Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

While there was rampant change throughout most of the roster, the wide receivers and tight ends were largely unscathed, at least as far as the impact players are concerned. A few veterans were dumped, and some competition was brought in at the back end, but all of the starters remain intact, including the slot receiver. That type of consistency should be a tremendous help for a first-year starter at quarterback, but the question we're asking is whether the group is better or worse?

BETTER

Jeremy Maclin

This might be up for some debate, as we're going out on a bit of a limb predicting Maclin will continue to develop and make advances in his second pro season. That's just what's expected of wide receivers entering their sophomore year, and from what we saw from him as a rookie, we're comfortable projecting a leap forward.

The question is what type of receiver Maclin will become. He has big play ability, racking up three catches over 50 yards already, including the 76-yard touchdown reception in the Wild Card loss to the Cowboys, yet he only went over 100 yards on two occasions the entire season. Instead, he was merely dependable, particularly down the stretch where he went eight straight (injury-free) games with at least four catches and 50 yards.

That's a strong finish for a rookie season, something most people anticipate him building upon in 2010.

Brent Celek

We touched on the idea of Celek seeing an improvement in production again. Most people think it's unlikely after the Pro Bowl caliber digits he threw up in '09. Is a near-1,000 yard effort something he can seriously outperform?

There are a couple reasons why it may not be such a stretch. First of all, Celek battled through some torn ligaments in his hand toward the end of last season. While it didn't keep him out of the lineup, or even from remaining a frequent target, there were some issues with reliability. Pro Football Focus lists him third among tight ends with eight dropped passes, half of those occurring over the final six games of the season. We'll give him a pass and believe that total will drop.

The main indicator was what he achieved in two games with Kevin Kolb under center. Kolb looked for Celek frequently, which should come as no surprise given how much they worked together in practice and an inexperienced quarterback's tendency to rely on the tight end. It resulted in two of his biggest games of the season, a pair of consecutive eight reception, 104 yard days and a 35-yard touchdown. They are in sync, and over a full season, Celek could emerge as one of the elite pass catching tight ends in the NFL.

Tight End depth

Over the past few years, Andy Reid has managed to enter the season without one fairly essential, but easily overlooked piece of the club. In '07, the lack of an experienced punt returner cost them a game. In '08, they had a defensive player lining up as their regular fullback. Last season, you could make the case it was tight end depth.

The Eagles failed to sign a tight end in free agency, and didn't bother to draft one until the fifth round. Cornelius Ingram promptly went down with an injury, which left... um, nobody actually. Literally. They brought in Alex Smith, who seemed capable enough as a blocker, but only managed to contribute three catches all year.

They'll still be an inexperienced bunch behind Celek, although they hope to have added some insurance. Clay Harbor is an athletic prospect who played tight end, fullback, and even some wide receiver in college. Meanwhile, Ingram is recovering from another ACL tear, and while he hasn't even seen a down in the NFL, that's another high ceiling player if he can stay on the field.

At the very least, they added an extra body, and overall there is some solid potential behind Celek now.

WORSE

Experience

Nobody is going to miss Reggie Brown or Kevin Curtis. Each had their moment here, however brief; Brown's career got off to a promising start before falling off the face of the earth, and Curtis reached the 1,000 yard milestone in his first season in Philadelphia before getting derailed by injuries. Just wasn't meant to be here for either man, as the two combined for a lowly 15 catches in '09.

There's something to be said for removing both from the roster though. It should be noted Brown has more catches and yards than any Eagles receiver or tight end over the last five years, and Curtis was the only player between T.O. and DJac to gain over 1,000 yards through the air. While both are probably fringe starters at best now, they both have plenty of games under their belt, experience in the system, and have been known to fill up the stat sheet once in awhile. That has to count for something.

OVERVIEW

We all knew where this was going. There simply wasn't much change across the board, but particularly among the major players at wide receiver and tight end. Everybody is back. It's actually pretty silly to say they're better now, because they could already be considered among the best units in the league, but they sure as hell aren't any worse. Should be another fun season watching this group flying down the field.

Grade: Better

Eagles-Bengals predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Bengals predictions by our (cough) experts

With their playoff hopes waning, the Eagles (5-6) travel to Cincinnati for a matchup against the struggling Bengals (3-7-1).

The Birds have lost six of their last 8, including two straight. Cincinnati hasn't fared much better, going winless in its last four.

It's time for our (cough) expert predictions for the Week 13 matchup.

Reuben Frank (5-5)
Now that the Eagles' playoff hopes have dwindled down to about a 1-in-12 shot, we'll find out if Doug Pederson can keep this team motivated and sharp for the remaining third of the season. That's a lot of football left to go, and for a team that's lost six of its last eight and five straight on the road, it's not going to be easy. But I do believe the Eagles won't stop playing hard. The effort has been there all along. The Green Bay game got away from them at the end, but for the most part, the losses have been competitive, and the team hasn't shown any signs of quitting. 

Now when you look at the schedule, it's filled with winning teams, division leaders, Hall of Fame quarterbacks and teams coming off byes. Of their last nine opponents, only the Packers currently have a losing record at 5-6. But they have Aaron Rodgers. Which brings us to the Bengals. They're 3-7-1, they're missing their Pro Bowl wide receiver and their starting running back and they've won just two of their last 10 games -- one of them against the Browns. 

Final conclusion: This is a team the Eagles can beat. I see a big game for Wendell Smallwood against the NFL's fifth-worst rush defense and also a big performance from Kenjon Barner with his one weekly carry. The Eagles are 0-3-1 all-time in Cincinnati. But Bobby Hoying beat the Bengals in 1997, and if Bobby Hoying can beat 'em Carson Wentz can. I'm going Eagles 17, Bengals 16 and back to .500 with four games to go.

Eagles 17, Bengals 16

Dave Zangaro (3-8)
The Eagles managed to put up just 13 points against the Packers' swiss cheese defense, so it's hard to imagine they'll suddenly catch fire against a better defense on the road.  

The best chance the Eagles have on offense, is to run the ball early and often, but they're without their top running back Ryan Mathews. That means rookie Wendell Smallwood will become the lead back. 

Oh yeah, did we mention that the Eagles' best receiver, Jordan Matthews, is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of practice most of the week? Even if Matthews plays, he might be severely hampered by the ankle. 

No, the Bengals don't pack the same punch as the Packers, but they'll be at home and Andy Dalton is at least a decent quarterback, Jeremy Hill runs hard and Tyler Eifert is a very good tight end. 

The Eagles catch a break with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard out, but I don't think that's going to be enough. 

Bengals 17, Eagles 15  

Derrick Gunn (4-7)
After their latest two game losing streak where do the Eagles go from here? In their last two outings the Birds have given up 26.5 point per game while scoring just 14 points per game. The offense has lacked big play capability, and the defense hasn't stopped opponents from making key plays (Green Bay was 10 of 14 on 3rd down). Now they take to the road to face a Cincinnati team that is worse off than they are. The Bengals were projected to be serious playoff contenders but have been pretenders with a 3-7-1 record.

To add insult to injury, the Bengals are playing without 40 percent of their offensive production. Their top wideout, A.J. Green, is out with a hamstring injury and RB Giovani Bernard, who's lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Bengals can't score but their defense has been improving over the last three games giving up an average of 18.6 points.

Jordan Matthews' ankle injury could handcuff the Birds' passing attack. Hopefully the defense can get to Dalton who's been sacked 32 times. I can't believe I'm saying this but just call it a hunch: I don't like the Birds in this situation. 

Bengals 16, Eagles 13

Ray Didinger (5-6)
The Cincinnati Bengals have won one game since Sept. 29 and it was against the Cleveland Browns which almost doesn't count. They are currently on an 0-3-1 slide and will miss the playoffs for the first time in six years. Their best receiver, A.J. Green, is hurt and running back Giovani Bernard is lost for the season. Quarterback Andy Dalton fumbled four times in last week's loss to Baltimore. In short, these are not fun times in Cincinnati.

