Circle your calendar -- the Union's 2014 schedule is out and it's home-heavy late

Circle your calendar -- the Union's 2014 schedule is out and it's home-heavy late

We could've used a photo of Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, where the Union will open 2014 against the Timbers. But we couldn't turn down Timbers fan Owen Dell, wearing ear muffs before Sunday's game against Real Salt Lake. (Photo USA TODAY Sports)

It's been a while since we discussed Union soccer here at the Level. That's largely because there wasn't much to talk about after the team collapsed down the stretch and missed out on the playoffs (Real Salt Lake will play for MLS Cup at Sporting KC on Dec. 7, in case you were curious). And somewhat because your resident soccer nerds (Dave Zeitlin and I) have small children who don't understand "Daddy has to blog now."

Anyway, there isn't much going on on the roster front, at least until the Union begin what should be a decent amount of offseason wheeling and dealing. Expect that to happen in the coming weeks, as we get closer to the 2014 MLS Draft, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center here in Philadelphia.

But in a very un-MLS bit of news for a league that is notorious for waiting until the last minute to plan anything, the 2014 schedule was released on Monday.

Seriously, I'm stunned.

Anyway, we have plenty of time to see which games will mean most next year. But here's a few quick takes on next year's slate.

  • The Union get no favors on opening weekend, beginning their season at one of the toughest road stadiums in the league, March 8 at the Portland Timbers. The Timbers lost Sunday night in the Western Conference semifinals, and play in front of one of the best crowds in MLS (we won't talk about their fake grass). A point on the road would be a great start for the Union. I'd count on that game being on national television.
  • The rest of March isn't too bad for the Union. The home opener follows on March 15 against New England, followed by a short trip to Columbus and a home game against Montreal.
  • For better or worse, April and May will be where we find out if the Union are for real or not. Only three of nine games are at home, mixed in with tough road trips to Chicago, New York, Montreal, Seattle, Kansas City and Los Angeles (the good news is back-to-back road games in LA vs. Galaxy and Chivas. East to stay out there instead of making two trips).
  • Plenty of time to rest after that stretch with just two games in June due to a break for the 2014 World Cup.
  • Union will be on the road for July 4th yet again, with a game at FC Dallas. The highlight of July will be a Wednesday home game against New York (already slated for ESPN2).
  • If the Union are in decent position come September, the schedule really opens up. Seven of the last 10 games are at PPL Park, against many teams that SHOULD be expected three-pointers (Toronto, Columbus, Chicago). Between August 21 and the season finale on October 26, the Union will make just three road trips, and all should be winnable: At Toronto (Sept. 6), At D.C. United (Sept. 27) and at Columbus (Oct. 26).

Eagles mailbag: Carson Wentz's skill, running backs, center spot

Eagles mailbag: Carson Wentz's skill, running backs, center spot

The NFL found a way to prevent the Eagles from winning this weekend: Don't let them play. 

Yup, the Eagles are riding high at 3-0, but an early Week 4 bye has them waiting to play again until Oct. 9 in Detroit against the Lions. 

Thanks to a hot start from rookie Carson Wentz and the defense, the Eagles have been one of the biggest surprises of the NFL so far and have Philadelphia buzzing. 

As always, thanks for your questions. We'll dive right in: 

Wentz's ability to extend plays doesn't make his receivers better, but it certainly gives them more opportunities, which is really just as good. 

This skill is something Wentz really takes pride in. He wants his receivers to know that no matter how broken the play is, it isn't dead until the whistle. In that regard, the comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers make plenty of sense. And his receivers love the idea of having extra seconds to get open. 

During the Chicago game, Wentz really showed this ability. He showed he can move around and out of the pocket while also keeping his eyes downfield. It was just a matter of time before he hit big on one of those plays. 

Sure enough, he did it in the third quarter against the Steelers. I broke down that play using the tape and it showed a unique skill set out of a quarterback (see story)

https://twitter.com/faux_micahGreg/status/781171954241851392

We had a few questions about running backs, so we'll let this one speak for them all. 

On Monday, Doug Pederson said that once Ryan Mathews ankle is completely healed, Mathews is still the lead back who will get most of the team's carries. I think Pederson means it. 

Still, Mathews has had injury problems for a long time and it looks like this year is no different. It had to be encouraging for the Eagles to see how well Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood played against the Steelers. While Mathews is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, Barner is at 6.1 and Smallwood is at 4.8. 

Sproles, who has 19 carries this year, shouldn't be getting as many carries as he has, but he's still going to get some. He's averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt.

That's a long answer to say this: For now, Mathews is the guy. But if he can't stay healthy, one of the other guys could and should earn more carries. 

https://twitter.com/ATONAMIS317/status/781174071400755200

I thought Stefen Wisniewski looked OK in camp as the primary backup at right guard. 

Sure, Jason Kelce hasn't looked like a Pro Bowler in 2016, but he might not be as bad as you think. Here's Andrew Kulp's film breakdown of Kelce from the Bears game, where to the casual observer, it looked like Kelce got worked (see story). We see Kelce looks bad when he's asked to block a nose tackle 1-on-1. That's never been his strength and never will be his strength. His strength is getting to the next level to block and use his athleticism. 

One more reason to not expect a change at center unless things start to go really bad is that Kelce has been really good for Wentz. Sure, there was a bad snap against the Steelers (something Wisniewski has had his troubles with) but Kelce is a veteran and has helped the rookie out plenty during the first three weeks. 

And besides, with Lane Johnson's suspension looming, the Eagles are likely going to use Wisniewski to fill it at left guard. They could put him at center and Isaac Seumalo at LG, but that would be a pretty big offensive line shakeup for a team that hasn't yet lost a game. 

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

usa-washington-christian-mccaffrey.jpg
USA Today Images

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

SEATTLE -- Jake Browning threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, Myles Gaskin added 100 yards and two scores, and No. 10 Washington was dominant on both sides, overwhelming No. 7 Stanford 44-6 on Friday night.

After months of hype that Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) was on the verge of a breakout, the Huskies showed they were ready for their return to the national stage.

And they did it emphatically, handing Stanford (3-1, 2-1) its worst loss since a 41-3 setback against Arizona State in 2007.

The Huskies raced to a 23-0 halftime lead, scored early in the second half to go up 30-0 and coasted to their biggest victory over an AP Top 10 team since beating No. 5 Southern California 31-0 in 1990. That game 26 years ago announced Washington as a national contender and the Huskies went on to share the national title a year later with Miami -- taking the coaches' version while Miami topped the AP media poll.

Browning was the leader of an efficient offense that scored on six of its eight drives. He threw touchdowns of 3 yards to Dante Pettis, 19 yards to John Ross and capped the night with a 3-yarder to Aaron Fuller with 5:30 remaining. Browning was 15 of 21 and did not commit a turnover.

Equally important was Washington's ability to establish a running game. The Huskies rushed for 214 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Stanford star Christian McCaffrey saw his Heisman Trophy aspirations hit a major speed bump. McCaffrey was held to 49 yards rushing on 12 carries, five catches for 30 yards and continued his streak of never scoring an offensive touchdown in a road game.

It was McCaffrey's fewest yards rushing since 2014 at California when he had 19 yards on three carries.

Stanford's only TD came late in the third quarter on a 19-yard pass from Ryan Burns to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Burns was 15 of 22 for 151 yards, but Washington controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides. Stanford quarterbacks were sacked eight times, six in the first half. Stanford had allowed only four total sacks in the first three games combined.

Stanford was playing short-handed without starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, starting wide receiver Francis Owusu and starting fullback Daniel Marx. Starting right tackle Casey Tucker limped off with an apparent leg injury late in the fourth quarter.

Takeaways
Stanford: The Cardinal were unexpectedly sloppy. Stanford committed 11 penalties after entering the week as the least penalized team in the Pac-12. There were communication issues in part due to the roaring Washington crowd, but also a lack of sharpness not normally seen from David Shaw's team.

Washington: The defense was up to the task of keeping McCaffrey under control and forcing Burns to beat them through the air. McCaffrey had 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half and forced the Cardinal into numerous long third-down situations. That allowed Washington to bring extra pass rushers to get to Burns.

Up Next
Stanford: The Cardinal head home after two straight weeks on the road to host Washington State.

Washington: The Huskies travel to Oregon looking to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks.