Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Breaking down matchups the Eagles could potentially exploit against their upcoming opponent was often an exercise in futility during the Andy Reid era. It didn’t matter whether the Raiders had the 32nd-ranked run defense in the NFL or winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour in Cincinnati. The Birds were throwing the football.

Chip Kelly on the other hand says he’s all about coaching to the personnel, which you have to think means attacking the opponent’s weaknesses – and in the case of the San Diego Chargers, there appear to be quite a few of them. Below we look at some of the key players in Philadelphia's home opener on Sunday and attempt once again to predict how it will all play out on the field.

Favorable: Trent Cole vs. King Dunlap

Remember last year when Jason Peters went down and everybody condemned the Eagles’ front office for not having quality depth at left tackle? Well, the guy who wound up replacing Peters is a starter in San Diego.

We all know what King Dunlap is. He’s somebody you’re just hoping to get by with at left tackle, preferably for only a game or two – not all season like the Chargers are resigned to doing. Godspeed, Philip Rivers.

Dunlap’s primary assignment will likely be Trent Cole, who looked rejuvenated in the Birds’ Week 1 win over Washington – not lost in the switch to outside linebacker like many people expected. The two-time Pro Bowler registered four tackles (1 TFL), a forced fumble and two hits on the quarterback.

Cole, 30, is coming off of his worst season in the NFL with just three sacks in 2012. He looked like his old self on Monday though, only at a new position. Dunlap and Rivers by extension should be in for a long afternoon at the Linc provided Cole's rebound continues.

Favorable: DeSean Jackson vs. Derek Cox

The Chargers’ best cornerback is Derek Cox, who they acquired from Jacksonville through free agency. So just to be clear, even the Jaguars – the Jaguars! – ultimately didn’t want the top corner now in San Diego.

Defenses could do worse than Cox, but he’s not a guy you can count on to shut down elite wide receivers. The fifth-year veteran was part of a crew that conceded 146 yards off of 12 receptions to Andre Johnson against the Texans in Week 1.

DeSean Jackson may not be Andre Johnson – who by the way is quietly building a Hall of Fame resume in Houston – but DJacc proved he can still be a huge threat against the Redskins. The two-time Pro Bowler caught seven of the nine passes intended for him, going for 104 yards and a 25-yard score.

It’s all downhill from there for the Bolts’ cornerbacks, so whoever is lined up on Jackson, the receiver should have the advantage. San Diego is better suited for stopping the run, and they might place added emphasis in that phase after the Eagles racked up 263 yards on the ground on Monday night. Look for Chip Kelly to exploit the Chargers through the air with Jackson as the go-to target.

Favorable: Brent Celek and Zach Ertz vs. Bront Bird

San Diego used their second-round pick on inside linebacker Manti Te’o in April’s draft, but he’s expected to be out with a foot injury. Standing in for Te’o is this Bront Bird character The Evster is so up in arms over, and aside from having a funny name, he’s not a very good football player. Here’s what John Gennaro of the Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue had to say about the backup’s performance in Week 1:

Hoooooo boy. Want to know why Bront Bird led the Chargers in tackles last night? It's because [Texans head coach] Gary Kubiak's gigantic playsheet had written "Throw/run at Bront Bird" in every box.

Bird is terrible. He was good last year, he was bad in 2011, he obviously does some things well....but he can not be a starter. Not for another game. Not ever.

Bird was beat badly in man coverage by tight ends on two touchdown passes inside the red zone against Houston – one by the respectable Owen Daniels, the other by a relatively anonymous Garrett Graham. Daniels caught another TD earlier in the same game in the area vacated by Bird on play-action.

Quite simply, Bront is a liability in coverage. He doesn’t have the speed or the instinct to keep up with Brent Celek or Zach Ertz, which means one or both of them should have a favorable matchup in the passing attack whenever No. 97 is on the field.

Unfavorable: Brandon Hughes vs. Vincent Brown

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher is out with a concussion, but don’t expect a huge drop-off from his replacement. Brandon Boykin will slide over from his usual position in the slot in two-receiver sets, and if training camp and preseason football are any indication, he’ll do fine on the outside.

The problem that arises is who takes Boykin’s place in nickel packages. Boykin told reporters that he will reprise his role in the slot when San Diego shifts to three receivers, making fourth-year veteran Brandon Hughes the likely candidate to take Fletcher’s place in those situations.

If Chargers head coach Mike McCoy sticks with last week’s lineup, it means Hughes would see a lot of Vincent Brown on the perimeter. A third-round pick in 2011, Brown remains a bit of an unknown for the Bolts. He had some decent outings in his rookie year, but missed all of last season with a broken ankle.

Brown wasn’t much of a factor against the Texans, catching just two passes – although one went for six points. If he and Rivers can get on the same page however, Hughes is a replacement-level player who can be beaten.

Prediction

When I look at the depth chart for San Diego, I see a team that has far more numerous and glaring holes than the Eagles. Philip Rivers shoulders a lot of the blame for the franchise’s recent downturn, but he doesn’t get much protection in the pocket, nor does he have many weapons with which to work.

Meanwhile, one game in it looks as though it could be awhile before defenses figure out how to slow Chip Kelly’s offense down, and if they sell out to stop the run – or even if they don’t – big plays should be there in the passing game. It will come down to whether or not Mike Vick can hit them the way he was able to in Washington.

Throw in the fact that the Chargers are traveling across the country on a short week, coming off a demoralizing loss in which they blew a 21-point lead at home, and it could be a rough outing for the visitors. I like another convincing victory for the Eagles on Sunday.

Score: Eagles 41, Chargers 23

Maikel Franco's benching continues as Howie Kendrick readies to play 3rd base in minors

Maikel Franco's benching continues as Howie Kendrick readies to play 3rd base in minors

The benching of Maikel Franco lasted for a second day Wednesday.

When will it end?

"It's a day-to-day thing," Pete Mackanin said. "No specific plan."

Franco is hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage and a .377 slugging percentage.

Mackanin first benched his third baseman/cleanup hitter on Tuesday. At the time, the manager said he was trying to take some heat off the slumping Franco and let him clear his mind, but the overriding reason for the benching is simple: Mackanin is looking for Franco to make the fundamental adjustments in his swing that will lead to more production.

"At this level you've got to produce," Mackanin said Tuesday. "You want to play, you've got to hit and they have to understand that. Nobody is here on scholarship.

"As much as he works in the cage and on the field in batting practice and does it right, when he gets in the game his head is still flying and his bat is coming out of the zone.

"I can't teach you to keep your head in there. I can tell you to do it, but you have to do it on your own and he's got to figure it out. … If you make outs the same way over and over, it's not going to change."

Franco on Wednesday said he understands the benching. He is disappointed in his production.

"Yes, I'm disappointed," he said. "I know I can produce better and help the team more. Nobody wants to be in this situation, hitting .220. The only thing to do is try to get better.

"I think any good hitter hitting .220 is going to be disappointed. I will not stop working and doing what I have to to get better."

Typically, a manager, especially one such as Mackanin, whose strength is communication, would speak to a player and lay out the reasons for an extended benching.

But Mackanin has chosen to let the lineup card do the talking on this one. He'd like to speak with Franco about the situation, but wants the player to come to him.

It doesn't sound like that's going to happen.

"They understand and I understand, you know?" Franco said. "I'm not the guy to go into the manager's office and say, 'Why am I not in the lineup?' I want to play. He knows what he's doing and I know what I'm capable of doing. Every single day when I come in, I'm 100 percent mentally ready to be in the lineup and I'm ready to play. If I'm not in the lineup, I have to get relaxed and just try to do everything I can to make an adjustment so when I'm in the lineup, I'll do my job."

Andres Blanco played third base in place of Franco on Tuesday and Wednesday. If Franco doesn't improve when he gets back in the lineup — whenever that may be — there could soon be another player in the mix at third base.

Howie Kendrick began a minor-league rehab assignment at Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night. He played left field in that game. Mackanin said the rehab stint would last four games and that Kendrick would also play first and third base.

Do the math on that one.

Franco can be optioned to the minors so that could also be a possibility if his problems persist.

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- Craig Anderson is a realist, the byproduct of 15 years playing the most demanding position in the NHL.

The Ottawa goaltender would like to chalk his 45-save masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh up to his own brilliance. He knows that's not exactly the case.

"I think you need to be a little bit lucky to be good at times," Anderson said.

Ottawa has relied on a bit of both during its deepest playoff run in a decade and Anderson helped force Game 7 Thursday night. Yet here the Senators are, alive and still skating with a chance to eliminate the deeper, more experienced and more explosive Stanley Cup champions.

So much for the series being over after the Penguins destroyed Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5.

"I think, if you believe you're beaten, you're done already," Anderson said. "If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

All the Senators have to do to reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history is take down one of the league's marquee franchises on the road in a building where they were beaten by a touchdown last time out.

No pressure or anything. Really. The Senators weren't supposed to be here. Then again, in a way neither were the Penguins. No team has repeated in nearly two decades and at times during the season and even during the playoffs this group was too beat up. Too tired from last spring's Cup run. The bullseye on their backs too big.

Yet they've survived behind the brilliance of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Mike Sullivan's impeccable decisions and a resiliency that has them one game from being the first Cup champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009.

Those Red Wings, by the way, fell to the Penguins in seven games. There have been several Game 7s for Pittsburgh in the interim on both sides of the ledger, though the Penguins are 2-0 in Game 7s under Sullivan. They edged Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year's East finals and clinically disposed of Presidents' Trophy winner Washington in Game 7 of the second round earlier this month (see full story).

Predators: Goalie Rinne on smothering run
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne's face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

"As a player, I feel like I've had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have."

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he's probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne's 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

"What he does every night, you can't put into words," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said (see full story).

Blues: Sydor returns to Blues as assistant
ST. LOUIS -- Darryl Sydor has returned to the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach under mentor Mike Yeo.

Sydor agreed to a three-year deal Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sydor finished his 18-year NHL playing career with the Blues in 2009-10, then broke into coaching as Yeo's assistant the next season with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros. Sydor went with Yeo to Minnesota and spent five years with the Wild before working as an assistant last season with the Blues' then-Chicago affiliate in the AHL.

Sydor was a defenseman for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, winning Stanley Cup titles with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Coyotes: Cunningham hired as pro scout
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Craig Cunningham as a pro scout and say he will assist with player development.

General manager John Chayka announced the two-year contract Wednesday that allows Cunningham to remain in hockey.

Cunningham collapsed on the ice with a cardiac disturbance prior to a game Nov. 19 while playing for the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners and required emergency life-saving care. He had part of his left leg amputated and saw his playing career end.

But the 26-year-old who was captain of the Roadrunners last season says he's excited to start the next chapter of his hockey career in the Coyotes' front office. Chayka called Cunningham a "smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game" that he believes will translate to his new job.