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Rebounds in season opener by Ben Simmons, who also scores 19 points

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the dramatic change that can occur in a draft lottery, why rooting for Sidney Crosby — yes, Sidney Crosby — is OK under certain circumstances, and the impact of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions about the Phillies’ spring training numbers, the Eagles going for a position of extreme need in the first round, and the draft prospects of Temple’s Haason Reddick.

Maikel Franco’s ongoing struggles raise questions about his future with the Phillies. Eric Fisher also examines the impact of manager Pete Mackanin’s contract extension, pitching coach Bob McClure’s criticism of catcher Cameron Rupp, and the wonderful reception for Carlos Ruiz.

Archive for the ‘Fish ‘n Chips’ Category

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On October - 6 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Sunday’s game with the Vikings has a little more urgency for the Eagles than one might expect for a game this early in the season.

After a mediocre 2-2 start, the Eagles find themselves at a turning point in their season. If they defeat the Vikings on Sunday, they will remain in the thick of the NFC East race, and, pending the outcome of the Cowboys’ game at Houston and the Redskins’ Monday night game at New Orleans, might even find themselves in first place. On the other hand, a loss may put the Eagles in a more difficult predicament.

You can never tell what will happen in the NFL from week to week, but the Eagles appear to have a difficult schedule the next few weeks. The Vikings are seeking revenge for the embarrassing 38-7 loss in last season’s NFC Championship Game. Furthermore, at 1-2-1, the Vikings have their own sense of urgency this week.

The Eagles won’t have much time to recover after the Vikings game. They go up the New Jersey Turnpike on Thursday (8:20 p.m.) to battle the Giants. The Giants have problems on both the offensive and defensive lines, but a short week tends to favor the home team, so the Eagles certainly shouldn’t take that game lightly.

After visiting the Giants, the Eagles return home to face the Panthers, a good – if not great – team. You can scout the Giants and Panthers at the same time this Sunday (1 p.m.) when they meet in Charlotte.

The week after the Panthers game, the Eagles travel to London for a game with the Jaguars. In addition to having a terrific defense, the Jaguars have experience playing in London. The Eagles do not. That will definitely be a tough game.

If the Eagles lose to the Vikings, they will have to go 2-1 during the next three games simply to remain at .500 at the midpoint of the season. That’s pressure the Eagles don’t need.

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REMEMBERING HOPKINS: I haven’t written a Fish ‘n Chips since the death of former Eagles safety Wes Hopkins at age 57. For those too young to have seen the fierce-hitting Hopkins when he played with the Eagles, he helped set the tone for the dominant Eagles defenses of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Hopkins and the late Andre Waters formed the hardest hitting tandem in the NFL.

My PhillyPhanatics.com colleague Gordon Glantz described Hopkins as Brian Dawkins before there was a Brian Dawkins. Hopkins didn’t reach Dawkins’ level as a Hall of Fame player, but the analogy is accurate in the sense that Hopkins played a similar role during his Eagles career, which lasted from 1983-93. PhillyPhanatics.com extends our condolences to Hopkins’ family, friends and former teammates.

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CHANGING OF THE SEASONS: The color of the leaves isn’t the only thing that changes during this time of year. The Phillies’ season ended just as the Flyers’ season was about to begin and the Sixers were starting their preseason schedule.

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MASCOT CONTROVERSY: I guess I need to weigh in on the most controversial topic of the fall. No, not the Phillies’ collapse or the Eagles’ sluggish start. I’m talking about the introduction of Gritty, the Flyers’ mascot.

Gritty got off to a rough start. People made fun of the way he looked. “Made fun of” is probably too kind. Gritty was mocked, both locally and nationally.

I’m a traditionalist. I don’t like the idea of a mascot at NHL games. I do, however, understand that the Flyers are trying to connect with a younger fan base. A mascot will be an additional attraction for young fans in the arena, and, hopefully, will help them form a closer bond with the team. Gritty is a way to build loyalty with fans at a young age.

I can accept that – with a few conditions. Gritty should be entertaining during stoppages of play or in the concourse. Gritty should not be performing or doing anything that in any way would distract from action on the ice. That’s a general rule for all mascots during hockey games; it’s not just for gritty.

My other rule is more specific to Gritty. Some of Gritty’s Tweets and Facebook posts seem a bit snarky. I’m not sure a mascot should have a Twitter account. Part of the Phillie Phanatic’s magic is ability to communicate without using words. Instead of responding to criticism, Gritty should remain above the fray and knock off the snarky attitude.

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FRANKLIN’S DECISION: I have praised James Franklin for many reasons during his tenure as Penn State’s head coach. One aspect of coaching for which I haven’t praised Franklin is his play-calling. I think Franklin takes bad gambles and occasionally outsmarts himself.

One of the worst play-calling decisions Franklin has made came on fourth-and-5 on the Nittany Lions’ final possession during their 27-26 loss to Ohio State. After each team called timeout, Franklin somehow decided that a Miles Sanders run was the best play to call. The Buckeyes had been shutting down Sanders all game. What they hadn’t shut down was quarterback Trace McSorley.

McSorley had passed for 286 yards and rushed for 175 yards. The proper call was to put the ball in McSorley’s hands and give him the option to run or throw. Unfortunately, Franklin outsmarted himself by calling a running play. To his credit, after the game Franklin said, “We should have called something different there.”

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MCSORLEY’S CEILING: I used to think that Trace McSorley was a terrific college quarterback but had little shot to be an NFL quarterback. The more I see McSorley, the more I’m starting to change my mind. McSorley has a swagger that makes him a natural leader. He’ll have to stop lowering his shoulder and trying to bowl over defenders in the NFL, but he might have the ability to follow in Baker Mayfield’s footsteps as a smallish quarterback who can succeed at the NFL level.

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FULTZ WATCH: Markelle Fultz is an intriguing story. The first overall pick in the NBA Draft, Fultz endured a terrible rookie year. His first NBA campaign was plagued by injuries and rumors about mental blocks.

But the preseason has been filled with overreaction to everything Fultz does. He scored 12 points in the Sixers’ first preseason game, including a 3-pointer. That was good news, but it was hardly worthy of the overanalysis that followed. It was one preseason game. When Fultz makes shots during the regular season, that’s when we can start to get excited.

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BREWING SUCCESS: Even before the baseball playoffs started, I was a big fan of the Brewers. They added MVP candidate Christian Yelich during the offseason, acquiring him fron the Marlins. The following day, they signed center fielder Lorenzo Cain, adding two-thirds of their starting outfield.

When the non-waiver trade deadline came around at the end of July, the Brewers acquired Mike Moustakas from the Royals. And they didn’t stop there. On Aug. 31, the final day for acquiring players who could be eligible for the playoffs, they acquired starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez from the Nationals, reliever Xavier Cedeno from the White Sox and outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Blue Jays.

I’m not sure that the Brewers’ starting pitching matches that of some other playoff teams, but the tone the organization set by continuing to strive to get better right up to the final moment seems to have carried over to the players, whose never-say-die attitude has pushed them to the brink of postseason success.

Eric Fisher, who has been writing about sports for 30 years, wonders how the number crunchers in the Phillies organization can explain why analytics didn’t predict their late-season collapse.  

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 11 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

With the Eagles starting their season last week and the Phillies trying to remain relevant during the final few weeks of their season, it’s easy to overlook the Flyers, who open training camp this week.

The Flyers opened rookie camp on Monday, with the full-roster training camp beginning on Friday. The Flyers don’t waste any time getting down to business. Their first preseason game is Sunday (1 p.m.) against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

This season is supposed to be the next step in the Flyers’ progression. A big part of that progression will depend on the defense. If the Flyers’ young defensemen get better, the team will get better.

The young defense is headlined by Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Gostisbehere is on the cusp of being one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen. Provorov appears to be on a path to becoming one of the NHL’s best all-around defensemen. Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg should be better in their second NHL seasons. There also is an opportunity for Phil Myers to make the roster. Other than the 25-year-old Gostisbehere, the other players mentioned are between 21 and 23 years old.

There are a few veterans on the blue line. Radko Gudas and Christian Folin, who was signed as a free agent, will be counted upon for their experience, as will Andrew MacDonald, who is likely to miss the start of the season due to a “lower body injury” suffered while working out. But you know what you’re going to get from MacDonald and Gudas, and you hope that Folin will be a steady presence. How much the defense improves depends on the development of the young defensemen.

Youth is also important on offense. A potential source of significant improvement is second-year center Nolan Patrick, who will turn 20 years old next week. Travis Konecny, 21, also has plenty of room to improve his overall game. Center Morgan Frost could also make a run making the roster, and he should have plenty of opportunity to play because Sean Couturier’s knee injury will keep him sidelined.

A familiar face who is back in the fold is James van Riemsdyk, who was signed as a free agent. JVR, who will turn 30 on May 4, is an important piece in making sure the Flyers are still playing when he celebrates his birthday, but the most important piece in the Flyers’ progression is the development of their young defensemen.

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RECEPTION ISSUES: The Eagles’ 18-12 victory over the Falcons in the NFL’s season opener Thursday couldn’t hide their obvious problems at receiver. Nelson Agholor caught eight passes, but only gained 33 yards on those receptions. The only other pass caught by a receiver was a 10-yarder to DeAndre Carter. Veteran Mike Wallace stretched the field with some deep routes, but he didn’t catch a pass.

With Alshon Jeffery needing at least a few more weeks to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, the Eagles are extremely thin at receiver. It doesn’t help that second-year receiver Mack Hollins is on injured reserve, meaning he will miss at least the first eight games of the season. Preseason sensation Shelton Gibson, in his second season, didn’t have a catch against the Falcons, although he might benefit from more opportunities.

Recognizing their shortcomings, the Eagles signed three receivers to their practice squad. They signed Dorren Miller, Reggie Davis and Braxton Miller, a former Ohio State quarterback. There also reports that they worked Breshad Perriman, a bust with the Ravens after being drafted in the first round in 2015, and Kamar Aiken, who was in Eagles training camp.

Tight end Zach Ertz led the Eagles in receiving yards (48 on 5 receptions) during the victory over the Falcons. But the Eagles are going to need more production from their wide receivers in order for their success to continue.

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DEFENSE DOMINATES: The Falcons failed to score a point during three trips inside the red zone against the Eagles. Although the Falcons’ questionable play-calling is certainly a factor, credit must be given to the Eagles defense. Led by Fletcher Cox, the defense forced quarterback Matt Ryan to throw earlier than he wanted to, which helped the already-tight coverage. On opening night, the defense clearly was ahead of the offense.

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RODGERS’ HEROICS: The Packers’ season seemed in jeopardy Sunday night when Aaron Rodgers, playing his first game since last October, injured his left knee when sacked by a heavy Bears rush. With DeShone Kizer, who failed as the Browns quarterback, turning the ball over twice, the Packers’ opener certainly seemed lost.

But Rodgers, who limped off the field and was taken to the locker room on a cart, returned after halftime and led an amazing comeback. Despite avoiding putting pressure on his left leg when he could avoid it, Rodgers helped the Packers erase a 20-point deficit while posting a 24-23 victory.

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BEWARE OF BUCS: One of the biggest surprises during the first week of the NFL season was the Buccaneers’ 48-40 victory over the host Saints. Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, 35, completed 21 of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps the Eagles would have been better off facing the Bucs with suspended quarterback Jameis Winston under center.

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RELATIVE SUCCESS: I can’t take credit for this line, but I’m going to repeat it. By tying the Steelers, 21-21, the Browns are off to their best start since 2004.

The tie snapped a 13-year losing streak in season openers. The Browns still haven’t won a game since Christmas Eve of 2016.

