Flyers-Wild: "Cat's Head Soup" Edition

Flyers-Wild: "Cat's Head Soup" Edition

We've just about reached that blue-in-the-face point in the season. With only nine games left, there ain't much to say that hasn't been said already. The quotes coming from the players are the same, as are the outcomes of the games lately. I guess one positive is that they've been more consistent. They're losing with greater regularity now than they had been for a while. 

Attempting to unsettle that balance against the Minnesota Wild tonight, Peter Laviolette has again shuffled his lines, only this time it's a more dramatic change:  



van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Powe 

Laperriere-Betts-Asham  ...

At least, that's what they were at the morning skate, says Kevin Kurz. (That's two beers, right, KK?)  

Other than Richards' 28 goals, there aren't a lot of red lights flashing on that top scoring line. The second has some surface-level potential, and I like Giroux and JVR working together. Either way, I like just about any shakeup Lavvy can throw at this team right now. They just can't frickin score. 

Last time we saw the Wild, we were pretty excited that Nik Backstrom wasn't getting the start in net. Sadly, this only meant that we got to see another backup dismantle our scorers, with Anton "The Grill" Khudobin—their third string netminder—getting his first start annnnd a 2-1, 39-save win. No word on opposing  the starter for tonight, but even if Backstrom goes, he hasn't beaten the Flyers (0-2). 

The Flyers catch a different injury break though, with Minnesota's leading points scorer (Mikko Koivu) out of the lineup. Speaking of leading scorers being out, Jeff Carter will have a screw placed in his foot, and his timetable is not said to have changed. 

The Wild are 13th in the Western standings right now, but their point total would be good enough for 9th in the East. They're a dramatic longshot for postseason play (and that's being polite), but that doesn't mean they can't come in here and drag the Flyers down with them. We've seen the Flyers play down to their opponents, and this game has that potential, even though the opponent isn't all that bad. Word is Derek Bbooggaarrdd will play tonight, as half of the book on the Flyers lately has been to goon them up. 

The other half—and this is what I'll be watching for tonight—seems to be to collapse the defensive zone and let the Flyers putz around on the perimeter. They're getting some shots off, but there continues to be either no angle or a high percentage of blocks. Has Laviolette's system, which at one point was chasing starting goalies from the crease left and right, been solved?  More than likely, I'm oversimplifying a bit, but I don't see any answers to the drought lately.  

Bonus: The new headshot rule goes into effect tonight! Read more here

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Some notes and keys ahead of Sunday night's Eagles-Cowboys game:

• Since throwing for 301 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Carson Wentz's aerial numbers have declined — 238 yards in Detroit, 179 in Washington and 138 vs. Minnesota.

• Even though he missed two games with an injury, I still can't understand how Zach Ertz has been targeted only 16 times in four games this season.

• Dallas WR Cole Beasley is arguably the best slot receiver in the game right now. Last November against the Eagles, he had nine receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With the Eagles' best slot cornerback, Ron Brooks, out for the year with a ruptured quad tendon, Malcolm Jenkins will have his hands full trying to keep up with Beasley in the slot.

• Eagles and Cowboys defensive backs beware: Jerome Boger's crew is officiating this game. This season, Boger's crew has called 36 penalties for defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding.

• The Eagles' 20 sacks ties them for third-most in the league. Dallas has allowed just nine, second-fewest in the NFL.

• Does Doug Pederson still have faith in RB Ryan Mathews late in games? Mathews has fumbled with less than five minutes left in two of the last three games. The head coach says he has not lost faith in Mathews, and Mathews says he'll stop fighting for more yards late in games. Time will tell.

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

Doug Pederson said this week he’s so concerned about Ryan Mathews’ late-game fumbling problem that he’ll consider using a different running back in crucial late-game situations (see story).

If Mathews is concerned about it, he’s not letting on.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” he said at his locker on Thursday. “Worrying about stuff like that just causes more stress.

“I can’t control any of that. The only thing I can control is trying to give him 100 percent every time I touch the ball and trying to get better.”

Mathews likely cost the Eagles a win over the Lions with his late fumble in Detroit three weeks ago. Last week, he lost another fumble in the final minutes of the Eagles’ win over the Vikings.

He’s the first back with two fumbles in the final five minutes of two games in the same season since Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants in 2010.

He has single-handedly accounted for two of the three fumbles by NFL running backs in the last five minutes of games this year.

Pederson on Wednesday said, “By no means am I down on Ryan,” but also said he would consider using Wendell Smallwood or Darren Sproles in late-game situations moving forward.

Mathews is averaging 3.9 yards per carry on a team-high 11 carries per game.

He said Thursday he has to learn not to fight for extra yards when the situation calls mainly for ball protection.

“You can’t fight for more yards, you’ve just got to go down,” he said. “Don’t put the ball on the ground.

“There’s no secret cure or anything like that. You’ve just got to get what you can get and get down. You can’t really fight for more yards like that.”

Mathews said it’s difficult for him to ramp down his natural aggressiveness in situations that call for him to be more conservative and protect the ball instead of trying to fight for extra yards.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I’m not the one to really shy away from not going down on first contact. But situations like that, you’ve just got to be more aware.”

Sproles (4.6 average on 31 carries), Smallwood (4.1 average on 28 carries) and Kenjon Barner (5.8 average on 16 carries) all have higher rushing averages than Mathews.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he’s not concerned about Mathews and said his confidence in the 29-year-old former Pro Bowler hasn’t waned.

“I love our guys,” Reich said. “I wouldn't trade our guys for anybody. We use a word around here a lot, and I know sometimes it gets thrown around, but it's family.

“You know, not every family's perfect, and we all make mistakes, but when we put guys out on the field (we’re confident in them). I can't play like that. I can't coach like that. You've got to have confidence.

“Now with coaches, it’s a business and coaches make decisions based on things. And when those decisions get made, they get made. But when a guy is in the game, we have to play with confidence and we have to coach with confidence and I don't see any other way to do it.”