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
line.

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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North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

It appears that Carson Wentz' fanbase in North Dakota is still pretty strong. Before North Dakota State’s game against Illinois State Saturday afternoon, fans were seen walking around the parking lot in Carson Wentz Eagles’ jerseys. 

Wearing Eagles gear at the tailgate was not all, however. A large group of people begun chanting “Carson” over and over to show their love and support for the Eagles quarterback. 

This is not the first time we have seen North Dakota State fans showing how much they adore Carson Wentz. Going back to the NFL Draft, fans were seen on the red carpet wearing North Dakota State Wentz jersey’s and waving flags.

On Sept. 19, when the Eagles played the Bears, North Dakotans traveled to see Wentz play in person.

Clearly, Wentz has a lot of love from his fans back at home, but it is safe to say that Eagles fans love him just as much after he has led them to a 3-0 start.  

It doesn't hurt that Wentz' cousin, Connor, plays for North Dakota State. Connor is a redshirt junior tight end.

John Clark with Connor Wentz

A photo posted by Rob Kuestner (@rkuestner23) on

Expect Sixers to take cautious approach with Ben Simmons

Expect Sixers to take cautious approach with Ben Simmons

Expect the Sixers to take a cautious approach when determining Ben Simmons’ return to the court.

Simmons will undergo surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, according to a league source. No date has been set for the surgery. On Friday, Simmons rolled his ankle during the final training camp scrimmage. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Sixers believe Simmons has an acute injury that is not related to his weight, which is up to 250 pounds.

The Sixers placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining health and preventing re-injuries during camp. That focus will continue into the regular season. They implemented load management, in which they allocate the best use of a player’s designated minutes. 

The approach was applied to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, as they entered the preseason coming off of injuries. Embiid, who is nearing his NBA debut, had been sidelined the past two years with foot injuries. Okafor underwent season-ending right knee surgery last March. Both are slated to play Oct. 4 in the preseason opener. Gerald Henderson also followed load management for rest.  

“There are more variables going on pre-practice,” Brett Brown said Friday. “Before we design our practices and figure out how we’re going to maneuver through the day, the first thing we always do is we put on a digital projector a depth chart and we have the medical staff behind us talking about the circumstances of each player and the restrictions that each player has. 

“Once you understand that world, then you go over to the practice plan and you say, ‘How do you want to spend your money?’ I don’t want to use Joel’s minutes up in a lot of small drills when I could spend it easily and more wisely playing.”

Following this plan, Embiid, Okafor and Henderson did not participate in all of the scrimmages. When they did, Brown utilized Embiid and Okafor in spurts instead of long stretches. 

“Four-minute clumps and really trying to test themselves,” Brown said. “Let’s learn a little bit before we play the Celtics. Let’s just go as hard as you possibly can, let’s see what that means.”

The mapped-out formula allows the players to gauge how they assert their energy on the court. The Celtics took a similar approach with Kevin Garnett during the 2011-12 season. Doc Rivers implemented a “5-5-5” plan in which Garnett played in three five-minute spurts. 

“You kind of know the rhythm you are going to have,” Okafor said. “I think that’ll make it easier for myself and I’m sure for Jo as well knowing that we have four minutes to go as hard as we can, to make an impact on the game, and then we have a sub.” 

The Sixers assessed the length of these segments by comparing them to real-game situations. They want the scrimmage setting to simulate the flow regular season contest. The Sixers are looking to feature an uptempo this season and ranked first in the NBA last season with a total of 1,427.4 miles run. 

“With our sports science program, we’re designing our practice on trips,” Brown said. “How many trips does a normal NBA game have before there’s a stoppage in play? You see, it’s about six, seven trips. You’ve got to go for that … We’re very calculated on how we design our practice to reflect the true pace of a game.”

While there is the eagerness of players to make a comeback as quickly as possible, following the team’s carefully constructed recovery timeline is critical to prevent the reoccurance of injuries. Embiid better understands the importance of waiting after undergoing two surgeries. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab … the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor told me you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to people have to say.”

The Sixers drafted Simmons to be a centerpiece of their team for the future, not just this season. It is worth being careful early on to help him be healthy down the road.