Eagles Return to Primetime Football Versus the Steelers

Eagles Return to Primetime Football Versus the Steelers

Prior to last week's preseason opener versus the Ravens, I cautioned readers not to get too excited about the game, one of the chief reasons being the Eagles would utilize a "vanilla" offensive strategy. As much as it pains me to do so, we need to issue a retraction on that statement.

No offense being run by Michael Vick could possibly be termed vanilla.

The Eagles played their starters for just one series against Baltimore, and Vick marched them straight into the end zone. It didn't seem to matter much what kind of plays were called, or even that the offense was without DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They went right down the field with a series of big plays and accurate passes. It was very satisfying to watch.

With DeSean Jackson back in the lineup for tonight's meeting against the Steelers, we are hoping for more of the same.

They are faced with a slightly greater challenge tonight though as they face off against last year's AFC Champions on their home turf. Vick, in particular, has a lot to prove tonight versus the greatest zone blitzing team of this era. That's right: Mike Vick is going on the watch-list.

It will be interesting to see how much blitzing the Steelers actually do in an exhibition game, but where Vick is at in his ability to read and react to defensive pressure is one of--if not the biggest--keys to this season. We need to see if he can identify where the pass rush is coming from, and whether he knows where the ball goes and if he can get out quickly enough to beat the blitz.

The offensive line took a ton of heat last season, and the right side in particular was not great, but a big problem was Vick holding on to the ball too long and not feeling the pressure. For all the big additions the Eagles have made, if their quarterback doesn't improve and take the next step in that aspect of running the offense, we're not sure how far they will ultimately go.

Tonight's player to keep an eye on:

King Dunlap
Last week, we had Ryan Harris on our watch-list, but he's out tonight with a back injury. First of all, Harris was not super impressive against the Ravens, so the job is still very much up for grabs. Second, Harris had a history of back problems in Denver, so he could be falling out of favor very quickly.

We'll see if Dunlap can seize the opportunity. He showed some improvement in relief efforts last season, but was far from the stabilizing force the Eagles are searching for on the right side. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd also typically favors smaller linemen for zone blocking system, which works against the 6-9, 330 lbs. Dunlap. He could help himself out quite a bit though with a solid outing against one of the NFL's best defenses at pressuring passers.

Darryl Tapp
Major props to Jim Washburn and every member of the defensive line last week. From the opening snap until the final gun, their unit was by far the best on the field, showing tenacity and getting consistent penetration. The difference between last Thursday and the past several years was remarkable.

A big part of that was Tapp, who in one preseason game nearly matched his sack total for all of last season. The Birds sent DE Chris Clemons to Seattle last year in exchange for Tapp, and while Clemons amassed 11 sacks in 2010, Tapp accounted for merely three. The Virginia Tech product is off to a torrid start in August though, getting to Ravens QB's twice last week, as well as three tackles, one for a huge loss.

Maybe guys like Tapp and Jason Babin will prove the problem here the past two seasons was coaching and schemes all along.

Casey Matthews
For the second straight week, Matthews makes our watch list, which says something how important his development is to the defense. We also didn't see much of the rookie from Oregon last week, just eight snaps in fact, so another reason is we're still waiting to actually see him. However, Bleeding Green Nation put together a nice round-up of reviews on Matthews' brief performance, and it was mostly positive stuff, including CSN's own Ray Didinger.

So far Matthews hasn’t looked out of place. He has been good in camp and he was good again in limited snaps on Thursday. It appeared Matthews might have been fooled on a Joe Flacco to Ray Rice screen pass that gained 23 yards on the opening drive, but it was his tight coverage on the tight end that forced Flacco to hold the ball and allowed Trent Cole to record his first sack later in the first quarter.

Having said that, eight plays is about the smallest sample size there is, so we'll hold off on the excitement for at least one more post.

Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

052416-postgame-plus-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_692269123710.jpg

Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

BOX SCORE

DETROIT – Back on March 26, the Detroit Tigers made the trip to Clearwater to play the Phillies during the final week of the Grapefruit League schedule.
 
Justin Verlander was the Tigers’ starting pitcher that day at Bright House Field. The Phillies ended up losing that game by a run when their bullpen came undone in the late innings. But earlier in the game, the Phils had pretty good success against Verlander. They knocked him around for three runs in five innings. They had seven hits against him, four for extra bases.
 
Two months later, the Phillies came face to face with Verlander again on a warm Tuesday night in Detroit.
 
This time, the Phils had no chance.
 
They were manhandled by the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in suffering a 3-1 loss to the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
“Verlander pitched well,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He had a good fastball and we weren’t catching up to it.”
 
