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#BlackFansMatter: Colin Kaepernick and how the NFL disregards its African-American Fan Base

1 Jul

If nothing else, the verdict in the Philando Castile case should show the National Football League that Colin Kaepernick had a point.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Following the acquittal of the police officer who shot him, the video of Philando Castile being shot  by a Minnesota police officer was released.

Like many of you, I was shocked and horrified by what I saw. Castile, by every measure, complied with the officer’s instructions and even lawfully informed him that he had a gun.

And yet, former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez still shot Castile to death because let’s face it — if you have the wrong skin color, running a stop sign can be an offense worthy of capital punishment by a law enforcement officer more than willing to serve as judge, jury and the guy wearing the black hood.

Which is exactly why former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent much of last season taking a knee.

In the  same week that the Criminal Justice system proved him right with the acquittal of Yanez, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement saying that Kaepernick is not being “blackballed” for his national anthem protests during the 2016 season. 

Goodell is the commissioner of a league where 70 percent of the players are Black. Despite their status as professional athletes, they face the same possibility of “Death By Police Officer,” that Castile faced. Black men, according to the “Washington Post”, are almost three times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers. Unarmed Black men are seven times more likely than Whites to die in police gunfire, according to the Post.

You would think that at the very least, Goodell and the league owners would have some type of sensitivity, empathy, or come to some understanding of a problem that affects the majority of their players.

Instead, the NFL, like the juries and prosecutors that allow cops who kill unarmed Black people to go free, has chosen to turn a blind eye to this injustice against African-Americans.   

That’s because calling  Kaepernick unpatriotic and  using him as a cautionary tale for other Black players is easier for the owners to do than it is to listen to these athletes when they  speak about the racism that affects the Black community.    

And as Castile found out by being  shot to death, and  Kaepernick is finding out through being blackballed because he refused to just shut up and play, the Constitution is First Amendment never really applies to African-Americans.

Don’t believe me? Check this out.

The Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman said he talked to several owners around the NFL who said they would not bring Kaepernick on their team because of his refusal to stand for the national anthem.  Freeman is a well-respected, by the book, old-school reporter who would not make stuff like that up.

But if that’s not enough for you, here’s New York Giants owner John Mara.

“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara said to a reporter. “If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”

I wonder many letters Mara has gotten from African-American fans telling him they support Kaepernick and that he and his fellow owners shouldn’t deny him a job?  Mara’s statement tells me NFL owners are always more concerned about the sensibilities of their White fans first and foremost.

Or put another way, #BlackFansDontMatter.

And that’s actually pretty stupid because African-Americans football fans love their football, too. You can see them tailgating at stadiums, ordering Papa John’s Pizza during the games, drinking Coors Lite and spending  money on officially licensed NFL apparel, probably more than their White counterparts.

More than a few African-Americans that I’ve come across on social media have told me they won’t watch the NFL this season because of how Kaepernick is being treated. But don’t expect Goodell and the owners to raise an eyebrow, or to even be concerned, because their Black fans don’t matter to them.

(And if we’re honest, Black players and the Black doctors trying to help them don’t matter much either. This is a league, after all, that vehemently denied that head trauma was affecting its players long after their playing careers were over. This was also the same league that relentlessly vilified Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Black Nigerian forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy and how if affected players after their careers were over.)

In the end, Castile’s death and the apparent death of Kaepernick’s football career are the latest examples of a country that is still in deep denial about how racism affects African-Americans and other people of color.

But then again, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise either.

Defying the Shield: The Blackballing of Colin Kaepernick

23 Mar

Snowflakes In Designer Suits

 When it comes to free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, NFL owners appear to want a “safe space” where they don’t have to think about the racism he was protesting.

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…
Buffalo Springfield

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Colin Kaepernick is still without a team and he may never get one because of his refusal to stand for the national anthem during the 2016 season. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

The words to “For What It’s Worth”, a classic of the 1960s heyday of protest music, feels particularly relevant when we talk about athletes speaking out on social issues and the sports culture overall these days.

It’s become especially relevant when the subject of free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick comes up. As of press time, the former signal caller for the San Francisco 49ers is currently the most high profile free agent without a football home.

A lot of sports writers and commentators have speculated that the reason why Kaepernick has no football bench to sit on is because he refused to stand for the National Anthem during the 2016-2017. Shortly before the free agent period began, he announced that he wouldn’t be taking a knee during the anthem this year, something that disappointed a few people.

But in spite of that, NFL owners, fearful of getting a nasty tweet aimed at them by Recalcitrant 4-Year-Old In Chief Donald Trump, haven’t been calling Kaepernick to his services despite the tons of money being thrown at the feet of career backups and people that will never be able to include an NFC Championship or a trip to the Super Bowl on their resumes.

Because we’re not really big on remembering our history, there are probably more than a few people who are looking at the travails of the former Nevada star, who is still sending money to feed folks in Somalia and gave $50,000 to the Meals on Wheels program that the Recalcitrant 4-Year Old In Chief is looking to cut despite not having a contract, and see something new.

But in reality, Kaepernick is just the latest NFL star to get smacked down and blackballed by the league for protesting the national anthem. Defying the “Shield” has consequences no matter how talented you are.

Back in 1969, John Mackey, then a star tight end for the Baltimore Colts, helped to form the National Football League Players Association and served as it’s resident from 1969-1973.  Mackey led the first players strike in 1970 and stood up to some brutal coercion by then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

According to Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro who co-authored a book with Mackey, Rozelle and then Washington Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams tried to get Mackey to sign a document to end the players strike by blaming them for the death of Vince Lombardi, who was then dying of colon cancer.

But Mackey refused to be manipulated and won the right to receive disability and widow’s benefits and having an agent negotiate salaries for the players. Mackey also led the legal fight against the Rozelle Rule, which made a player’s new team compensate his old one when they switched.

Shortly after Mackey beat Rozelle and the NFL court in 1971, the Colts traded him  to the San Diego Chargers after the 1972 season. Mackey, who is considered one of the greatest tight ends in the history of pro football, was denied entry in the Pro Football Hall until 1992 because of his union activities.

Former American Football League star running Abner Haynes, one of the leaders of the 1965 AFL All-Star boycott that moved the league’s All-Star game from New Orleans to Houston because of the Crescent City’s racism, was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Denver Broncos because of his activism.

“(The Kansas City Chiefs) wrote me a two-page letter explaining to me how a football player’s role is not to help his people. All I’m supposed to do is to keep my mouth shut and play football,” Haynes said in the Showtime documentary,“Full Color: A History of the AFL”.

That’s the message that’s being conveyed to Kaepernick and other Black players who have dared to speak out on issues pertaining to race. According to my friend and “Bleacher Report” columnist Mike Freeman, a large number of NFL executives and owners despise what Kaepernick did.

In an article Freeman wrote in “Bleacher Report”, he said that one league executive he spoke with said that the owners “genuinely hate him and can’t stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won’t move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did.”

During the course of the 2017 NFL Combine, Freeman also reported that some of the players, according to their agents, were asked about the Kaepernick situation during the course of the interviews. That lends credence to the idea that the owners are saying to guys around the league and to the new guys coming in that this can happen to you if you dare to protest the racism that African-Americans live with on a regular basis.

Of course, you can point to some football reasons that there is no interest in Kaepernick. He’s got some accuracy issues. The scouts also say he has difficulty hitting receivers in tight windows and will run even when receivers are open. Even though he is 3-16 in his last 19 starts, Kaepernick still has thrown 22 touchdown passes against nine interceptions and has an 88.2 passer rating.

That said, Kaepernick is still better than guys like Josh McCown,  Mike Glennon or even Eagles backup Chase Daniel who don’t have his ability or his accomplishments.  Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to two straight NFC title games and a Super Bowl.  He was one play away from pulling off a huge comeback against the Baltimore Ravens in Super XLVII (47).

Two current Philadelphia Eagles—safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Torrey Smith—took to Twitter to let the league and anyone else reading that they’re not falling for the “Kaepernick isn’t good enough” okey-doke.

Malcolm Jenkins‏Verified account @MalcolmJenkins

Following

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Malcolm Jenkins Retweeted NFL Total Access

hhhhmmmmm… @nfl GM’s you can try to act like talent is the reason @Kaepernick7 isn’t employed …but we know the real reason.

 

 

Torrey Smith‏Verified account @TorreySmithWR

Following

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Torrey Smith Retweeted Cameron

Colin Kaepernick is not currently employed. However, his skill set vastly exceeds others who were on the market.

 

But if you’re one of the folks agreeing with the owners that Kaepernick should have just “shut up and played”, I have a question for you. Are you going to hold Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway to that standard? Elway not only wrote a letter supporting President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, but did it on the team’s letterhead. I’d also like to know if you’re going to, at long last, tell New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to stick to sports in light of his support of Trump and his refusal to accompany his teammates to visit the White House when President Barack Obama was president.

To quote a line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

But when it comes to the NFL, the treatment of Colin Kaepernick might be the incident that forces Commissioner Roger Goodell to look at his Animal Farm a little more closely.

Black Girl Magic, LeBron James, Deaths of Sports Icons Defined 2016 Sports Year

30 Dec
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Simon Biles won gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Last Hurrah for Ryan Howard and Bernard Hopkins, LeBron James-Male Athlete of the Year 

By Chris Murray                                                                                                                 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about 2016, it was a year where the one constant was death.

While the pop culture world got hit the hardest with the losses of such icons as Prince and David Bowie, the Sporting World got knocked around a bit as well. We lost boxing icon

ImustbetheGreatest

Muhammad Ali Shook up the world with his stunning upset of Sonny Liston in 1964. His death in 2016 highlighted was the most visible in  year when a number icons in sports and entertainment passed away.

Muhammad Ali this year. The General of Arnie’s Army, golf legend Arnold Palmer, also left us. So did basketball coach extraordinaire Pat Summit and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan.

Even sports media felt the sting with the losses of John Saunders, host of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and Craig Sager, easily the most colorful man in the NBA.

Although we’re still in mourning over the loss of these shining stars, and cherishing the memories of their brilliance, the Sporting World gave us more than a few reasons to cheer in 2016. It was an up year for some and a down year for others, but one thing it wasn’t was boring.

Here’s a look at 2016 in Sports…

One Last Hurrah for the Big Piece: Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard played his last season in a Phillies uniform in 2016. Photo by Webster Riddick.

This year, we said goodbye to a man who played a big part in breaking Philadelphia’s longtime championship drought, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Because 2016 marked the end of his contract, Howard will be a free agent and will most likely leave the team that he led with his bat from 2005 to 2016.

During his tenure with the Phillies, Howard’s ability to hit towering home runs and drive in runs helped lead the team to the 2008 World Series title, two National League pennants, and five consecutive National League East titles.  Howard was the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 National League Championship Series and was also winner of the National League Rookie of the Year, and National League MVP awards.

Unfortunately, a combination of age, injuries and a team in rebuilding mode mandated that Howard and the Phillies part ways. Howard will most likely play for someone else and while it’s a shame that he won’t be allowed to retire here, Phillies fans will always appreciate the Glory Days he brought to the franchise.

The Year of Black Girl Magic

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Claire Smith is the first woman to receive the Baseball Hall of Fame’s A.G. Spink Award and will be honored during in Hall of Fame weekend in July. Photo courtesy ESPN.com

In December, former Philadelphia Inquirer baseball columnist Claire Smith became the first woman to win the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award from Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. She was honored for her pioneering work, which included paving the way for women to enter MLB locker rooms to do interviews, just like their male counterparts.

That Smith received the award this year makes perfect sense because 2016 was the year that the Sporting World was hit with all kinds of Black Girl Magic.

Black female athletes from Africa and the African Diaspora (which includes the United States and the Caribbean), served notice to the world that they were a force to be reckoned with, most prominently during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

There, Black women excelled in everything. And I do mean everything.

Gymnast Simone Biles was named the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year.

If you watched one minute of her gymnastic performances during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the reason she won this award became obvious.

The diminutive Texan was the darling of the games, leading the Final Five—Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Reisman, and 2012 Individual all-around Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas—to a team Gold Medal and also winning three individual gold medals including the individual all-around. Biles stunning performances in the floor exercise dazzled audiences around the world and her grace and athleticism were definitely a joy to watch.

But while she responsible for a nice chunk of the Black Girl Magic on display in Rio, Biles was only the beginning. Black women also showed that they could excel in places they’re not normally associated with like the swimming pool and fencing ring.

simonemanuel

Simone Manuel became the first Black American woman to win a gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,

Stanford University’s Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in swimming when she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to win the 100-meter freestyle, setting Olympic and American records in the process. She also helped the 4X100 meter medley relay team take home a gold medal and won silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4X100 meter freestyle relay.

Elsewhere in the water, Ashleigh Johnson, the first Black woman to make the U.S. Water Polo team, helped lead the team to a gold medal. In the gold medal game against Italy, Johnson, the team’s goalie, had eight saves.

Ibtihaj Muhammad made news when she competed with the U.S. Sabre Fencing team while wearing the hijab of her Muslim faith. The team took home a bronze medal and Muhammad’s performance showed that you can be an observant Muslim and an athlete simultaneously.

But while Black women in non-traditional sports took center stage, that didn’t mean that Black women didn’t continue to excel in places where they’ve traditionally ruled, such as in track and field. Led by the United States, the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica and the African continent, Black women won gold medals in all but three track and field events at the Olympics.

From Michelle Carter’s gold in the shot put to Brianna Rollins, Kristi Castlin and Philadelphia’s own Nia Ali sweeping the 100-meter hurdles to the exploits of the Jamaican track team, Black women showed, to paraphrase Emmy-award winning actress Viola Davis, that all that’s needed for them to excel is opportunity. They made the most of it…and then some.

All Hail The King (James)

LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2016. The Cavaliers won 93-89. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

With the Cleveland Cavaliers went down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, LeBron James put his Cleveland Cavaliers on his back and helped them win three-straight elimination games to give the City of Cleveland its first pro sports title since 1964.

James, the Associated Press’s Male Athlete of the Year, became the Finals Most Valuable Player by performing the historical feat of leading in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots, and assists. What makes this feat even more remarkable is that it’s something that neither Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson nor the athlete James compared to most often, Michael Jordan, was able to do.

They’re all Hall of Famers. This year, his achievements put LeBron James in the same rarefied air.

No Joy In Mudville

ben-simmons

Can Ben Simmons lead the 76ers back to glory? He was the Sixers No. 1 draft pick in 2016.

Because the Philadelphia Eagles, the Phillies, the 76ers, and the Philadelphia Flyers are all in some form of rebuilding mode, the closest that Philadelphia sports fans got to the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup was the couch in front of their television sets.

While the Eagles, who will miss the NFL playoffs for the third straight year, made some noise when rookie Carson Wentz went undefeated in his first three starts, they came back to earth with a deafening thud after the bye week. Coming into the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes for 3, 537 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The Sixers also gave their fans hope by picking LSU’s Ben Simmons with their first-round lottery pick. The good news is, Simmons can handle and pass the ball like Magic Johnson.

The bad news is, and this should be no surprise to Sixers fans, he’s injured. And as if often is in Sixers World, it’s a foot injury.

But there is some hope for optimism now that Joel Embiid has finally recovered from his foot injury and has emerged as the team’s best big man.

Villanova Wins the National Championship, Penn Wins Ivy League Crown, Penn State Temple Football Bowl Bound Again

novawinsnationaltitle

Villanova won its first national championship since 1985 with a buzzer-beater win over North Carolina.

In one of the most exciting games in the history of the NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats won the men’s basketball national championship on a last-second three-point shot by Kris Jenkins.  It was probably the greatest championship game of all time and they were honored by the city with a parade down Broad Street. Although I know one Philly sports fan who thinks that parade should have gone to an actual Philly team, but the Wildcats do play some of  their games at the Wells Fargo Center and they were embraced by the entire Delaware Valley during their run to the title.

Like, for example the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and the Temple University Owls.

For the second straight season, the Quakers won a share of the Ivy League football title. They became league co-champs with Princeton by defeating Cornell University 42-40. Junior running back Tre Solomon gained 173 yards to lead the 7-3 (6-1 in the Ivy League) Quakers.

The Owls proved that the team’s 2015 football season was no fluke by winning the American Athletic Conference championship with a 34-10 win over Navy and notching it’s second straight 10-win season. The effort was enough to get head coach Matt Rhule noticed by the Big 12’s Baylor University, and he left to try and salvage a program that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of years. The Owls also lost the Military Bowl to Wake Forest when the comeback they were mounting fell short.

But this doesn’t take anything away from an outstanding year for the Owls. If anything, it gives new Temple head coach Geoff Collins something to shoot for.

The much-maligned James Franklin became the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year by leading the Nittany Lions of Penn State to the Big Ten Football Championship. The team scored a come from behind win against Wisconsin thanks to the performance of running back Saquon Barkley and a stout defense. While many thought that Penn State should have gotten into the College  Football Playoff thanks to its victory over Ohio State, the teams two losses mean they’ll be going to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day against the University of Southern California.

Bernard Hopkins Falls to Father Time

bernard-hopkins

Bernard Hopkins looked as old as the 51-year-old man he is in his loss to Joe Smith Jr. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

After getting literally knocked out of the ring by Joe Smith Jr. in his most recent fight, some say it should be.

From the moment he turned 40, Hopkins has waged a valiant and sometimes successful against Father Time.  But in the end, the 51-year-old Hopkins found out what every athlete eventually does: time is undefeated.

While Hopkins hasn’t said whether or not he’ll retire, the prevailing hope is that he will. To do otherwise will probably do him more harm than good long term.

Like I said, 2016 has been an up and down year. But now that it’s over, it’ll be interesting to see what 2017 will bring to the Sporting World.

No matter what it is, I’ll have it for you.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Loss to Redskins Reflective of an Awful 2016 for Eagles

12 Dec
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It’s been a tough year for Carson Wentz and Jordan Matthews. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With the playoffs obviously out of the picture for the Philadelphia Eagles (5-8), the only thing that diehard Birds fans can hope for is that the team can finish a respectable .500 and not have a second straight losing season.

Considering how this team has struggled, finishing at 8-8 is going to be a struggle for the Eagles because they face three playoff contenders to close out the season starting with Sunday’s road game against the Baltimore Ravens.  The Eagles may not win another game if those games are must-wins for those teams.   The Birds close out the season at Lincoln Financial Field against the New York Giants and the first-place Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles 27-22 loss to the Washington Redskins was quite simply a microcosm of an entire season has gone wrong. The Birds certainly had their chances to win the game, but couldn’t get out of their own way with turnovers and penalties.

“Yes, those are the things that we talk about during the week,” said head coach Doug Pederson. “Again, I mentioned it to the team at the end in the locker room that if we figure out a way to eliminate those things, great things are going to happen to your team.”

Eventually, just not this year.

Throw in injuries at key spots and that’s your 2016 Eagles season in a nutshell. In this game, the Eagles lost long snapper Jon Dorenbos to a right wrist injury, which meant long-snapping duties were split between tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton. Right tackle Allen Barbre left the game with a left hamstring injury and right tackle Brandon Brooks was sidelined with an illness.

One of the most devastating blows to the Eagles was the loss of punt returner Darren Sproles who got hurt fielding a punt on a vicious hit by Washington defensive back Deshazor Everett, who drew unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and several members of the Eagles wanting to kick his ass. Sproles will likely undergo the concussion protocol.

With all the reshuffling on the offensive line, Matt Tobin, who normally plays guard, was moved to right tackle. It was his inability to block Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan that sealed Eagles fate. Kerrigan’s sack and forced fumble of quarterback Carson Wentz deep in Washington territory halted the Eagles comeback.

On offense, the Eagles outgained Washington but gave up two turnovers inside the red zone that might have made a difference.   On their second possession of the game, the Birds, who were leading 3-0,  had the ball at the Washington three-yard line only to have Wentz throw an interception in the end zone.  Wentz ‘s fumble after the sack by Kerrigan put the nail in the coffin.

The Eagles had another chance to put seven points on the board when Darren Sproles ran a punt back 72 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was called back because Zach Ertz was flagged for an illegal block in the back.  With the other two turnovers, the Eagles blew a potential 21 points that could have tilted the game in their favor.

“Obviously, we’ve had a handful mistakes, little things here and there,” Wentz said after the game.  “And a lot of these losses, we’re just one play away, two plays away. … It’s kind of frustrating, but we have to learn from it.”

If there’s a silver-lining in this latest Eagles loss, the team did play with a lot of effort after they were criticized by Pederson earlier last week.  Just not enough to walk away with a win.

Unfortunately, these are the games you lose when you are a bad team. It’s always shoulda, woulda, I wish I coulda when you find yourself at the end of another loss.

One final note-One of the enduring symbols of the debacle that was the Chip Kelly era returned to bite the Eagles again. Redskins and former Birds wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught three passes for 102 yards including an 80-yard touchdown pass.

Strangely, enough Jackson wasn’t booed or jeered by fans. That’s because there’s a sentiment around Philly that they want D-Jax, who turns 30 next year, back when he becomes a free agent after this season. He’s definitely better than what they have now at the wide receiver position.

Jackson left open the possibility that he could be back.

“I don’t know man, shoot,” Jackson said. “We’ll see what happens. You never know how it’ll play out.”

Stay tuned.

 

Run the Damn Ball: Eagles Need to Establish the Run to Help Carson Wentz

12 Nov
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Eagles running back Ryan Mathews attempts to elude a Minnesota Vikings defender. Can the Eagles jump start their running game and protect quarterback Carson Wentz. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By  Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

In the last two games, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown the ball over 40 times.

When that’s happening, it’s usually because you’re behind by a couple of touchdowns and a couple of interceptions have been tossed along the way.

When you’re throwing the ball that much, it means that either (a) you  don’t have much of a running game or (b)!you’ve fallen behind by so many points that you have to abandon the run.

Not having a running game can be tough on a rookie quarterback, which is why Eagles head coach Doug Pederson admits that the team needs to expand it a little.

“Obviously, I think it does help Carson where you’re not putting everything, the whole game on his shoulders. We do a lot in the run game,”  Pederson said. “We  ask Carson to do a lot with RPO [run-pass option] things, with the read options, making some checks there. So, I think going forward, yeah, probably should rely on the run just a little bit more.”

Or, in the case of the Eagles, establish a consistent running game designed to  take the pressure off Wentz at the very least. A run game would keep opposing defenders from bringing the heat to Wentz, who threw two interceptions under intense pressure  against the New York Giants.

For the last two weeks, running back Darren Sproles has gotten the most carries. As shifty and speedy as he is, the 5-foot-6 Sproles is not a lead back. On one fourth down situation against the Giants, he was taken down short of the first down marker.

The guy that should have carried the ball in that situation was Ryan Mathews, who’s a more of a power running back.  So far this season, he is averaging close to four yards per carry. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in recent weeks. That might be because of a fourth-quarter fumble against the Detroit Lions in a crucial situation.

And then there’s rookie Wendell Smallwood. At some point this season, I would love to see him as the Eagles lead back.  I think he has the speed and  power to run through people. He reminds me of former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, but with more of a willingness to run between the tackles.  Like Sproles, Smallwood is a threat to hit the big play in the running game. In other words,  I like his home-run potential.

But because Smallwood had a fumble in a crucial situation against the Dallas Cowboys, the coaches aren’t trusting him. But the fumble problems can be fixed through coaching and practice.  They also need to get Kenjon Barner out there, too.

The bottom line here is that they can’t have their rookie quarterback slinging the ball all over the place at 40 times per game because, that could land him on the injured reserve list eventually. For all the things I like about Carson Wentz, the most important ability he needs to have is availability.

That’s why Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich really need to concentrate on the ground game.  Even if you don’t settle in on one lead back, figure out a way to utilize what those guys do well.

For example, Mathews is a good power back, especially in the red zone and when you need short yardage.  That’s the guy you use in third down and fourth down situations when you need to get a yard or two.

I would definitely mix in Smallwood between the 20s because I think he’s the most versatile back they have and has that big play potential.

Of course, the Eagles patchwork offensive line has to open those holes, but the offensive line is decent enough to be strong in the running game.

More importantly, you have to take the pressure off the quarterback because while Wentz has the tools to be a solid quarterback, he needs the help of a consistent running game.

And if the Eagles want to make the playoffs, they might want to get that together sooner rather than later.

 

Catch the Damn Ball: Eagles Receivers Not Making the Grade

6 Nov
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Eagles wide receiver and Carson Wentz shake hands after they connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the Birds 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers back in Week 3. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Last Sunday ’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys shows how badly the Philadelphia Eagles need a quality wide receiver.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Throughout Organized Team Activities and training camp, Doug Pederson was often asked about whether or not the Philadelphia Eagles would get a game-breaking wide receiver.

Pederson’s response was to say that wide receivers were going to make big plays through the Eagles scheme and then he went and added Dorial Green-Beckham in hopes that he would be that guy to stretch the field.

Seven games into the season, we are still talking about dropped passes and a lack of separation. There was talk this week that the Birds were looking for a wide receiver before Tuesday’s trade deadline, with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith being the biggest name mentioned in possible trade talks.

Although it would be more excusable if it were, the problem with the Eagles’ passing game isn’t quarterback Carson Wentz. The rookie signal caller had an efficient game in Sunday’s 29-23 overtime loss to Dallas.

The problem is that the Birds receivers scare no one going deep. When the scariest receiver in your passing game is running back Darren Sproles, you have a problem that’s going to keep you out of the playoffs. In the last four games, the Eagles have had just one play beyond 30 yards. In fact, the team’s wideouts have made only two catches beyond 30 yards.

Were it not for a 73-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Sproles on what turned out to be a broken play, the passing game would look even worse than it already does. Jordan Matthews, the team’s best wide receiver, is a go-to guy in the red zone and a solid possession receiver, but he’s not going to flip field position on one play for you, something the Eagles really need right now.

While doing it may make fans crazy, Pederson said that the old “dink and dunk” passes down field can work.

“Yeah, we went 9-0 in Kansas City and didn’t do it,” Pederson said. “I’ve seen it done. You can do that. It’s just we have to figure out and find ways to get the ball, obviously, down the field. You have to trust protection, you have to trust reads and progressions and you’ve got to trust the guys to get down the field.”

I guess that’s a politically correct answer to give to reporters during a press conference to mask an obvious weakness in your passing game. But let’s be honest here. In the games that the Eagles lost to their NFC East rivals—the Cowboys and the Washington Redskins— big play receivers Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson made, well, big plays.

And most importantly, they caught the ball. That’s another problem that the Eagles receivers seem to be having right now. When it comes to dropped passes, the Eagles are among the worst teams in the NFL. In fact, the website ChartingSports.com puts them at the top of the league in dropped balls when you measure the ratio of targets to balls dropped.

One of the most glaring examples of this during Sunday’s game was when wide receiver Nelson Agholor mishandled a ball that could have converted a third down deep in Cowboys territory on the Eagles first possession of the game.

While he wasn’t the only one dropping balls, Agholor was the only one getting testy with reporters when asked about it.

Now I understand why Agholor, the number one pick in the Eagles 2015 draft, might be tired of this particular topic coming up.

But if you want us to stop asking you about dropped passes, you could, I don’t know, Stop. Dropping. Passes.

If Agholor spent as much time living up the hype that a number one draft pick is supposed to generate as he does ranting at reporters asking him why he can’t seem to do the job he was drafted to do, which is to get open and catch the ball, he might get a little further along.

You would think the Eagles would have learned something from the NFC title games the team lost during the Donovan McNabb Era. During that time, the Eagles had a group of wide receivers similar to the crop the team has now: serviceable guys who scared no one.

Once Terrell Owens came to the Eagles, however, the team had a deep threat that the league had to respect. They won the NFC Championship, and while they didn’t win the Super Bowl, at least they went.

So while Pederson can dress it up anyway he likes, his current crop of mediocre receivers has made things a lot easier for defensive coordinators.

And until the team does something about that, they’ll be watching the Super Bowl from the living room like the rest of us.

A Tale of Two Successful Rookies: Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott

28 Oct
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Carson Wentz shares a few words with Jordan Matthews during the Eagles win over the Minnesota Vikings. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carson Wentz in the first round and the Dallas Cowboys selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, most pro football observers thought that both rookies would have to spend time holding their team’s clipboards.

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Rookie Dak Prescott has led the Dallas Cowboys to a 5-1 record and first place in the NFC East.

But a funny thing happened on their way to their apprenticeships.

Both Wentz and Prescott became starters. Granted, the circumstances that put them there were kind of strange, but hey.

The Cowboys not only lost starting quarterback Tony Romo in the third game of the preseason, but also backup Kellen Moore. Prescott, who had a solid preseason, was thrust into the starting quarterback role.

Meanwhile. Wentz was thrown to the wolves eight days prior to the start of the regular season when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings who had lost their starter Teddy Bridgewater to a broken leg.

Usually, rookies struggle under such conditions.

But Wentz and Prescott haven’t played like rookies.

Because of this, the two rookies will take the field for NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast to fight for control of the NFC East. The Cowboys are in first place at 5-1 with the Eagles nipping at their heels at 4-2.

Prescott has completed 68 percent of his passes and has seven touchdown passes against one interception. He has thrown for 1,486 yards and has quarterback rating of 103.9.  Wentz has eight touchdown passes with three interceptions and has completed 63.8 percent of his passes and has a 92.7 quarterback rating. He has 1,324 passing yards.

“They know how to win. They know how to lead their teams. Nothing seems to be too big for either one of them,” said Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. “They take it in stride. The ability to protect the football through these first six, seven games has been crucial.”

One of the things that both Wentz and Prescott have in common is that they are both athletic, mobile quarterbacks that can make plays with their legs.  The work that both players have put in has paid off to the point that Prescott and Wentz have looked like poised NFL veterans.

“I think in our case, how well he [Wentz] prepares himself during the week, his leadership ability,” Pederson said.  “And all that is just taught at an early age and you kind of just have it, and some guys have it, some guys don’t. Both of these guys have it.”

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett coached Wentz during the Senior Bowl and was high on him because of his work ethic and his football IQ. Even though he was the third-string quarterback, Prescott prepared for his moment on the stage.

“It’s starts with his preparation. He always ready,” Garrett said. “Always was able to handle the offense, call plays and handle himself at the line of scrimmage. You can tell he was prepared.”

At one point during this season, Wentz and Prescott were trying to break the NFL-record for the most passing attempts without an interception. Wentz went 135 pass attempts without tossing interception. Meanwhile, Prescott did eventually break Tom Brady’s NFL record, making 155 pass attempts without an interception.

Prescott and Wentz met during last year’s Senior Bowl and again during the Scouting Combine. Both players praised each other for the success they’ve had so far.

“It’s exciting to see that he’s having been have some successes as well,” Wentz said. “It’s going to be fun to go see him play.”

Prescott said he’s not surprised at how well Wentz is performing as the Eagles starting quarterback because of his intelligence and his work ethic.

“He’s a smart guy, great player, a great athlete,” Prescott said. “He’s doing exactly what I thought he would do. I figured he’d be a good player in this league. He’s been doing well.”

In an age of trash talk and obnoxious self-promotion, both Prescott and Wentz are a breath of fresh air and are humble in their approach to Sunday’s game.  When a reporter asked Prescott about going up against Wentz, he quickly deflected the question to emphasize team.

“It’s Cowboys versus Eagles.” Prescott said.