The Phillies, man: Four in a row! Four games back!


The Phillies, man: Four in a row! Four games back!

omg he got airborne!

The world is just a little bit better place when you wake up on a Friday morning and the Philadelphia Phillies are atop the New York Mets in the standings. Because it's Friday, obviously, but also because even in our darkest hours, being worse than the Mets is still really, really depressing. But the Phillies haven't been depressing at all as of late! In fact, they won their fourth straight game last night and now sit a remarkable four games back in the NL East. The NL East is not good. Not one bit. But winning the division seems absolutely feasible this fine morning. The Fightins won their fourth straight on Thursday night thanks in large part to Ryan Howard's continued penchant for home cooking in St. Louis. The Big Piece simply loves playing in his home town and bashes balls like that guy we once knew who hit 58 home runs in a season. [mlbvideo id="33866675" width="640" height="360" /] Howard was 2-4 with a homer and 3 RBI in the Phils 4-1 win over the Cardinals. This wasn't a one night fluke, either. Howard's swing has been looking nice as of late. And Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury gets to write some happy words for a change:

Howard drove in six runs in the three wins at Atlanta. Playing in his hometown, he had three more RBIs on Thursday night and now has 50 on the season. He singled in a run in the fourth inning and smacked a two-run home run, his third in four games, in the sixth. In short, Howard is carrying this club right now. We’ve seen it before, but not in some time. Howard is healthy and his swing looks crisp. He’s swatting pitches where they are pitched, using the whole field and hitting balls hard.

And David Buchanon put in the best work of his career. 7.2 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER. If he can become a reliable arm in the rotation and Cliff Lee returns in normal Phifer form, who knows... The Phillies don't stink at the moment and are actually playing some entertaining ball. It's the weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Meet the Pittsburgh Steelers: Eagles' Week 3 opponent

Meet the Pittsburgh Steelers: Eagles' Week 3 opponent

Some would say there's a rivalry between the Eagles and Steelers based on rivalry between Philadelphia an Pittsburgh sports fans. The reality is these two teams only meet in the regular season once every four years, so there's no real heat between the players. In fact, we barely know this opponent.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison have been there forever, and Antonio Brown has emerged as a mega star. Just think though, how many current members of the Eagles were on the club the last time they playe the Steelers in 2012? There's been a ton of turnover here since then, and likewise on the other side.

This is not your father's ground-and-pound Steelers either. The offense is predicated on a dangerous passing attack, while the defense is still stout against the run, but not exactly Steel Curtain-caliber. Still, this is one of deepest teams the Eagles will face all season, and breaking down the lineup, it isn't difficult to understand why.


Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

It seems that only in the past few seasons has Roethlisberger been spoken about with the same reverence as some of the other elite quarterbacks in the NFL, but he's been in that realm all along. With a 126-62 record in the regular season and playoffs and two Super Bowl championships, this is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he's still looking for more. In fact, Roethlisberger is only getting better. Last season saw his completion percentage (68.0%) climb to a career high, while his sack rate (4.1%) reached a new lot. As if it wasn't difficult enough to bring him down at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, the newfound quick release makes it hard just to het him. And when Roethlisberger does hang on to it, look out, because he can throw it a mile.

Strength: Antonio Brown

Who would've imagined five years ago that Brown would become one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history? In the past three seasons alone, the four-time Pro Bowler has 375 receptions for 5,031 yards and 29 touchdowns. That is insane production. What makes Brown so good exactly? At 5-foot-10, 181 pounds with sub-4.5 speed, it's not easy to explain. All you need to know is the guy has become unstoppable. The wise thing to do would be double-team Brown as much as possible and make Roethlisberger turn to his other weapons, but let's be honest, even that game plan probably won't hold him under the century mark.

Weakness: None

The Steelers offensive line is strong, particularly along the interior where center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro are Pro Bowlers. Le'Veon Bell is currently serving a suspension, but DeAngelo Williams leads the NFL in rushing through two weeks, so no big deal. You could argue Pittsburgh lacks great secondary weapons with Martavis Bryant out for the season, but it looks like Markus Wheaton will return from a shoulder injury to bolster the receiving corps. Roethlisberger solves a lot of problems too. His quick release makes the protection better, the fear he will take the top off the defense creates room for Williams and he's made do with the likes of Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and Jesse James as regular targets in the passing game these first two weeks. 


Strength: Run defense

Bad news first. If the Eagles hope to take the pressure off of quarterback Carson Wentz with a strong ground attack, the Steelers have that covered. Pittsburgh's defense finished fifth against the run in 2015, and is off to a good start through two weeks, limiting opponents to 3.4 yards per carry. Defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are a load at the point of attack — both active pass-rushers as well — which allows versatile interior linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier to clean up behind them. Third-round rookie Javon Hargrave has been a notable addition at nose tackle as well. Long story short, the middle of this defense is as stout as it comes, so don't expect big numbers from Ryan Mathews or any other Eagles back.

Weakness: Pass defense

Now the good news. You can throw on the Steelers. Actually, the secondary is a bit of a mess. 31-year-old cornerback William Gay has been there forever, and whule far from a shutdown defender, he's solid. Beyond that though, the unit is vulnerable, ranking 30th in the NFL last season and not off to a good start in 2016 with only one team allowing more yards through the air thus far. Corners Ross Cockrell and first-round draft pick Artie Burns are ideally matchups that would be exposed by Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. The safeties are vulnerable as well, with uninspiring eighth-year veteran Mike Mitchell and first-year starter Robert Golden in the backfield. It's not as if the Steelers have a tremendous pass-rush either, with James Harrison reduce to a situational player at age 38, so Wentz will have opportunities.

X-factor: Ryan Shazier

The Steelers have a lot of individuals who are capable of making plays, but perhaps the most dynamic among them on defense is Shazier. A first-round pick in 2014, the interior linebacker is off to a hot start this season with two pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble through two weeks. Last year, Shazier finished with 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles in 12 games, his first has a full-time player. At 6-1, 230 pounds, Shazier combines near prototypical size with sub-4.4 speed and is about as dangerous a weapon as they come. Paired with Pro Bowler Lawrence Timmons in the middle, the interior linebacker duo is capable of wrecking an offensive game plan in short order.


After surrendering a punt return touchdown to the Bears on Monday, how the Eagles handle Antonio Brown in that role will be a situation to monitor. Kicking away doesn't sound like a bad idea. Chris Boswell has become an unexpected weapon for the Steelers as well, as the second-year kicker has connected on 69 of 73 field goals and extra points since taking over the job last season.


Mike Tomlin (10th season, 94-52, 6-5 playoffs)

Pittsburgh has been blessed with remarkable coaching stability, seamlessly transitioning from 15 years of Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, now in his 10th season. All he's done since then is go to the playoffs six times going on seven and won a Super Bowl. In fact, the Steelers have finished no worse than 8-8 under Tomlin, a streak that is likely to continue in 2016. Of course, as mentioned before, having a quarterback like Roethlisberger solves a lot of problems. The Steelers have completely transformed their offense, while the defense has gone through some lean years, but the constant has always been Big Ben. Tomlin will continue to look like a brilliant coach as long as that guy is under center.

Eagles film review: Jason Kelce is just fine

Eagles film review: Jason Kelce is just fine

All it takes is one tough season — sometimes one bad game — to sully an offensive lineman's reputation. Jason Kelce is coming off of a disastrous 2015 campaign, so when the Eagles center almost single-handedly doomed a drive in the second quarter of a win over the Bears on Monday night, his detractors came out in full force.

Except other than that terrible series, which was a grand total of three plays, Kelce was perfectly solid. It just goes to prove another old football cliche true. Oftentimes, we tend to notice an offensive lineman only when he makes a mistake.

There's no denying Kelce's miscues did their part to end an Eagles possession. Let's take a look at the terrible sequence that got everybody riled up.

On 1st-and-10 from the Eagles' 26-yard line following a Bears punt, Ryan Mathews takes the handoff left. Pulling on the play, Kelce trips over right guard Brandon Brooks and lurches forward, nearly going to the ground. By the time the center regains his balance, he's out of position and the run is shut down for no gain.

On 2nd-and-10, Carson Wentz completes his pass to Brent Celek for 19 yards, with the quarterback taking a big hit in the process. However, the play was negated because Kelce gets beaten by Eddie Goldman and is forced to hold the 320-pound nose tackle, drawing a flag and a 10-yard penalty.

Finally, on 2nd-and-20, the Eagles attempt a running back screen. When Kelce releases to block, he tries to tug the defender's jersey as he goes by — a common tactic used by offensive linemen to create additional separation. Instead, his hand is too high and he yanks the facemask for a 15-yard penalty, which the Bears declined because the pass was incomplete.

Clearly not Kelce's best work, although everybody trips and the facemask was inconsequential. Only the hold was really a factor here, granted it erased a big play for the offense and led to an Eagles punt. No doubt he'd like to have that one back.

But if we're going to break down all of Kelce's negative plays — and these are pretty much it — then in the interest of fairness, we should probably also look at three plays where he excelled.

First, let's watch Kelce redeem himself against Goldman in pass protection. This is 2nd-and-5 from the Chicago 25-yard line during a touchdown drive that would eventually give the Eagles a 16-7 lead in the third quarter.

This time Kelce is able to keep the nose tackle at bay. He's positioned perfectly in front Goldman, and despite giving up 25 pounds to the defender here, there is absolutely no push up the middle. Just look at the pocket Wentz has.

By the time Wentz delivers the football to Trey Burton for an 11-yard gain, Goldman has completely changed course. He was never a factor in the play.

Kelce is no mauler, and there are times when his size puts him at a disadvantage. Of course, as a center, he isn't asked to block one-on-one all that much in pass protection. Sure, when the defense brings the blitz as the Bears did here, Kelce has to pick somebody up. Oftentimes, Kelce is a helper or locked in a double team.

Notice the difference when the Bears send a standard four-man rush. Once Kelce is clear of man protection responsibilities, he's free to chip a defender.

It's not a spectacular by any means, but look at the huge pocket Kelce creates for Wentz. The quarterback can comfortably step into his throw and put the ball right on Jordan Matthews' fingertips for what should have been a 35-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter but was dropped.

The fact that Kelce is "undersized" also works to his advantage. There's a reason he received an invitation to the Pro Bowl in 2014. There may not be a better center in the NFL at the second level of the defense.

Getting back to the previous scoring drive, Kelce threw a key block earlier in the series. It's 2nd-and-5 again, this time from the Chicago 41, and Wendell Smallwood takes the handoff up the middle. Kelce is going to leak out and put a hat on veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan.

Kelce engages Trevathan a good seven yards away from where Smallwood takes the handoff. That's a long time to hold a block, and you can believe the linebacker will do everything under his power to slip away.

Check out where Trevathan finishes this play. On his butt, for one, but also on the other side of the hash mark. Kelce managed to stay in front off Freeman for that length of time, allowing Smallwood to run right up the gut for an 11-yard gain.

In case you're not keeping track, that's two nice blocks on an eight-play touchdown drive that wound up being the decisive points in the game.

Sometimes Kelce's blocks are more subtle than that. Here it's 1st-and-10 at the Chicago 46 after another Bears punt. Matthews is running off tackle left, and Kelce is going to get a body on Trevathan once again.

Trust me, this block is going to be a lot more meaningful to the outcome of the play than it looks.

Check out all that open field for Mathews down the left once he breaks that final tackle. Now look where Trevathan is when he finally ditches his escort. Defenses typically hope their interior linebackers to can patrol sideline to sideline, but Kelce has taken him completely out of the play. There are five Bears closer to the ball-carrier right now.

By the time Trevathan catches up to the play, Mathews is by him. Had Kelce had held the block even a half second less, the linebacker likely ends this play for a 15-20 yard gain, maybe sooner. Instead, the running back picks up an additional 10 before he's brought down, a 30-yard run that sets up one last touchdown to put the game on ice.

Blocks such as these by Kelce on the back end tend to go unnoticed, like much of any offense lineman's work. In fact, as Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich points out, there's a lot the sixth-year veteran does that you don't see unless you're on the field or the sideline.

"I can't even begin to tell you how much of a benefit it is to Carson to have a guy like Jason Kelce as a center," Reich said. "The guy is brilliant. He's absolutely brilliant in pass protection, calls and scheme, and he just has this air of confidence about him that I think sets the tone for what we do in the protection world."

Kelce had a bad season in 2015. He was also playing hurt for much of it, was in between two new guards, with the right side being particularly unstable, and the Eagles offense as a whole had regressed to a point where it was inefficient and predictable. There were plenty of built-in excuses there.

This is a new year, and through two weeks, Kelce looks like a different player, minus a small sampling of plays. He's never been a mauler, never will be, but he's intelligent and his athleticism allows him to create plays few centers can. Best of all, Kelce turns only 29 in November, so the Eagles can look forward to several more productive seasons to come.