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BLOG: This Week In Sports

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Campbell_Bill-FEATURE-img Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell, known to all Philadelphiasports fans as “The Dean,”...
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By Bill Campbell

Eagles vs. Cowboys

Despite the fact that most of the beat writers covering the game were favoring the Cowboys, I thought the Eagles would squeak out a win over the Cowboys if only because they were playing at home rather than in Dallas. I sure was wrong. What a disappointing offensive show the Birds put on at The Linc on Sunday. As some headlines said, it looked like Foles folded. As a result, Dallas leads the NFC East today with the Eagles second. The Redskins also won on Sunday and the Giants finally put one in the “W” column on Monday night to round out the conference.  A win against Dallas would have, as writer David Murphy penned it, turned the Eagles’ season or at least gotten it on the right track. It wasn’t to be.

Last year, the Detroit Lions finished up at 4-12. This season the Lions already have matched their win total, opening the season 4-2. They are tied with the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. They have cut down on turnovers, which really killed them in the early part of last year’s season. Their time of possession seems better now as well. In 2012, the Lions had 17 takeaways all season. This year, the defense has recovered 13 after 6 games. That has to figure somewhere in those 4 victories. The Lions may have turned things around.

The Kansas City Chiefs heard that the Houston Texans would start Case Keenum at quarterback instead of Matt Schaub before Sunday’s game. Schaub had a great college career at the University of Virginia, becoming the NCAA leader in yards, touchdowns and completions. But he’s in a different league now, playing with the big boys and, in this game, against the undefeated Chiefs who lead the league with 31 sacks. Texans’ coach, Mike Kubiak, said he was looking for “a spark” to get his struggling team moving.  It didn’t quite work since Kansas City beat Houston, though just by a hair, 17-16. Do you wonder how Andy Reid feels at 7-0 with the Chiefs compared to last year when he went 2-14?

After beating the Bears on Sunday, the Washington Redskins are at 2-4. Over the weekend the Indianapolis Colts beat the Denver Broncos and the returning Peyton Manning 39-33, the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23, the New York Giants beat the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, and the New York Jets beat the New England Patriots 30-27, which appears to have caused a melee in the parking lot up at the Meadowlands after the game. In other games, the San Diego Chargers trounced the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-6, the Buffalo Bills won over the Miami Dolphins 23-21, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens 19-26, the San Francisco 49ers downed the Tennessee Titans, 31-17, and Green Bay beat Cleveland 31-13.

Sizing up the QB’s

          You can count the number of starts that Nick Foles has made in his NFL career. Tony Romo made his 100th start on Sunday at the Linc. Romo made his first start on October 29, 2006 when he led the Dallas Cowboys to a 35-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers. He has started every game in which he’s played since then and has gone 58-41 overall. He was 6-5 against the Eagles before Sunday and in that count he had thrown 188 touchdown passes. Two days before his weekend encounter with the Birds, Romo had some curious comments. “You’re always trying to get better and improve,” he said about starting 100 games, “It’s all about getting your team where you want to go and leading a group of men and trying to get them there.” He went on, “It’s a little more individual related starting off to prove to yourself that you can play and start 100, [but] it’s about bringing the team there and winning and accomplishing team goals and what it’s all about is accomplishment.” I’m not sure what Romo was trying to point out there but I can only hope that Nick Foles expresses a similar thought when he’s ready to start his one hundredth game – if that ever happens. I do know that both the Eagles and the Cowboys were pretty evenly matched at this part of the season. They each had a lone win against an NFC team the other had not played going into Sunday, and each team had scored 11 points to do it. Their 2 combined NFC East scores (69-48 Eagles, 67-47 Dallas) also were as close as their margins against AFC teams (the Broncos minus 13, Eagles minus 10 Cowboys).  But things changed once the two QB’s hit the field.

The list of Dallas players who were to be restricted from play over the weekend included wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), running back Lance Dunbar (hamstring),left back DeVonte Holloman (neck), defensive end Edgar Jones (groin), running back DeMarco Murray (knee), defensive end DeMarcus Ware (thigh), defensive end George Selvie (shoulder).  On limited practice for the Eagles were quarterback Michael Vick (hamstring) as well as safety Patrick Chung (shoulder), punter Dominic Jones (left foot) and running back Chris Polk (shoulder).  Full practice was permitted for tight ends James Casey (groin) and Jayson Peters (shoulder and finger).   Except for these 11 players, everyone else was expected to be available but for Vick who was not to see any action at all. Now the Birds need him healthy.

The Eagles-Dallas game always is a key spot on the NFL calendar. With Foles’ poor play, ending with a sack and concussion, it was the most disappointing game between the two squads that I can recall in recent history. Despite a better performance by the defense, which has been under scrutiny since the beginning of the season under the coaching of Chip Kelly, the offense was ineffective. Shady McCoy was shut down for the day and Foles couldn’t connect with DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant or Brent Celek when he needed to do so.  Matt Barkley was brought in under the toughest of circumstances and did not perform well either. With a final score of 17-3, the quarterback question still looms in Philadelphia.

Other NFL Notes

          With a record of 0-6 going into a game against the Minnesota Vikings, Giants’ head coach, Tom Coughlin, must have considered a lot of things to improve his struggling team.  Changing quarterbacks wasn’t one of them. Coughlin dismissed any speculation about replacing Eli Manning against the 1-4 Vikings for Monday night’s game at home, saying that the ten-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl MVP is the leader of the Giants’ offense and will remain so. “He is the guy,” said Coughlin, adding, “We are going to win with Eli.” The coach was caught off balance last week when he was asked about benching the struggling Manning in a conference call with the Minnesota media – so much so that he asked for the question to be repeated. He backed Manning 100%. He noted that the team has back-up QB’s in Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib but said the team will stick with Manning unless it’s impossible for Eli to play. The Giants’ running game has struggled in 5 of its 6 losses and the banged up offensive line had allowed 16 sacks. While some of the receivers have made some fine catches, they also have run the wrong routes and dropped some passes including a few that could have resulted in big plays or points. It all has added up to some horrible stats. Eli Manning is third from the bottom in power ratings (64.0) only over Viking Josh Freeman and Jaguar Blaine Gabbert.

The Atlanta Falcons’ tight end, Tony Gonzalez, has put off retirement for one more year until one more goal is met: winning his first Super Bowl ring. The Falcons had been mired in a 3 game losing streak before the weekend but the 37-year-old Gonzalez ranks second in the Falcons and fourth among all tight ends with 33 receptions, accounting for 339 yards and 3 TD’s. He’s going to hang around for a while. Meanwhile, in last Thursday night’s contest the Seahawks’ quarterback, Russell Wilson, threw for 3 touchdowns and Marshan Lynch rushed for 91 yards to beat Arizona, 34-22. Seattle intercepted 2 of Carson Palmer’s passes and sacked him 7 times. The Cardinals have lost 7 straight to an NFC West foe.

The Receivers

          Statistics underscore the point that the Eagles have the league’s sixth lowest touchdown conversion rate inside the red zone, also known here in Philly as the “dread zone”. During that same period, Philadelphia is the site for the NFL’s leaders in red zone touchdown pass catches. Those who’ve accomplished that stat include Rick Grankowski has 20, Wes Welker 19, Tony Gonzalez 17, Eric Decker 17, Brandon Marshall 16, James Jones 15, Calvin Johnson 14, Dez Bryant 14 and A.J. Green 14. Last year Dez Bryant combined for 9 catches, 185 yards and 3 TD’s in 2 Eagles’ losses to the Cowboys. The year before, he combined for 9 catches, 90 yards, no TD’s in 2 Eagles’ wins.  You already have noticed that none of these players belongs to the Eagles. Their best is on the injured list: Jeremy Maclin. He has 7 end zone catches since 2011. The significance of Maclin’s absence becomes clearer each week.

The Flyers

                A few thoughts on the Flyers who, these days, look like hockey’s  version of “The Walking Wounded”. First, after 3 games the owner fired head coach Peter Laviolette. Replacement Craig Berube hopes that ramped-up practices will help identify and correct problems. The team must improve its skating ability if it is to improve its record which is now 1-7, the worst in the NHL. They are last in goals scored to date.

Matt Read, one of many highly skilled Flyer forwards, is without a goal in the first 8 games of the season. After last Friday’s practice in Voorhees, Read said that he and his teammates are “trying too hard” and that “when things aren’t going your way, you try to do the little extra.” He reflected on how frustrating things are for the Flyers just now. “You’re trying to do the little extra thing and getting yourself out of position.” The Flyers offensive ineptness, at least at the start of the NHL season, hasn’t been equaled in almost half a century.  Last Thursday’s 4-1 loss to visiting Pittsburgh marked the 8th straight time they had failed to score more than 2 goals since the season started. That’s the first time that’s happened since 1964 when the Boston Bruins did it in the first 9 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. At this writing, the Flyers are 1-7 and have scored a total of 11 goals. Their record and the number of goals scored are the worst in franchise history for the season’s first 8 games.  Read’s solution?  “Keep it simple, keep doing the little things, winning puck battles, getting pucks to the net. We’re have a hard time hitting the net right now. We have to focus on putting the puck in the middle of the net and getting rebounds.” While Read’s statements make sense, they reflect upon the Flyers’ lack of control of the basics of the game, which is frustrating for the team and the fans.

