LeSean McCoy vs. Browns Run Defense and Four Other Key Match-ups on Sunday

LeSean McCoy vs. Browns Run Defense and Four Other Key Match-ups on Sunday

LeSean McCoy vs. Browns run defense

One of the few areas we didn't cover in our chat with WFNY's Scott Sargent earlier in the week was the Browns run defense, which ranked 30th in the NFL last season. Don't expect it to be a whole lot better right off the bat in 2012, either.

Cleveland lost defensive tackle Phil Taylor to a torn triceps over the offseason, and the promising second-year player will miss at least the first part of the season. The injury weakens a front four that even with Taylor's presence allowed 4.4 yards per carry in '11. Further compounding the issue, the injury to Chris Gocong and suspension of Scott Fujita has left the Browns with a collection of nondescript linebackers surrounding D'Qwell Jackson in the middle. Rookies will see significant action on both the defensive line and at outside linebacker.

Meanwhile, Michael Vick did not get much playing time during the preseason, what with his injuries and all. Obviously Andy Reid will try to get him into the flow of the game, but if the quarterback shows any rust, it makes sense to lean heavily on the running game to secure this outcome. Look for a big day from LeSean McCoy, and plenty of touches for either Dion Lewis or Bryce Brown -- or both -- late in the game once the Eagles have their opponent on ice.

Jason Babin vs. Mitchell Schwartz

An area we did address with our Cleveland counterpart was the match-up of the Eagles defensive line against the Browns offensive line, and specifically Babin against Schwartz. A second-round pick out of Cal, the rookie Schwartz is starting his first game at right tackle, and right out of the gate he draws 18 sacks in 2011 as his assignment.

Schwartz could very well be a capable player, maybe even good enough to stonewall Pro Bowlers, but this is his first day, and Babin has made a fool of even the most proven commodities. The Browns will undoubtedly help Schwartz with TE Ben Watson, and the good news for them is they have perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas working against Trent Cole on the other side, but Babin has to be frothing at the mouth while staring across at his competition. It could be a long day for Brandon Weeden in the backfield once #93 gets going.

Eagles linebackers vs. Trent Richardson

The Browns coaching staff will be looking for some way to take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback, and they have a shiny new toy in Richardson, who is seemingly healthy after a preseason clean-up procedure on his knee. In the Eagles wide-9 scheme, it's seemingly a question of when, not if, Richardson will get into the defense's second level, which is where they struggled so much last season.

This is where we'll finally get a glimpse of what exactly the team acquired when they traded for DeMeco Ryans in the middle. Ryans didn't make a bunch of plays in the backfield or anything like that this summer, but he did show a knack for getting off of blocks -- something Eagles linebackers have really failed at in the past -- and he was always in the right position, so instead of runs breaking into the secondary for seven yards, eight yards, or more, most were ending after three or four.

And tackling is a huge part as well. Richardson is an absolute beast of a man who squats 700 lbs. like it's no big deal. Getting this guy to the ground is not easy. Again this is an area where Ryans traditionally excelled, though putting hands on such an insane athlete is no simple matter either. Mychal Kendricks demonstrated he can swarm the ball carrier, but his ability to wrap up will be put to the test against Richardson, as will Akeem Jordan's, who took over for Brian Rolle late in camp.

Eagles wide receivers vs. Sheldon Brown

Joe Haden has escaped suspension (for now), so Cleveland's second-ranked secondary remains intact for Week 1. Haden is on the verge of superstardom in this league if he can convert on a few more big plays, so don't expect DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin to just go easily flying by the guy.

Sheldon Brown is another story. As we mentioned in our look back on the trade that sent the former Bird to Brown town, Sheldon has remained a mostly reliable corner for that defense, but his age is definitely beginning to show. Brown was never the guy who ran the fastest 40 time, but now that he's lost a step or two, he can be a liability in deep coverage, especially against the type of weapons Vick has.

Make no mistake, the Browns aren't likely to let Jackson or Maclin go running by their decrepit cornerback. There will be plenty of safety help over the top, as there always is whenever Djacc is on the field. Whether or not the Eagles can expose this apparent mismatch will be one of the keys to the game however -- not necessarily for big plays, but can the receivers create separation on the short and intermediate routes where Sheldon is stuck in one-on-one situations.

Brent Celek and Clay Harbor vs. Browns linebackers

Once again those outside linebackers are coming into play, only this time if they are asked to cover the Eagles' tight ends. If Vick has trouble finding targets on the outside, he may have his security blankets down the seam instead.

After a slow start in 2011, Celek turned it on down the stretch. As long as he's not required to help constantly in pass protection -- a major concern again this season with King Dunlap at left tackle -- he can be a serious weapon in the passing game. Harbor could find himself taking on a more prevalent role in the offense as well, particularly against a defense that could be prone to a two tight end attack that forces mismatches on outside linebackers. Again, the Browns were stingy against the pass last year, and we all know Andy Reid wants to throw the ball, so heavy involvement of Celek and Harbor might be a potential solution.

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton may need another knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton may need another knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton went to Houston on Sunday, facing the possibility of another knee surgery in his bid to return to the majors.

Hamilton will be examined Monday by Dr. Walt Lowe, who performed reconstructive surgery on the former AL MVP's left knee last June.

The Rangers acknowledge Hamilton might require arthroscopic knee surgery. If he does, Hamilton would likely be out four to six weeks and then need a minor league rehab assignment.

"We'll know once Dr. Lowe sees him," Rangers assistant general manager Mike Daly said. "Josh felt and Dr. Lowe felt that he needed to go back down and get an evaluation."

Hamilton was examined by Lowe in Houston last Wednesday after his knee flared up in running drills. He was given a platelet-rich plasma injection to alleviate the discomfort.

Hamilton returned to camp on Thursday and he experienced discomfort after riding a stationary bike for two days. (see full story)

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."

 

 

 

NBA Power Rankings: The Sixers remain in the bottom third of the NBA

NBA Power Rankings: The Sixers remain in the bottom third of the NBA

The most recent NBA power rankings have the Sixers dropping further or remaining in the lower third of the NBA. 

Recent news of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ injury situations have the experts assuming the season is a lost cause and the team is focused on this June’s draft.

A trade of Nerlens Noel confirms the Sixers are banking on building around Embiid and wanted to get a return on Noel instead of letting him walk at the end of the season.

Last week
The Sixers split their only two games of the week: A 120-112 win against the Wizards Friday night and a buzzer-beater 110-109 loss to the Knicks Saturday night.

Against the Wizards, Robert Covington recorded a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds – both team leaders. The Sixers had seven players in double-digit points including Dario Saric and Gerald Henderson both pouring in 20. The Sixers did not give up the lead after the beginning of the second quarter. 

Carmelo Anthony drained a game-winning shot on Saturday for the Knicks. Jahlil Okafor led the Sixers with 28 points while Saric added 19 and Covington tallied 20. 

This week
• Tonight, the Sixers face the Warriors in Philadelphia (7 p.m./CSN)

• Wednesday against the Heat in Miami (7:30 p.m./CSN)

• Friday they face the Knicks at home (7 p.m./CSN)

• Saturday they stay at the Wells Fargo Center for the Pistons (6 p.m./CSN)

What the experts say
John Schuhmann of NBA.com was gracious only dropping the Sixers from 21 to 22 this past week. Maybe he trusts the process. 

He makes a good point about Okafor's situation after the Noel trade:

“The Sixers have been at their worst offensively with Okafor on the floor, but he scored 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting on Saturday, getting two huge, final-minute buckets in the post before Carmelo Anthony hit the game-winner. He may not be the better fit, but he has two more years on his rookie deal.”

Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report dropped the Sixers to 24 on his list, three spots lower than last week. 

He took a look into Embiid’s efficiently in the post and found some interesting numbers from Chris Herring of ESPN's FiveThirtyEight:

“The 7-footer has really been in a giving mood near the basket, where he's coughed the ball up on nearly 22 percent of his post-up looks, the highest turnover rate among NBA players with at least 100 plays, according to Synergy. And his turnover rate jumps up to a whopping 32 percent when teams aggressively send a second defender to double Embiid in the post."

Hughes ended his piece by saying the Sixers look to be on a downturn for the rest of the season. 

Jeremy Wood of Sports Illustrated moved the Sixers one spot from last week which leaves them at 26 on his list. 

He questions “trusting the process” stating that there are many questions surrounding Bryan Colangelo and the front office after the Noel trade. 

“It’s a longer-term question, but there will be short-term clues.”

Couldn’t have said it any better. 

Finally, Matt Moore of CBS Sports drops the Sixers from 22 to 26 this week. Moore is starting to see a repetitive story with the Sixers and it’s struggles. 

“Usually if a team loses both its top picks in a rebuilding year, you feel awful for them and their fans. With the Sixers, you're left just feeling like this is the status quo, forever.”