A Summary of Last Night's Football GameA Synopsis of This Season: What Went Wrong?

A Summary of Last Night's Football GameA Synopsis of This Season: What Went Wrong?

In a word: everything.

For the fourth time this season, Juan Castillo's defense gave up yet another fourth-quarter lead, allowing the Bears to score 13 unanswered points over the final 16 minutes of the game. They were gashed in the running game once again , allowing the Bears to set the tone with 164 yards on the ground, while the pass rush disappeared, and the secondary let another average wide receiver have a career night.

But not to be outdone, the offense and special teams were arguably worse. Marty Mornhinweg's group only put 17 points on the board last night. Mike Vick committed another turnover in the red zone, the pass protection left something to be desired, and of course, there were dropped passes. And special teams, well... we'll get to those blunders during the course of this review.

Of course, that doesn't absolve the defense. When we say the entire team played poorly, that's exactly what we mean. Everybody is on the hook for the Eagles' 3-5 record, from the punter to the talent evaluators. Once again though, the areas that were largely perceived to be strengths heading into this season had their fingerprints all over this loss, and they continued to put the defense in difficult positions to do their job.

Let's look at how the Bears scored:

1. TD on the opening drive. This was the defense's worst series of the game, allowing Chicago to march 79 yards and eat almost six minutes off the clock before the Eagles ever had the ball. Forte ripped off a couple of long runs, Earl Bennett entered the Philadelphia fans' lexicon, and the Bears took control right out of the chute.

2. Starting from their own 48 after a Michael Vick red-zone interception, Jay Cutler somehow found Earl Bennett on 3rd-and-16, one play after an offensive pass interference penalty gave the Philadelphia defense a second life. The turnover and completion were enough to get into Robbie Gould field-goal range, giving the Bears a 10-point cushion.

3. TD on drive starting from Philadelphia's nine-yard line, following DeSean Jackson's fumble on a punt return with less than a minute remaining the first half. At this point, the Eagles had tied the game, and should have been happy to go into the locker room, but NO. Jackson fields the punt, runs backwards about 10 yards, and has the ball punched free. As if that weren't enough, Jason Babin is shoved into Cutler after a stop on third down, and the officials are all too eager to throw a flag. Misfortune turns a solid defensive stand into seven

4. FG on a drive starting at their own six-yard line. One of the things the Eagles actually did well was use short kickoffs to screw with the timing on Chicago's kick returns, and a nice stop combined with a penalty pinned them deep. But the defense was gashed for some big gains from Marion Barber (17), Bennett (28), and Roy Williams (18), which set the Bears up for a chip-shot field goal.

5. TD to retake the lead on a drive starting at midfield, after Devin Hester was allowed to return a punt for an additional 20 yards. Bennett again had a big gainer (22), then the Eagles were nailed on a questionable late hit Darryl Tapp when he landed on Hester after the ball carrier was down. Tapp appeared to be going down already before the whistle, but sure, tack on half the distance to the goal. The Bears score two plays later.

6. Following the turnover on downs that occurred on the fake punt, the Bears once again have excellent field position, starting at their own 42. This is the fourth scoring drive where they started at least that close or better. At this point, the Eagles defense has been on the field the majority of the time, and Chicago is having their way with them. The Birds have them stopped though, but Nnamdi Asomugha commits a pass interference penalty, which allows the Bears to run another minute-and-a-half or so off the clock before eventually settling for three.

Could the defense have helped themselves out by making a few extra stops? Certainly. Were they put in great position to succeed? Clearly they weren't. The Eagles can't squeeze 17 points out of their offense, give their opponent a short field repeatedly over the course of 60 minutes, and expect to win games like that.

And one last thing, let's not forget the Eagles forced not one, but two Matt Forte fumbles, one of which they returned for their own touchdown. The other, the offense converted for six. That means Philadelphia scored 10 points by virtue of their offense conducting a traditional drive down the field. That's, ahem, not good.

Other notes:

To be fair, how do you not sack Jay Cutler one time?
Chicacgo's quarterback came into Week 9 the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL. He ate the ball more than anybody in 2010. Yet somehow, the Eagles -- tied for eighth with 22 sacks this season -- didn't get to Cutler at all. How does this happen?

First, give Mike Martz credit. He reigned in his usual pass-happy, spread-the-field offense, put some tight ends on the field, and went to work with a ball-control offense. They overpowered the Birds in the running game, and more importantly, they gave the offensive line a huge lift in pass protection.

There is no way the defensive line should have been shut out though, and the blitz was even more ineffective still. Jason Babin is in fourth with nine sacks. Trent Cole had four sacks in five games coming in, and Cullen Jenkins has five. The three of them got no push all game long, and when Cutler was completing key passes on third downs against this allegedly dominant secondary, it was often because the quarterback was given way too much time to hang in the pocket.

The Bears Out-Philadelphia Eagled the Philadelphia Eagles
Chicago held the ball for over 11 minutes in the first quarter, and converted four out of five third downs. In short, they did to the Eagles what the Eagles had done to Washington and Dallas in previous weeks, running the ball and using quick, high-percentage passes to set up reasonable distances-to-go on third down. Keep the opposing team's offense on the sidelines.

The Bears finished the game with a victory in the time of possession battle, holding the ball 33-to-26, but it was their clock control particularly in the first quarter that helped Chicago kill the rhythm the Birds' offense had enjoyed coming into this game. Minus the defensive touchdown, Philly managed just three points in the first half.

Earl Bennett, meet Victor Cruz
Nine days ago, the Eagles eliminated one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, holding Miles Austin and Dez Bryant each to three catches for 27 and 28 yards respectively. They've shut down Pro Bowlers such as Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, and Stevie Johnson over the course of this season.

Yet somehow, a second-year undrafted player like Victor Cruz can kick-start his career against this defense, or in Monday night's case, an Earl Bennett with all of three catches on the season can have a night to remember. Bennett finished with five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown i
n what was arguably the best performance of his four NFL seasons.

Explain that.

Did Andy goof the clock again?
Naturally there were some complaints about the Eagles mismanagement of the clock at the end of the first half. The Bears kicked off with 43 seconds remaining, and Andy Reid still had two timeouts in his pocket. He wound up using only one of them, as the offense got off three plays and moved a total of 13 yards before heading into the locker room.

I have to think because of the way things were going, Reid didn't want to press his luck. Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass running free in the middle of the defense on first down, then they used a timeout on a short gain the following play. Celek picked up a first down with about a dozen ticks left, and the Eagles could have used their final timeout, but then what? The Bears were in a prevent defense, pushing the entire secondary deep so as to not take any chances against those speedy wide receivers. The likelihood of a big play, or even one to get them into field goal range, was slim to none at that point.

The only thing I found questionable about the whole series was why Dion Lewis was allowed to return the kickoff in the first place. Kneeling it for a touchback would have saved seven seconds, and as much as I like the rookie running back, he hasn't shown any evidence that he is a threat to return one to the house. Save that time so the offense can run an extra play or two.

No, No, No: Every reason why the Sixers' trade of Nerlens Noel is unjustifiable

No, No, No: Every reason why the Sixers' trade of Nerlens Noel is unjustifiable

I only asked the Sixers to not do one thing at this trade deadline, and at High Noon this Wednesday, they went and did it. 

For Sixers fans, this was the nightmare all February: That the Sixers would dangle Jahlil Okafor like he was still the No. 3 overall pick, be frustrated with the (understandably) paltry offers they received for him, then deal Nerlens Noel instead, because one lottery-pick back-up big was as good as the next. That seems to be close to exactly what happened, as today, Adrian Wojnarowksi dropped the bomb that the Colangelos have traded Nerlens to the Dallas Mavericks for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a top-18 protected first round pick (which will probably dissolve before we ever actually get it). 

It's hard to know even where to start in breaking down just what a gross miscalculation this was on the Sixers' part. But let's examine the likely justifications, one at a time, that the Sixers will likely offer for this trade, and discuss why each of them are pretty solidly BS. 

The Sixers weren't going to re-sign Nerlens anyway. OK... why not? The Sixers are solidly under the cap for the immediate future, and even with extensions coming up in a year or so's time for Embiid, Saric and Covington, there's so little long-term money on the books that it's impossible to believe they couldn't have found a way to make it work. Shed Jerryd Bayless if you have to. Don't try to find the next Ersan Ilyasova in free agency if it's too cap-clogging. Those players don't matter. Nerlens matters. 

And even if keeping all four of those guys was untenable (and if they decided Nerlens was the lowest priority of all of them, a dicey presumption to begin with), a catastrophic injury is the only thing that would've kept Nerlens from being imminently tradeable at any point during his next contract. Even if today's big-stocked NBA, there will always be a market for potentially elite athletic bigs barely at the outset of their basketball primes. You think the cost would've prohibited Dallas from making this same deal two years from now? No chance. 

OK, but you can't pay $15-20 million a year for a backup center. What the hell does that even mean? Until proven otherwise, there is no such thing as a "backup center" for Joel Embiid -- it'll be a small miracle if the dude even plays 50 games this year, and until we actually see him take the court 75 times in a season for over 30 minutes a night, we have to assume that he'll need extensive platooning for the course of his NBA tenure. I've made this point before, but consider the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had both frontcourt positions filled when it came time for Tristan Thompson's restricted free agency, but signed him to a near-max deal anyway because he was just too talented a player to give up. They won the title the next season, with Thompson as one of their three most valuable players. You never know. 

What's more, who's to say that he couldn't have coexisted with Embiid for stretches? Nerlens spends most of his time in the halfcourt running around the perimeter -- switching, deflecting and generally causing havoc -- and to have him do that while Joel holds down the middle could've made the Sixers' defense borderline invincible. Maybe it wouldn't have worked on offense, hell, maybe it wouldn't have worked on defense, but wasn't it incumbent on us to at least try it out? The reason that Joel and Jahlil didn't work together (or that Nerlens and Jahlil didn't work together) isn't because you can't ever play two centers on the court at the same time under any circumstances ever -- it's because Jahlil was bad! Nerlens is good! It could've worked, and at the very least, JoJo and Nerlens deserved the opportunity to prove that it couldn't. 

Well, but you had to trade one of these guys, right? 

The wrongheadedness of this approach is totally inexcusable. I can't believe we have to still keep talking about this, but let's try it one more time for laughs: 

THE SIXERS HAD TWO BIG MEN THAT MATTERED. THE THIRD GUY WAS IRRELEVANT. THEY COULD HAVE TRADED HIM OR KEPT HIM OR CUT HIM OR APPOINTED HIM VICE PRESIDENT IN CHARGE OF TOWEL RACKS AND WAWA ORDERS AND IT WOULD NOT HAVE MATTERED. THEY HAD JOEL EMBIID AND NERLENS NOEL AND ANOTHER TALL MAN WHOSE NAME AND PERSONAGE WERE OF ZERO CONSEQUENCE. 

Does it suck that we drafted a guy with the No. 3 overall pick two summers ago that nobody (including us) currently wants? Does it suck that that same guy also plays the same position as the two other guys we drafted, who EVERYBODY wants? Yes! It's the worst thing Sam Hinkie ever did for us! So bad that most Sixers fans have constructed elaborate conspiracy theories for the decision placing the blame on anybody else but our Once and Always Dark Lord! It is a shame and a bummer and more of a burden than Perfectly Nice Guy Jahlil Okafor ever deserves. 

BUT. It is done. It is a cost that is sunk. No backsies, no matter how often we call Magic Johnson to goad him into a D'Angelo Russell / Jahlil Okafor swap. To throw good players after bad by expunging Nerlens Noel in the name of well gee you just can't have three centers on the same team, howzzat gonna work is absolutely nauseating. They could've traded Jahlil for peanuts -- literal peanuts, even the unsalted kind -- and it would've been a better move than this. They could've traded Jahlil with peanuts -- the super-addictive honey-roasted kind -- and it STILL would've been a better move than this! Much better!

All right, but they got a first-rounder, and that's a pretty good return for a player about to hit free agency? Who says? What says? Why says? Would we seriously consider a top-18-protected first-round pick for Nerlens Noel a bountiful return? Again: Nerlens Noel is friggin' awesome! He's exceeded all expectations this year. The Sixers have a better record without Embiid on the court this season than they do without Nerlens! He's an historic defensive talent, and he's been unbelievably efficient and destructive on offense this year. Yes, he doesn't rebound as well as he should, no, he's not the best post defender, yes sometimes he tries to do too much on offense and the ball (or his ankles) end up in the third row. But he is an elite prospect, and he's still only 22. He's great. 

To get a top-18-protected pick for him as the primary prize is beyond insulting -- oh and by the way, we're probably not even getting that pick anyway. Zach Lowe reports, and CSN confirmed, that the selection is top-18 protected this year, and then after that it turns into two second-rounders. The Mavs, currently 22-34, aren't getting a top-12 record this season unless they practically run the table from here on out -- which, better as they'll be with Nerlens, seems mildly unlikely. The Sixers will once again be hoarding second-rounders for the rest of eternity. 

But you know what? I'm not even sure it makes that much of a difference, because even a mildly protected first-rounder that we actually got would've been at best a marginal asset for the Sixers in 2017. At what point do we start trading picks for players instead of players for picks? With our foundational piece finally in place with JoJo, another one likely on the bench in Simmons and who knows how many others on their way between our next two first-rounders, the Lakers pick and the '19 Kings pick, you'd think that time would've come by now. Nerlens could've been foundational too, y'know, if the team respected his talents and figured out how to maximize them. We'll never know for sure now. 

...Justin Anderson, though? Look, I can't say I know much about Justin Anderson. I've liked him the couple times I've watched him, and it seems like he's an athletic wing that can do some things. He's not exactly giving the world peak Josh Howard flashbacks in Big D this season -- seven points and three boards in 14 minutes a game, with sub-par shooting numbers (40% FG, 30% 3PT) but decent defense and free-throw drawing. He sort of fits the profile of a Jae Crowder type, and Lowe and others have pointed out the potential parallels with Dallas' trade for Rajon Rondo, in which Crowder was perceived as a throw-in and ended up being the best player to change hands. 

