Archive | November, 2012

Elimination Game: Birds Fight to Hold on their Jobs

29 Nov

With the release of veteran defensive end Jason Babin, Eagles players are wondering who’s next . Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles cut defensive end Jason Babin.  Are More Heads on the Chopping Block?

Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Near the closing minutes of a playoff game when the outcome has been decided, former NFL head coach and TV  color analyst John Madden used to talked about the finality for the losing team and the realization that the season is coming to an abrupt end.

For the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles and for that matter every other non-playoff team , the realization that they are not going to the postseason manifests itself with sudden personnel changes, speculation about the futures of the coaching staff  and players trying to put a positive spin on what has otherwise been a horrible season.

“I feel like on paper, the talent on this roster is ridiculous, but you don’t play the games on paper,” said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. “It’s the turnovers, the penalties, the injuries, which aren’t little. That’s how it’s going. We just got to keep positive.”

The only elimination game the players are in now is the fight to hang onto their ability to make a living as football players. The Eagles released veteran defensive end Jason Babin, who had 18 sacks last year and went to the Pro Bowl.

Of course, head coach Andy Reid said it was to give younger players like defensive end Vinny Curry a chance to play.  In a real sense, Babin’s release is a reminder that the Eagles right now are a sinking ship. When the boat is going under, everybody is expendable.

“It’s a process and the way things are done in the NFL,” said defensive end Trent Cole. “I don’t live life worried. I live for the next day and I worry about what’s now. When I worry about now, I don’t have to worry about the future.”

Considering that Cole has just 1.5 sacks, it makes you wonder why he wasn’t the one who got cut. Oddly enough , Babin was in Cole’s garage when he got the phone call from Reid that he had been cut. In the aftermath of Babin getting cut, Cole said there was a point where he had to turn off his cell phone.

“I’m just going to keep [coming here] every day. I’m just going to keep doing my job and [keep] working at it. If my day comes, my day comes,” Cole said.  “I’ve had the realization my day is going to come near and this is what it is. Me, personally, I had that realization that I’m just going to play until I can’t play anymore.”

Looking at the way at the Eagles secondary has played this season where blown coverage’s have become a weekly occurrence, you would think that somebody on that unit would have gotten their walking papers as well.

By the end of the season you will see a huge exodus of players to go along with a few coaches like defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and of course, Reid.

Prior to Monday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame, said he doesn’t blame Reid for the team’s 3-8 record.

“It’s about the guys in that locker room because we’ve seen the system work and at times, it’s worked brilliant,” Vincent said. “Teams don’t win in the National Football League because they’re the most talented team. It’s about execution. At the end of the day, it’s about locker room accountability.”

Vincent said he has seen in chinks in this team’s armor from the way they’ve conducted themselves on the sidelines and from quotes that he’s read, it’s not surprising that the losses have happened with the current group of Eagles players.

Last week, DeSean Jackson, who is out for the season with broken ribs, said the Birds lacked the kind of veteran leadership in the locker room that he saw from veterans like Brian Dawkins when he was a rookie.

But Maclin said not having that presence of guys who’ve been around for awhile is no excuse for the Eagles to be where they are now.

“I don’t feel that’s any reason for us to be sitting where we are,” Maclin said. “I feel like everybody is not like that (Dawkins), everybody’s not that kind of person. The way you handle that is to understand the personalities on your football team and for guys to respect each other and that’s how we turn this around.”

Done: After Loss to Carolina, Eagles Need to Look Ahead to Next Year

27 Nov

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Running back Bryce Brown was one of the few bright spots in the Eagles loss to the Panthers on Monday night. He gained 178 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Photo by Webster Riddick.

If you’re still watching, you might as well look at the last five games of the Eagles 2012 campaign as an exhibition season where the team will be evaluating younger talent and older players will be playing for jobs either here or elsewhere.

With the Eagles seventh straight loss to the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field, the playoff contending portion of the season is officially over. Actually, the Eagles hunt for the postseason may have been over last week in Washington or even the week before against the Dallas Cowboys.

We’re marking this as the “official” end to the year because Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said earlier this year that an 8-8 record or worse was not acceptable and that Andy Reid would be fired if things didn’t improve. The way this season is going, the Birds will be lucky to finish at .500.  Suffice it to say, Reid’s days are numbered in Philly.

The 30-22 loss to the Panthers Monday night was a microcosm of the Eagles awful season. Defensively, the Birds were just plain clueless as Cam Newton picked apart the Eagles for 306 yards and four total touchdowns—two passing and two on the ground.  Since the firing of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the defense has gotten progressively worse with each week under Todd Bowles stewardship as the defensive coordinator.

