Archive | September, 2012

Phillies Can Only Look to Next Year: Team Hoping to Finish Season at .500

28 Sep



Phillies hope to have a healthy Ryan Howard back for 2013. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The last home series of the season was a bittersweet for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. For the last five years, this part of September was a time for the Phils to get ready for postseason play.

Not this year.

But this has been a season where the Phillies have had the share of ups, down, twists and turns. Settling the for that hated moral victory, i.e. finishing the season at .500, is the only thing that the Phillies can shoot for as their playoffs chances recede into the evening shadows. They finished a game below .500 at Citizen’s Bank Park with Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals. It was the first time since 2000 that the team has finished below .500 at home.

“When you look up we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do,” Manuel said. “Anytime you don’t reach your goal and everything like that, it’s kind of disappointing. I’m not a second-place guy. We come to win and that’s what we talk about. When we don’t do it, it’s a disappointment.”

The difference between the first half and the second half of the season was almost like night and day. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the disabled list for most of the first half of the season, the Phillies struggled to a 37-50 record by the All-Star break.

With Howard and Utley back in the lineup, the Phillies have been playing .600 baseball since the All-Star Break coming into Thursday’s home finale. The Phils are 41-28 and are at .500, something no one thought would happen and are still mathematically alive for the playoffs in the last week of the season.

“The positive thing is just that we competed,” Howard said. “We were 14 games under .500 and we’re right one .500. I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d get back to that. We never gave up. I don’t think a lot of people thought we would be even mentioned to be in the playoff hunt.”

The Phillies came to within three games of the second National League Wildcard spot back on Sept. 12, but the lost three out of four in Houston. Manuel said the team ran out of gas after coming back from as many as 16 games below .500.

“It might have taken something out of us, but at the same, the experience part and the inconsistent part that I’ve been talking about all year long when you see us in a series like the one that happened in Houston,” Manuel said. “Between our pitchers walking guys and hitting guys and making mistakes defensively we put ourselves in a position to get beat  like that in losing three out of four games there.”

They were also three games  out of the wild card spot on Sept. 21, but the Phillies have lost four of their last six and have fallen to six games out of the second wildcard spot with six games left.

No matter what the Phillies record is at the end of the season, the Phillies are going to have to get better for next season. Whether they do that with the players they have now or if they go outside the organization, Manuel said the team has to get better.

“If people that we have can do that, that’s fine, if not, we’re going to have to get a better offense and we’ve definitely got to catch the ball better next year,” Manuel said. “This is the worst we’ve played defense and as far as mental mistakes, we’ve had a lot of them and errors. We’ve more errors this year than we’ve had in the last five or six years.”

The Phillies will no doubt have a lot of holes to fix next year. They’re going to have to decide if they’re going to go outside the organization to fill some holes in the outfield, most notably in center field. Do they trust players like Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. to be good enough and consistent enough both in the field and at the plate?

Another position they’re going to have to fill is at third base. Did Kevin Frandsen play well enough to convince the team that he can replace Placido Polanco, who has an option for next year, but more than likely will not be back next season.

Whatever personnel moves the Phillies make for next year, Howard believes the Phillies will still be a contender in 2013. He said guys like himself pitcher, Roy Halladay, and Chase Utley will be healthier next year. The Phillies will also have shortstop Jimmy Rollins next season as well.

“What it is guys are going home this offseason and getting healthy,” Howard said. “Doc (Halladay) wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t healthy, Chase wasn’t healthy. We’ve had a rash of injuries. I think what people have seen these couple of months with us making this run, I think it shows what we’re capable of.”

Eagles Need to Incorporate the Running Game to Protect Vick

26 Sep

LeSean McCoy Hopes to get more carries in Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

While the rest of the world focused on the horrific call on what should have been an interception to end Monday’s Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game, there was something else that folks, Eagles fans specifically, should have focused on as well.

It would be the number of times All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rogers was sacked by the Seahawks defense. It was eight times. The pass-run ratio (39 passes, 21 runs) was enough to convince the Seahawks to pin their ears back and send folk flying at the quarterback. The Packers offense struggled to get the one touchdown they did get in the game.

If you’re an Eagles fan during the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia, Monday’s game was extremely familiar to you because you’ve been seeing it here in your own backyard for 14 years.

