Why Are the Eagles Flying Under the Radar?

Why Are the Eagles Flying Under the Radar?

The Flyers have been golfing for weeks already, the 76ers cleaned out their lockers over the holiday, and the Phillies could miss the playoffs entirely for the first time since 2006. Now more than ever, pro sports fans from the city of Philadelphia could use a new set of heroes, but many are hesitant to look to the Eagles for sanctuary; others refuse. Will the masses find reason to embrace the football team before the end?

If the story of the 2012 Eagles picks up at roughly the same place where last year's tale ends, surely the only explanations for the dramatic shift in narrative are plot holes or continuation problems.

As last season came to a close, the franchise was portrayed as clueless. The club's four-game winning streak to finish out the schedule was rendered meaningless. Andy Reid's inability to reel in Steve Spagnuolo to replace Juan Castillo was a sign of organizational instability. The local media beefed with the head coach over press conferences, and Jeffrey Lurie emerged for just long enough to admit all of it was unacceptable, though he held nobody accountable.

Oddly enough, the tune began to change as free agency got underway in March. The front office re-signed, renegotiated, or extended nine key contributors -- six of them starters -- from an 8-8 team that had been lambasted vigorously over the previous six months, yet almost every contract was universally hailed as a major coup for the Birds. Similarly, hot on the heels of their essentially writing off sizable portions of Howie Roseman's recent drafts, would-be experts showered April's class with acclaim before this year's group of kids ever set foot on an NFL field.

A love affair with the Eagles seemingly rekindled without explanation, the news from off-season programs at the Nova Care Complex is cast in a tinge of hype. Whether that's by design or not, I can't tell. For the most part, you're told everybody looks great absent pads, and while it's always welcome when professional athletes are doing and saying the right things, being on the same page in May isn't necessarily an indicator of success in January. Still, you will be hard-pressed to find a reporter who wouldn't conservatively predict nine or ten wins right now.

Whether fans are buying in yet or not, again I can't tell, but my sense is, not in great numbers. Maybe it's simply too early to care. More likely, the divide between expectations and results that was cultivated over 12 years only intensified with the broken promise of lucky number 13, and as we approach the 2012 campaign, too many of the customary, pervasive questions were left unanswered during the offseason.

What would cause Michael Vick to reach the next level when he's never been much more than a circus act under center? Why did they ignore their need for a [blank] at position X? How can the defense be taken seriously as long as an offensive line coach is masquerading as its defensive coordinator? When will the suits upstairs wake up and realize Reid's approach to the game is flawed, and he could never lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl?

We're way past the point of persuasion with some folks, especially when it comes to the head coach, who it turns out is probably at the root of the matter. The biggest reason people are unwilling to get excited about the Birds, I'm often told condescendingly, is insanity. Leaving one man in charge for 14 years, regardless of whatever sweeping changes occur around him, can only be described as 'doing the same thing over and over again,' which apparently is the going definition of the word or something.

In addition to the fatigue fans experience from the front office and coaching staff, there is also very little difference between the 2011 squad and today's. Seventeen of 22 starters from last year's club are back, and Jason Peters would have made 18. The only change that was intended on offense will come at fullback -- if you can even count that -- and two of the three anticipated modifications on defense are at linebacker, the only area of the field to receive a true makeover.

Same players, same coaches. There's no great mystery as to why the Eagles are flying under the radar -- yet it would be a mistake to call this the same team.

Here come the missing pages of the script. 
Compared to 2010, the differences are far more striking. Only SEVEN opening-day starters remain from two years ago, along with just a handful of coaches who were working in their current capacity. That is a massive undertaking for two seasons, never mind the fact that almost all of the really huge moves were slammed into one compacted offseason. When the lockout ended, new coaches were cramming new techniques into a larger-than-normal ensemble of incoming free agents, first- and second-year players, and players learning new positions altogether.

Looking back on it, stocked with Pro Bowlers as they were, the 2011 Eagles were visibly and critically flawed, and we should've recognized that (as some did) before their record dropped to 1-4, or later 4-8. For all of the big-name players they brought in, there were simply too many loose ends that never wound up being tied. That said, while the organization's aim was off the mark, the direction they charted may have pointed them toward the right path.

The crowning achievement from this offseason wasn't the rash of signings geared toward making their own players happy, nor the additions of Demetress Bell and DeMeco Ryans that should help the team avoid desperate straits at left tackle and middle linebacker, or even the defensive-minded draft that could pay dividends immediately. The most important thing management did this Winter and Spring was trim the fat away from last season until only the prime cuts were left. There is no more discontent in the ranks, the guys who ran their mouths are all gone, and so are the high-priced free agents who contributed nothing to the cause.

Sure, Reid, Castillo, and Vick are still in play, and whether any one of those ingredients is fit to produce a championship continues to be the greatest unknown for Philadelphia. Once the season is underway though, and everything else around them is firing on all cylinders, there aren't many teams more talented from top to bottom than the Eagles are now. 
Whether you choose to believe that or not, make no mistake, the Birds aren't flying under the radar in the eyes of their opponents -- and probably not for too much longer with the fan base, either.

Watch: The Phillies pulled off the old double steal

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Watch: The Phillies pulled off the old double steal

The Philadelphia Phillies are attempting to salvage something this afternoon in Detroit this as they take on the Tigers. The Fightins got on the board early and hold a 2-0 lead midway through the second.

After a Peter Bourjos single scored Ryan Howard, Odubel Herrera came up to bat and didn't even have to move to get another run in.

The Phillies pulled off a double steal with Bourjos taking second which allowed Andres Blanco to come home easily.

With the Phils showing such little pop at the plate this season, a little hustle and ingenuity is needed.

Today's lineup: Phillies try to salvage game against struggling Anibal Sanchez

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Today's lineup: Phillies try to salvage game against struggling Anibal Sanchez

Justin Verlander mowed down the Phillies last night in a 3-1 Tigers victory, but the Phils have a chance to strike back this afternoon against a struggling pitcher who hasn't had much career success against them.

Anibal Sanchez will take the hill for the Tigers and oppose Aaron Nola in today's series finale (1:10 p.m. on CSN). To say Sanchez hasn't had a great start to his season would be an understatement. He's 3-5 with a 6.32 ERA and opponents are batting .270 against him.

In his career against the Phillies, Sanchez is just 4-8 with a 4.94 ERA. Granted, most of those numbers came in the early part of his career with the Florida Marlins, when he regularly faced powerful Phillies lineups. As one might expect, Ryan Howard, who is again in the lineup today as the designated hitter and batting fifth, has seen Sanchez plenty of times. His 42 at-bats against Sanchez are tied for third-most against the 32-year-old righty. Howard's done OK against Sanchez — 9 for 31 (.290 average) with two homers and four RBI. Maybe some familiarity will finally lead to a breakout game for Howard. But, if his massive slump is any indication, maybe not.

For as poor as Sanchez's start to the season has been, Aaron Nola's first six weeks of 2016 have been at the other end of the spectrum.

Today's Phillies starter is 3-3 with a 2.85 ERA. But he's been better than those numbers show.

His .900 WHIP is third in the NL, as is his 5.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 6.45 hits allowed per nine innings is fourth in the NL, as is his 1.65 walks per nine innings. His 64 strikeouts rank eighth in the NL. Imagine if he got more than the 2.89 runs of support he's been getting in his starts.

As for the rest of the Phillies' lineup today, the only changes see Andres Blanco getting the start for Cesar Hernandez, batting seventh and Cameron Rupp behind the plate, batting sixth.

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera CF
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Ryan Howard DH
6. Cameron Rupp C
7. Andres Blanco 2B
8. Tyler Goeddell LF
9. Peter Bourjos 1B

Tigers
1. Cameron Maybin CF
2. J.D. Martinez RF
3. Miguel Cabrera DH
4. Victor Martinez 1B
5. Nick Castellanos 3B
6. Steven Moya LF
7. James McCann C
8. Mike Aviles 2B
9. Jose Iglesias SS

Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

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Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

The Phillies once again couldn't find much offense and fell to the Tigers in Detroit last night by a final of 3-1.

But at least the pitching showed something.

There was a fun moment between Jeremy Hellickson and Miguel Cabrera after Hellickson threw quite a nice pitch that fooled Miggy.

Here's how Jim Salisbury described the fun battle:

Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.

And here's the thumbs up: