On Locking Up The Defensemann

On Locking Up The Defensemann

Thankfully, I've never been sick enough to warrant a Get Well Soon card. I have, however, gotten the requisite birthday cards, always opened with that "Will some cash or a check fall out?" anticipation. Well, yesterday, Nick Grossmann got a combination of both. Sidelined with a knee injury, The Defensemann received and signed a 4-year contract to stay in Philadelphia, as Nick covered yesterday
The digits appear relatively favorable for the club (4 years, $14 mil; $3.5 mil cap hit), which has seen improved rearguarding since trade deadline deals brought Grossmann and Pavel Kubina to town. The Flyers had steadily been among the league's worst in allowing goals, surviving on their ability to light the lamp at a higher clip than most nights' opponents. But Grossmann and Kubina brought size and experience to the blue line, and along with improved goaltending, the Flyers have become a more balanced team. 
As I imagine was the case for most Flyers fans, Kubina was the more recognizable commodity at the time. We've seen much more of him over the years, and his name is usually thrown around when deadlines approach. However, it's been Grossmann who's had the bigger impact since coming over. 
Without Chris Pronger, the Flyers had only two bigs on the blue line—Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Grossmann's impact was immediate, bringing an ability to clear the porch and reliably manage the attacker under his charge. Puck-moving ability is key for defensemen in the Flyers' system, and it's not a particular strength of Grossmann's. But the team already had vertical mobility, and it's not as though Grossmann is a sieve with the puck on his stick. In fact, he's appeared better than advertised in nearly every way. 
Our intel on Grossmann was decidedly thin when he came over. Due to the NHL's conference-heavy scheduling and his playing in Dallas, we knew little of him before reading the trade-day descriptions that basically all said the same things. Dallas dealt him in part due to a perceived inability to retain him when he became a free agent this coming summer; his star had also fallen in Big D, where he was moved from the top pairing to the second. 
It appeared at the time of the deal that the Flyers would give the 27-year-old, 6'3"/227 Grossmann a solid look, and if he panned out as expected, bolster the defense for the next few seasons by inking him to an extension. 
That's exactly how it has played out, despite the interesting timing of his signing coinciding with a knee injury. Grossmann already wears a brace on one knee, and Joe Vitale's hit injured the other one. There's no definite timetable on his return (or at least, one has not been given aside from "day to day"). The Flyers must be pretty confident that the injury is minor and transient though, or they wouldn't have consummated the deal. 
BLUE LINE LANDSCAPEWhat the Grossmann contract says about the team's overall defense plan is unclear. 
Uncertainty abounds on the blue line's horizon, where Kimmo Timonen has one year left on his contract and quite possibly his NHL career. Chris Pronger's NHL future is uncertain at best, though the book is not yet closed. Matt Carle will be a coveted free agent when the spending season opens this summer, unless the Flyers extend him first, which could be tough with the market often friendly to players who fit his description. Pavel Kubina has said he'd like to be re-signed by Philly, but if that happens, it'd likely have to be at a much lower cap hit than his current $3.8 mil. Andrej Meszaros has two more seasons left on his current deal, both at $4 mil per, though he could always be dealt, and the Flyers made Braydon Coburn their cornerstone this past fall when they extended him through 2015-2016 at $4.5 mil per season. (Figures in this section courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
Hamstrung by the uncertainty of Pronger's future and the permanence of his 35+ contract, the Flyers have lined up Coburn and Grossmann as fixtures, but most other slots could be in play going forward. As usual, they'll be linked to any defenseman looking to change addresses this summer. 
The team has overcome tremendous bad luck with their defensemen, from Pronger's severe concussion to a slew of injuries throughout the season. Meszaros is likely out until the second round timeframe at best, Grossmann is "day to day," and a career's worth of long minutes has taken its toll on Timonen. And yet, the Flyers are a contender when the playoffs begin next week. Paul Holmgren's deals to bring on defensive depth may have saved the season, as well as being tryouts for the future. 
Yesterday, the team anted up on Grossmann, who appears to be a safe bet provided his knees hold up. 

Week 13 NFC East Recap: Hey, the Eagles aren't the only ones that lost

Week 13 NFC East Recap: Hey, the Eagles aren't the only ones that lost

As the sun slowly sets on another Eagles season, and gut instinct is to focus exclusively on an offseason of secondary upgrades and potential wide receiver free agents, there is still great pleasure to be found here in 2016.