“It’s stressing because every possible way that we could lose a game, we’ve done it,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton makes sure the ball crosses the plane of the end zone for a Panthers touchdown. The former Auburn star threw two touchdown passes and scored two rushing touchdowns in the Panthers win over the Eagles Monday Night. Photo by Webster Riddick.

On Newton’s first two touchdown passes, a 24-yarder to tight end Gary Barnidge and  a 43-yard strike to wide receiver Brandon LaFell, the defensive backfield was nowhere to be found.  During this seven-game losing streak there have been some bizarre breakdowns in coverage where receivers have waltzed into the end zone all alone and untouched.

“It’s miscommunication, missed assignments and that leads to what happened tonight, they just have a clear shot,” said strong safety Nate Allen. “It’s unfortunate, mistakes happen. But there’s no excuse.”

If it wasn’t for a couple of overthrown balls by Newton there might have been more touchdown passes against the Eagles defense.

When the Eagles bring in a new coach for next year, overhauling the defensive backfield has to be one of the priorities for the defense, especially at the safety position.  The players they have—Allen and free safety Kurt Coleman are somewhere between below average and just downright terrible.

On offense, there was a bright side and a downside with the negative trumping all the good things that happened. Running back Bryce Brown, who hadn’t played much football since his high school days in Wichita, Kan. had a huge game for the Birds, gaining 178 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns—including a big 65-yard run for a score.

The downside for the Birds was Brown’s two fumbles killed drives and ultimately any chance the Eagles had for a victory.  You also had a sub-par performance by rookie quarterback  Nick Foles, who completed 16-of-21 for 119 yards and came close to being intercepted not once, but twice.

If you’re looking at a player the Eagles ought to keep for next season, Brown is a definite keeper. With him and LeSean McCoy in the backfield, the Eagles will have something special.

At the same time, it has to make Eagles fans wonder would have happened if this team had put a greater emphasis on the running game with McCoy and Brown.  Quarterback Michael Vick would have taken a few less shots to the head if Reid and Marty Mornhinweg would have utilized the running game more.

Even a patchwork, injury-riddle offensive line like the Birds can run-block when they are called on to do it. But during the Reid era, the running game, even when they have been good at moving the ball on the ground, is something they have been reluctant to utilize as the lead weapon in their offensive attack.

The next coach of the Eagles should understand that you need talent on both sides of the football. On offense, you need a balanced attack. You can’t throw the ball over 30-40 games and have the running game as an after that thought, something that happened quite frequently during Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia.

Defensively, you can’t just draw up a scheme and think you can win with a bunch of mediocre players. In his 14 years, Reid didn’t pay much attention to finding talent on defense.  By the time guys like former defensive end Jevon Kearse and their so-called shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha got here, their skills were in decline.

The only thing for the Eagles to do for the remainder of this season is evaluate the talent they already have and search the collegiate ranks for players to address the spots where they are weak.

Brace yourselves Eagles fans because it’s going to be a while before your Birds can call themselves a playoff contender again.

Holiday Comes Up Big For Sixers in Win over Phoenix

26 Nov

Sixers Point Guard scores a career-high 33 points with 13 Assists

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Jrue Holiday gets to throw down a slam-dunk on Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic for two of his career-high 33 points. He also had 13 assists.

If there has been a consistent element to the Philadelphia 76ers offensive attack in this young season, it has been that point guard Jrue Holiday has been the straw that has stirred the drink.

In the Sixers 104-101 win over the Phoenix Suns Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Holiday scored a career-high 33 points and dished out 13 assists to help his squad bounce back from a tough overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday Night.

On a night when the Sixers had trouble stopping an offensive-minded Suns squad on defense, Holiday made plays on the offensive end in the fourth quarter that kept his team on top. He led all scorers for that quarter with nine points.

“Thank God, Jrue was on today,” said Sixers head coach Doug Collins. “He was fantastic with big plays—33 (points) and 13 (assists) with only two turnovers.  When he’s on the floor, we have the ball in his hands.”

One of Holiday’s biggest plays in the game was in the fourth quarter. With his team holding a four-point lead with the ball with 3:47 left, he secured the rebound from a missed three-pointer by Jason Richardson and then scored an old-school three-point play by making a layup and hitting the free-throw earned when he was fouled by Phoenix forward Jared Dudley.

