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What Game Was Seth Joyner Watching?

Tim Reilly - January 13, 2019

What if I told you before the game the Eagles defense would hold Drew Brees and the potent Saints offense to 20 points? We all would have thought Philadelphia would be booking a trip to Los Angeles to battle for the NFC Championship.

It wasn’t meant to be, but did anyone think Jim Schwartz and the Eagles defense were to blame for this season-ending setback in New Orleans? Apparently the guys manning the studio for NBC Sports Philadelphia thought differently.

Michael Barkann, Seth Joyner, and Barrett Brooks led their postgame analysis by piling on Schwartz for employing a “passive” game plan. Joyner didn’t hold back, pinning the loss squarely on the defensive coordinator:

Joyner has always been a Buddy Ryan acolyte, and it’s clear he prefers the aggressive blitzing style of his former coach. Schwartz has embraced a different philosophy, preferring to generate pressure from his front four. His tendency to drop the remaining seven defenders in coverage has only hardened as the secondary ranks have thinned.

The Eagles arrived in the Big Easy without their top cornerbacks, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, who were both lost for the year. Starting safety Rodney McLeod tore his MCL back in September and landed on the IR. Reserve corner Sidney Jones has not been able to stay on the field, either, and did not dress for the game. The Eagles were forced to defend Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints defense with Rasul Douglas, Cre’Von LeBlanc, and Tre Sullivan. Douglas dealt with an injury throughout the game; he was replaced by special teamer Josh Hawkins.

What was Schwartz to do with a paper-thin secondary? He played zone, and he forced the Saints to earn every yard by keeping the play in front of his unit. It was successful for a time, but the gambit only works if the offense holds up its end of the bargain.

Nick Foles and company were not up to the challenge. After a 14-point first quarter barrage, the offense could not sustain a drive. Last I checked, Schwartz is not involved in developing the offensive attack.

It’s easy to dial up exotic blitzes when you have Eric Allen patrolling the secondary, or the Bobby Taylor-Troy Vincent-Al Harris triumvirate, with Brian Dawkins hovering in centerfield. Schwartz does not have the luxury of a healthy secondary, let alone a defensive backfield stocked with All-Pro and Hall of Fame talent.

As Ray Didinger pointed out during the show, Schwartz blitzed more during the Saints’ Week 11 dismantling of the Eagles than he had at any point during the season. Brees picked the defense apart. He had to protect his inexperienced corners, particularly Avonte Maddox.

Would the Eagles defense have been better off with one of the unemployed Ryan twins orchestrating the defense? Maybe they should have trotted out the 46 defense. I’m sure Josh Hawkins would have magically tranformed into Darrelle Revis and shut down Michael Thomas.

It’s nonsense. The Eagles defense played incredibly well given the circumstances, and the front four dominated in the trenches when Fletcher Cox was able to play. Schwartz stuck with a game plan that gave the team the best chance to win, and the opportunity was there with 2:00 left in the game.

If you’re seeking to blame someone for this loss, look elsewhere. This one isn’t on Jim Schwartz, no matter what Seth Joyner and company would have you believe. The Eagles won more playoff games this season with less talent than they did in the entire Buddy Ryan era. They battled through injuries and adversity. They fought like champions.

They came up short. It happens. On to 2019. With Jim Schwartz returning to coordinate the defense, preferably.

Lane Johnson Is The Eagles’ Unsung Hero

Tim Reilly - December 31, 2018

When the final chapter of the Philadelphia Eagles’ mercurial 2018-19 campaign is written, Nick Foles will get the lion’s share of the credit for the late-season turnaround that propelled the Birds into the playoffs. He’ll deserve it, too. However, Eagles fans would be remiss if they ignored the contributions of Lane Johnson to the postseason push that began three weeks ago in Los Angeles.

Fans tend not to spend much time dwelling on the performance of offensive linemen unless they miss a block or commit a penalty. Anonymity is a lineman’s best asset, and he will have done his job if he keeps the names of the star pass rushers on the other side of the line of scrimmage out of the mouths of the announcers.

Foles dropped back 31 times against the vaunted Rams’ pass rush. He was not sacked once. Interior rushers Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald combined for just 3 quarterback hits. The attention required to contain Donald, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, usually leaves ample opportunity for the Rams’ edge rushers to feast on quarterbacks fleeing the pocket. They didn’t sniff Foles, even though their counterparts were left on islands on either side of the line. Future Hall of Famer Jason Peters and Johnson rose to the challenge and kept their immobile quarterback upright.

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Sports Betting Updates

fanduel sportsbook

FanDuel Sportsbook Review

Things have picked up for NJ online sports betting. FanDuel Sportsbook launched their sports betting app in September and they, along with DraftKings, have quickly become the leaders in the space. If you want to know how the sites compare to each other, read our DraftKings Sportsbook vs. FanDuel Sportsbook post. Otherwise, keep reading to get our review of FanDuel and their current bonus offers. Bonus: First deposit matched up to $100 Minimum Deposit: $10 FanDuel

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Premier League Picks Week 23

You can analyze trends and probabilities all you like. You can diagnose a match to within an inch of its life. But there are certain things you really can’t account for. Before shutting out an impotent Newcastle United on January 2, Manchester United hadn’t kept a clean sheet in the league in their prior seven matches. The Red Devils went to Wembley last weekend to take on Tottenham Hotspur. Goals aplenty, right? Yeah, no: 11

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Your Complete NFL Championship Weekend Betting Guide

Another weekend is here and with it comes two fantastic NFL championship games featuring rematches of memorable regular season shootouts. The action is also in full effect across the NBA, NHL, and college basketball. With Super Bowl Sunday looming just two short weeks away, start building your bankroll now by getting in on New Jersey’s legal sports betting action. Enjoy all of the different great games on tap across multiple sports this weekend and take

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Will Penn Disrupt Villanova’s Big 5 Dominance?

Tim Reilly - December 11, 2018

“You come at the king,” quipped The Wire‘s Omar Little, “you best not miss.” Over the course of twenty-five basketball games stretched across seven seasons, Villanova has firmly established itself atop the Big 5 throne. In that time, there have been plenty of swings at the champs, and a whole lot of whiffs.

While its city brethren have struggled to escape the shadows of their former glories, the Wildcats have been busy writing new chapters in their own history books. Jay Wright’s program has claimed two national titles in three years. Wright, who was once a Rollie Massimino lieutenant, has eclipsed the accomplishments of his former boss and cemented his place as the best coach in Villanova’s history. Finneran Pavilion, fresh off a $65 million renovation, finally matches the sartorial splendor of the head coach. And the recruiting classes haven’t been too bad, either.

If there were a season that at least one of the Big 5 teams could catch up to Villanova, it stood to reason that 2018-19 might be the one. Despite a lofty #9 ranking in the preseason AP poll, Villanova was very much a team in transition for this campaign.

Wright was tasked with replacing 4 key players from the 2017-18 championship team: Jalen Brunson, last year’s Wooden Award winner, which is given to college basketball’s best player; Mikal Bridges; Omari Spellman; and Donte Divincenzo, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. All but Brunson were selected in the first round of the June 2018 NBA Draft.

Early in the year, the Wildcats looked vulnerable. Villanova followed up a blowout loss to Michigan with a dispiriting overtime setback to the Furman Paladins. Villanova dropped both contests on its refurbished home court.

Wright’s squad hasn’t lost since.

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Now Is Not The Time to Give Up On Markelle Fultz

Tim Reilly - December 7, 2018

On Wednesday’s edition of Pardon the Interruption, NBA analyst Doris Burke offered an insightful take on the Markelle Fultz situation. Fultz, who was recently diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, has endured national ridicule for a hitch that has hampered the mechanics of his jump shot and free throw form.

