Meaningless? No Bearing on Standings, Game 82 Still Carries Tone

Meaningless? No Bearing on Standings, Game 82 Still Carries Tone

Eighty-one games into the season and five games into the season series between the Flyers and Penguins, there's little more we can learn about where these two teams stand as they enter the playoffs. They played a week ago, they'll play again today, and on Wednesday, they'll faceoff for the first game of a best of seven series. If the league or NBC wanted more Flyers-Pens, they certainly got their wish, although perhaps a round or two early.
Today's matchup means absolutely nothing in terms of black and white postseason implications. These teams will meet in Pittsburgh, the fifth seed visiting the fourth. That scenario wasn't finalized until this past week, but it's been on the horizon for the past month. 
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE STILL UP FOR GRABS, KIND OFBut seeding and home ice advantage aren't necessarily the most important factors to establish entering the postseason. Today could still have more bearing on playoff success than either element. 
Why? Well, the Penguins have the home-ice advantage in the series, right? The Flyers have yet to lose in Pittsburgh's new igloo, going 5-0 since opening the building with a win last season. Today's starter for Philadelphia, Sergei Bobrovsky, was in net for each win. 
And yet, today's game could mean more than any of the previous five in terms of establishing the actual advantage of playing in Pittsburgh. If the Flyers win again, it would seem there is little, although the building will surely be more frenzied in a postseason setting. If the Pens win, any swagger the Flyers have based on their previous spoilers likely evaporates, pushing the "advantage" more toward neutral, if not back into Pittsburgh's favor. 
There's also the fact that the Flyers have fared better on the road than at home. The opposite is true for the Pens though, so it's likely a wash. And, no matter what their splits, no team sees starting on the road as an advantage. The Flyers have picked up their game at home, and the splits aren't that disparate to begin with. 
GOALIESPeter Laviolette and his crew have decided to rest Ilya Bryzgalov, who will be the team's starter in the postseason. Bryz played well in their win over Buffalo on Thursday, and certainly wasn't the reason they lost to the Rangers on Tuesday. So why isn't he starting today, with rest on the calendar before the playoffs start? It's a good question, yet not a decision many (including us) are actually questioning. 
With the tangible postseason elements now off the table, why not give a player with a chip fracture in his foot a day off from what could be a battle? It won't see him healed completely when the series begins, but he won't be any worse off, either. 
Resting Bryz also saves the slim chance that the Penguins might light him up. Not something anyone east of State College would want to see. 
And of course, there's the Bob Factor. Since getting his first-ever NHL start on the night Pittsburgh opened the CONSOL Energy Center, Bob has never lost there. I stole the graphic on the right from the Pensblog
Lavvy's stated reason for today's goaltending decision, per Sam Carchidi, is that Bryz looked sharp in his last game, and he wants to give the goalie a breather after a busy March. Works for me. 
Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Penguins. 
ROUGH STUFF?The way the last meeting ended, coaches standing on the boards, breaking shit, it's reasonable to think there could be some fireworks today. But the teams could keep it close to the vest today, knowing the real show starts in the week ahead. 
Or, they could plan to keep it cool... Then have all hell break loose once the first questionable hit is thrown. Jody Shelley and Zac Rinaldo are both likely be in the lineup, unless Harry Z gets one of their slots. He was called up today.  (Update: See Giroux note below)
The Pens have called up Steve MacIntyre. With Joe Vitale now Flyers' enemy #1, he'll have another wingman in case he's targeted as revenge for his hits on Nick Grossmann and Danny Briere. 
ODDS & ENDSNo Grossmann today (day to day). Same goes for Briere (who knows). 
Claude Giroux has 93 points. An cool 95 would look damn fine on the Year Four line of his career totals.  
An even 40 goals would look pretty nice on Scott Hartnell's total. Especially because that'd mean Scottie racked a hat trick today. 
UPDATE: Looks like no G today. Multiple beats say he's not on the ice for warmups. 
4PM start on NBCSN. 

Whose stocks are rising and falling after Eagles' third preseason game?

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Whose stocks are rising and falling after Eagles' third preseason game?

Sam Bradford was almost perfect in the Eagles' biggest preseason tune-up on Saturday night.

Heard that one before. Bradford's line is the perfect example of why we can only lend so much validity to preseason performance. On paper, 17 of 20 for 167 yards and two touchdowns — with two dropped passes mind you — looks like an incredible line. What the box score fails to mention however is the Colts were without seven regulars on defense, so a veteran quarterback should excel, particularly against vanilla schemes.

Bradford's performance was eerily reminiscent of almost one year ago to the day, when he was 10 of 10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers in an exhibition game. We all know how that turned out — an up-and-down season for the signal-caller, and a 7-9 record for the Eagles.

At the same time, it's not as if there weren't positives to take away from Bradford's performance this summer. He's actually pushing the ball downfield a little bit, not necessarily deep, but working the intermediate passing attack. He looks confident and is stepping up in the pocket, making good decisions, throwing the football accurately and with anticipation. Bradford looks great.

Of course, he's looked great in the preseason before, yet once again, it doesn't mean much. What we've seen from the Eagles through three games — on both sides of the football — certainly is encouraging, especially to those of us who don't think this is a bad team to begin with. That being said, not sure this stuff should change any minds until they get it done in the real thing starting on September 11 versus the Browns.

STOCK UP

Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff

Okay, if you weren't excited to see Green-Beckham sky over a cornerback to pluck a Bradford fade out of the air for a four-yard touchdown, you may not have a pulse. DGB made that play look effortless, which is exactly what you want to see from a 6-foot-5, 237-pound wideout on an overmatched defensive back. Not saying DGB is going to post prolific numbers in 2016, but he can be a dangerous weapon in the red zone if nowhere else.

Credit where credit is due to Huff, a frustrating player we like to have fun with. No miscues on Saturday, finishing with two receptions for 60 yards including a 38-yard catch-and-run, and scoring from nine yards out on a jet sweep. The Eagles have been making a conscious effort to put him in positions to showcase his talent, and he probably just made the team with this performance.

Trey Burton, Zach Ertz

Wouldn't it be something if Burton played a role in the offense this season? The hybrid tight end hauled in five passes for 35 yards and a touchdown while getting a long look with the first-team offense. Don't be surprised if the Eagles use a lot more three-tight end formations this season, because Burton is a real weapon.

Quick plug for Ertz here, who has impressed me in all three games with his work as a blocker. That was the area most in need of improvement when he entered the league, and it's reached a point where he's looked very effective thus far.

Jason Peters

The fact that we haven't been talking about Peters the past few weeks is probably the biggest reason why his stock is on the rise. The Eagles simply need their left tackle to be healthy, and even if he's not the dominant force he once was, the eight-time Pro Bowler should bring stability to their offensive line. Peters has made it through the past two games, which in itself is a promising sign.

Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen

Fletcher Cox too, obviously. The front four has done exactly what is expected of it from a Jim Schwartz-coached defense, which is wreak havoc in opposing backfields.

Barwin has adjusted well to the move from 3-4 linebacker to 4-3 end, notching a sack on Saturday to give him 1.5 in the preseason. That takedown came on a pressure by Graham, who's been very active in all three games as well. Logan has eased concerns as to whether he is tailored for the attacking scheme, getting consistent penetration from the tackle position. And even Allen, a 2013 seventh-round draft pick, has flashed with 1.5 sacks this summer, perhaps cementing a roster spot in the process. We could list a number of players in this space. They've all been pretty good.

Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks

You have to love what you've seen from Bradham in the running game. The free-agent addition racked up five tackles against the Colts, constantly crashing the line of scrimmage and stopping ballcarriers for minimal gains, no gain, or losses. He hasn't been tested as much in coverage, but the 6-foot-2, 241-pound linebacker is proving his worth against the ground attack.

Hicks probably had his best game of the preseason as well, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hurry to force an errant throw on a 4th-and-1 attempt. Nothing special, but a solid performance overall from a key player who's had kind of a quiet summer.

C.J. Smith III

Smith had a team-high seven tackles, which is not a good statistic for a cornerback. Then again, the undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State was guarding the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief much of the night. That's some legit NFL talent right there, and Smith didn't back down. There was no busted coverages, the coverage was generally tight even if the catch was made and he got the receivers to the ground. It was strange seeing him on the first-team defense, which makes you wonder what the Eagles' intentions are. He didn't earn a starting job or anything, but it was a solid effort.

Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz

One last note, and it's a credit to the coaching staff. After watching Chip Kelly and Bill Davis pretend they could just plug personnel into their systems without any thought given to the players' strengths and weaknesses, Pederson and Schwartz are a breath of fresh air. Kelly's team was successful in the preseason in large part because opponents didn't game-plan for the uptempo offense. Pederson's Eagles have looked good because they've put players in the right position to succeed. This is one area I am convinced is a clear upgrade from last season.

STOCK DOWN

Mychal Kendricks

Kendricks was playing for the first time this preseason. Still, much like for large stretches of 2015, he was invisible out there, failing to so much as get in on a tackle. It's also worth noting he subbed off in the Eagles' nickel package and therefore appears to be facing a reduced role. The fifth-year linebacker can be excused to some extent for a slow start, but more will be expected of Kendricks going forward coming off of such a disappointing campaign.

Rueben Randle

Randle's absence from the first-team offense was notable, particularly while DGB and Huff were having big nights. Even Nelson Agholor, despite dropping a pass that went for an interception, has at least shown the ability to get open and a willingness to block. Randle had two catches for 12 yards on Saturday, with Jordan Matthews soon returning from injury and Chris Givens' downfield speed enticing to this Eagles coaching staff, Randle might be playing his final game in midnight green this Thursday.