“I just kind of went for it. Those are the times you see guys like (Russell) Westbrook and (Rajon) Rondo make plays in big moments. I felt like it was an opportunity to get a rebound that we needed,” Holiday said. “I like having the pressure of having the game in my hands, especially in games that come down to crunch time. I think I can make the right plays like we did tonight,”

Holiday’s free throw gave the Sixers a 98-91 lead that kept the Suns at arm’s length during a critical stretch of the fourth quarter.

“He got that great offensive rebound and that three-point play that pushed us back up by seven,” Collins said.

Holiday also got the Sixers big men involved in the offense. Forward Thaddeus Young scored 10 points while center Lavoy Allen dropped 11. While neither player is your typical big man, they are both capable scorers who can hit that 15-foot jump shot.

“We’ve got to continue to look for that punch-in guy because our guys are really not one that you’re going to throw it to them in the post and they’re going to make a lot of post moves. We just don’t have those kind of players,” Collins said. “Our guys are better at punching it and catching it with a quick shot.  I thought Young and Lavoy did a better job.”

But Allen and Young admit that they have to be more physical on both ends of the court in terms of scoring, playing defense and getting rebounds.

“I think it helps when we touch the ball even if we don’t shoot it,” Allen said. “Playing that inside-out game and finding the open shooter, helps us look for other guys,” Allen said.

Young said it’s important for he and Allen to be able to fill the void in the Sixers inside offense, especially since center Andrew Bynum is out indefinitely with a pair of injured knees.

“We have to because they’re going to chop our guards and they’re going to do certain things to take Jrue and Evan (Turner) out of the game,” Young said. “We have to step in fill those spots.”

Sixers Look to Get off to a Good Start Against Thunder’s Stars

24 Nov

Jrue Holiday Hopes to lead Sixers to a good start against Oklahoma City Thunder. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Throughout the first 12 games of the 2012-13 season,  Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins has been looking for his team to play with more consistency from start to finish.

With a 7-5 record coming into Saturday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Sixers have often had trouble getting out of the gate. In nine of their first 12 games, they’ve held just three first-quarter leads.

“The first quarter dictates how you’re going to play with your rotations,” Collins said. “Do you let teams hit their first five or six shots to get themselves going? You have to get your team in an offensive rhythm.”

The 76ers can ill afford to have a bad start against a superstar laden team like the Thunder which has players like point guard Russell Westbrook and forward Kevin Durant who can score from just about anywhere.

“They’ve got superstars on that team that can fill it up,” said guard/forward Nick Young. “We just gotta come out and hit first. We can’t get knocked out first by them because there’s no coming back from that. You look forward to these games. I expect us to come out with energy (Saturday) night. It’s one of those big games. The gym is going to be packed, we look forward to those games.”

On some occasions, the Sixers have fought their way back and won games like last Tuesday’s home win over the Toronto Raptors. But the next night on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sixers fell behind by 19 points and hit just 4-of-26 from the field midway through the second quarter.

By the fourth quarter, the Sixers cut the lead to two points with over three minutes left in the game before Cleveland went on a 13-0 scoring spurt to seal the game.

“We’ve got to get off to better starts with energy and a sense of purpose,” Collins said. “From our standpoint, it starts with game-day shoot around and when we get to the arena and do our pre-game stuff, how we get out in warm-up and how we get into the game. We have to get better at it.”

The key for the Sixers will be if they can generate some energy on the defensive end,  they can get their running game going on offense.

“I think getting defensive stops really pushes our offense,” said point guard Jrue Holiday. “I think if we lock in defensively and get out in transition and get easy baskets that will definitely fuel our offense.”

In the Sixers half-court offense, Collins said he was also concerned about getting his big men like Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes some touches in the paint and not put too much pressure on the Sixers perimeter game.

“We’ve got to start rewarding our big guys like we did during the preseason,” Collins said. “We did a really good job of getting the ball inside. The guys need to touch the ball and that doesn’t mean touch to score. They have to feel the ball …That will encourage them to do the grunt work we ask them to do.”

 

At 3-7, Eagles Players Try to Make the Best of A Bad Situation

21 Nov

Drowning in a sea of six straight loss, Eagles players like defensive lineman Mike Patterson (left) and Trent Cole (right) are trying to get the team back into the win column. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After six straight weeks of losing games, your starting quarterback, your starting running back and most of your offensive line, and continuing speculation your  head coach is on his way out, the Eagles are desperate for a win.

Coming into this Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers, the 3-7 Eagles are looking for something to hang their hats on as their chances for the postseason are receding into the evening shadows, if it hasn’t faded to black already.

