Top to Bottom, Eagles' Offense Is Offensive in Victory

Top to Bottom, Eagles' Offense Is Offensive in Victory

Michael Vick chucked four interceptions on Sunday, but spent a good portion of the afternoon running for his life. LeSean McCoy lost a fumble, although 54 yards from scrimmage were called back on penalties. Jeremy Maclin piled up 96 yards receiving and a touchdown, yet he too drew the hanky and later dropped the potential game winner. The offensive line struggled to keep an aggressive Browns pass rush out of the backfield, and still Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg opted for a run-pass ratio close to 3:1.

No one individual can shoulder all of the blame for the pitiful offensive effort that hangs over the Eagles' 17-16 win over Cleveland. Almost every player in the huddle had a hand in this stinker, with the coaching staff sharing plenty of responsibility in what became a proverbial perfect storm. The complete lack of play-calling balance, inability to consistently keep the quarterback clean, and constant shooting themselves in the foot very nearly, perhaps should have cost Philadelphia a game on Sunday.

The worst part is, there were few signs of it turning around any time soon, especially with the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens opening the Linc next week.

The problems began up front for the Eagles, as they often will. On the heels of a strong training camp to earn the job over free agent acquisition Demetress Bell, King Dunlap looked lost at left tackle. A measurable drop-off from Jason Peters was anticipated, but not only did Dunlap fail to assert himself in the running game (the second level is a mystery to this guy), his pass blocking was suspect as well while working across from journeyman defensive end Frostee Rucker for much of the day.

While Dunlap certainly didn't do a thing to win over skeptics, the returning linemen weren't a whole heckuva lot better. Pass protection was generally poor, particularly in the first half, and literally the only guy whose name was not called for at least one holding penalty was Todd Herremans. The unit improved as the game wore on, but it's tough to suggest with any confidence that we've seen the last of these problems.

Naturally the instability in front of Vick contributed to a subpar outing under center. No. 7 was sharp in fleeting moments, completing 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards and two scores, including the game winner with 1:18 remaining. He also made plays with his feet when he had to, buying precious seconds and scrambling four times for 28 yards. Those numbers along with the majority of his big plays were overshadowed by the four picks though, one of which was returned for the six points that handed the Browns a fourth-quarter lead in the first place.

That interception, and another that preceded it, had absolutely nothing to do with the pass rush. Vick twice had a comfortable pocket, made a bad read, and proceeded to throw right into coverage. Can't put those on anybody but the quarterback. It's hard to give him a pass for the pair he coughed up on the run, either -- once slinging across his body, another side-armed out of the intended target's reach. What's more, the Browns left others on the field, including just one play prior to Harbor's clutch grab.

Vick's seeming regression was more difficult to comprehend given that Cleveland was able to create much of the confusion by employing some of the same old tricks that have proven to rattle the erratic passer in the past. The Browns brought additional pressure by blitzing, often from a familiar area too -- the secondary. The hope was with his first full offseason as the starter in Reid's system, Vick might learn to cope when the defense sends extra rushers, but it still appeared to be a blind spot on Sunday.

Some of Vick's issues quite honestly may stem from missing so much action during the preseason. He participated in all of 12 snaps thanks to injuries, so there was concern in advance of kickoff that he might not be ready to hit the ground running. Afterwards Reid admitted Vick was probably rusty, and he eventually led the team on 16-play, 91-yard march to victory, so as a fan you can only hope everything else about his performance blows over.

As awful as both Vick and the offensive line were for stretches, the game plan was easily most confusing of all. The Eagles called 60 passes compared to 23 runs (minus three kneel downs) against a defense that ranked second versus the pass compared to 30th versus the run in 2011.

The previous season's trends aside, the flow of the action dictated an adjustment, yet it only happened once the Eagles lost the lead late. When they went into the locker room for halftime, Philly was ahead 10-3, with McCoy carrying seven times for 50 yards. After Cleveland pulled within four following a pick Vick during the third quarter, the offense went three consecutive series without calling a designed run, resulting in two consecutive three-and-outs and the pick six. Suddenly trailing 16-10, McCoy was reinstated into the offense, finishing with 20 carries for 110 yards.

It could be that Reid and Mornhinweg lost faith in the running game as big gain after big gain was trailed by yellow flags, but that wasn't the official explanation. The head coach said they believed they could exploit their opponent through the air. Even if that were the case, his reasoning flies in the face of the fact that Birds' offense lacked the ability to execute a crisp passing attack on this occasion, when at least they were experiencing some success on the ground.

Not to mention the Browns could barely move the ball themselves. Cleveland's offense managed 210 yards of total offense, 12 first downs, no TDs. They couldn't find paydirt from their best starting field position of the day, at the Philadelphia 22. Not so sure there was any need to "exploit" their defense as much as there was an incentive not to turn the ball over and give the opponent extra chances.

On a positive note, play-calling balance is something that likely corrects itself. While the Eagles under Reid have been known to be pass heavy to their detriment, and will rear its ugly head from time to time, it's a problem that's become less prominent in recent years.

The state of the offensive line and Vick's progression as a pocket passer on the other hand are things that won't change merely on a whim -- bad news with the NFL's third-ranked defense from a year ago heading to town. Maybe Vick and the men charged with keeping him upright can turn it around before then, but based on what we saw in Cleveland, there are not many reasons to feel positive about that great of a transformation taking place over the course of week.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).