After all, the NFC East might not be as great as we thought.

Sure, Dallas seems on their way to home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which feels like getting your earlobe stuck in a car door. And sure, currently the Giants and Washington are in the Wild Card spots, which is a lot like someone trying to pierce your belly-button while you’re trying to remove said earlobe from said car door. But none of that matters this week! Because this week, two out of three of the Eagles division rivals provided concrete evidence that neither may be as good as their playoff-worthy records dictate.

And when you can’t find joy in your own accomplishments, well, it’s always recommended one finds a little silver lining in the demise of those closest to you. That’s just life.

Here’s a look at what happened this week in the NFC East:

 

Dallas Cowboys

What Happened: It was one of Dallas’ tougher victories on the year, which is like saying the Chicken Mini Quesadilla is the healthiest item on the Taco Bell value menu. Minnesota played the Cowboys extremely tough, forcing two turnovers, winning the time of possession, and holding Canton-bound Dak Prescott to a measly 139 yards in the air. 

Alas, none of that ended up mattering because with 25 seconds remaining, Sam Bradford’s two-point conversion pass sailed out the back of the endzone, and the Cowboys were able to hold on for their 11th consecutive victory, 17-15. 

Sure, there was a lot more to it than that. Prescott fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 that could have allowed Dallas to run out the clock. A Vikings punt returner fumbled in the 4th quarter that gave Dallas a key redzone opportunity. And Bradford did lead an impressive 65-yard touchdown drive to give his team the chance to send the game into overtime.

But none of that really matters, as Dallas walked away with another win. And before you get too down about it, just thank the higher powers that you’re not a Minnesota Vikings fan this season. 

What It Means: The Vikings have dropped to 6-6, which is a good thing for the Eagles first round pick, and a completely irrelevant thing for the Dallas Cowboys. Jason Garrett’s squad has now clinched a playoff spot (thanks to a Washington lost) and can turn their focus onto clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, before inevitably resting their starters before facing the Birds in Week 17. They’re now at the point of a successful season where the most important debate is how best to avoid rust heading into the playoffs. Earlobe, meet car door.

The Cowboys are an interesting study. Last year, they lost their quarterback, then lost seven games in a row. This year they have the quarterback, and have won eleven in a row. Sure, Ezekiel Elliott has been tremendous, but it’s not as if the Cowboys running game was so atrocious in 2015. And yet, when you watch Prescott, he’s not doing SO much to warrant an 8-game (and counting) improvement.

The full reasoning behind ‘How Dallas Went From Garbage Eaters To The NFCs Top Team’ can’t be attributed to just one move. But it does stand as a nice reminder that in the NFL, things can turn around very quickly.

Unfortunately, it just seems like forever since they turned around for us.

What’s Next: Dallas faces the Giants in New Jersey, the last (and only) team to beat them this season. They then face Tampa Bay and Detroit, both teams fighting for a playoff spot, so no gimme-games between now and Week 17.

 

Washington

What Happened: Like last week against Dallas, Washington found themselves in an early hole and couldn’t fight back. Kirk Cousins was good-not-great, throwing for 271 yards but putting up a costly interception. And Washington’s defense had no answer for the Cardinal’s David Johnson, who had 175-total yards (thanks in large part to nine receptions) and a pair of touchdowns.

Also, their was a weird rumor on Sunday morning about DeSean Jackson being an Eagles target in the offseason. It’s unlike the Eagles to leak rumors about offseason targets, especially during the regular season, so the most likely scenario is this is information provided by Jaccpot’s agent. While I’ll always have a soft-spot in my football heart for the guy who did this, the idea that an aging wide receiver whose game is built on speed will cure the Iggles woes seems about as likely as Sam Hinkie replacing Howie Roseman.

Not like that’s a excuse for the woeful Washington defense, however. They’ve now given up 31 points in consecutive games, which sets a nice bar for Carson Wentz and Co. on Sunday.

What It Means: For the second week in a row, Washington failed the test, and while I don’t remember too much from High School, I imagine there's only so many times you can retake an exam. 

The Cardinals are a good and desperate team playing at home; there's no shame in going down swinging. However this is the second week in a row Washington fans have to build themselves up over the positives to take from defeat. To make something happen from a wild card spot, Dan Snyder’s squad will need to win games on the road against tough opponents. The past two weeks, they didn’t, and it’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen this team’s ceiling.

What’s Next: A trip to Philly where the Eagles have been hard to beat this year. Let’s not forget; the Birds playoff chances were denied the past two seasons by this very Washington squad. In a season suddenly lacking in joyous victories, a W on Sunday would feel phenomenal. 

 

New York Giants

What Happened: Like Washington, the Giants faced a real test on Sunday, and like Washington, the Giants failed miserably. New York was never really in this one, falling behind 14-0 to Pittsburgh in the first half and never bringing it within a score again. Eli Manning threw a pair of interceptions, both in the redzone, though in his defense one of them was on a fourth-and-13 and the Giants were already way behind because of how terrible Eli had been earlier in the afternoon. So, in theory, not fully his fault there.

Oh, and did Odell Beckham say something silly? But of course! The Giants headline-creating wide receiver had a number of complaints against the officiating on Sunday, saying it felt like it was “us against the world.”

The Giants were called for four penalties on the day, while the Steelers were called for twelve. Beckham’s claims that the refs made it “the Giants against the world” has as much base in reality as the theory climate change is caused by bullfrogs spending too much time in the rain. This man is like a living, breathing, fake-news site. But no, LETS BLAME THE REFS.

What It Means: At 8-4, the Giants would need a lot of things to go wrong to miss out on a Wild Card spot. Tampa, Minnesota, Green Bay --- all three are two games behind Big Blue. With just four games remaining, that’s a lead even Willie Randolph feels safe with.

That being said, the Giants final four games are all against playoff teams (oh, and also the regressing Eagles), so in order to cement their spot in the postseason, New York will have to do something they haven’t done since Week 6: beat a team over .500.

What’s Next: It’s Dallas Week for the Giants, so what else could matter? Sweeping the season series against the team with the best record in the NFL would go a long way towards preparing this team mentally for the playoffs.

Sixers fail to take care of business against Denver Nuggets

Sixers fail to take care of business against Denver Nuggets

It really felt like we could've gotten this one. The Denver Nuggets are hardly pushovers, but they came into this one a 7-13 team that'd lost their last three games, and even last night they seemed fairly beatable, even for a Philadelphia 76ers team still missing Robert Covington (in additional to our usual mini-roster of absentees). But Philly's energy sagged in the third quarter as Denver caught a second wind, and they spent the final frame hitting shots that the Sixers couldn't answer. Final score: Nuggets 106, 76ers 98. 

The most sobering part of the loss was that Joel Embiid finally played what would best be described as "a bad game." Not that bad, of course — even at his worst, Joel still managed 16 points and notched career-high five blocks. But he only shot 5-15 from the field, turned ball over three times, grabbed just four boards and played a large part in the sinkhole offense that the Sixers played in the late third and early fourth that ultimately cost them this one. JoJo still has trouble reading double teams and knowing when not to attack into traffic, and his frustration was extremely evident as he kept trying to do too much and paying the price for it. 

Nonetheless, even with an off Embiid night and a still-slumping Sauce — officially down to Left in the Car Overnight temperature after a night of 4 points on 1-7 shooting in 35 minutes — Philly probably still coulda gotten this one. Sergio Rodriguez appears to have swiped Nik's swag at least temporarily, with a season-high 17 points on 7-14 shooting to go with seven dimes and three steals, while Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova also poured in 17 and 8 each, and the Nuggets wings were largely kept quiet for two and a half quarters. But even while struggling, the Nuggets paraded their way to free-throw line — 34 FTAs for the night, including 12 for Danilo Gallinari alone — and once they caught fire late, the Sixers just couldn't keep up. 

A bummer for a team that's now lost seven in a row, and has to face the Grizzlies tonight in Memphis — their fourth game in five nights, and the first of a three-game road trip — without Embiid and also without Jahlil Okafor, out with illness. Even with the Grizz missing their own big names (no Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph or Vince Carter lately) and likely suffering from fatigue of their own after a double-OT road win last night in New Orleans, the 4-17 Sixers are gonna have a tough go matching Memphis' grit and grind tonight. Anytime you feel like Supermanning in and saving the day now would be cool, Nerlens Noel. Just sayin'.