October 20, 2015
The Eagles smothered the Giants on Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field, but the fans reacted with none of their usual bravado. Even a 20-point win over a hated division rival couldn’t overcome the biggest worry after an ugly evening in South Philadelphia.
And that worry has a name – Sam Bradford. The new franchise quarterback is not playing like one, not at all, and his struggles overshadowed all of the positives in a relatively easy 27-7 victory that gave the Eagles a share of the NFC East lead.
By its very nature, blue-collar Philadelphia usually revels in a take-no-prisoners defense like the one that shut out the Giants for the last 55 minutes of the game, but not this time. The flood of calls Tuesday morning on my WIP radio show had only one focus, and it was Bradford.
The quarterback’s three interceptions against New York were typical of his failings since arriving here in an off-season trade for Nick Foles, a second-round draft pick and Bradford’s $13-million salary. He has become the quarterback who can’t throw straight.
His first two misfires sailed over the head of Riley Cooper and right to cornerback Jayron Hosley and safety Brandon Meriweather, respectively, and the third soared beyond tight end Zach Ertz and into the hands of safety Landon Collins. All three throws had one basic element in common; they were terrible.
On my WIP radio show Tuesday morning, coach Chip Kelly blamed the bad plays on miscommunication, but the problem is simpler than that. Bradford, who was the first pick in the 2010 draft because of the strength of his arm and the precision of his throws, lost more than two years of his career with torn ACLs; somehow, he also lost his accuracy.
Oh, he can still swing a pass out into the flats or flip a ball to a tight end on a short crossing pattern, but the moment he rears back and heaves the ball downfield, it is every bit as likely to find the defender as his intended receiver. He already has nine interceptions in six games, an unacceptable rate of failure for any quarterback.
Kelly insisted on Tuesday that he is not considering a change to Mark Sanchez, who is a turnover machine in his own right, but the coach’s patience is wearing thinner. No longer is he extolling Bradford’s upside. Now, Kelly prefers to spin his quarterback’s problems as nothing more than the shaking off of two years of rust.
The sad twist to Bradford’s struggles is the emergence of a defense that is far better than anyone could have anticipated. Fletcher Cox is a wall on the defensive line, Jordan Hicks is the play-making linebacker Kelly thought Kiko Alonso would be, and Malcolm Jenkins is so good, he’s even covering up some of Byron Maxwell’s mistakes.
Who would have thought on offensive genius Chip Kelly’s team, the best chance to make the playoffs would be the defense? Who could have guessed that Kelly is better at drafting linebackers like Hicks than wide receivers like top pick Nelson Agholor? And who imagined that Sam Bradford would be no better than Nick Foles?
The Eagles are tied for first place in the NFC East, but if Sam Bradford doesn’t find his aim, and soon, they’re not going to the playoffs this year. Even after a 20-point win over a hated division rival, that was the sobering lesson we all learned on Monday night.
The debate over whether the novice executives running the Sixers have any idea how to rebuild a sports franchise grew more heated over the past few days as a Sports Illustrated report offered the first real signs that the plan is already coming unglued.
According to Brian Geltzeiler of an SI blog called The Cauldron:
• Joel Embiid, the top prospect in the three-year plan, is an uncoachable malcontent who didn’t follow medical advice after his first broken foot, has ignored nutrition advice by the trainers and, in fact, has been downing Shirley Temples by the pitcher-full.
• Embiid’s insubordination has caused a breach in the upper levels of the organization, with finger pointing between GM Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown and lately a loss of patience among some of the minority owners over the team’s lack of progress.
• Dissension developed in the front office over the trade last year of Michael Carter-Williams, with Hinkie and owner Joshua Harris favoring the move and Brown and team president Scott O’Neill against it.
• The father of Dario Saric, another of Hinkie’s supposed personnel coups, is so alienated against the Sixers that he has limited contact between the young player and team officials, an issue that could keep Saric in Turkey and off the active roster for two more years.
None of what was reported came as a shock to people (like me) who have seen this rebuilding plan as a sham from the beginning. Hinkie’s record of 37-127 is among the worst after two seasons in pro-sports history. He still has a job only because the value of the Sixers has increased dramatically in the idiot-proof NBA. Harris, a billionaire, loves money.
What the story clearly establishes is that Embiid is going to take his place next to two other Sixers’ head-case centers of the past generation, Sean Bradley and Andrew Bynum, as disastrous acquisitions. If he’s not following instructions now, can you imagine how he’d act if he actually had any success?
As for the rest of it, it’s becoming clearer by the day why Hinkie asked for a major contract extension less than two years into his tenure; he’s trying to cash in before the truth about him becomes obvious. No one knows he’s a fraud more than Hinkie himself.
On the day the report came out last Friday, Brown labeled it “wildly inaccurate” and “old news” – but then he offered no evidence to dispute any of the allegations. The coach also took a moment to praise the media members who have been covering the Sixers, telling them they have done “a helluva job.”
Here’s the first rule of sports reporting, from someone who has been in the media for 40 years: If the team you’re covering tells you you’re doing “a helluva job,” you are not.
Bravo to SI for providing some tangible proof that the Sixers are as big a mess off the court as they are on it. It’s a shame that a national reporter had to do a job so many local journalists have been unable – or unwilling – to do.
When the ball left the bat, square on the barrel, it was 2008 again, for just a fleeting second. Then Chase Utley’s final at-bat of a tumultuous season ended the way far too many others did this year, in a benign fly ball to right field. Soon, the Dodgers would lose, and the greatest second baseman in Phillies history would go home.
Hopefully, for good.
It is no secret that Utley still loves the game, several years after the game stopped loving him. He batted .212 in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, with eight homers and 39 RBIs in 373 plate appearances. For a 36 year old whose career has been in decline for five years now, those numbers are an undeniable plea for retirement.
Unfortunately, Utley has never been open about his feelings, and he was even less so after his suspension for a heroic play in Game 2 that saved the Dodgers from an even more painful playoff exit against the Mets. He went to New York for three days, and then back to L.A., without ever saying a public word to anyone.
His demeanor after a predictably vicious reception in New York last week was no more impressive than his play this season. At the very least, he owed the fans his own important voice in what became a national debate. Instead, he created the impression of weakness, self-imposing the two-game suspension he was appealing.
Utley never looked right in a Dodgers uniform anyway – nor did his equally over-the-hill former double-play partner Jimmy Rollins – and now he would just be chasing ghosts by trying to squeeze one more year out of his evaporating talents.
In the laissez-faire world of today, it is politically incorrect to tell a player to retire, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Utley had a marvelous career here, and he needs to preserve the memory of those special seasons – and that magical championship. He needs to quit now, before he becomes Steve Carlton.
The hardest thing for any player to do is to give up the game he has loved his entire life, but Utley has never been the type to avoid the biggest challenges. It’s time for him to face reality. That deceiving fly ball should be the final out of his glorious career.
And finally ...
• Dom Brown, the biggest bust in the failed Phillies youth movement, was finally removed from the 40-man roster on Monday, hopefully ending his tenure here. It is no coincidence this move came just five weeks after his clueless enabler, ex-GM Ruben Amaro, left the organization. Good riddance to both of them.
• When the backup goaltender records two straight shutouts – in his first two starts, no less – the way Michal Neuvirth did last week for the Flyers, it is idiotic to suggest there is no goalie controversy. Steve Mason is not exactly Bernie Parent in his prime. If Neuvirth continues to play this way, he’s the starter. It’s that simple.
• How many times does Chip Kelly have to answer questions about taking a college job before this ritual becomes absurd? He will go back to college the moment no one wants him in the NFL, and not a minute before. In other words, he’s like all coaches who have the ultimate dream, winning a Super Bowl.
• In their ongoing feud with their own arena, The Sixers have removed the big black letters WELLS FARGO CENTER from the court and have replaced them with tiny white letters that blend in with the tan floor. There’s a word for that kind of behavior, and it’s being used more and more to describe the Sixers – petty.
• When the news broke last week that Sixers center Joel Embiid appears to be addicted to Shirley Temples – a sweet concoction that includes grenadine, ginger ale and at least one maraschino cherry – I’ll bet everybody under 40 had the same response: Who the hell is Shirley Temple?