It's possible Anderson could blossom on this team, and I look forward to having him on our roster. But despite being just a second-year player, he's already 23 -- older than Noel -- and it's hard to believe that even at his best, he'll ever be more impactful than Noel already is. Not to mention that we already have a three-and-D guy on the roster in Robert Covington who's proven to be a high-level contributor, and who's cheaper than Anderson for this season and next. If he's the prize for the Sixers then that means the contest wasn't worth entering in the first place. And it wasn't. 

Uhhh Bogut? Another trade maybe? Better hope so. It is possible that this is still the prelude to more wheeling and dealing to come, and that another trade -- potentially using Bogut's large expiring contract as a base to make salaries match -- will help put this one in a better context. If so, we'll deal with that when the time comes, and I look forward to eating (or at least reappropriating) some of my words here. In the meantime, Andrew Bogut will play as many meaningful minutes for the Philadelphia 76ers as Andrei Kirilenko and Danny Granger combined, and apparently we're already talking buyout. Say hello, wave goodbye. 

Well, Nerlens was a malcontent anyway, good to get rid of him. Don't. You. Even. Nerlens had his moments of immaturity, like anyone under the age of 25 (or 35 or 75) does, but he was a great Sixer, and a true Processor. The fans loved him and he loved the fans, and both sides said as much repeatedly. He loved his teammates and his teammates loved him, and both sides said as much repeatedly. Watch this video and tell me with a not-entirely-crooked face that the Sixers needed to get rid of him. 

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FSixers%2Fvideos%2F10155841292547516%2F&show_text=0&width=560


WATCH THIS DUMB VIDEO AND TELL ME THAT THIS TEAM IS BETTER OFF WITHOUT NERLENS. 

Balls. 

This trade, as it stands, is the least-defensible move I can remember the Sixers making in the post-Iverson era. The Elton Brand contract? He at least was that good in the not-that-recent past. The Bynum trade? Him too, and hell, the press conference was exciting. Drafting Jahlil? Well, a lot of other smart people seemed to think it was a good idea at the time. This is the only deal I can remember viewing like a cliff well off in the distance, with plenty of BRIDGE OUT signs clearly located along the way, wondering why the driver is still going, yelling at them to stop, and then watching hopelessly as they casually sail off the edge. Forget about trusting the process, why did we not trust common sense on this one? 

Will the deal end up being particularly destructive to the Sixers? Maybe not. The Sixers are so strapped with assets right now that a semi-catastrophic move or two like this doesn't necessarily mean the end of the road in any meaningful way. But no team can afford to flub players like Nerlens without it becoming something of a problem, and if you burn off too many of them, that's how you become the Sacramento Kings, straight-up. We're more Vlade than Hinkie at the trade deadline today, and that is the single saddest sentence I hope I ever have to write as a Sixers blogger.

Nerlens Noel trade: Sixers simply did not get enough

Nerlens Noel trade: Sixers simply did not get enough

Let's start with this: The Sixers did not need to trade Nerlens Noel. 

They could have kept him through the end of the season, made him an offer in restricted free agency and decide whether or not to match another team's offer sheet.

The Sixers held the cards. If a team like Portland or Dallas were to offer Noel $17 million a year or something this offseason, the Sixers could have either matched or let him walk.

If they chose not to match, they'd lose Noel for nothing.

So, given the return, the only explanation for Thursday's deadline trade of Noel to the Mavericks was that the Sixers definitively concluded they did not want to match a high salary for Noel.

Either that or they just really, really love Justin Anderson.

The trade was initially sold as Noel to Dallas for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a protected first-round pick.

In reality, the trade is Noel for Anderson and two second-round picks.

Bogut wants to be a free agent and will either be traded or bought out, according to multiple reports. So forget about him.

The 2017 first-round pick? It's top-18 protected, meaning the Sixers would get it only if the Mavericks pick 19 to 30. The Mavs currently own the NBA's seventh-worst record, so it would take a miracle for them to win enough games to decrease their draft stock that much.

If the pick does not convey in 2017 — and again, it's not happening — the Sixers instead get Dallas' second-round picks in 2017 and 2018.

So, yeah ... it's Noel for Anderson and a pair of seconds.

Ersan Ilyasova netted the Sixers two seconds. The only difference between that trade and this trade? Justin Anderson.

The expectation now, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, is that Jahlil Okafor will stay with the Sixers. It seems like they were just so uninspired by offers they received for Okafor that they instead looked to trade another big for value. 

But in this case, they didn't get value for Noel. They got the perception of value.

Unless Justin Anderson becomes a better player than Nik Stauskas or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

Weird move.