No matter how many times, folks want to blame Michael Vick for his lack of pre-snap reads, he holds the ball too long or he commits too many turnovers, we cannot deny is that when you pass all the time and the defense knows it, your quarterback is going to be in harm’s way whether it’s Vick, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Rogers.

“That’s the key, you want to make an offense one dimensional so you can get after them,” said Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “If you know they’re going to throw the ball, you can definitely come after them and get more pressure on them. When you shut the run down completely, you put the ball in the quarterback’s hand and you can beat him.”

If that quarterback is working behind an offensive line that doesn’t have a lot of experience and you don’t want to give the ball to your best running back to slow the defense down, what you saw Monday night in Seattle and Sunday afternoon in Arizona is going to happen more often than naught. That’s not just on the quarterback, it’s on the coaching staff.

“Anytime you get the running game established in any offense, it keeps the defense guessing whether it’s a play-fake or a screen,” Running back LeSean McCoy said. “You have to keep those guys guessing.”

For all this nonsense that the NFL has become a passing league, you still have to run the ball enough to wear the defense down and give them something else to think about as they’re charging up field. The Packers with their 15-1 record in 2011, 30-plus points per game got knocked out in the divisional round of the playoffs last season.

You would think after 14 years and three games into the 2012 season that Reid would assess his current situation and do something to protect his injury-prone quarterback and his offense on the field in the game itself rather than doing so during his post-game or day after game press conferences.

When the Eagles beat the Baltimore Ravens, they put the ball in the hands of LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown and ran more than they passed, there was a lot more rhythm in the offense because any defensive player will you tell a hard-charging running back and a 300-pound offensive lineman will slow down a defense and make them think—even if the team is 60-40 or 70-30 pass versus run.

“If a team is running the ball on you, it’s the start of a long day,” Ryans said. “You have to stop the run.”

What’s maddening about all this is that when Reid and the Eagles have effectively mixed in the running game, they’ve actually won more than they have lost. In 2008, after Donovan McNabb was benched in Baltimore, the Eagles utilized Brian Westbrook more than they had been in their offensive attack in the final six games of the regular season, they won five out of six   and almost went to the Super Bowl.

“Listen, you’re seeing it with some of the good throwing teams in this league,” Reid said. “Balance, you’ve got to have some sort of balance, whether that’s 60-40, 70-30. You’ve got to be able to obviously keep defenses off balance to get yourself in a rhythm on offense.”

Okay, coach, we’re going to hold you do that on Sunday night against the New York Giants.

Debacle in the Desert: Plenty of Blame to Go Around in Loss to Arizona

25 Sep

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick could be on the verge of losing his starting job if turnovers persist. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Watching the Arizona Cardinals beat down of Michael Vick and the Eagles offense, I kept thinking of that old definition of insanity cliché that says something about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

But I have written that column before and have probably used those exact words over the last eight years when it comes to the play-calling of head coach Andy Reid and his offensive coordinators. Yes, I am one of many who overuse the whole insanity definition, but in the case of your Eagles, it has been the bloody truth.

When you’re working with a patch-work offensive line that has struggled protecting its injury-prone quarterback, being too pass-happy is definitely not the answer.

In Sunday’s game against a hard-charging Cardinals defense, you saw Vick getting hit with the football version of a stinging left jab that former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes used to put on his opponents in his prime. Vick was sacked five times and hit 13 times during the course of the game. Like’s Holmes’ left jab, it’s the accumulation of the blows that ultimately knock you out.

The actual knockout blow in that game was delivered by Cards free safety Kerry Rhodes near the end of the first half when he hit Vick with a vicious tackle from the quarterback’s blindside enabling his teammate safety James Sanders to scoop the ball up and run for a 93-yard touchdown to basically end the competitive portion of the game because it gave the Cardinals a 24-0 lead going into the intermission.

My postgame transmission on Facebook and Twitter after the game asked fans the question who’s at fault for Sunday’s 27-6 debacle in the desert.

If you’re blaming Vick, that probably would have been the No. 1 or No. 2 answer on the survey board if we were playing the Family Feud. Yes, the quarterback deserves his share of blame because his decision-making was just plain terrible at times. Vick needs to throw the ball away if it’s not there. One of those sacks he took in the first quarter was because he held onto the ball too long.  He needs to just throw it away.

If he’s going to run, Vick needs to secure the football or just slide because one of his fumbles came when he failed to hang onto the ball as he was going down.

When teams are blitzing from the outside (which they’ve doing for the last two years), Vick has to do a better job of recognizing it at the line and figure out a way to find the hot receiver and making teams pay. Until he does that on a consistent basis, teams are going to keep doing it and he’s not going to be on the field as a starter because he’s going to get badly hurt or benched.

After Reid’s Monday press conference, folks are speculating on the possibility of Vick getting benched if keep’s committing turnovers. The Birds head coach in a subtle way left that door open to that possibility when he said Vick was his quarterback “for right now.”  Stay tuned.

In Vick’s defense, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did not put him in a good situation at all. If you know that you are a working with a makeshift offensive line where you have a new starting left tackle, an inexperienced center and an All-Pro running back in LeSean McCoy at your disposal, why are you passing on virtually every down in the first half?

McCoy had just four carries for 15 yards in the first half. Really? Last week against a better Baltimore Ravens defense, the Eagles ran the ball more than they passed it with McCoy and slowed that defense down enough that they had to pick their spots to blitz the quarterback.

When the Eagles running game is employed and working, Vick is a lot more comfortable in that pass pocket and moves the offense down field with a lot less drama. When you run it more than a few times, defenses aren’t pinning their ears back to get easy shots at your quarterback. This was evident on the last two drives in the win over Cleveland and throughout the game in the win over Baltimore even with subs replacing injured players.

This is not the first time that myself and others have pointed out Reid’s stubbornness to have a more balanced attack. When this team shows the ability to employ the running game even if it’s a 60-40 pass-to-run ratio, they usually win or at the very least the quarterback has far less bumps and bruises.

Here’s another thing to consider in terms of coaching. Two plays before Vick’s game-changing fumble near the end of the first half, he had misfired on two passes from the one-yard line with the game clock showing six seconds.

With the way they were struggling on offense, don’t you think Reid should have sent the kicking unit out on the field to salvage three points and keep the game within reach?

Ooops, I forgot about Reid and the whole clock management thing.

The issues the Eagles have with run-pass ratio and lack of clock management are nothing new for Reid because this was basic complaint from fans when Donovan McNabb was leading the team. Trying to get Reid to understand this is like trying to bring logic to a situation that steadfastly resists it.

Phight On: Phillies Move Back to Within Three Games of Last NL Wildcard Spot

22 Sep

Ryan Howard hit one of a season-high four home runs in the Phillies win over the Atlanta Braves. Photo By Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

With the Phillies barely hanging on to their slim hopes for a postseason bid, how well they play in the final homestand of the regular season against the Atlanta Braves and the playoff-bound Washington Nationals will determine whether they will be packing their bags for that one-game playoff or getting ready for next  season.

Behind three other teams chasing down that final wildcard spot, the Phillies (77-74)  controlled their end of the scoreboard with a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves at Citizen’s Bank Park in front of a sellout crowd of 44, 052.  The win moved the Phillies to within three games of the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost to the Chicago Cubs for the final National League wildcard spot.

It was that time-honored Phillies formula where they bludgeon teams to death with the long ball. The Phils hit a season-high four home runs. Third baseman Kevin Frandsen, first baseman Ryan Howard, catcher Carlos Ruiz and second baseman Chase Utley did the major damage for the Phillies with home run ball.

“Howard’s being swinging good and he swung good (Thursday) night, he hit four or five balls pretty hard and came up with two hits including a grand-slam home run,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He had a good swing on that homer tonight.”

Manuel said he was proud of the energy and heart his team been playing with during the second half of the season.

“I’ve seen times when we could have folded tent and it got close to that, but usually when you’re losing during the season, it does,” Manuel said. “That’s the mark of a bunch of guys who like to play and definitely want to win. I think we love the fact that we play before a full house every night and that we definitely want to play for our fans.”

Howard continued his hot hitting with his third home run in three days when he went yard in the bottom of the fourth inning. That homerun was followed by a solo shot by Ruiz that inning that gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead.  The Phils catcher had an RBI single in the seventh and Utley added his solo homer in the eighth.

“I’m really trying not to think about it and just trying to go with it,” Howard said. “Now I’m just kinda finding it a little bit. I’m not trying to question it; I’m not trying to think about it. Each day, I’m going out there and I’m trying to grind and really trying to get back in the swing of things.”

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick (10-11) bounced back from a horrendous outing in Houston by striking out six in six and two-thirds innings. He allowed just two runs on five hits. He said bouncing back from a tough outing is another sign of his maturity as a pitcher.

“You just gotta bounce back, why dwell on it? Kendrick said. “Guys are going to have bad outings. You just gotta find a way to come back and try to  have a good one.”

With the Phillies postseason fortunes riding on this series against the Braves, Manuel said he had a lot of confidence in Kendrick because of his consistency during the second half of the season.

“We like the way that we set our pitching up for this series and we definitely wanted Kyle in one of those games,” Manuel said. “He’s pitched real good for us.  He’s in a streak right now where he’s throwing a lot of good pitches. He’s throwing strikes, but right now his command is so good that when he gets ahead, he can sell the hitter at swinging at balls out of the strike zone, especially with his changeup and cutter.”



Video Report: Eagles Hope to Eliminate Mistakes Once and For All Against Arizona

21 Sep

The Philadelphia Eagles know that at some point, they can’t keep turning the ball at the rate they’ve been doing and expect to win. Even with a pair of one-point wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, the Birds have committed nine turnovers. If they keep going at this rate, they’re not going to be so lucky. Michael Vick and the Eagles offense, which is averaging over 400 yards per game, have  made it priority for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals to hang on to the football. Chris Murray was down at the Eagles Nova Care practice facility in South Philadelphia this week and filed this report.


Vick Leads Another Eagles Comeback in Win over Baltimore

17 Sep

Eagles guard Danny Watkins (63) gives quarterback Michael Vick a huge lift after his one-yard run put the Eagles on top for good in the win over the Ravens. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Birds Overcome Four Turnovers to go 2-0

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA–When a team commits nine turnovers in two games in the National Football League, that team is usually staring at a 0-2 record and praying that they don’t fall to 0-3 the next week.

But the Eagles are 2-0 in spite of their on-going penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. The Birds needed another fourth-quarter comeback by the offense to tough out a 24-23 victory over a physical Baltimore Ravens squad Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Despite committing four turnovers, Michael Vick and the offense saved the day for the second straight week with another fourth quarter comeback. With the Eagles trailing 23-17 with 4:43 left in the game, Vick put the team on his back and led them on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was culminated with his one-yard plunge for the game-winning touchdown.

Michael scores the winning touchdown for the Eagles. Photo by Webster Riddick

“Even though we’ve been down, even though we haven’t played our best, we’ve turned the ball over, we’ve fumbled, we found a way to win the game,” said center Jason Kelce, who left the game with a sprained knee. “I think that’s huge. Fighting through adversity is something that all championship teams have to do. The fact that we’ve won these first two games by one point shows that we’ve been fighting through adversity.”

For the game, Vick completed 23-of-32 passes for 371 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. On the Eagles first drive of the game, Vick threw an interception in the end zone after completing his first five passes and driving the Eagles to the Baltimore 12. Head coach Andy Reid said he told Vick not to get down on himself.

“I told him to just keep playing, you just keep playing,” Reid said. “He’ll work through this. He has enough history to know what a great player he is and that part hasn’t changed.

“I thought he saw things and he made some great decisions and some huge throws. He’s still firing and there’s no hesitation. That’s important. There’s a confidence he has.”

Vick said the thing he has to work on understanding that he can’t always make the really big play and not try to force things when it’s not there, especially on his first interception.

“To come out and get off to such a great start and to have it all negated by a turnover when you know there’s better decisions that could have been made,” Vick said. “You can’t always hit a homerun, sometimes you gotta get singles and doubles. That’s what I have to understand. I force too many balls sometimes.”

What also helped the Eagles against the Ravens is that they showed some balance on offense.   After throwing the ball 56 times last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Eagles passed the ball 32 times and ran on 41 snaps from center.

“It kind of kept them off-balanced a little bit,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 81 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown and one fumble. “I think in the second half they kind of focused a little bit on the run because you could tell some lanes weren’t as big and a lot of their guys were in the box. I think it was the call of just switching it up and not being so predictable.”

The Eagles offense managed to move the football on the game-winning drive despite losing Kelce, Jeremy Maclin (hip-pointer) and left tackle King Dunlap (hamstring). Reid said he considered using some members of the Eagles defensive line, Cullen Jenkins in particular.

“(Reid) came and talked to me and it was definitely on my mind for the rest of the game,” Jenkins said with laughter. “When he came and told me, I didn’t know if he was joking or not. The more I looked at him, I’m like he’s serious here.”

The Eagles defense gave up some big plays, but when the game was on the line, they kept Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense from scoring on the final drive of the game.

After gashing the Eagles defense for some big runs in the first half, Ravens running back Ray Rice, who gained 99 yards on 16 carries, was held to just 21 yards rushing in the second half.

“The defense, we let some things get out on us, some mistakes,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “But I’m proud of the way we continue to fight back and close the game out and had to play four quarters. That’s a mindset that we had to get.”

Muhammad Ali Exemplifies the True Spirit of the Liberty Medal

15 Sep

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA–To merely focus on the great boxing career of three-time former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali on what he did as an athlete, is just telling half the story.

Muhammad Ali Receives Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center.

Not only was Ali the greatest inside the ring, but as a man who took an unpopular stand based on principle and at the risk of losing millions of dollars, he transcended boxing in a way that no athlete ever has in the history of sports.

For refusing to accept induction into the United States Army based on his religious beliefs, Ali inspired millions to understand that the real essence of being an American is not always about agreeing with your government, but your right to dissent when you believe your government is in error.

The National Constitution Center made Ali a recipient of the Liberty Medal and honored him during ceremonies outside the center on Thursday. The man, formerly known as Cassius Clay, was honored by for his lifetime of service as a fighter for human rights in the United States and all over the world. It was the first time an athlete received the honor.

To me, it was fitting that Ali receive the Liberty Medal because when he refused induction into the military to fight in the Vietnam War, it was the ultimate act of patriotism because he exercised his right as an American citizen to disagree with what he felt was an unjust policy of his government.

Back in 1967 when Ali refused induction into the Army, there were many Americans that felt he was being unpatriotic. In fact, people who protested the war in Vietnam, including prominent activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were labeled as un-American and disloyal to the country.

Flash forward to 1991, when I was a young reporter with the Bay City (Mich.) Times I covered an anti-Gulf War protest just outside of Saginaw. As I was interviewing one of the protestors, a guy drove past and taunted the protestors by saying, “America, love it or leave it.”

When I asked the protestor for his reaction to what the guy in the car was saying, the man answered, “I wouldn’t be out here protesting if I didn’t love my country.”

That’s why I say that Ali, King and everyone who has protested the wars our country has been involved in since Vietnam are just as patriotic and loyal to the nation as those who put on that uniform and fight on the front lines. And yes, it was just as wrong for some people in the anti-war movement to label the soldiers who fought in that war as “baby killers.”

Ali not only disagreed with fighting a war overseas when there was racial injustice at home, but he also voiced his opposition to the war based on his religious beliefs as a Muslim.

According to the principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Ali’s opposition to the war was not at all un-American. As a consequence, Ali had to redress his grievances in a court of law and ultimately had his conviction overturned in 1970.

“He lost three and a half years of his career,” said Ali’s wife Lonnie. “He gave up the prime years of his career. He paid a huge price for that. The great thing about Muhammad was that he took the stand and has no bad feelings toward the government for what they did. He felt they had to do what they had to do and he did what he had to do.”

Over the years, many Americans, especially conservatives and the extreme Right wing of the Republican Party, have confuse the term, patriotism, as simply blind loyalty and loving your country right or wrong while vilifying people as un-American if they don’t believe as they do. Wrapping yourself up in a flag and singing jingoistic songs has very little to do with love for country.  Those things are a very myopic view of what patriotism really means.

Patriotism and love for country in the American context should mean that we respect all points of view and the diversity of the American citizenry. Ali’s example inspires us to say that it is a part of our fabric as an American people of all races and religions that we can question and disagree with our government’s policies because we love our country.

Ali’s life in the public eye as a boxer and as a man was always marked by his willingness to challenge the status quo. His critics labeled him as a radical for expressing his right to self-determination when he no longer referred to himself as Cassius Clay and became a member of the Nation of Islam.

Sports writers of the 1960s hated Ali’s pre-fight antics and him boasting of his prowess in the ring. In his younger days as a fighter, Ali would predict the ring his opponent would fall and he was often right. He was comfortable in his own Black skin when others weren’t and when American society said he and people who look like him shouldn’t be.

At the end of the day, I say bravo to the National Constitution Center for selecting a man in Ali who truly exemplified the very ideals and principles of what it means to be an American. Unlike people like Dr. King and the other soldiers in the human rights struggles of the 1960s, I am glad that we can give the People’s Champion his flowers before he leaves this earth.