November 14, 2016
Doug Pederson faced a pivotal moment in his education as an NFL coach, year one, when he called timeout with 2:01 left Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The ball was at the Atlanta 31-yard line, fourth down and a yard and a half to go. Did it make more sense to try for a 48-yard field goal, or to go for the first down?
When I talked to him on my WIP radio show this morning, Pederson said his first instinct was to leave the offense on the field. Fortunately – after acknowledging that a similar situation in Dallas two weeks earlier had flashed across his mind – he waved in the kicking team.
Hallelujah. As the ball sailed between the uprights, giving the Eagles a 24-15 win, the rookie coach had found a way to set aside the devastating losses against Dallas and the New York Giants in the previous two games. This time he got it right.
In fact, Pederson got a lot right Sunday against a dangerous opponent in a crucial game. He scripted an opening series that was a work of art, mixing runs with passes on an artful march down the field for an early 7-0 lead. Right from the start, the Linc fans were loud and proud.
The coach even rediscovered a forgotten hero, Ryan Mathews, who ran for 106 yards, many of them on second effort amid a tangle of tacklers. It’s amazing how effective Matthews can be when he doesn’t fumble the football.
How elegant was Pederson’s game plan on Sunday? He called 38 passing plays, 38 running plays and held the ball for 38 minutes. He said this morning that the key to the plan was keeping the explosive Atlanta offense off the field. Mission accomplished.
Optimists among the 70,000 fans at the LInc and millions more watching on TV are right to say that Pederson is learning from his mistakes. Heck, he almost used that exact phrase when referring to the Dallas game this morning before he caught himself. The fact that he called time out before the clinching field goal reinforces that point.
Of course, there are pessimists in the crowd, too. This is, after all, Philadelphia. His dissenters had plenty to complain about in the Atlanta game. By no means was this a flawless effort by the rookie coach.
For example, his insistence on running outside the tackles in short-yardage situations hurt him again after Mathews was stopped for a loss when the Eagles were inches away from a touchdown. Since the Birds ran so well up the middle all day, why not then, too?
Even more maddening was Pederson’s decision to throw the ball to Nelson Agholor, the 119th-ranked receiver in the NFL, on a key third-down play late in the game. Would you believe Agholor dropped it? Let’s be honest. It would have been far more surprising if he didn’t.
As I wrote here last week, the Eagles are not good enough to make the playoffs this season, but they aren’t bad, either. Carson Wentz is too talented to ever be on a truly terrible team. The only thing holding him back right now are his teammates, and especially the pass-catchers. He will be great.
But will Doug Pederson be around when Wentz goes to the Pro Bowl, and (we hope) the Super Bowl? All we can say for sure is that the new coach seems to be learning from at least some of his mistakes. The loss against Dallas definitely led to a win against Atlanta.
Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Remember when the Sixers promised they would try to win games this season? Remember when GM Sam Hinkie’s departure signaled the end to three years of intentional losing? Remember when coach Brett Brown declared an end to our tanking nightmare?
Well, forget it. All of it. Welcome to an unprecedented year four of losing on purpose. In the history of American sports, no team has ever spent four straight seasons with no real concern about winning. None. Ever.
The Sixers finally won a game on Friday night – raising their record to 1-7 – when they deviated for the first time from the etched-in-stone time restrictions on center Joel Embiid, and he responded with a 25-point effort that led the Sixers to an overtime victory. The kid can play. Just not every night.
Embiid had not played the game before in Indianapolis, and he didn’t play the next night in Atlanta (a loss, of course.) He is 22, he absolutely loves to compete, and he needs the experience because he didn’t even start playing basketball until he was 17. But the Sixers are restricting his play because they have conjured up some arbitrary rules on how to treat a big man after two foot surgeries.
I use the word arbitrary because we have top orthopedic surgeons from NovaCare on my WIP radio show every week, and I haven’t found one yet who believes these restraints are based in science. Embiid isn’t playing every game, with unlimited minutes, solely because of the Sixers’ morbid fear of another injury.
And – here’s the main point – Embiid isn’t playing all the time because the Sixers still don’t give a damn about winning. Instead, they are creating obstacles for themselves that go way beyond a still-weak roster and a strategically inept coach.
In fact, you don’t have to take my word for that. When coach Brett Brown established the record for losses by a Sixers coach last week (206), he unwittingly revealed his agenda and that of his organization.
"The position that I have is so much more than (wins and losses)," Brown said. "We are trying to grow a program with a bunch of 20-year-olds. I don't even care about it, nor think about it."
You’ll have to search far and wide before you find a coach who doesn’t define himself by his record. It’s professional sports, and Brown – in his fourth year as a head coach – still chooses not to care about winning?
If that comment doesn’t convince you the Sixers are still tanking, nothing will.
Matt Klentak’s plan to rebuild the Phillies remains one of the most convoluted, unfathomable schemes in professional sports today. So far, the GM’s second year in office is even more perplexing than his first.
Last Friday, Klentak swapped a pair of fading prospects, first baseman Darin Ruf and infielder Darnell Sweeney, to the Dodgers. Neither figured to be part of the long-range Phillies plan – but then again, neither does the player obtained in return, Howie Kendrick.
At 33, Kendrick is a versatile journeyman who will cost $10 million in salary next season. He is a capable second baseman, but certainly no upgrade over Cesar Hernandez. And if the plan is to use him as a corner outfielder, Kendrick had eight homers in 487 at-bats, and he would be taking away playing time from a younger prospect.
So why did Klentak make this bizarre move? According to him, Kendrick is “the definition of a professional hitter,” and will have a positive impact on the young players in the lineup. There is also speculation that Kendrick gives the team flexibility if it wants to trade Hernandez.
How idiotic is that idea? Klentak would deal a 26-year-old with a .294 batting average (and a .371 OBP) for a 33-year-old who hit .255 and will be a free agent at the end of the 2017 season. And this is a rebuilding plan?
Klentak dismissed the notion of trading Hernandez – doesn’t he dismiss all rumors? – but there was loud talk during the GM meetings last week that the second baseman is eminently available.
What is it about Hernandez that the Phillies don’t like? Didn’t the Phils just hire Matt Stairs to be the hitting coach? Why would they need Hendrick to teach the kids, too? Where’s Andy MacPhail, the president who shows his face once or twice a year? Does Klentak really have any idea how to build a winner?
These are all valid questions in light of the Kendrick deal. Yes, the Phillies didn’t give up much. Yes, Kendrick is a serviceable veteran. And yes, the Phillies have plenty of money to spend this off-season.
But if the news of Klentak’s first trade this fall didn’t make you wonder whether he has any real plan to rebuild the team, congratulations. You are far more open-minded (and gullible) about our novice GM than I am.
And finally …
• A brutal season for NFL officials hit its lowest point yet last Monday night when the Walt Anderson crew botched a simple field-goal attempt at the end of the first half. Seattle nutcase Richard Sherman’s slam into Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter was obvious to everyone except the crew. If plummeting TV ratings don’t convince the NFL to fix this officiating mess, what will?
• The Eagles got shafted by the refs again, too, when officials missed, on successive plays, a pass interference against Darren Sproles, and then a ridiculously clear helmet-to-helmet hit on Jordan Matthews. Later, Matthews said the refs “didn’t see much of that game.” That remark will earn him a steep fine, and the admiration of fans who were howling in protest after another poorly-officiated contest.
• Josh Huff signed to join the Tampa practice squad within days of his Eagles’ release two weeks ago for DUI and carrying an unlicensed firearm on the Walt Whitman Bridge. Huff said last week that God told him to go to Tampa. No word yet on God’s opinion of the lethal hollow-point bullets Huff was carrying on the day he got arrested.
• This is a true story, confirmed by both sides. After the Winter Classic alumni game in 2012, then-GM Paul Holmgren asked Eric Lindros to make a comeback with the Flyers. The Hall of Famer said no, thanks. “I don’t know what game he was watching,” Lindros said. “Geez, are you kidding me?” And that’s just one more good reason why Paul Holmgren is no longer a GM in the NHL.
• Major League Baseball has abandoned its policy of donating the merchandise of the losing team in the World Series to overseas people in need of clothes. Since the jerseys and hats proclaimed that the Cleveland was the world champion this year, the league felt it was a bad idea to have “inaccurate” stuff out there. So MLB destroyed it all. Hey, you wouldn’t want a poor person in Mozambique misleading his Tsongan tribe, now would you?