, sometimes it’s good to get right back out there and try and keep the momentum of strong play going.

And the Flyers will get some reinforcements on the blue line Tuesday as Radko Gudas will return from his six-game suspension and be in the lineup. No word yet on who will sit.

2. Can’t stop Jake
Move aside Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds. Jake Voracek is the new hottest Flyer.

With his slick deflection on Monday, Voracek now has three goals in his last two games and is riding a four-game point streak. As matter of fact, he has a point in all but one of the Flyers’ six games this season. He’s posted three goals and five assists for eight points so far, which is tied for fourth in the NHL in the early going.

Perhaps most encouraging about Voracek’s play early is the fact that he’s shooting the puck frequently. A natural passer, the 27-year-old forward has 21 shots on goal so far this year, which ties him for 10th most in the league. He has a nice shot when he wants to use it and he’s certainly using it this year.

Considering Voracek’s struggles last season, it has to feel good for him to get off to this kind of solid start. And it has to be reassuring for Hakstol and the Flyers. The second line with Voracek, Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny is playing well as a unit, too.

3. What’s up with Buffalo?
Things got off on the wrong foot, almost literally, for the Sabres the day before the regular season started when stud sophomore and franchise pivot Jack Eichel went down during practice with a high ankle sprain. He’s likely out for about another month or so.

And things haven’t gotten much better as the Sabres have scored just 11 goals in four games this season. Those 11 goals are tied for second least in the entire league and six of them came in one game in Edmonton. It’s tough to judge the Sabres based on the small sample size of games they’ve played so far, but it’s not a good sign when more than half of a team’s goals come in one game.

Starting goalie Robin Lehner is out of Tuesday’s game with an undisclosed illness. Backup Anders Nilsson will make his first start of the regular season. Nilsson has played in three games against the Flyers in his career and owns a 2-0-0 record against them with a 2.26 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on
Flyers: Brayden Schenn has had the Sabres’ number with six goals against them in 14 career games. That said, Schenn is still trying to find his footing this season as he’s pointless in three games since returning from his three-game suspension that opened his season. Tuesday could be a perfect time for the Flyers’ 24-year-old forward to have the breakout game he’s been looking for.

Sabres: Buffalo’s offense begins and ends with Ryan O’Reilly. He leads the Sabres with three goals this season and is tied for the team lead in points with five. He’s got nine points (six goals and three assists) in 10 career meetings with the Flyers.

5. This and that
• The Flyers went 1-1-1 last season against the Sabres. The Sabres did win in Philadelphia in overtime last October.

• The Sabres enter Philadelphia on the end of a four-game road trip that saw them tour Western Canada. But the Sabres have had four days off while the Flyers played Monday night in Montreal and had to travel home.

• The Flyers haven’t lost to the Sabres at home in regulation in the regular season since March 5, 2011.

• The Flyers have been lethal in the second period this season, scoring 13 of their 20 goals.

• He hasn't found the back of the net yet this year, but Claude Giroux comes into Tuesday’s matchup on a five-game point streak with six assists over that stretch.

Watch: The Phillie Phanatic trashes ESPN, Skip Bayless

Watch: The Phillie Phanatic trashes ESPN, Skip Bayless

The Phillie Phanatic is just like you and me. He hates being stuck in an office.

ESPN posted the below video of the Phanatic being forced to wait around an office for some sort of interview and an idle Phanatic is a mischievous Phanatic.

He starts out by trashing former ESPNer Skip Bayless, finds some Mets' swag to desecrate, and finishes off by going all Office Space on a desk chair.

It's fun for the whole family.

Not sure why the ESPN people didn't just let him post for the Body Issue like the people over at Sports Illustrated.