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IMPRESSIVE DEBUT: Saquon Barkley gained 106 yards rushing, including a 68-yard touchdown run, during his first NFL game. The fact that he accomplished that much against the Jaguars, who have one of the NFL’s top defenses, makes his debut even more impressive (although the Jaguars won the game, 20-15).

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NO EXCUSES: I have read numerous explanations for Serena Williams’ behavior during her loss to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open women’s final. Sexism appears to be the most prevalent excuse as celebrities and columnists line up to support Williams.

All of this is nonsense. Williams was penalized during the match because of her behavior. The initial penalty was for receiving coaching during the match. That has nothing to do with sexism. But then Williams began to berate the umpire. She escalated the situation by criticizing the umpire, including personal insults, during changeovers between games. In other words, Williams received additional penalties, including the loss of a game, because she chose to escalate the situation.

If Williams is looking for someone to blame, she needs to look in the mirror. The penalties imposed upon her weren’t about sexism. The situation was about a frustrated player – Osaka won the first set, 6-2 – losing her cool and conducting herself in a completely inappropriate manner.

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STATING THEIR CASE: After needing overtime to defeat Appalachian State in its season opener, Penn State bounced back with a 51-6 domination of host Pittsburgh. The Nittany Lions held a 14-6 lead after a competitive first half, but blew the game open with a 37-0 edge during the second half.

Penn State moved up from 13th to No. 11 in the AP college football rankings after Saturday’s victory. The Nittany Lions need to be careful not to overlook Kent State this Saturday and then Illinois the following Friday. That would enable them to be 4-0 when they host Ohio State, currently ranked fourth in the nation, on Sept. 29, and then Michigan State, currently ranked 25th, on Oct. 13.

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TEMPLE OF DOOM? When Temple made its schedule, the Owls were probably figuring on being 2-0 heading into Saturday’s game at Maryland. Instead, after narrow losses in both games, Temple is looking at a potential 0-5 start.

Beating the Terrapins, who upset Texas in their opener, on their home field will be a difficult task. The Owls then get Tulsa at home, but it’s a Thursday night game. It may take the Owls a little longer to recover from Maryland than it will for Tulsa to recover from its game with Arkansas State. The following week the Owls visit Boston College, so an 0-5 start isn’t out of the question.

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MAKING AN IMPACT: The Union (12-11-4), 5-0-1 in their last six games, can take a big step toward securing a playoff spot Saturday when they host Montreal. The Union have a game in hand on the Impact (11-14-3), so a victory would push Montreal, which occupies the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, further back. On the other hand, a Montreal victory would bring it within one point of the fifth-place Union, as well as presenting an opportunity for New England and D.C. United, the first two teams outside of the playoff picture, to gain ground.

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PLAYOFF FIELD SET: The 16-driver field for NASCAR’s playoffs is set. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who have dominated the circuit this year, lead the playoff field. Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. is a shade behind Busch and Harvick. Brad Keselowski, with two straight wins, is the hottest driver entering the playoffs.

There is some turnover in the playoff field. Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. missed the playoffs after participating in them last year. (Matt Kenseth also didn’t return to the playoffs, but he’s a part-time driver this year.) Newman finished 16th in the standings, but didn’t qualify for the playoffs because Austin Dillon, 18th in the standings, won the Daytona 500. A victory trumps total points unless the driver isn’t in the top 30.

The rest of the field consists of Clint Bowyer; Joey Logan; Kurt Busch; Chase Elliott; Ryan Blaney; Erik Jones; Kyle Larson; Denny Hamlin; Aric Almirola; Jimmie Johnson; and Alex Bowman. Johnson did not win a race this season and finished only ahead of Dillon and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Bowman among playoff participants. Jones, in his second year as a full-time driver on NASCAR’s top circuit, qualified for the playoffs for the first time.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 30 years, never threw a tantrum similar to Serena Williams’ meltdown at the U.S. Open during his brief competitive tennis career as a youth.

Maurice Cheeks enters Hall of Fame