Yes, Verlander had good fastball and he knew it. Sixty-five of his 108 pitches were fastballs. He averaged 94 mph with the pitch and topped out at 97. That’s how hard his final pitch of night was. He blew it by the Phillies’ best hitter, Odubel Herrera, for his 10th strikeout of the night.
 
In all, Verlander pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just three hits against one of baseball’s worst offenses; the Phils entered the game averaging just 3.24 runs per game.
 
The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in the last five games and it dropped them to 25-21. They have opened this challenging road trip, which finishes with three against the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in the game, with two straight losses heading into Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers. Aaron Nola will get the ball against Anibal Sanchez.
 
Can Nola be a stopper? The Phillies could really use a victory. To get it, they will need some offense. They got just about none until Verlander left the game Tuesday night.
 
“We just couldn’t get enough going,” Mackanin said. “Verlander really relied on his fastball and we couldn’t capitalize.”
 
Jeremy Hellickson pitched well for the third straight time for the Phillies. (He has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.) But with no run support, Hellickson couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and he needed excellent defensive support – which he did not get.
 
Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.
 
In a close game with not much offense going against Verlander, Hellickson needed strong defense behind him. He did not get it from third baseman Maikel Franco in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and no outs, J.D. Martinez hit a bounding ball to Franco’s right. Franco tried to backhand the ball with a quick snap of his glove. Fielded cleanly, Franco probably could have started a double play. Instead, the ball got by him, was generously scored a double and led to a run. The Tigers scored twice in the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
 
“Yes, it’s makeable,” Mackanin said of the ball that got by Franco. “He got to a certain spot and then he stopped and tried to snag it instead of taking one more step toward it. I don’t think he could have gotten in front of the ball but he could have gone through it instead of stopping and trying to snag it. I thought he could have done that.
 
“It’s a potential double-play ball. He needed to take one more step instead of reaching for it.”
 
Tommy Joseph had the best at-bats against Verlander. He lined out twice to the pull side and had a base hit in the seventh. In the ninth, the Phillies rallied for a couple of hits against Francisco Rodriguez. Joseph scorched a liner to left for a sacrifice fly and the Phillies’ only run.
 
“He hit the ball on the nose four times, really good at bats,” Mackanin said of Joseph. “If that ball he hits in the ninth inning finds a gap, we have the tying run at second.”
 
Joseph has seven hits in his first 23 at-bats and has made some hard outs. He will start at first base again Wednesday and also on Friday as the Cubs will start lefty Jon Lester. After that, he could get starts against right-handers because he’s simply out-hitting Ryan Howard, who went 1 for 4 and saw his average climb to .159.
 
Before the game, Mackanin said Joseph could take playing time away from Howard if he continues to hit.

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

usa-martin-ingelsby.jpg
USA Today Images

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

Delaware has its new head basketball coach in Martin Ingelsby.

Ingelsby, a native of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, comes from Notre Dame, where he played from 1997-2001 and coached for 13 seasons, seven as an assistant.

Ingelsby played his high school ball at Archbishop Carroll and is the son of Tom Ingelsby, who played for Villanova from 1970-73.

Delaware is coming off a 7-23 season and 2-16 mark in CAA play, which led to the firing of head coach Monte Ross.

The Blue Hens, who announced the hire Tuesday, will formally introduce Ingelsby in a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Bob Carpenter Center Auditorium.

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

040816-wright-play-webbestvideo3_1280x720_661696579972.jpg

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

Villanova’s chances at repeating as national champions just got much better.

Josh Hart is returning for his senior season.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer from last season’s title-winning team tweeted this Tuesday night:

Shortly after, Villanova officially announced the news.

Hart was in the midst of going through the NBA draft process, attending the combine in Chicago and working out for teams. By not hiring an agent, he was able to test the waters without jeopardizing his final year of college eligibility. Hart had until Wednesday to make a decision, which is coming back to the defending champs.

“I enjoyed the process and learned a lot,” Hart said in a statement released by the school. “It was definitely worthwhile. I look forward to graduating next year and coming back to play with my teammates.”

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Villanova’s 95-51 Final Four win over Oklahoma, before following it up with 12 points and eight rebounds in the national title game in which the Wildcats thrillingly won at the buzzer, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer.

Hart and Jenkins, the team’s two leading scorers, return along with key pieces Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg), Phil Booth (7.0 ppg), Mikal Bridges (6.4 ppg) and Darryl Reynolds (4.5 rpg).

“Josh Hart did a great job in this process,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really proud of the way that he showed himself. I am really happy for him that he is returning to play with his classmates and that he will graduate on time.”