Gut It Out: JVR, Flyers Win Nail-biter, But Timonen Leaves With UBI

Gut It Out: JVR, Flyers Win Nail-biter, But Timonen Leaves With UBI

Flyers fans in need of a win over an elite opponent to wash away the memory of a heartbreaking Winter Classic third period got just that on Thursday night. It looked for a moment like the Classic's third would happen all over again, but the Flyers didn't wilt despite some lapses in their own end (and crease) and finished strong for a 5-4 win. The Blackhawks were in town for the first time since they left the building with the Stanley Cup in June 2010, but they left with only their chins on their chests after this one.

The rookies played well, and James van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner. It was a fast-paced game between two of the best teams in the league, as entertaining as it was enervating.

Unfortunately, the Flyers may be dealing with an injury to the defenseman they can least afford to lose, especially considering the goaltending was once again shaky despite the win.

GAME ACTION
Chicago struck just three minutes in, forcing a turnover with some pressure on Zac Rinaldo as he tried to clear the zone. Jamal Mayers flipped a quick pass to rookie Jimmy Hayes, who redirected it past Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz tried to go for a poke check, but got caught between the poke and the save attempt.  

Rinaldo must have felt inclined to make amends, because he threw down with fellow rookie Andrew Shaw on the ensuing face-off. Say what you will about fighting in the NHL, but it often still serves a purpose, for better or worse. [Video and some great pics from that scrap here.]

But Rinaldo didn't stop there. Along with linemates Sean Couturier and Harry Zolnierczyk—all rookies—the Flyers fourth line played its ass off in this one. The momentum they helped create got the Flyers back in the game quickly and kept them there.

Jake Voracek opened the scoring for the Flyers, collecting a long bounce after a Braydon Coburn shot caromed off the end boards and putting it into a fairly open net. Voracek has been playing some good hockey, so it was nice to see him get on the G board. The first period ended with the teams knotted at one.

Blown Wide Open
Indecorous guests that they are, Chicago opened the scoring in the second as well.     
After fighting Rinaldo in the first, Shaw scored in the second. The Flyers didn't wait long to even it up again though, with Scott Hartnell scoring on a golf shot, picking a floated pass out of midair with a swipe toward the net. The goal came on the very next shift after the Shaw goal, and featured great work behind the net and along the boards by the Flyers. Matt Read, playing with G and Hartnell while Jagr is out, worked a a give-and-go with Giroux, who flipped it in front of the crease to Hartnell. Harts was absolutely surrounded by Blackhawks but still managed to get enough wood on it to beat Emery.

Just under four minutes later, the fourth line struck with their contribution. This one was something else too, featuring a great setup by Couturier, some acrobatics by Rinaldo, and a nice finish by Harry Z. Rinaldo went absolutely skates up in his effort to crash the net (legally mind you) and make the goal happen. Twenty-five seconds later, JVR found the net to put the Flyers up 4-2. Both goals in the video below:

Winter Classic Flashbacks...
Heading into the second intermission, the Flyers seemed to have complete control of the game. The Blackhawks stars hadn't really been a big factor in the game, and the Flyer were winning battles and skating hard. This is of course when the wheels came off.

Brent Seabrook beat Bryzgalov on an uncontested shot, nearly freezing him in place. Some goals, including the first two in this game, can be blamed at least in significant part on what's going on outside of the crease. Not this one. Whats worse, it seemed to deflate the Flyers, and 25 seconds later, Patrick Kane scored after the Blackhawks forced a turnover with some hard forechecking. This one we won't blame on Bryz. Kane was all alone in the slot, and despite his struggles this season, he's more than likely going to make that shot.

However, with the game tied at 4, Kane did his best to make amends for once again putting Flyers fans hearts in their throats. He committed the 'Hawks' second high-sticking penalty of the period, and the Flyers went on the power play with less than 2 minutes to go.

According to Peter Laviolette after the game, Giroux was yelling on the bench, "It's not going to happen again!" in reference to the Flyers' handing over a third period win to the Rangers in the Winter Classic. On the power play, G, Hartnell and JVR created one hell of a gorgeous opportunity, with Giroux passing down low to Hartnell, who found JVR streaking toward the goal. Once again he potted it, taking advantage of the penalty taken by the player he'll always be linked to.

