Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010 Sixer's Preview: It Can't Get Worse

Can we all just forget last season didn’t happen?

Seriously, basically no one saw it. There were few victories- and definitely no moral ones. There was a coach, but since he won’t be back, let’s just pretend he was never even there.

Can’t we go back to before last season, when there was at least some level of excitement? Thaddeus Young still had potential. Andre Iguodala seemed to finally be coming into his own. He even hit a game winning shot- in the playoffs! Marreese Speights was playing so well that Elton Brand seemed to be glued to the bench. Better yet, Brand wasn’t even there for most of that season. Now those were brighter days.

The fact is, those days can come back. Ed Stefanksi has made mistakes in his time here, but give him credit for cutting the cord on the Eddie Jordan experiment before it sunk this team even farther. It was clear that this team did not respond to him. The minute he tried to force this team to play some semblance of an offense, and not just let them run, the season started to sink- and it kept going until the Sixers found themselves 20 games worse then they were the season before.

Jordan even managed to turn this town against the team. Sixer’s tickets could not be given away. Announced attendances 10,000 below capacity were even lower then that. Every game felt like a preseason game.

The good news it, it can’t get much worse.

The Sixers might not be a top team, but the fact is, there is a lot of talent of this team. With even a decent coaching job, this team should be greatly improved this season. Also, the Sixers are lucky enough to play in the Eastern Conference, where a .500 record could get you in the playoffs. Before the “season that shall not be named”, the Sixers were a .500 team, and even gave the Orlando Magic a scare in the playoffs.

Since they, they have gotten younger at point guard, added the number two overall pick in the draft, traded Willie Green and improved their head coach. The team, despite what the public thinks it or will watch it, is ready to take a step forward.

Lets take a look at the roster and what we can expect from this team.

Starting Line Up: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes.

The Sixers return only 2 of the players that started for them in last seasons opener. The play from the guard positions could very well determine how this season turns out for the Sixers. Many NBA experts- and not just ones that reside in the Wells Fargo Center- are very high on Jrue Holiday. Holiday posted modest numbers last season- 8ppg, 2 apg, 2rpg- and has improved those numbers in pre-season play. The Sixers better hope that he is ready to take the leap many predict, because other then him, they do not have a true point guard on this roster.

If Holiday can play well and run Collin’s offense, it will help this team tremendously. Andre Iguodala is coming off of an impressive performance for USA this summer, but all that really did was confirm what we all believe- he is a great sidekick, but cannot be “the man” on a team. Iguodala is said to be working on his defense, which took a step back last season. Coach Collins is said to be pushing him to be on of the best defensive players in the league once again. Combined with the solid defense Holiday is capable of playing, and the Sixers have a good defensive backcourt.

The frontcourt, however, is a different story. It is good to see Kapono will get minutes this season, after being buried on Jordan’s bench last season. Kapono can shoot the three, but as a defensive player he is a huge liability. With shooting guards and small forwards getting stronger and faster every day in the NBA, Kapono will be a defensive mismatch every time he steps on the court.

Elton Brand is the starting power forward on this team, but he is not the best. That title belongs to Speights. But because of his salary, Brand will be out there when the game starts. Brand has lost a lot of weight, and he says he feels better then he has in years. If the Sixers can get anything- and I mean anything- out of him this season, it will be a bonus. If Brand can even be 70 percent of the player he once was, he can finally be the down low option this hoped he could be. But no matter how well Brand plays, he is not going to get younger or faster overnight. Brand is a square peg trying to fit on a team with only rectangle holes. The Sixers are best when they are out and running- Brand could not beat Charles Barkely in a race.

For the first time since 2003, Samuel Dalembert will not be the starting center on this team. That job now belongs to Spencer Hawes, the former 10th overall pick turned lottery bust. Hawes has talent, and may benefit from a change of scenery. He will not give the Sixers the shot blocking threat Dalembert did, but he does have hands that can actually catch the ball down low. At the end of the day, Hawes is not a player to write home about, but in the Eastern Conference, who can say their starting center is?

Bench: Thaddeus young, Marreese Speights, Andres Noccioni, Louis Williams, Jodie Meeks, Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Darius Songalia, Craig Brackens.

The Sixers starting line up will change a lot at the beginning of the season, with Collins figuring out how to mesh this young team together. One result of that will be a bench that is better then in years past. Young, Speights, and Williams are all players who could come in and give the team instant offense. Those players could also start on a number of other teams. Young is the player who’s game suffered most under Jordan, and if he can improve his play and reach his potential, don’t look for him to be on the bench for long. Andres Noccioni is something the Sixers did not have last season- a tough, proven, veteran player that knows his role. Noccioni also brings a toughness to this team that it lacks.

Evan Turner will start this season coming off of the bench. Turner has not played one minute in a regular season NBA game, and yet he has already been labeled a bust by many. Reports I have read say that when Turner first arrived at Ohio State, people said the same things about him- he was having trouble adjusting. Former coaches of Turner say that he is a player that needs to feel like he belongs before he succeeds. I buy into this train of thought. Evan Turner might not be the stud he was in Ohio State. It’s to early to tell. Bur Turner will give this team something this year, and he helps round out a very impressive bench.

Final Verdict:

Not many people expect this team to go far. There is no question that this team should not be mentioned in the same breath as the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. Right now, the teams that are unquestionably better then the Sixers in the Eastern Conference are the Heat, Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls. Other then that, there is not much standing in the way of the Sixers. They will battle with the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, and the Charlotte Bobcats for those final playoff spots. They only have to beat out 1 of them to make the playoffs. And I think they will. Whether it Is good for this team to make the playoffs this season or not is debatable. They could benefit from another lottery pick. But the East is bad, and the Sixers have enough talent, finally coupled with competent coach, to make the playoffs.

Prediction: 6th in Eastern Conference, First round exit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weaver Should Be Lesson to Jackson

It’s no secret by now that DeSean Jackson is not happy about his contract. The Pro-Bowl wide out is not having a good season so far, and has to see the dollars slipping away every time Kevin Kolb lines up behind center.

Jackson has been a good camper so far, not holding out, not creating a scene, and has yet to start working out in his driveway. His refusal to talk to the media on most days is the farthest he’s gone to show his displeasure.

It’s unlikely Jackson could be any more motivated to get a new deal. A base salary of 800,000 will do that to the top weapon on the team. But if he needs more proof now is the time to get the deal done, he needs only to look a few lockers down to Leonard Weaver and Owen Schmitt.

Last season, Weaver signed a one-year deal with the Birds. One Pro-Bowl appearance later, Weaver turned that one-year deal into the highest contract ever given to a fullback. With 6.5 million guaranteed, Weaver will receive over 3 times as much as Jackson will over the next two years (around 1.8 million dollars).

After the devastating injury Weaver suffered the first week of the season, his season is now over. Some question if he will ever be able to recover from the damage suffered in his knee. Once Weaver went down, the Eagles had no choice but to bring in a little known fullback in Owen Schmitt.

Schmitt’s play since he has arrived has been a pleasant surprise. He is averaging almost 10 yards a catch and players on the team have raved about what a great job he has done opening up lanes for LeSean McCoy.

Will Schmitt permanently replace Weaver? That remains to be seen. Weaver has come back from a season ending injury before. But if he comes back and is not the same player, he will be replaced by the Eagles, as the Birds have done with many other players. Schmitt has made the most of his opportunity. Ask Kevin Kolb what happens when a backup shines in your absence.

How does this relate to DeSean Jackson? Because every time Jackson takes the field, he risks his career ending. Jackson is a little receiver, one that kills teams with his speed. In the NFL, speed is the first thing to go. It is also the hardest thing to get back after an injury. Every time Jackson returns a punt, or catches a screen pass, he risks suffering the same fate Weaver did- without the big pay day.

If the Eagles front office decides to go with Kolb as their future quarterback, does Jackson become as valuable to the team? His numbers under Kolb are horrible, and you can tell Jackson is frustrated when Kolb is on the field. The Eagles already have a number one wide out in the making in Jeremy Maclin. They would not hesitate at all to make him the premier wide out on this team.

The Eagles front office pays for the future, and does not reward players based off past achievements. Regardless of what Weaver’s future holds, he is set for life financially.

Jackson can not say the same. And with the situation at quarterback, and a possible hold out coming next season, Jackson has to be frustrated on how long till that pay day will come- if it ever does.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eagles Defense Needs to Toughen Up

Perhaps no play portrayed the state of the Eagles defense Sunday better then the first quarter touchdown run by Ryan Torain.

On the play, the Eagles defensive front was pushed back. The linebackers over pursued the run and had to turn around to try to make a play. Once Torain got into the secondary, he through Saftey Quiten Mikell like he wasn’t even there. Touchdown, Redskins.

This play not only was typical for the day, but for the season so far when it comes to the defense-their to make the play, but unable to finish. This defense is one that will succeed with its speed. It has no big bodies on the line, and it’s linebackers are also under sized. The corner backs and safeties are ball hawking players that will rarely put a lick on a receiver coming across the middle. This puts them in position to make a game changing hit or tackle- but their size prevents them from doing so.

On Sunday, the defense was beaten and bruised up and down the field. Clinton Portis, a player who was considered washed up the week before, ran through tackles like he used to in his prime. He shed the smaller Eagle’s arm tackles like they weren’t even there. Multiple times the Eagles used their speed to get to him in the backfield, but were unable to finish the play. Their lack to do so really highlighted the problem this defense will face all year- they are simply not big enough to beat an offense man to man. They can blitz and scheme their way to an occasional big play, but cannot win the one on one battles when it matters most.

The defense lacks any toughness what-so-ever. The only player that strikes any semblance of fear into players is MLB Stewart Bradley. Other then that, the unit has no intimidator. This is one area where the team really misses Brian Dawkins. Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott tries to use Quiten Mikell in that Saftey/Blitzing LB role Dawk excelled in, but he lacks the size and toughness to mix it up like Dawk did. Ask Torain if he is afraid when Mikell comes running at him.

When the Eagles defense was at its best, it had players who would knock the daylight out of an opposing player. Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins punished players through out the game to the point where they would wear down as the game went on. By the fourth quarter, the players were so physically beat up, they could not run like they did when the game started.

One player who became available this week that might help is Saftey Michael Lewis. Lewis was asked to be released by San Francisco, and is now a free agent. For all of his liabilities in coverage, Lewis would bring an attitude and toughness to this defense it lacks. People said Dawkins could not cover when he left, but he brought enough to the Denver defense that he earned a Pro-Bowl Bid. Clearly Lewis is no Dawkins, but the Eagles are thin at safety already, and Lewis would not have been knocked over like Mikell was on that play.

This unit has talent. It can create turnovers and only gave up 17 points on Sunday. But if it wants to move to that next level and really become a defense that can win a game, it needs to toughen up, start winning the one on one battles, stop being pushed around.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reid Has Tough Week Ahead

When Reid made the decision to bench Kevin Kolb in favor of Michael Vick, he sat at the podium and said he didn’t mind being the made guy, and was paid to make the tough decisions.

Well after the way this football team played against Washington, he should get ready to make a lot more.

He already began to answer some questions, but what happened at the end of the first half was such typical Andy Reid clock management is was nauseating. Only Reid could manage to get a delay of game out of a time out, following a challenge that took so long it had Joe Buck questioning the time it was taking. Reid said after that game that the ball was moved back, and when he got no explanation as to why, he had to pick a new play. I find it hard to believe that a play that is designed to get inches in dramatically different then a little under a yard. Donovan caught a lot of flack during his time here for his 2 minute drive, but I think today we found out that it was 100% Reid that was behind those lazy efforts within 2 minutes. Reid should get ready to face tough criticism all week about what happened.

Next on Reid’s plate is going to be what to do about the quarterback situation. Reid better hope that Michael Vick is a quick healer and can play next week. If not, Reid will have a real mess in front of him. There’s no question that Kolb is not the player that Vick is. He showed today that when the heat is on, he eye’s down his receivers to that point that even Troy Aikman could see where he was going from the booth. Kolb was lucky to not have more of this throws intercepted.

Kolb also checked down way to often today, especially when the game was on the line. He needs to know better then to be throwing a ball 6 yards to LeSean McCoy in the middle of the field with time running down and his team needing to score. Kolb showed that his decision making with the ball sill leaves a lot to be desired. Add that to the way he carries the ball in the pocket, and he can be a walking turnover out there.

But with that being said, Kolb still moved this offense at times and kept the team in the game. Kolb was thrown into a nearly impossible situation- down 14 to his former mentor, having already been benched, then having to bring his team back in front of 60,000 people in the stands and 52 on the sideline who don’t believe in you.

However, If it wasn’t for Reid’s poor clock management at the end of the half and McCoy’s fumble late in the game, we could very well be sitting here discussing Kolb bringing this team back. Analysis aside, Kolb still threw for over 200 yards behind one of the worst lines in the NFL. He had close to 80 yards more then Donovan McNabb did.

Next week the Eagles face a 49ers team that is 0-4. What is Reid going to do is Kolb plays well and leads the team to victory? What is Vick misses two weeks, and Kolb plays well enough to win the games he’s in? Kolb excelled in this exact same role last season. What does Reid do then? How can Reid look Kolb in the face and bench him again if he plays well in Vick’s absence?

After Reid figures out his quarterback situation, he needs to take a look at his fellow coaches. Ultimately the players are the ones who are responsible for making plays, but how can Reid ever feel confident his team had a chance to win when two crucial units of your team- offensive line and special teams- continue to cost them games. Bobby April’s unit allowed McNabb to start his first drive inside the Eagles 40 yard line. After the Redskins score, Jorrick Calvin proceeds to bring the ball out 4 yards deep in his own end zone. What is Calvin thinking there? Why is Bobby April’s voice not in his head telling him not to bring it out?

I wrote about it in earlier in the week, but this offensive line is getting to the point that it’s going to end up costing Juan Castillo his job. Better coaches have been fired because their unit simply can not perform. If I had a dollar for every time this offensive line had a stupid penalty that killed a drive, Jayson Werth would be a Phillie next year. It’s getting to the point that you can’t have Jason Peters on the field.

Andy Reid says he doesn’t mind making the hard call. But as this season goes on, and McNabb isn’t here to take any blame, the questions he is faced with are just going to get harder and harder.

Reid created this mess- let’s see if he can get himself out of it.