What Got into the Defensive Line?

What Got into the Defensive Line?

There wasn’t much of substance to take away from Thursday
night’s pitiful loss to the Bengals, besides the fact that the Eagles are an incredibly
undisciplined team. You couldn’t pick a single player out of a lineup and
charge him with the crime of setting off the bomb that leveled the crowd at
Lincoln Financial Field. Andy Reid remains a suspect, but I imagine even he
would have liked to throw his hands up in despair over that effort.

Despite the nature of that loss, there was one positive to
take away from this disaster, that being the play of the defensive line. Two
weeks after firing Jim Washburn, who was apparently insubordinate on top of
coaching in an ineffective unit, the front four suddenly exploded for six
sacks and a pair of forced fumbles of quarterback Andy Dalton.

With the presence of the wide-9 greatly diminished – the
alignment remains in use, but is not nearly as prevalent – suddenly the Eagles’
pass rush looks reenergized. Brandon Graham, the 2010 first-round pick whose
career many fans had left for dead, enjoyed a breakout performance, notching 2.5
sacks and a strip. He split one sack with the 12th overall pick in this year’s
draft, Fletcher Cox, who also got to Dalton once on his own.

Cox had been having a nice rookie season anyway, taking over
as the clubhouse leader with six sacks. On the other hand, Graham’s arrival
could be spectacular news for the defense. He’s now registered 4.0 sacks over
the last three games since replacing the departed Jason Babin – amazing what a
little playing time can do for a guy – giving him 5.5 for the season.

Some of the veterans appear to have been revitalized by the
change as well. One season removed from reaching double digits for the fourth
time in five years, Trent Cole recorded his first full sack since Week 1,
suggesting calls of his demise may have been premature. Even Cullen Jenkins got
in on the act, knocking the ball loose to earn his second sack in two weeks.

To be fair, Cincinnati had surrendered the eighth-most sacks
in the league entering this week, so maybe the numbers are a tad inflated. Of
course, there have been times this season when the Eagles couldn’t so much as pressure
an opposing team’s quarterback regardless of the quality of their offensive
line.

What happened?

The answer is both obvious, and not. It’s easy to chalk it
up entirely to Washburn’s wide-9, but that doesn’t entirely make sense.
Philadelphia led the NFL in sacks with 50 last season, 46 of those coming from
the front four alone, and Tennessee was perennially among the league leaders
during his 12 years there. Detroit is also notorious for its use of the scheme,
and while they aren’t number one or anything, they’ve posted a respectable 30
sacks this season, putting them right in the middle of the pack.

More likely it’s dialing it down that has done the trick for
the Birds. New defensive line coach Tommy Brasher has mixed it up with a
variety of rushes, attacking different gaps and using more stunts, which has
given the defense an element of surprise. We can only intimate that Washburn
had far too much power, which forced defensive coordinator Todd Bowles – and Juan
Castillo before him – to be inflexible with their play calls.

Whatever the reasons, the change has been evident. The Eagles
have racked up eight sacks over the past two games, compared to 20 in the 12
previous. That’s almost unbelievable when you think about it.

There is always the question of sample size, too, as has
been the case with many of the recent developments on the field. Then again, we
already knew a guy like Cole was one of the most talented defensive ends in the
NFL. We knew Jenkins still has some production left in the tank. At this point, it’s
probably even fair to say we knew Cox can play at this level. As for Graham, he
had been having a nice season with the snaps he was given to work with. Perhaps we
are witnessing him turning the corner with the help of some fresh guidance.

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CSN, TCN to air 25 of Union's 34 games in 2017

CSN, TCN to air 25 of Union's 34 games in 2017

Twenty-five of the Union’s 34 games in 2017 will be featured on CSN and TCN, as Jim Curtin’s club vies for a second straight playoff berth.

Twenty matches will air on TCN, while five can be seen on CSN. The nine others will be appear across 6ABC, ESPN and FOX Sports 1.

The Union’s season opener on March 5 at the Vancouver Whitecaps will broadcast on TCN and the team’s home opener on March 11 against Toronto FC will air on CSN. The next three games — March 18 at Orlando City SC, April 1 at D.C. United and April 8 vs. the Portland Timbers — will be shown on TCN.

The Union are coming off an 11-14-9 season and their second-ever trip to the MLS playoffs in which they suffered a first-round exit to Toronto FC.

For the Union’s full 2017 schedule, click here.

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jonathan Toews had three goals and two assists and the Chicago Blackhawks beat rival Minnesota 5-3 on Tuesday night for their second win over the Western Conference-leading Wild in less than two weeks.

Toews notched his fourth career hat trick on an empty-netter with 1:02 left to stave off a spirited rally by the Wild, who began a franchise-record eight-game homestand on Feb. 8 with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks. Toews had a goal and two assists in that one and has 37 points in 35 career games against Minnesota.

Chicago's captain has been chewing up almost everyone else, too, with 20 points in his last 12 games. Toews' wing men Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik had the other goals, giving the Blackhawks 34 goals in their last eight games. Their first line totaled nine points.

Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal for the Wild brought them within 4-3, before Ryan Suter hit the crossbar with a shot that nearly tied it (see full recap).

Islanders open 9-game road trip with win
DETROIT -- Calvin de Haan was credited with a go-ahead goal that caromed off an opponent late in the second period and the New York Islanders went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 Tuesday night.

De Haan's shot from above the left circle was stopped by Petr Mrazek, but the rebound went off Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet and the back of the goaltender's left leg and into the net. John Tavares scored early in the third period to give the Islanders a two-goal lead and they coasted to the victory.

Josh Bailey had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for New York.

Henrik Zetterberg scored for Detroit and Mrazek finished with 19 saves.

The Islanders, in contention for a wild-card spot, began a stretch of nine straight road games by winning for the third time in four games and improved to 8-13-4 away from home (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins take care of Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby scored the go-ahead goal on a deflection in the second period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Scott Wilson also scored to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions bounce back from their only loss since the All-Star break. Pittsburgh moved three points behind East-leading Washington and is 7-1-3 since the break.

Jeff Skinner scored for the last-place Hurricanes, who have their second five-game losing streak in the past five weeks. They have been outscored 19-4 during the current slide.

Matt Murray made 29 saves for the Penguins while Cam Ward stopped 19 shots for Carolina (see full recap).