That would seem to bode well for the Eagles but there is that pesky matter of playing on the road (where they have lost five in a row) and the fact they are coming off their worst performance of the season, Monday's home loss to the Packers. The Eagles have scored just 28 points in their last two games while the Bengals have scored 26 so don't look for a lot of offense on Sunday. This could come down to the kickers and if so Caleb Sturgis is a lot better than Mike Nugent who has missed four of his last eight extra-point attempts.
 
Eagles 19, Bengals 13

Andrew Kulp (6-5)
Records aside, these are similar teams right now. The offenses lack weapons, the defenses are OK but flawed and the only way either team can win is ugly.

And ugly this game will likely be. The game comes down to kicks, a battle Caleb Sturgis can win against a struggling Mike Nugent. Bonus prediction: Eagles fans get plenty of chores and projects done around the house during this snoozer.

Eagles 13, Bengals 9

Corey Seidman (5-6)
The over/under is just 42 and I'm not expecting a whole lot of points. 

The Eagles are reeling, the Bengals are reeling, but when it comes down to it the Eagles enter this game healthier and should be able to keep Cincy's offense in check. 

Eifert is the Bengals' most dangerous weapon at the moment and the Eagles have been pretty good defending the seam with Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham and the safeties.

Eagles 20, Bengals 16

Andy Schwartz (5-6)
Just when I thought I had this team figured out, just when I’d evened my record at .500, the Eagles laid an egg.

They did so against a Packers team that had lost four straight. I should have seen it coming. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to let the Packers lose five in a row. The Eagles’ defense, despite having played well at home, was at his mercy. 

Now the Birds face another reeling team. Cincy hasn’t won in more than a month. The Bengals have lost three straight after tying the Redskins. 

But the Bengals don’t have Aaron Rodgers. They don’t have A.J. Green or Giovani Bernard either. And they’re not the Packers. They’re the Bengals.

After last week, it’s easy to pick the Eagles to lose. After last week, you wonder if the Eagles will win again this season. 

But the Eagles haven’t lost three straight all year. The pass rush wakes up, the special teams makes a big play, and that helps the offense score three touchdowns.

Eagles 24, Bengals 18

Temple holds off late Penn charge for fifth straight win

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USA Today Images

Temple holds off late Penn charge for fifth straight win

BOX SCORE

For the last decade, Temple has never lost to Penn in men’s basketball.

That streak nearly came to an end Saturday at the Liacouras Center.

After trailing by as many 17 and by 11 midway through the second half, the Quakers pulled within two before the Owls scored the final six points of the game to survive Penn's upset bid with an exciting 70-62 victory.

Shizz Alston Jr. led the way with 14 points while Obi Enechionyia and Alani Moore II had 12 point apiece for the Owls (6-2), who have now won five straight. 

Ernest Aflakpui added 11 points and 11 rebounds for Temple, which improved to 3-0 in the Big 5 with a date against soon-to-be-No. 1 Villanova looming in 10 days for the city series title. The Owls have won 10 straight against the Quakers.

Senior Matt Howard scored 19 points and freshman AJ Brodeur had 17 for the Quakers (2-4), who dropped their third straight and fell to 0-2 in the Big 5. 

Trailing 46-37 midway through the second half, Penn reeled of a 10-3 run to pull within 50-46. The Quakers got within four twice more but Enechionyia followed with a jumper and an alley-oop slam to push Temple back ahead 58-50 with five minutes left.

After Brodeur blocked an Enechionyia shot and hit a layup to slice Temple’s lead to 64-62 with 1:12 left, the Owls didn’t let the Quakers score again to continue their mastery of their city rival.

Enechionyia, who came into the contest averaging 21 points per game, missed all nine of his shot attempts in the first half but the Owls still controlled things early, jumping out to a 14-2 advantage and taking a 31-22 lead into halftime.

The Quakers shot just 29.2 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point range in the first half while committing eight turnovers. 

The game was played in front of a relatively small crowd with much of Temple’s attention focused on Annapolis, where the Owls beat Navy for the AAC football championship. 

More to come …