In the loss to the Penguins, the Flyers had more shots that didn’t hit the net, 38 more than on goal. The Flyers don’t play again until Thursday of this week, taking 6 days between games and skating 4 practices to fine tune Coach Craig Berube’s new system. “We have to figure what we need to do to win games and kind of hit our ‘refresh button’,” suggested Read. “We have to put those last 8 games behind us and take these 6 days to think about the rest of the season. Let’s start winning hockey games and begin to enjoy the season.” With 74 games left, Read said, “There’s no reason to hit the panic button yet. I don’t think it can get any worse. We have to keep working hard and the harder we work, the better we work.”

The Flyers, who will play host to the New York Rangers at home on Thursday, were trying to win the third period in their last 8 games without success. They’ve held the lead, been tied or behind by just one goal but so far have been unable to find a way to win the third even by the smallest of margins. We’ll see if Matt Read’s words ring true as the team restarts tomorrow.

Baseball

The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals will meet for the fourth time in the World Series starting on Wednesday night in Boston’s Fenway Park. They should be in good shape, fully rested and ready to go. The Sox appear to be a slim favorite in this series. This pairing makes me think of storied names like that of Stan Musial and Ted Williams in 1946, Bob Gibson and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, Pedro Martinez and Albert Pujoles in 2004. Who can forget Curt Schilling and the Bloody Sock that broke the “Curse of the Bambino” which the Yankees were said to hold over the Sox until Boston won that series? It’s sure to be a memorable contest, starting tonight.

This year Boston and St. Louis bounced back from disappointing seasons and tied for the most wins in the majors with 97. The same two teams were also the top scoring teams in their leagues as well. Not since the Braves and the Yankees met in 1999 have league winners met in the fall classic. The Cardinals now have won their 19th pennant, the Red Sox their 13th.  Manager John Farrell leads the Boston team. Mike Matheny skippers the Cards who’ve had a remarkable season from a rookie-laden pitching staff, not to mention Carlos Beltran. There hasn’t been a more competitive pairing since the Red Sox-Cardinals meeting in 1946 aside from the Dodgers-Yankees contests over the years.

An emotional Jim Leyland has stepped aside as manager of the Detroit Tigers. The picture of his face was spotlighted on the video board in an empty Comerica Park with a simple message, “that you, Jim” last week as the season ended. After 8 years of managing the Tigers, 3 division titles and 3 American League pennants, Leyland announced his departure on Monday after the Tigers the Red Sox eliminated the team, his voice cracking at times, his hands wiping tears away. Understanding his achievements, the manager said, “We’ve won quite a bit. I’m very grateful to have been a small part of that.” A class act.

Temple Wins a Game

                Temple’s new head football coach, Matt Rhule, has found someone to beat. He’s been telling his team repeatedly that they have to make things happen instead of allowing things to happen to them. They finally let a few things happen last weekend at Lincoln Financial Field. They beat Army 33-14, refusing to run their record to 1-7. Until last Saturday they had lost 11 of their last 12 games dating back to last season.  The Owls’ Tyler Matakevich had 13 tackles in the game. Temple had begun the day as one of 8 football teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision of the AAC still looking for its first win. The victory over Army took place before a crowd of over 25,000.

Coach Rhule said he was proud of his team “because they earned the win.” He downplayed his first career coaching victory saying, “One win in the 11 games, they didn’t fall into it. They earned it. It’s a tough record but whatever happened, bad or good, I never felt like they weren’t giving the effort. It was finally rewarded and I’m happy for them.” The Owls led 26-0 at halftime, more than their first score in all of the games they have played this season. Maybe the team has turned a corner. Next for Temple is Southern Methodist, which beat Memphis 34-29 last weekend. SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns to take his team to a 34-3 lead early in the third period. Memphis scored the game’s final 26 points but lost the day.  Heading into Saturday, Gilbert ranked third in the nation with 355 passing yards per game and second in the nation 36 completions per game. SMU’s passing offense is ranked seventh in the county. The defense is another story. They have allowed 445 yards per game, 98th in the nation.

The 76ers

As for the 76ers, they also continue to lose, sometimes by the biggest of margins. Their latest reversal was at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 104-93. Rodney Williams has had a tough pre-season. The 6’7” Williams has showed flashes but he must improve his defense. In the game played out in Columbus, Ohio, he went scoreless  though he had a steal, a blocked shot, a rebound and an assist in 19 minutes of play. James Anderson and Spencer Hawes scored 17 points apiece to lead the Sixers. The team will play one more per-season game against Minnesota next week at the Wells Fargo Center. New head coach Brett Brown says that Williams is always attempting to lock it, his length is impressive.  We can’t forget that he hurt his hamstring during the second day of practice, which has hampered him for most of the pre-season. But the team needs more than this from him if it’s going to turn things around.

Out in Cleveland, ex-Sixer Andrew Bynum is said to be playing in 3-on-3 games and “close to practicing with his team”.

It’s Eagles-Giants at the Linc on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. We’ll talk about it next week.

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