“You still have to do your job, you still got games to play,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “You’ve to get wins for ourselves, the coaches, and for the fans. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’re paid to go win games. Just because you’re in a rough situation it doesn’t change anything.”

The Eagles came into the 2012 season believing that last season’s 8-8 record was a fluke because they didn’t have the benefit working together during off-season minicamps. This season they had organized team activities and a full training camp. Suffice it to say, the Birds expected to be better than their current record.

“After last year, we had a lot to prove coming in, we came out winning some games this year,” Jenkins said. “We carried that momentum from last year and stuff just kind of stalled. It’s pretty disappointing.”

In a season that has gotten progressively worse, the Eagles are trying to find a way to make sense out of what has been a lost season for a team that once had Super Bowl aspirations. While keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of a losing streak is easier said than done, some of the Birds players feel they have no choice.

“We haven’t had a win in two months, it’s definitely is getting old, the same story, the same reasons why we aren’t getting the job done,” said Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. “It’s definitely getting old, but the only way to fix it is to get a win.”

While they’ve tried to put a happy face on their situation, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who’s never in his football career ever experienced anything like a like a six-game losing streak, said the frustration of losing is definitely there.

“It’s a tough situation being 3-7 and losing six games in a row  is definitely not any happy times,” Jackson said. “Throughout the course of the game when adversity hits, it might be quick for that frustration to settle in because it presents itself. That’s the difficult thing is trying to find a way not to get down and go here we go again…Just be positive and lift spirits.”

Perhaps the easiest situation for players to internalize the difficult times is during the course of the game when the mistakes can have a snow-ball effect on a team’s ability to fight their way out of it.

“Throughout the game, turnovers and penalties are things that break some guys as far as getting mad and frustrated if something doesn’t go right,” Jackson said. “It’s just an energy and a persona that I feel we kinda have to shake. When something does go wrong, I don’t think everybody has to be in a rush to panic, just be professional.”

Jackson was a rookie when leaders like Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook were the faces of the Eagles back in 2008. He said the current locker room lacks the vocal personality of those veteran players to keep the team upbeat during tough times.

“As far as anybody being that vocal guy there’s really not no one on this team like a Brian Dawkins to pump up the team,” Jackson said.

“We don’t have that going on with this team. When I was a young guy coming up through the organization, that’s who we counted on. Brian Dawkins, Westbrook, guys like that’s been here eight or 10 years. With the guys here now, we just have to mold together and find a way to get it done.”

Do the players believe that there is still hope to somehow save this season? Playoffs?

“We got to win first and not worry about anything else” Jenkins said. “That win has been eluding us, we’ve got to find it. We gotta get it.”

RGIII Burns Eagles Secondary for Career-High 4 Touchdown Passes; Nick Foles Struggles in First Start

19 Nov

Rookie Nick Foles had a tough day in his first start for the Eagles against the Washington Redskins. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

LANDOVER, Md.–The Nick Foles era as the Eagles starting quarterback began with the same old story for the Birds. A pair of interceptions on the first two drives, drive-killing penalties and a defensive secondary that can’t cover anybody deep.

And for the sixth straight week, the Birds shortcomings resulted in a loss as the Washington Redskins came away with a 31-6 victory over the hapless Eagles in front of a sellout crowd of 79,327 fans at Fed-Ex Field.

“You can’t put your finger on one thing,” said strong safety Nate Allen. “It’s not area in particular. I don’t know, we just have to keep working.”

The Eagles can change quarterbacks, coordinators and bring in journeyman offensive lineman and they still can’t win. The 2012 season has spiraled into an abyss from which it will not recover from anytime soon. Like the little old lady in that emergency phone-call commercial, the Eagles have fallen down and they can’t get up.

“I just feel like it’s just a lack of execution, whether you want to call it mental or physical, we have not been able to get our jobs done,” said a visibly despondent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III lit up the Eagles secondary by throwing a career-high four touchdown passes. He completed 14-of-his-15 passes for 200 yards. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner also ran through the Eagles defense for 84 yards on the ground on 11 carries. He finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

“He put his team in position to win the game,” said Eagles cornerback Dominique Rogers Cromartie. “He made it with feet. On a couple of first downs, he kept the play alive. We got to him a lot, but he made a lot of plays with his feet.”

Meanwhile, Foles, the other rookie quarterback starting today, threw a pair of interceptions on the Eagles first possessions. The first one set up a score and the second ended a promising drive. For the game, the former Arizona star completed 21-of-46 passes for 204 yards, two picks no touchdowns and he was sacked four times.

“He made a few young guy mistakes that he’ll learn from,” said Eagle head coach Andy Reid during a short, terse post-game press conference. “He is being given the opportunity to correct those.”

And no one was more down about his performance than Foles whose two interceptions set the tone for what turned about to be an otherwise bad day for both him and his Eagles teammates.

“I took it one play at a time; I guess you could say I never got into a rhythm,” Foles said. “It comes down to execution and I made too many mistakes.”

Since the firing of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the Eagles defense, the secondary in particular, has gotten progressively worse under Todd Bowles. Against the Redskins, it got burned early and often.

Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was badly beaten on a Griffin 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson that gave the Redskins a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. In Asomugha’s defense, he had no safety help on the play.

“What happened was on the other side of the field, there was a route that made us jump instead of staying high,” Asomugha said. “It was a play that we had run in practice all the time this week, so it was just weird that that happened at that time. There definitely should have been a high guy on the other side of the field.”

The Redskins pretty much put the game away in the third quarter on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Griffin to Santana Moss. On that play, Griffin escaped the Eagles pass rush and found Moss at the goal line between two Eagles defenders-cornerback Brandon Boykin and free safety Kurt Coleman.

“I was in perfect position to make the play and I fell backwards all of sudden,” Coleman said. “I got to be able to make the play. I know I can make that play. It’s not like I had Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) on top of me.”

With their playoff hopes somewhere between slim and are-you-kidding-me, the Eagles simply have to find a way just to get a win.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at yourself individually and when you watch the film, be critical of yourself,” Rogers-Cromartie said. “In your heart, you know if you can do better or you know if you’re given your all. You look at the problem and fix the problem within yourself and bring it together collectively.”

Notes–Eagles running back LeSean McCoy left the game with 1:44 left  in the fourth quarter with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Sixers Bounce Back from Two-Game Skid with a Win over the Jazz

17 Nov

Jrue Holiday led the 76ers with 26 points and seven assists in the Sixers win over the Utah Jazz. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After Wednesday ’s horrendous loss to the previously winless Detroit Pistons, the Philadelphia 76ers were determined to get back out on the floor against the Utah Jazz to get their groove back from a two-game losing streak.

The Sixers attacked Utah early and held off just about every charge the Jazz made at them in a 99-93 win in front of 15, 851 fans at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It was huge and it showed that we’re going to continue to go out there and fight until the end and we did a good job at holding our composure and going out there to get a win,” said shooting guard Jason Richardson.

Perhaps the key moment in a game for a Sixers team looking to get their swagger back was when the game was tied at 71-71  with 10:20 left in the game after a 7-0 scoring spurt by the Jazz open the fourth quarter. The Sixers outscored Utah 13-2 and kept them coming any closer than four points the rest of the way.

“You let that game slip away from you and stuff, it’s got a lot of repercussions,” Collins said. “Not only was it a game, it was a confidence builder. We still got a lot of new guys. I looked out on that floor at the end of that game, Richardson was out there, (Nick Young), we had guys never played with at that point in time (fourth quarter) in the season in a game that was on the line.”

Point guard Jrue Holiday had a stellar performance for the Sixers leading way with 26 points and seven assists. He said it was important for him to come out and shoot the ball well to get his teammates going. He scored 10 of his team’s of 30 points in the first quarter.

“I think had to come out aggressive, especially offensively,” Holiday. “We haven’t been scoring that well and picking up on defense. We were trying to get stops and get out on transition and did help early.”

Holiday said he liked the way his team didn’t wilt under the pressure of several Utah scoring spurts to get back in the game. After a week of tough losses, it was certainly a shot in the arm when they needed it.

“We had such a good lead that once they made their runs, they had to do a lot to get back even,” Holiday said. “Once they had their push, we pushed back.”

Before the game, Collins said the Sixers had to win the battle of the paint in both points and rebounding against a bigger athletic Utah squad. The 76ers scored the Jazz 42-38 in the paint, they outrebounded them (43-40) and they won the battle in second chance points (23-6).

Out of all the players who contributed to the Sixers both Lavoy Allen, who scored 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds, and veteran center Kwame Brown, who scored just two points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.

Collins said he was especially pleased with Brown’s defensive presence in the middle, especially down the stretch when the Jazz were trying to get back in the game.

“That’s why we got him,” Collins said. “I don’t care if he scores a basket. Kwame’s physical presence and what meant to us tonight. We don’t win this game without him tonight. There’s no way because we had to have two big strong guys (Allen) play a lot of minutes.”