3

Consecutive games in which Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. has hit leadoff home run

The Greek God of Wrestling explains how Donald Trump used his experience with professional wrestling to plow a path toward the presidency. Achilles Heel also offers his opinion of WWE’s Payback, recounts results from Ring of Honor and CHIKARA, and says there aren’t any surprises among those released by WWE.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, Gordon Glantz fondly remembers how his father transformed him into a true Philadelphia sports fan.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the Dallas Cowboys’ fast start, the legendary career of the late Bill Campbell and how NASCAR’s new Chase format may have elevated anger levels.

Archive for October, 2017

Eagles bury 49ers

Posted by Eric Fisher On October - 29 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Eagles are so good that they don’t even need to play their best game to win.

In fact, when matched up against teams such as the winless 49ers, they don’t even have to play their best game to win in a blowout.

The Eagles’ performance was far from a masterpiece, especially on offense, but they slogged their way to a 33-10 victory at rain-soaked Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles acknowledged their mistakes, but they weren’t going to complain about the victory.

“Being 7-1, we like that,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “It’s a good place to be.”

A 7-1 record puts the Eagles atop the NFL. Every other team has at least two losses. The victory also maintains the Eagles’ three-game cushion atop the NFC East.

Defense dominates

The key to Sunday’s victory was the play of the Eagles’ defense, which overwhelmed the 49ers’ depleted offensive line and made life difficult for rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard, who was making his second NFL start.

“Just a dominating performance (by the defense),” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “Obviously, it starts with the defensive line.”

The 49ers started the game with one backup offensive tackle in a starting role. They lost the backup and Joe Staley, the other starting tackle, during the game. The 49ers played the entire second half without a backup offensive lineman.

The Eagles applied constant pressure on Beathard, who completed 17 of 36 passes for just 167 yards and was picked off twice. His lone touchdown pass was a well-designed 21-yard shovel pass to Matt Breida with 4:29 left in the third quarter. That was one of the few times a 49er ran untouched through the defense.

“There was some great tackling out there,” Pederson said. “Mychal Kendricks stepped up and had some great (pass deflections).”

Kendricks, who missed Monday’s victory over the Redskins due to a hamstring injury, led the Eagles with six tackles and was credited with a sack. With middle linebacker Jordan Hicks lost for the season, Kendricks becomes a crucial player in the defensive scheme.

There were plenty of heroes on the defensive side of the ball. Vinny Curry had a sack while playing what may have been his best game as an Eagle. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham each registered a sack. Even receiver Alshon Jeffery got into the act, helping to break up a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half.

Crucial sequence

The defense, which hasn’t allowed a touchdown during the first quarter all season, kept the Eagles in the lead during the first half while the offense sputtered. The Eagles entered the 2-minute warning clinging to a 3-0 lead, but that’s where the game turned around.

On third-and16 from the 26-yard line, Wentz tried to find Torrey Smith in the end zone. The pass was incomplete, but the 49ers were flagged for pass interference. One play later, Wentz (18 for 32, 211 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) found Zach Ertz wide open in the back of the end zone with 1:51 remaining in the first half.

Jake Elliott missed the first of two extra points he missed on this day, but 27 seconds later cornerback Jalen Mills jumped a route and intercepted Beathard’s pass. Mills started down the left sideline before cutting back to the center of the field and reaching the end zone.

“Jalen is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Pederson said.

A two-point conversion pass to Jeffery gave the Eagles 14 points in 27 seconds, turning a 3-point lead into a 17-0 lead.

Jeffery makes a big play

The outcome – if it ever were in doubt – was not in doubt after the flurry at the end of the first half. In case there were any nervous nellies when the shovel pass cut the Eagles’ lead to 20-7 with 4:29 remaining, the Eagles struck back 52 seconds later to restore their 20-point lead. Corey Clement rushed up the middle for a 22-yard gain, with left guard Stefen Wisniewski throwing a key block, and then Jeffery made a great adjustment on a throw Wentz lofted down the right sideline, cutting in front of the defensive back to catch the ball, breaking a tackle and racing to the end zone.

“(Wentz) made a great throw and I made a great play,” Jeffery told NBCSports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn.

Some Eagles fans had started to worry that Jeffery that Jeffery wasn’t delivering with big plays. But this 53-yard touchdown was a big play at the only time in the second half that seemed like a crucial juncture.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wentz said. “We brought him here to make big plays.”

Wentz out of rhythm

Wentz didn’t make the big plays to which we’ve become accustomed. Whether it was the rain, the offensive line allowing too much pressure or an emotional letdown after the victory over the Redskins, Wentz and the offense seemed out of rhythm for most of the game.

Wentz missed Jeffery open in the end zone and threw a potential touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek too high. Six days after running for five first downs against the Redskins, Wentz couldn’t escape the 49ers’ grasps, rushing for just 7 yards on two carries and being sacked three times during the first half. He also threw an interception on which there appeared to be miscommunication with rookie receiver Mack Hollins.

“It happens,” Pederson said. “There are a couple throws he’d like back. He’d be the first to tell you he should make those throws. He has (made them) and he will.”

Speaking not long after Pederson was at the podium, Wentz echoed his coach.

“There’s a handful of throws today that Wanted back,” Wentz said, “but that happens sometimes.”

Wentz could have worked on his game a little bit more, but the game was so lopsided that backup Nick Foles saw some action, although he didn’t attempt a pass.

Concerns about Vaitai

Nobody is particularly worried about Wentz moving forward. The same can’t be said for the offensive line.

Although Wentz and Pederson both said they’d have to watch a tape of the game to do an accurate evaluation, Halapoulivaati Vaitai seemed to struggle against the 49ers. At the very least, he’s a far cry from Jason Peters, the nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle who sustained a season-ending knee injury last Monday against the Redskins.

Even though veteran defensive lineman Leger Douzable wears No. 92, nobody would confuse him with Reggie White. But he picked up two sacks Sunday and, working mostly against Vaitai, was very effective.

Perhaps Vaitai’s struggles are part of the reason why the Eagles, the NFL’s best third-down team, failed on eight straight third-down attempts. But there shouldn’t be too much complaining about a team that is 7-1 and has scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games.

“Our approach every week is to go 1-0,” Wentz said.

Using that criteria, this is the sixth straight game in which the Eagles have reached their goal.

And they didn’t need their quarterback to be Super-Man to achieve that goal.

Flyers Notebook: Voracek off to fast start

Posted by Eric Fisher On October - 29 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Nobody was overly concerned when Jakub Voracek didn’t score during the Flyers’ first nine games. In fact, nobody was concerned. That’s because Voracek was playing so well.

Voracek was leading the Flyers in assists before scoring goals this past week against the Senators and Maple Leafs. Not only was he leading the Flyers in assists, but he was leading them in shots on goal. It was just a matter of time until those shots started finding the back of the net.

Voracek broke the ice during Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Senators, and then scored on a gorgeous move against the Leafs. Voracek came down the right wing on a 2-on-1 with Claude Giroux. When the defenseman took away the pass, Voracek went around him and made a right-to-left move toward the front of the net before slipping the puck past goalie Frederik Andersen.

In case anyone is unduly concerned that the goals will make Voracek a little more selfish, later in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs he made a beautiful bank pass off the boards from the Flyers’ defensive zone to Giroux on the left wing. Giroux ripped a shot high past Andersen, restoring the Flyers’ two-goal lead.

Passing has become Voracek’s specialty. He is second in the NHL in assists (14) and third in points (16) despite having just two goals. The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos leads in both categories.

Although the Flyers would probably prefer that Voracek’s assists-to-goals ratio be better than 7:1, nobody will complain as long as he keeps playing at a high level.

*****

COUTURIER EXCELS: Fans may be accustomed to seeing Jakub Voracek piling up points, but that’s not the case with Sean Couturier. But Couturier is tied for eighth in the NHL in goals (seven) and points (13).

But Couturier’s improved offense has not come at the expense of his outstanding defensive play. He is tied for sixth in the NHL in plus/minus rating (plus-10). Although shorthanded situations don’t figure into plus/minus ratings – except for shorthanded goals – Couturier’s defensive excellence was on display Saturday when the Flyers were facing a 5-on-3 situation against Toronto’s terrific power play.

First, Couturier won the defensive zone cleanly, allowing the Flyers to ice the puck. Then he broke up an attempted entry into the Flyers’ zone and sent the puck down the ice. Those two fine plays killed off the 32 seconds remaining in the first penalty without the Maple Leafs even getting set up in the offensive zone during their two-man advantage.

*****

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Sean Couturier should be even higher on the NHL leaders list for goals, points and plus-minus ranking. With the goalie pulled during Thursday’s game in Ottawa, Couturier followed up his own rebound in close and put the puck across the goal line with 56 remaining to tie the game. The puck was in goalie Craig Anderson’s glove, but the glove was clearly across the goal line.

But referee Steve Kozari ruled that he had determined the play was dead even though had not yet blown the whistle. He told the video replay officials that he was in the process of blowing his whistle because he lost sight of the puck.

The Flyers lost a goal earlier in the game because it was determined that Jordan Weal had interfered with Anderson. Weal was in the crease when Anderson initiated the minor contract. Weal then quickly left the crease as Brandon Manning was firing his shot, which went past Anderson for an apparent goal. After a replay review, the goal was waived off.

The Manning goal was a judgment call, although it should be noted that Kozari was in perfect position to see the contact between Weal and Anderson and initially seemed to dismiss Anderson’s complaint of interference. On Couturier’s goal, however, there are sections of the NHL rulebook that seem to be in conflict. It all depends on how the ruling is applied.

Although the replay review is intended to get the call correct, it’s clear that there is still a subjective portion of the decision-making process. And I can’t help thinking that in both cases in Ottawa, particularly on Couturier’s tying goal in the final minute, that the decision would have been reversed if the uniforms had been reversed.

*****

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART: Brandon Manning hadn’t scored in 52 games, so when his apparent goal was disallowed against the Senators, it had to hurt. But Manning didn’t let the streak continue much longer. He scored the Flyers’ first goal Saturday against the Maple Leafs, jumping up into the play and finishing off a beautiful passing play with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. Manning also assisted on Claude Giroux’s goal that restored the Flyers’ two-goal cushion.

*****

BATTLE OF ATTRITION: There is no such thing as having too many defensemen. The Flyers have been using six defensemen since Andrew MacDonald was lost for an estimated 4-6 weeks with a “lower body” injury after blocking a shot against the Oilers. Now the Flyers may have lost Shayne Gostisbehere, although the extent of his injury hasn’t been determined yet. Gostisbehere, who leads all NHL defensemen with 12 assists, left Saturday’s win over the Maple Leafs with an “upper body” injury after being driven face-first into the boards on a hit by Leafs forward Leo Komarov.

It’s possible that Samuel Morin’s return to the Phantoms after the season-opening four-game road trip will be short-lived. But that will give the Flyers three rookie and one second-year player in their defensive corps.

*****

INCONSISTENCY: How was Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas given a major penalty and game misconduct for charging on a heavy hit during the loss to the Senators and the Leafs’ Leo Komarov wasn’t penalized for his hit from behind on Shayne Gostisbehere? Komorov appeared to extend his arms while driving Gostisbehere face-first into the boards from behind.

*****

PATRICK OUT: Nolan Patrick, the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, has missed the past two games with an “upper body” injury after being drilled into the boards during Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Ducks.

*****

TOCCHET RETURNS: Former Flyer Rick Tocchet returns to Wells Fargo Center on Monday (7 p.m.) as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are winless this season after 11 games, with their only point coming in an overtime loss.

*****

UNBALANCED SCHEDULE: The Flyers have already completed their season series with the Ducks and Predators, splitting with the Ducks and losing a pair of one-goal decisions to the Predators. The Flyers will also play the Blackhawks twice within the first nine days of November. Seventeen of the Flyers’ first 21 games are against the Western Conference. In fact, after the road games this past week against the Senators and Maple Leafs, the Flyers don’t play an Eastern Conference team again until a home-and-home series with the Islanders, with Thanksgiving sandwiched in the middle.

*****

LOOKAHEAD: After Monday’s game against the Coyotes, the Flyers return to the road Wednesday (8 p.m.) and Thursday (8 p.m.) against the Blackhawks and Blues, respectively. Brayden Schenn, whom the Flyers traded on draft day, has three goals and seven assists and, most surprisingly, is plus-7 for the Blues, who are undefeated at home and lead the Central Division. The Flyers will return home to face the Avalanche on Saturday (7 p.m.).

Brian Dawkins' Hall of Fame speech