Flyers Week Ahead Doesn't Look So Bad, But

Flyers Week Ahead Doesn't Look So Bad, But

Our Philadelphia
Flyers hockey club has been through a gauntlet of challenging teams and
scenarios lately, including playing elite competition, a grueling
stretch of away games, and the scrutiny of playing in the sport's most
visible game, followed by the top team in the West and a home-and-home
with an upstart conference foe. Fans, players, coaches, and owners alike
probably wouldn't have it any other way. While the stretch hasn't been
easy, it's been a great experience.

Win or lose, I don't think any of us would trade the privilege of
having the Flyers featured in the Winter Classic. And, even though the
lesson learned in a pair of recent matchups with the New York Rangers is
that the Flyers aren't currently playing as well as the the Blueshits,
the timing of that schooling was ideal (aside from the fact that one of
the games happened to be the Winter Classic). Finding out you don't
quite measure up in April is a huge problem. In December and January,
it's a welcome reminder that nothing will come easy in a long series
against a great team, no matter how pretty your record on the last day
of the season. There are a lot of new faces on the Flyers, guys who
weren't around when that lesson was learned by their teammates last
season. And, there's still room for improvement in some significant
areas.

So, with one of the most difficult regular season stretches of the
season, the Flyers now settle in for the second half, which begins with a
couple of on-paper cupcakes. Don't be fooled though—there could be
poison in the frosting.

Tonight, Lavy's boys will skate in the city he once gave a Stanley
Cup. The Carolina Hurricanes are just one point out of last place in the
East, topping only the Flyers' Thursday night opponent—the New York
Islanders.

Carolina has allowed a league-worst 146 goals, and no NHL team has
scored fewer goals than the Islanders (who in their meager defense have
played few games than most). Both are also perennial oft-picked on nerds
in the Bullies' schoolyard, with few wins over the Flyers in recent
years.

Still, the Flyers are in a vulnerable position right now. Losses in
either game wouldn't be devastating or anything close to it, but after a
brilliant early December stretch, the Flyers have traded wins with
losses, and need to regain form. Failure to do so against clearly
inferior opponents could have a solidifying effect on areas of downward
tendency.

Dominant scoring is often enough, but costly turnovers and poor
clearing of screens and slot traffic have seen the Flyers concede very
early leads as well as some dramatic come-from-ahead losses. Those kinds
of defensive miscues have a way of being opponent-neutral. Some of
these goals have hardly been skill shots, and NHL-caliber players will
bury you for mistakes in your own zone no matter what logo is on their
sweater.

It's never a bad time to be facing a few weaker opponents though.
The Flyers are by no means playing terrible hockey, but they have some
work to do, and the Hurricanes and Islanders aren't quite as dangerous
as the Blackhawks and the surprising Senators.

Flyers-Canes
Tonight, Ilya Bryzgalov gets a rest, with Sergei Bobrovsky likely facing Cam Ward.

Anthony San Filippo says Harry Z will play, with Zac Rinaldo getting the healthy scratch. Not a bad bit of rookie depth to be able to choose between those players as to which role you want in a given night.

Carolina has lost four of their last six, including a 5-2 defeat in
Nashville on Saturday that followed a 4-2 win over the Sabres.

Peter
Laviolette's preceder and succeeder in Carolina, Paul Maurice, was
replaced by former Montreal Canadien Kirk Muller on November 29th. The
Hurricanes had lost their previous three games, and they lost the next
four as well. In 18 games with Muller behind the bench, they've won only
five times.

The Flyers may have the Canes' number in most matchups, including
5-1 and 5-3 wins already this season, but they did lose the last time
they faced Carolina, 4-2. An L tonight wouldn't wear well after a
clunker of a third period in Ottawa.

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Kenjon Barner has the third-most runs in the NFL of 14-plus yards despite having just 14 carries all year.
 
Wendell Smallwood ran for 79 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the first extended playing time of his career.
 
Despite their gaudy stats, Ryan Mathews will be the Eagles’ featured running back when he’s healthy, head coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
 
“I think we just continue the same way, really,” Pederson said. “When Ryan is healthy, he’s the guy, and then we’ll mix Darren (Sproles) in there and you saw what Wendell can do and we know what Kenjon’s all about.”
 
Mathews, who has been injury prone throughout his career, did not play after two early carries Sunday in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers at the Linc.
 
Pederson said Mathews’ left ankle — originally injured in July, before training camp even began and then aggravated in the season opener against the Browns — is still bothering him.
 
“With that thing, that ankle, it’s something that for him it never loosened up (Sunday) and was stiff and so again (we) just opted on the side of caution more than anything else,” Pederson said.
 
Mathews gained minus-five yards on two carries in the first quarter and didn’t play again.
 
He's rushed for three touchdowns this year but is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry — 36th out of 40 backs with 20 or more carries this year.
 
Meanwhile, Smallwood is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, eighth-highest in the NFL, and Barner, with just 14 carries, has four runs of 14 yards. He’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry but doesn’t have enough to qualify for the league leaders.