Wendell Smallwood

To be fair, it's not Smallwood's fault he's been banged up this summer. Unfortunately, life often isn't fair, and the fact that the fifth-round rookie exited this game with a concussion will not help his chances of contributing this season. Smallwood simply hasn't had the reps in practice or games for the Eagles to feel comfortable that he knows the offense or could protect the quarterback. With Ryan Mathews looking good and Kenjon Barner having a strong summer, it seems likely Smallwood will be worked into the offense slowly in the season ahead.

Ed Reynolds

It looked bad for Reynolds when the Eagles drafted Blake Countess in the sixth round. Then Jaylen Watkins emerged as a credible option as the third safety this summer, rendering Reynolds an afterthought. Now the 2014 fifth-round pick may have been responsible for the missed assignment on a blocked punt, special teams ultimately being the area where backups must make their mark. He's played the position aggressively this summer, and it would not be surprising to see him land on his feet somewhere, but Reynolds has an uphill battle to make this roster.

Cody Parkey

Parkey's preseason was going much more smoothly than his training camp, right up until he missed an extra point on Saturday. If it were just one kick, it might be easier to overlook, but the 2014 Pro Bowler's accuracy has been shaky all summer. It was simply the first time we saw it in a game. Meanwhile, Caleb Sturgis has been money, which we'll see how that works out for the Eagles when the regular season rolls around, but the job is probably his.

Josh Huff flashes again, but can he finally find consistency?

Josh Huff flashes again, but can he finally find consistency?

INDIANAPOLIS – The main reason Josh Huff has been such a frustrating player during his young NFL career was on full display Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
 
He flashed. Again.
 
The third-year wideout from Oregon was dynamic, elusive, productive. He didn’t look like a disappointment. He didn’t look like the player fans have grown to distrust. Instead, he looked like the guy they still hope he can become.
 
“Just get back to being me, get back to being myself,” Huff said. “I know every receiver, everybody’s gonna drop balls in this league. I just can’t beat myself up over that.
 
“I know that I belong in this league. I know that I’m able to make plays in this league, so I just have to play my game and be myself and let it sort itself out.”
 
Huff finished Saturday’s 33-23 win over the Colts with two catches for 60 yards and a nine-yard touchdown run. He again showed just how dangerous he can be when the ball’s in his hands.
 
His first catch of the day was a 38-yard catch-and-run, which clearly played to his strengths. His second was a 22-yard pickup on a critical 3rd-and-6 during a drive that ended with a touchdown.
 
And aside from the catches, he also ran into the end zone on a 9-yard jet sweep early in the second quarter.
 
“We had some plays designed to get him involved this week, to get him the ball,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I thought he did a great job. The play that really comes to my mind is the third down where it was man coverage. He beat the guy and made a nice catch, big conversion for us. He’s a guy, and I’ve said it all camp, that has big play potential for us. It’s just with his speed and his ability to run after the catch. To get him involved tonight and see those things from him, it was really nice.”
 
Huff said he tried to enter the game like it was any other. And he said he didn’t do anything differently. But it clearly seems like the 24-year-old is trying desperately to get out of his own way. Because when he does, he can be electric.
 
Saturday night was also about the coaching staff’s finding a way to use Huff — something that clearly eluded the last staff, despite Chip Kelly’s familiarity with the wideout.
 
With Jordan Matthews out against the Colts, Huff again played in the slot, a role that seems to fit his strengths, while the jet sweep for a touchdown was the culmination of plenty of similar plays run during practices.
 
“Coaches know what I can do with the ball in my hands,” Huff said. “So they’re trying to find ways to get the ball in my hands, whether it’s a pass or behind the line of scrimmage.“
 
The Eagles made sure to get the ball to Huff on Saturday night and he rewarded them with the kind of play he’s shown he’s capable of before.
 
He took a step forward Saturday night. Now, he just needs to make sure the step backward doesn’t follow this time.
 
“It’s just a mental game for me,” Huff said. “I know I can make all the plays that I made today. It’s just about doing it on a consistent basis and being the best I can be during that play or during that game.”

Today's Lineup: A.J. Ellis, as expected, catches Vince Velasquez

Today's Lineup: A.J. Ellis, as expected, catches Vince Velasquez

After arriving to the team Saturday, veteran backstop A.J. Ellis will see his first game action in a Phillies uniform, as expected, in Sunday's series finale against the Mets.

Ellis will catch right-handed starter Vince Velasquez and bat seventh. The catcher doesn't bring much to the plate with his bat, but he calls a good game and was Clayton Kershaw's personal catcher in Los Angeles. It'll be interesting to see how he handles Velasquez.

The 35-year-old is hitting just .194 this season with one home run and 13 RBIs.

In other lineup notes, Tommy Joseph gets the start at first base and will bat cleanup and Jimmy Paredes gets his second straight start in left field. Paredes will hit sixth.

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Jimmy Paredes, LF
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.