Flyers-Bruins Game 7: . . .

Flyers-Bruins Game 7: . . .

I really can't remember the last time the whole town was this excited about a single playoff game. The diehards are ready to explode, the casual fans have joined the party, and people who don't care ... well, they're mostly wondering why I keep wearing orange to work. But the build-up to this game over the past week, the anticipation of a series finale that could put the Flyers in the history books as just the third team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit...! You've heard all this before. It's all anyone's talking about today. 

Confidence is rarely this high for a team trying to pull off the type of win that is so unlikely that it only happens every 30+ years, but the Flyers' rattling off three straight wins despite a slew of injuries has us all pretty fired up. It also seems to have the Bruins fans worried about being on the wrong end of the trivia question. Can they pull it off? Of course they can, for a variety of reasons. But it's by no means a foregone conclusion that they're headed to the Conference Finals this weekend. 

Breaking down the first six games of the series, we shouldn't be too surprised that the Flyers were still alive after the first three games, which were of course all losses (unless we're focusing on the mounting-injury factor). They lost very evenly played games, earning them that "Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" sentiment of being on the losing end of just about the closest 3-0 series imaginable. Getting Simon Gagne back and letting the lines gel back together might have been just enough to tip the scales. But factor in those injuries to key forwards and, later, the goalie that dominated the Devils in the first round, and yeah, we're pretty shocked this series has a game 7. 

However, if you listen to the coach and the players, they don't seem to be surprised at all. Down three games, two, one, and even up, they've continued to prepare and practice for every one like they expected to win; even now, they're saying they need to play better than they have. 

Momentum or Microcosm?
One of the big questions tonight is whether the Flyers will benefit from the momentum of having won three straight, or if we're really looking at a one-game series now. The team is saying it's the latter, and that's probably the right way to prepare. Don't expect a repeat of game 5, which ended with an embittered crowed littering the ice and booing their team into the locker room, but know that it's definitely possible.

That was the fluke game in this series though. In game 6, the Bruins played much better, owning the better play for a good 25-30 minutes, including most of the second period when they were already down a goal. That fact could be the undoing of the currently popular line of thinking that the Bruins will shrink if the Flyers score first. I agree it'd be pretty awesome, and I think being scored on first in that particular building would be a lot worse than doing so on the road. But based on what we saw in game 6, this won't be a one-period game. 

To win like that again, they'll need to be able to weather the storm a second time, which is a lot harder than doing it once. However, if the Flyers find themselves down a goal, we've at least seen that they can put enough pressure on the very good defense of the Bruins to keep them in it barring a catastrophic scoring outbreak by Boston. 

Scoring just once in the past two games, they're either due or they're done. 

One of the matchups the Flyers are winning in this series is the Zdeno Chara-Mike Richards duel. Boston's giant has spent a lot of energy trying to control Richie, which has not only benefitted the Flyers' other lines by seeing them consistently facing Boston's lesser pairings—it also just hasn't worked. Richards has 8 points through 6 games, including 3 goals. Chara's still on the plus side on even strength, but as the series has worn on, he's increasingly looked like a man skating with a small tree in his hands (which isn't far from the truth). 

Meanwhile, after successfully muting the scoring stars of the Devils by putting their defensive efforts into the proverbial "taking away their time and space," the Flyers opened the second round against a team that doesn't have easily recognizable snipers like Ilya Kovalchuk. As such, it wasn't as easy to employ the same system and account for the likes of the dagger-wielders like Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan in the first three games. But they've been able to do it since, tying up sticks and pressuring the puck carrier to force offside calls or turnovers, or otherwise keeping the play in their zone on the perimeter, without much garbage in front. 

Seeing a few Bruins join the injured Flyers in the press box didn't hurt either. 

The Leight Show
Hate to put the whole series and beyond on one guy's shoulders, but the fact is it often comes down to which goalie plays better and gets luckier. In just over a game and a half of playoff backstopping, Michael Leighton has been outstanding, and has only needed to be a little lucky. Keep that up, and the Flyers should be able to beat Rask a few times tonight and move on. 

I'm watching the game at home with some friends and a fridge full of beer. In the event of a win, you'll probably see a post consisting of a few words and maybe a picture. If not, well... Have a great weekend doing something other than watching hockey.

Predictions? At the start of the series, I called it for the Flyers in 7. I think I'll stick with that.

Game 7 Flyers art by reader Mike Brooks. 

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

The Eagles have vowed to get better. 

They desperately don't want to have a performance from their run defense like the one against Washington, when they gave up 230 yards on the ground. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the run defense is "a pride thing" and the guys responsible for the performance, Jim Schwartz included, say things will get better. The defensive coordinator cited bad angles as a reason there were so many missed tackles on Sunday afternoon. 

In all, the Eagles missed 10 tackles and gave up 156 yards after contact — both more than they had given up in the first four games of the season. 

Washington's rushing yards came in some big chunks. Here's a look at some of the key running plays from Sunday as we try to figure out what went wrong: 

This is a key 3rd-and-7 from the Washington 13-yard line. On this drive, Washington ends up scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0, but it doesn't happen without this key third down conversion. 

The Eagles collapse the pocket and force Kirk Cousins to his left. That's exactly what Schwartz said he wants, to force the quarterback to his non-throwing side. Everything at this point is working out perfectly. 

Here's the angle that's really troublesome. At this point, Nigel Bradham (circled in green) has Cousins in his sights, while Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham (farther behind) are in pursuit. Curry and Graham seem to let up in their pursuit when it looks like Cousins will go out of bounds. But he doesn't. 

Schwartz talked about bad angles, and this is the perfect example from Bradham. He overshoots it and when Cousins makes his cut back inside, all of Bradham's momentum is heading toward the sideline. Curry ends up making the tackle but tackles Cousins forward for a big first down. 

This next play was just a little counter draw that ended up going for a huge 45-yard gain. Rob Kelley takes the handoff, which looks to be going right. The entire Eagles' linebacking group bites hard. Still, right end Connor Barwin is free and has a chance to make the play. 

He doesn't. Just a missed tackle. 

Kelley finds some open field. Rodney McLeod is the next guy to beat and Kelley simply turns him around. You'll see Mychal Kendricks enter the frame. Kendricks showed great recovery speed to get back in the play and has a chance to finally bring the running back down. 

Nope. Can't do it. Eventually, McLeod recovers to bring him down. 

This last play ended the game on Sunday. The Eagles punted the ball away with the hope that their defense would stop Washington and give them the ball back. Instead, Matt Jones broke off a 57-yard run on 3rd-and-7. 

Jordan Hicks over pursues, probably thinking the run was going wide. But he loses his gap and Jones is off to the races. 

Once Jones gets past the first down, it doesn't really matter that it was a 57-yard run. It could have been an 8-yarder and the game was over. 

So what did we learn? 

Well, Schwartz was right. Angles absolutely killed the Eagles on Sunday. But when they have a guy wrapped up, they need to bring him down. Sure, that's not Earth-shattering, but they couldn't do it on Sunday and it led to a loss. 

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."