Although Barner has the 58th-most carries in the NFL, only LeSean McCoy and Isaiah Crowell have more runs of 14 or more yards.
 
Sproles has been his usual electriyfing self in the receiving game and returning punts, but he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
 
Since opening day last year, Sproles is at 3.6 per carry — 50th of 52 backs with at least 100 carries over the last two seasons.
 
Pederson said despite Mathews’ injury history — he started more than nine games twice in his first six seasons — he has no problem with the workload he gave him in Cleveland. Mathews had 22 carries against the Browns, his second-most since 2013.
 
“I think that’s a good number for him, honestly, and then for everyone else to get a few touches after that we’re on track,” Pederson said.
 
“It’s kind of with Carson (Wentz), I don’t think you ever want to go into a game thinking you want to throw it 50 times. If you manage it and keep it around 30 and have a successful running game, I think that’s a good balance.”
 
How much Barner and Smallwood will work in once Mathews returns remains to be seen.
 
But it’s hard to argue with their production.
 
“Everybody’s a little different runner,” Pederson said Monday, a day after the Eagles improved to 3-0.
 
“Wendell did an excellent job between the tackles last night, sort of downhill, Kenjon sort of off-tackle, and of course Darren can do everything.
 
“So we’ll still keep the rotation the same, we’re not going to change much that way, and just want to get everybody in the football game.”
 
It’s tough to put together a running back depth chart for this team. Mathews had the most carries against the Browns, Sproles had the most against the Bears and Smallwood the most against the Steelers.
 
Last time the Eagles opened a season with three different backs leading the team in attempts was 1989, when Mark Higgs had 13 carries in the opener vs. Seattle, Anthony Toney led the way a week later with nine carries against the Redskins (that was the huge comeback win from a 20-0 deficit) and then Heath Sherman had a team-high 16 carries a week later against the 49ers (when Joe Montana threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter).
 
How similar this year turns out to 2003 and the original Three-Head Monster of Duce Staley — now the Eagles’ running backs coach — Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter will sort itself out after the bye.
 
“It’s good to have that kind of depth at that position with as many touches collectively as a group that we’re going to get each game and the wear and tear on that position,” Pederson said. “It’s great to get that many guys in the game.”
 
The Eagles certainly do seem high on Smallwood, the only back in the group that Pederson didn’t inherit from Chip Kelly.
 
Smallwood missed most of training camp with a quad injury and concussion but has been very good since he’s been healthy.
 
“He’s much like Carson in how he prepares during the week,” Pederson said.
 
“We’ve been fortunate with our young players ... and how they work and how they handle themselves on and off the football field, and he’s done a great job in practice, he’s put himself in a position to help us, and it’s great to see him.
 
“We saw it early in the spring, we saw it in training camp before the injury.”

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson says Carson Wentz’s prep is ‘Peyton Manning-ish’

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson says Carson Wentz’s prep is ‘Peyton Manning-ish’

At 8 a.m. on Sunday, eight and a half hours before game time, Jordan Matthews was in the team hotel, going to get breakfast when he ran into Carson Wentz.

But the 23-year-old quarterback wasn’t interested in food at that particular time. He was going to watch film.

“Everybody thinks that’s like a crazy thing,” Matthews said on Sunday night. “That’s his standard.”

This is just the latest example of Wentz’s obsession with football and film study. Since the No. 2 overall pick arrived in Philadelphia, and especially since he was named the Week 1 starter, we’ve been regaled with stories of his preparation and drive. The anecdotes of Wentz’s arrival before the sun to watch film have flowed.

“It’s Peyton Manning-ish,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday, as the team heads into its bye week with a 3-0 record.

“And you hate to label, you don’t want to put labels on guys. But that’s how Peyton prepared and that’s how these top quarterbacks prepare each week. And he has that now as a young quarterback and that will just carry him throughout his career.”

When asked if Wentz’s film study habits reach obsessive levels, Pederson said that notion was “accurate.”

“He loves watching tape,” Pederson said. “I know I’ve mentioned he and the quarterbacks, Chase [Daniel] and Aaron [Murray], are in here at 5:30 in the morning and they’re exhausting the tape. He’s constantly, I hear him in the building talking about plays and routes and protections.”

Aside from Wentz’s just putting in the time during film study, his unique ability to recall plays quickly has given him a huge advantage during his first three games.

When asked if Wentz’s memory is photographic, Pederson said he thinks it is.

In between series, Wentz and the coaching staff are able to go over plays on their Surface tablets. They go over plays and then when he’s on the field, he recognizes a defensive front or coverage and can get the offense in a different play.

Through three games, Wentz’s preparation and memory have helped the Eagles get off to a quick 3-0 start.

“He’s a different player that way,” Pederson said. “He’s much like our last quarterback, Alex Smith, in Kansas City. It’s the same type of memory. For a young kid to do that, it’s pretty special.”