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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the reaction to Matt Rhule leaving Temple, Penn State being left out of the playoffs and Lane Johnson’s potential return.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the Eagles’ release of Marcus Smith, Jordan Matthews’ knee injury and the reaction to Michael Phelps’ “race” against a great white shark.

Eagles owner Jeffry Lurie basically asked fans to trust that the Eagles did their due diligence during their search for a head coach. After enduring Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the process” motto with the Sixers, Eric Fisher isn’t inclined to give Lurie the benefit of the doubt regarding the process for finding a new coach.

Archive for September, 2018

Eagles-Titans: Expect a defensive battle

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 29 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

We get a second look at Carson Wentz this Sunday (1 p.m.) as the Eagles meet the Titans in a battle of teams with 2-1 records.

Aside from the record, another similarity is that both teams have received better performances from their defense than from their offense this season. Both teams also haven’t had much margin for error in their victories. The Titans won by a field goal the last two weeks. The Eagles’ two victories required fourth-and-goal stops at the end of the game.

The Eagles should have an edge on offense, although the lack of production from the wide receivers and injuries to two of their top three running backs remain a concern. The Titans offense has only produced two touchdowns this season (the other two came on special teams).

Expect another low-scoring game. If the score reaches into the 20s, that favors the Eagles.

Here are 10 questions to consider prior to and during Sunday’s game at Nashville:

How good will Carson Wentz be this week?

In his first game back after recovering from knee surgery, Wentz completed 25 of 37 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. He demonstrated the same incredible elusiveness in the pocket that he showed last season, with no signs that the knee injury will force him to adjust his style. On the other hand, Wentz turned the ball over twice in Eagles territory, losing a fumble and throwing an interception. He needs to clean up the turnover, but expect Wentz to continue to improve as his comfort level increases.

Isn’t the Titans quarterback the guy who was supposed to be an Eagle?

Remember the hoopla surrounding the Eagles’ potential acquisition of Marcus Mariota? Chip Kelly was the head coach and in charge of personnel, so it only seemed logical that the Eagles would trade up in the draft in order to select Mariota, whom Kelly had recruited to play at Oregon. The trade never happened. Instead, Mariota was drafted second overall by the Titans in the 2015 NFL Draft. One year later, the Eagles traded up to No. 2 to select Carson Wentz. The rest is history.

How well is Marcus Mariota playing this season?

Mariota has only played a little more than one game. He left the Titans’ second game with an elbow injury, but it expected to return Sunday against the Eagles. In a limited sample size, Mariota has completed 21 of 34 passes for 203 yards. He has thrown two interceptions without throwing a touchdown, resulting in a poor quarterback rating of 53.9. Mariota is the type of elusive quarterback that sometimes gives the Eagles defense fits; however, if the elbow injury prevents Mariota from throwing accurate passes downfield, the Eagles can devote more resources to preventing him from running.

Aside from Mariota’s mobility, what’s the biggest challenge for the Eagles defense?

The Titans like to run the ball. They’re running game isn’t dangerous, but they use it to control the game. Derrick Henry has 46 carries for 139 yards, and former Eagle Dion Lewis has 39 carries for 143 yards. More surprisingly, Lewis only has nine catches for 50 yards. The Eagles, as they did last season, have the top run defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. If the Eagles can stifle the Titans’ running game, they will force the Titans to throw the ball more often, which isn’t their preferred style.

How much will the Eagles miss safety Rodney McLeod?

McLeod had surgery to repair a torn MCL sustained during last Sunday’s 20-16 victory over the Colts. He could be lost for the rest of the season. Corey Graham, who was re-signed during training camp because the Eagles were so thin at safety, will replace McLeod in the starting lineup. But McLeod’s injury once again leaves the Eagles thin at safety. Deiondre Hall, acquired from the Bears just before the start of the regular season, is the only safety other than the starters listed on the Eagles’ roster. There was speculation that the Eagles could activate Tre Sullivan off the practice squad, but they activated receiver DeAndre Carter instead when putting McLeod on injured reserve, indicating that they may move Rasul Douglas over from cornerback, where the Eagles have much more depth. (The move could also indicate that the Eagles aren’t certain that Alshon Jeffery will return this week.) McLeod’s absence might affect the Eagles’ use of the versatile Malcom Jenkins, who often moves around the field when the Eagles bring an additional defensive back into the game. Jenkins may be limited to a more traditional safety position due to McLeod’s absence. The Titans are without tight end Delanie Walker and don’t throw downfield very often, so the greater test for the secondary without McLeod may come next weekend against the Vikings.

Who will be the running backs?

Jay Ajayi, who didn’t play against the Colts after suffering a small fracture in his back during the Week 2 loss to the Bucs, is expected to play Sunday. How much Ajayi will play is uncertain. Darren Sproles will miss his third straight game due to a strained hamstring. That leaves Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood, who played well against the Colts, to carry most of the load. Whether Josh Adams is inactive will tell us a lot about Ajayi’s health. The Titans defense is very good, so running could be a difficult task this week.

Will the Eagles receivers step up this week?

A key may be whether Alshon Jeffery makes his season debut on Sunday. Jeffery, recovering from shoulder surgery, was cleared for contact this week. However, after practicing on Wednesday, Jeffery missed the next two days due to illness. Among the receivers, only Nelson Agholor has more than five receptions. Agholor has 20 catches, but only 145 yards, less than 50 per game. The Eagles’ downfield passing game has mostly been through tight ends Zach Ertz (21 catches for 215 yards) and Dallas Goedert (8 catches for 77 yards), who caught Wentz’s touchdown pass against the Colts.

Who is the Titans’ top receiver?

Corey Davis, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, leads the Titans with 13 receptions for 151 yards. As mentioned earlier, running back Dion Lewis is next with nine catches for 50 yards. Nobody else has more than seven receptions. In other words, the Titans don’t appear to have a dangerous passing game.

When was the last time the Titans played the Eagles?

The teams haven’t met since November of 2014, when the Eagles posted a 43-24 victory. That was the Eagles’ only victory in five attempts against the Titans, who beat them in their first four meetings. The Eagles has much greater success against the Houston Oilers, going 6-0 before the franchise moved to Tennessee.

What’s the biggest concern for the Eagles?

The biggest concern might be special teams. The Eagles have struggled on special teams this season. Corey Clement seemed to have difficult catching punts against the Colts. By contrast, the Titans have two special teams touchdowns. If the Titans score on special teams, it will take some of the pressure off of their offense, particularly if the touchdown enables the Titans to play with the lead instead of trying to come from behind. That would allow them to stick with their run-first strategy.

PREDICTION: The Titans don’t score a lot of points. As good as their defense is, it’s difficult to imagine them keeping Carson Wentz and the Eagles out of the end zone, as the Titans did to Jacksonville last week without running back Leonard Fournette. A special teams touchdown by the Titans could change the game, but I’m sticking with the Eagles in a low-scoring game. Eagles 23, Titans 13

Phillies Notebook: Wasted weekend

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 27 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Remember when Phillies fans were looking forward to this weekend’s series with the Braves?

This series was supposed to be a showdown for the National League East Division title on the final weekend of the regular season. After an 0-8 road trip, with sweeps by the Braves and Rockies, this weekend’s series is nearly meaningless.

At least it’s meaningless for the Phillies. The Braves are still battling for homefield advantage during the NL playoffs.

The series is only meaningful for the Phillies if you think that winning a series at this point means anything. Would even a sweep, which would get the Phillies back to .500, wipe away the awful tasted left by the collapse during the final eight weeks of the season?

The only meaningful goal for the Phillies is to avoid being swept by the Braves. A win in the series would avoid the psychological impact of ending the season with an 11-game losing streak.

After the season is over, there will be time to assess blame for the collapse, identify flaws and provide a prescription for getting better.

For now, we’ll simply lament the missed opportunity to return to the postseason and the lack of meaningful games during the final weekend of the regular season.

*****

VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: General manager Matt Klentak gave first-year manager Gabe Kapler a vote of confidence on Wednesday, saying he would return as manager next season. The Phillies promptly went out and dropped a 14-0 decision to the Rockies, who were merciful in not attempting 2-point conversions to run up the score.

*****

LOPSIDED LOSSES: The Rockies outscored the Phillies 39-7 during their four-game sweep this week. During Wednesday’s 14-0 loss, German Marquez struck out the first eight Phillies to come to the plate, tying a major league record.

*****

LOSING STREAK: The 0-8 road trip leaves the Phillies with a 78-81 record, assuring that their most recent winning season will remain 2011.

*****

THE (NON-)HUSTLER: This past week featured two more instances in a long list of Odubel Herrera failing to put out a complete effort. Herrera was picked off against the Braves. As if that weren’t bad enough, he made no effort to get back to the base. Against the Rockies, Herrera failed to run hard to first base while grounding into a first-inning double play.

Herrera is a multi-time offender in the lack of hustle category. Manager Gabe Kapler should have pulled Herrera from the game to send a message. And it’s a message that should have been sent to Herrera a long time ago. It will be interesting to see if the Phillies try to trade Herrera during the offseason.

                               *****                               

POOR RETURN ON MONEY: Thursday’s loss to the Rockies left Jake Arrieta with a 10-11 record for this season. That’s a poor return on a $30 million salary, with the total three-year investment in Arrieta totaling $75 million.

*****

ROTATION FALLS APART: There was a time when the starting pitching was credited with compensating for the Phillies’ flaws. That changed during the latter stages of the season.

The starting pitching declined so badly that Aaron Nola was the only starter with an ERA below Arrieta’s 3.96 ERA. How many year will the Phillies continue to wait for Vince Velasquez (9-12, 4.85 ERA) to develop into a good starting pitcher?

*****

DOWN TO THE WIRE: The NL Central and West races appear headed for the wire. As I write this, the Cubs (92-66), with a game Thursday night against the Pirates, are a half-game ahead of the Brewers (92-67) in the Central. The Cubs and Brewers will both make the playoffs, with the team that finishes second earning a wild card.

In the West, the Rockies (89-70) are one game ahead of the Dodgers (88-71). The Dodgers have a one-game lead over the Cardinals (87-72), the third-place team in the Central, in the battle for the second wild card berth. Meanwhile, the Braves (89-69) are in the thick of the race for homefield advantage in the first round.

The Cubs host the Cardinals this weekend, while the Brewers host the Tigers. The Rockies host the Nationals, while the Dodgers wrap up the regular season at the Giants.

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie