But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

Philadelphia
has seen its fair share of Achilles injuries over the past year. First
it was Ryan Howard crumbling out of the batter's box to close down the
Phillies' 2011 playoff hopes. In the normally quiet days of the NFL
off-season, Eagles All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his
achilles as well
, an injury compounded when a Roll-A-Bout mishap landed him a second surgery.

This week, it was the Flyers' turn. Already
appearing to need some help to bolster their defense, the team announced
that Andrej Meszaros tore his achilles while training in Slovakia.
After a surgical repair, he could miss most of the upcoming season.
Timelines are difficult to pin down, with setbacks and revisions a
relative part of any athlete's recovery, so we really don't know when
we'll see Andrej the Giant on patrolling the blue line again. 

There's no silver lining in significant injury news.
This obviously sucks. However, the timing could be worse. In fact, the
timing of Meszaros' last injury was. Below the jump, we go in search of a
bright side, if there is any to be found. 

In March of last season, Meszaros required surgery to remove disc fragments in his back. He missed a few weeks of the regular season and all but one game of
the playoffs. Paul Holmgren did what we could to insure against
defensive injuries by adding Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina before the
deadline, with Grossmann in particular helping to keep the back end
moderately stable while himself battling some knee issues after Joe
Vitale went hunting in the prelude to the playoffs
.

Free agent options to fill Meszaros' spot are
limited at this point. Carlo Colaiacovo appears to be the favorite if
the Flyers go this route. Even if the injury had come before the market
opened, there may not have been much more Paul Holmgren could have done.
He traded JVR for Luke Schenn. He put $100 million on the table for
Ryan Suter. He put more than that in an offer sheet for Shea Weber.
Homer was working nearly every angle possible to bring more defensive
help to the Flyers, short of retaining Matt Carle, who took a lucrative
deal as the Flyers looked at better options. 

For two reasons, the timing of this injury isn't so
bad. Yes, it means Meszaros won't suit up for most if not all of the
upcoming regular season—maybe longer—and that prospect is certainly
bleak. But at least the Flyers know well before the campaign starts what
they're up against, rather than dealing with the loss after the trade
deadline, just before the playoffs, or in the middle of the opening
round. 

We're all big hockey fans, and we'll watch anything
from a skate-around to a mid-February game against the Panthers and look
for what's great about it. But with 16 teams making the cut for a
two-month playoffs, a mark the Flyers rarely miss, the games taking place
between early October and early April constitute a long battle of
attrition that has more to do with enjoyment of the sport and gate/TV
revenues than who will ultimately be champions. Ask the 8th seeded LA
Kings. Sure, the vital chemistry built during this time is huge for the
team that ultimately wins it all, but it's rarely mentioned for the
teams that don't. 

The injuries that matter most when it comes time for
deciding who will go deep into the playoffs or raise a Cup are those
that derail a contender's chances by sidelining key players in the
spring. With the strong potential for a shortened season due to labor
disputes, the next postseason seems even farther away than usual, though it actually isn't. Still, the
Flyers have time to develop a gameplan to bolster their defense, be it
via trade, another minor signing or two, or just waiting to see what
they have in their young bodies. While they have some depth to
temporarily fill the third pairing, things get downright scary when
injury strikes any other defenseman, which is not unlikely given the
nature of the game, age of Kimmo Timonen, and history of others like
Grossmann. The Fly-toms group likely isn't ready to make the jump to
extended top-4 minutes. 

I mean, watch as the usually effusive Homer tries to bridle the enthusiasm he has for the youngsters!

In all seriousness, there are some young blueliners
worth a longer look, including Marc-Andre Bourdon, who got a new deal
yesterday. And, once the season opens, the team will start to get a
better idea of what Schenn brings to the table. Will he re-emerge as a
top-4 guy? Right now, they'll need him to. Can the young guys develop
quickly? Or will more minutes expose them? Either way, if things aren't
working out, Homer will likely know well before the next trade deadline
just how badly he needs help (if he hasn't dealt for it already). He'll
also know better what he can afford to trade away if needs arise. 

We know Homer was already looking to get better on
defense before the Meszaros injury, so it's unlikely he's suddenly OK
with the situation. Now, with one fewer bona fide top-4ish NHL
defenseman fewer than when he opened the war chest last month, Homer
will likely be back to work, if he'd even stopped at all. The downside
here is, there may be more likelihood of overpayment. Where before
certain players were untouchable even in exchange for blue-chip talent,
there may be more desperation now. There probably shouldn't be, given
how much time there is between now and the postseason.

Of course, there are a few other things working against
Homer with the timing of this injury too. First, the uncertain labor
situation slowed the off-season to a crawl. While a delayed start could
give the Flyers fewer games over which to manage the loss of Meszaros,
uncertainty could be slowing the market. Other teams who don't have
mid-summer injuries emerging may not be as interested in dealing right
now, and free agency and the value of current contracts seem less
certain with a new CBA being hammered out. And, importantly, if Homer
does manage a deal that brings a steady defenseman to Philly, that player will
bring a cap hit with him. The uncertainty as to when Meszaros returns
and a $4 million cap hit of his own from LTIR makes long-term planning
difficult. I've referred to "uncertainty" a lot in this paragraph, and
not because I lack a thesaurus. It's a major obstacle in the way of
Homer's planning. 

Finally, whenever the season starts, there is
obviously still plenty of time for new injuries to other players to set
in at more critical junctures. Meszaros' return for the playoffs is far
from certain, what with all the infections and Roll-A-Bout accidents
we've come to learn are par for the course with this particular injury.
So again, we're not talking about there being an actual advantage to any
of this. But it's possible the Meszaros injury will have little impact
on the truly meaningful games played in the postseason—as long as he
recovers, rehabs, and is back at game strength by then, and/or Holmgren
makes a savvy move he may have been on the fence about before losing Big
Mesz.

Loss to Warriors leaves Brown thinking, 'What's it take to win a championship?'

Loss to Warriors leaves Brown thinking, 'What's it take to win a championship?'

The Golden State Warriors are the definition of the new NBA.

They have multiple superstars, play a fast-paced and free-flowing style, defend well and shoot a lot of three-pointers. They make a lot of those threes too.

Every team outside of Cleveland would love to have the components of their roster (the Cavaliers probably wish they had some of those pieces as well).

Count Sixers head coach Brett Brown among the admirers.

"For them to rank No. 1 in so many offensive and defensive areas -- and you should probably hear that louder than the offense because that's what we all think when we think of the Golden State Warriors' roster -- is just daunting," Brown said. "You pick your poison and you try to find ways that you think can put you in the best position to go steal a win and it's hard to find an area of weakness. They really hit both sides of the box offense and defense."

That was before the Warriors flexed their defensive muscle. After Golden State limited the Sixers to 45.7 percent shooting from the field, 29.4 percent shooting from three-point range and forced them into 23 turnovers on Monday night, Brown had even more appreciation for the NBA's best team.

"I felt the most obvious thing, to me sitting there coaching against it in relation to how good they are, was the defense and that they can switch everything," Brown said after the Sixers' 119-108 loss (see Instant Replay). "They're all so long and they can just switch stuff so that the game is always in front of them. They don't scramble much. They're not in rotation much. You coach against that during the game in real time, I felt that more than I did their offensive brilliance."

Still, even Brown admitted the new-age NBA is all about offense and the Warriors have it in bunches. Despite struggling with their shooting all game (44.9 percent from the field, 20.7 percent from three), the Dubs got enough scoring when they needed it against the Sixers. That was mainly provided in the form of former league MVP Kevin Durant, who had a game-high 27 points.

"They get another really amazing ingredient. They just go up another level," Brown said of the Warriors' addition of Durant. "It's just adding to something that they were great at to begin with."

"It's scary to think they can shoot much better," T.J. McConnell said.

The Sixers don't have anywhere close to that level of firepower offensively. For them to compete against the NBA's juggernauts, they need to play fast and share the ball -- a couple of the things they can realistically borrow from the Warriors.

"We kind of try to model our team after how they move the ball, how they play together and not have too much isolation ball," Jahlil Okafor said of the Sixers, who had 24 assists on 37 made field goals. "They're one of the best teams in the league at sharing the ball and they showed that tonight."

They sure did. Golden State assisted on 31 of its 40 made field goals. 

Combine that with a breakneck pace, and it's just two of the ingredients that make the Warriors so special. 

Brown feels like he is starting to get that mentality with his Sixers. The team has progressed in both areas as the season has progressed and its now fifth in the league in pace with 100.8 possessions per game and ninth in assists a night with 23.6.

"The two things that stand out most to me that we have spent time on is we're No. 1 in the NBA when we turn people over and we run out of it," the coach said. "Our pace has been excellent. I'm proud of the improved pace. I hope that when you have a coach and a sports science program that comes in from Day 1, and we've talked about this, where we said, 'You're going to be in the best shape of your life, you're going to be in career-best fitness.' The quick sentence after that is the reward is we're going to run. You can't say then that we're going to walk it up the floor. That's not who we are. Our pace has been relentless lately. We're proud of our pace. 

"We are No. 2 in the NBA on assist percentage, where we really pass the ball. If you look and judge how we score, it's not like we give it to T.J. and watch him break everybody down and go to work. We need collectively to move the ball. If we don't have that team stuff, we don't have what lots of NBA teams have -- the iso guys, the NBA All-Stars, somebody that can create their own shot -- it's just not who we are. Not one of them, especially when you start taking out Joel (Embiid). The pace of which we do things on offense and the fact that we share the ball, we move each other, we move the gym, those things are all we have to get those 100-plus points."

The Sixers reached the 100-point mark but still suffered a loss because they don't have the requisite stars to take over when things bog down. With Embiid and No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons both on the shelf (see story), Brown can only dream about when he'll have topflight talent to take the Sixers' scheme to the next level.

"In different weak moments, you get a little bit frustrated," Brown said. "But when you really sort of look at your purpose of trying to take some punches and hits in order to move the program forward -- I'm not 30 years old -- I'm fine. I really believe in what we're doing and that the more this thing shakes out and plays out, I believe it more and more. I think we're starting to build a culture and we're starting to build an attitude and a system behind the scenes that can absorb talent, that can absorb high draft picks and healthy Ben Simmons and healthy Joel Embiids."

For now, Brown will have to settle for seeing that top tier of basketball from afar. And as far as he's concerned, he just witnessed the best in the business (see story).

"What's it take to win a championship? That's all I think about," Brown said of what he learns from watching elite teams like the Warriors. "What's it really take? How do you beat that team four times? What's it really take? What's the future of our game? What's it look like in 2020, 2025? We've talked about this. Personally, I see it. I think, clearly, I could be wrong. You're seeing a bunch of do-all players that are long and can switch out on everything and shoot a lot of threes, play with speed, tenacity. They don't miss a beat. There's not really a weakness here.

"As you're looking at it, you're looking at what's it take to beat them? We've had heavyweights come into this building from San Antonio to Cleveland to teams in the East with the Celtics and Toronto. That's a different beast."

"You project it out. You wonder, 'How do you get to that level? Who do we have we think that can play in that game? What do you feel like you need to draft and grow? What do you need to go purchase -- free agent.' All that. That's all you think about. That's the holy grail, what they have. That is the king, in my opinion, in our league as we speak, so you're always wondering how does that work for us?"

Should Eagles take a top-3 WR in the first round?

Should Eagles take a top-3 WR in the first round?

As the Eagles fly to Indianapolis this week for the annual NFL combine, they'll do so with two needs that seem to outweigh all others. 

The Eagles need big-play makers and big-play stoppers. Receivers and cornerbacks.

Still well over a week away from the start of free agency, this could change some. The Eagles could hit the market and try to sign a player or two to shore up those positions. But even if they do, it's likely receiver and corner will still need to be upgraded when they're on the clock at 14 or 15 in late April. 

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock held his annual marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday afternoon, about two months from the start of the 2017 draft. The highly-respected draft analyst said this year's draft is "one of the best defensive drafts I’ve seen."

That's high praise from someone who has been doing this a long time. And he didn't stop there. Mayock continued to praise both edge rusher and, wait for it, cornerbacks. 

"I can get through four rounds of quality corners and I've never been able to say that before," he said. 

That seems like awful good news for the Eagles (see storylines).

While this draft is really deep at corner, Mayock said it's not so deep at receiver. So when asked about what his plan would be, given that the Eagles are in desperate need of both positions, Mayock said the Eagles should seriously consider a top receiver for their first round pick. 

"I think the Eagles have to figure out what their order of preference is, what kind of style they want," Mayock said. "But they've got to be looking hard at all three of those guys and know up front if one or two or all three of them are available, who they're going to take. And then I think they can drop back in a later round and it wouldn't bother me at all if they drafted a couple corners. I think they could."

This seems like a pretty solid plan. Snag one of the top receivers, then pick up value in the second round (and later rounds) by adding cornerbacks who would have gone much higher in a more ordinary year for that position. 

But last month in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman brought up a thought-provoking point about the depth of cornerbacks in this year's draft. 

"It's interesting, because last year we sat there and said defensive tackles in this draft are unreal," Roseman said in January. "You're going to get an opportunity to be there in the fourth or fifth round and there's going to be a second- or- third-round guy. And what happened was they all went. And we had looked at it before and in years where there's positions of strength, when you think you can get guys later, what typically happens is there's a run on those guys and [teams] want to get their own guys. So you just have to be careful that you're not sitting there going, 'This is a great draft at position X and we'll be sitting there in the sixth round and we'll get a great guy.' That's why just sticking to your board and not getting cute and just making sure you just get the best player for the Philadelphia Eagles."

So maybe the Eagles won't get cute. Perhaps when they pick at 14 or 15, they'll have a corner ranked high enough to say, "To heck with value, let's take our guy." Now, maybe that wouldn't create the best value overall, but if it gets the best player, it's unlikely Eagles fans will care. And they shouldn't. 

But what if one of the top three receivers is on the board and is their highest ranked player? Mayock seems to think they should pull the trigger. The top three, according to him, are Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Clemson's Mike Williams and Washington's John Ross. Mayock said he could see all three going from picks 10-20. 

While Ross has some medical concerns, Mayock seemed really intrigued about the idea of the Eagles' taking him. He compared Ross to Will Fuller, whom the Texans took at No. 21 out of Notre Dame last year. In fact, he said he expects Ross to run just as fast as Fuller (4.32), but is quicker and a better natural catcher. 

"He's probably the best vertical threat in the draft and I think that would help the rest of the Eagles underneath," he said. "They desperately need speed. So if you're talking about a guy that's going to run a 4.35, which I think he will."

Or how about Williams from Clemson? On his way to a national title, Williams impressed on the biggest stage and could become a huge target for Carson Wentz and the Eagles. 

"He's a big, physical dude," Mayock said. "I think he welcomes press coverage. He uses his physicality, he catches back shoulder. And again, if you're looking from an Eagles perspective, scoring and red-zone opportunities, he's probably the best guy at the wide receiver position in this draft in the red zone because of his catching radius and his physicality."

And then there's still Davis, whom Mayock ranks as the best receiver in the draft. Davis won’t be able to compete at the combine with an ankle injury, but is still a first-rounder. 

Based on the evaluations given by Mayock on Monday, it seems like any three of these receivers could come in and make an immediate impact with the Eagles on Day 1. That isn’t always the case with receivers. 

In January, Roseman talked about how the great receiver draft of 2014 had really altered expectations for rookies, saying in the past receiver hasn't been a "plug and play" position. Some ran with those comments and took them to mean that the Eagles would try to fill the receiver hole through free agency. 

And, besides, the Eagles were burnt by a first-round receiver not too long ago, when they took Nelson Agholor with the 20th pick in the 2015 draft. In his two seasons, Agholor has largely been a disappointment in the NFL. 

Still, that miss wouldn't make Mayock hesitate this year. If Davis, Williams or Ross are there, one of them could be the Eagles' pick. 

"I struggle thinking that the three of them (top receivers) will struggle like Nelson Agholor did, who was also a first-round pick," he said. "I think they're going to be fine."