More on JVR to come. Great to see him finding chemistry tonight, working with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The RSS Line?

OH NO KIMMO
Kimmo Timonen hurt his wrist in the first period, missing much of it while getting tended to by the trainers. He returned for the start of the second, but quickly disappeared again. The Flyers will probably give an update tomorrow, but for now, they're just calling it an upper-body injury.

SUMMING UP…
It wasn't all hearts and flowers out there, but a win's a win, and the Flyers beat one of the top teams in the league without a top line
winger and losing their best defenseman early in the game. They pummeled Ray Emery with barrages and played one of the fastest-paced games we've seen all season. The goals they let up weren't the end of the world given the quality of the opponent and end-to-end action, but we're still waiting to see Bryzgalov get his game back. He made some pretty huge stops tonight, so there's hope it could be soon, but on the goals, he just looked frozen. Once he commits, he has trouble readjusting. Ya got some work to do with this one, Coach Reese.

Hey, at least Bryz got to wear his Winter Classic mask and pads at least once. The Drummond Custom mask looked pretty outstanding, wouldn't mind seeing it more often.

The Rangers topped Florida again, so the Flyers are still four points behind them. They'll get a chance at two more points on Saturday, when they host the Eastern Conference All-Star Senators.

FULL VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews experienced something new on Sunday. Something he hoped he’d never have to experience. 

He was relegated to spectator.  

After never missing a game dating back to little league – through high school, college, and into his third season in the NFL – a right ankle injury kept him out of Sunday’s 32-14 loss in Cincinnati. 

“It’s definitely not fun,” Matthews said. “But it’s one of those things where I try not to dwell on it or be like ‘woe is me.’ There’s people going through way worse things in America than me missing a football game.”

The Eagles certainly could have used Matthews on Sunday. But they should get him back this weekend when the Birds host Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Linc. Along with Ryan Mathews and Dorial Green-Beckham, Matthews is listed as questionable. 

But he seems confident he’ll be good to go. 

“I think one game is definitely going to be enough for me,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely going to try to get back out there Sunday.” 

On Friday, during his first media availability in two weeks, Matthews said he chose to find the positives in his absence from Sunday’s game. Namely that Paul Turner and Trey Burton got some extra reps. 

Burton had five catches for 53 yards and Turner, in just his second NFL game, had six catches for 80 yards. 

“I try to see the positives,” Matthews said. “I liked seeing what PT was able to go out there and do. I was happy for him and his first live-game action, being able to go out there and make plays. I was also proud of Trey. His role got to expand with me being out and I think he played extremely well. He got to show what he can do and show how he can help this team. We just have to continue to utilize him moving forward. There’s always a positive in it. 

“We might not see it now, in a loss, but just think, some of those guys are going to be weapons for us in the future. And we saw they can go out and perform well without me in there, so I think it’s going to end up being a positive. But I definitely can’t wait to get back out there.”

Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the team would still try to get Turner involved. Since the team sees Turner primarily as a slot receiver, that means Matthews could see time outside this weekend. There’s an even better chance when taking Green-Beckham’s injury into account. 

Before the season, Pederson talked a lot about wanting to play Matthews both inside and outside, but this season, Matthews has been in the slot for 74 percent of his snaps. Forty-four of his 57 catches have come from the slot too. 

On the play where Matthews hurt his ankle against the Packers, he was actually lined up outside and caught a back-shoulder throw from Wentz. 

“I was actually joking with Carson,” Matthews said, “I was like ‘bro, the reason I got hurt was because our back shoulder was better than Jordy [Nelson] and Aaron [Rodgers’]. So it didn’t mesh well with the universe. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way on Monday night for everybody to see, so the football gods took my ankle. So it’s all good. … That’s a joke.”

Matthews, despite being in his third season, is clearly one of the Eagles’ leaders on offense, especially in a very young receivers room. He’s looking forward to playing Washington after he thinks they were the first team that “actually came out and beat” them earlier in the year. 

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim. But Matthews thinks it’s important for the team to finish strong, especially with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. 

With Wentz, Matthews thinks the Eagles have already taken the first step toward building something special. 

“He’s the guy,” Matthews said. “He looks like the guy, he walks like the guy, he talks like it. And he goes out there and plays like it. It’s more we have to continue to ride around him and coach Pederson and be positive and go out there and produce.”

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27