Burke’s commentary is worth considering in full, and I have transcribed it below:

“You know, this is hard for me. I am the mother of a twenty-four year old son. And so the first prism through which I look at this, guys, is that of a mom. And if my son were going through this, it would be incredibly difficult to watch. We are evaluating a twenty year old in incredible scrutiny, under incredible performance pressure. It’s been over a year issue. It feels to me, personally, like if I were his mom I’d almost want him in a different organization, just to give him a fresh start. The reality is, this is a business decision for the Sixers. Brett Brown continues to be supportive. He keeps talking, saying I’m going to coach him like a son, not like the number 1 pick in the draft. I think Markelle’s inner circle has given him some interesting advice over time. I don’t know that there’s a positive outcome on either side. I’m just hopeful for the young man, that he can either (1) come back healthy in the timetable given- now 6 weeks- or (2) maybe somehow he moves to another place.”

Burke’s compassionate perspective stood out particularly because it was offered on an ESPN program. To say the network has leaned into the Fultz story would be an understatement. Earlier in the day on First Take, Stephen A. Smith had proclaimed Fultz “the biggest bust in NBA history,” and asserted in the same segment that “this man has some personal demons that are none of our business.” One month earlier, Fultz’s awkward free throw in a game against the Miami Heat was played for laughs and offered as fodder on a number of ESPN platforms, including First Take and The Jump.

ESPN is not alone among sports outlets in reveling in Fultz’s struggles; however, given the network’s venerable status and its broadcast partnership with the NBA, it is unquestionably a major amplifier. Armed with seemingly endless B-roll footage of Fultz lowlights and an impressive array of analysts, the network has considerable power in shaping the narrative around a player.

And, more than ever before, ESPN is in the storytelling business. SportsCenter long ago ceded its monopoly over the sports highlight market; in its place is a relentless brand construction and destruction machine masquerading as a highlights and analysis program. Continue Reading

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Mr. All-Around: A Review of the Tom Gola Biography

Tim Reilly - November 28, 2018

In the waning days of his senior year at LaSalle University, David Grzybowski endeavored to answer a seemingly simple question: who was Tom Gola?

After five years of research, interviews, and writing sessions between his shifts as a television reporter, Grzybowksi delivered his answer in the form of a biography. The book, titled Mr. All-Around: The Life of Tom Gola, is available in bookstores now.

Mr. All-Around checks in at a little over 200 pages, but you won’t have trouble breezing through the contents in little more than a weekend. Grzybowksi’s writing style is plain and unpretentious. His text thankfully lacks the contrived alliterative phrases that pollute television copy.

The subject of the book proves to be a bit more enigmatic. When Grzybowski took on this project, Gola was in the winter of his life. A fall in 2003 had left the former basketball star physically impaired; Gola would spend the rest of his life recovering at St. Joseph’s Manor, an assisted living facility on Huntington Pike in Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania. Gola passed away in January 2014 at the age of 81.

Grzybowksi acknowledges in his introduction that “a stroke made it difficult for Gola to speak” during his lone meeting with his subject. Nevertheless, the two were able to speak about Gola’s “playing career and his time at LaSalle,” Grzybowksi told me in an email exchange.

The seeds of this discussion form the basis of Mr. All-Around, which chronicles Gola’s journey from a basement gym in Olney to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Along the way, Grzybowski documents Gola’s time at LaSalle College High School and LaSalle College. He also details Gola’s decade-long NBA career with the Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knicks.

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Is This the Year Andy Reid Finally Wins a Super Bowl?

Tim Reilly - November 16, 2018

The end of the beginning

Nearly six years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles dismissed the best coach in franchise history.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t a controversial decision. The Eagles were stuck in neutral, and it was time to part ways with Andy Reid. Past time, even.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie hired Reid in 1999 to heal a team whose wings had been clipped after a series of subpar seasons. Reid arrived from Green Bay, where he had worked as quarterbacks coach under Mike Holmgren. Legend has it that Reid impressed Lurie in his interview when he expounded at length on the importance of the long snapper. The dissertation demonstrated a passion for football and an attention to detail to which Eagles fans would grow accustomed over the next 14 seasons.

At the time, it was a bit of a curious hire. Philly Mag’s Dan McQuade compiled a number of reactions to the Reid decision in a 2017 article, and he included this analytical gem from the inimitable Bill Lyon, whose writing skills are eclipsed only by his deep understanding of the psyche of the Philly fan:

The fans and the fan-inflamers wanted someone with experience, someone proven. Give us Parcells, they moaned. Give us Seifert or give us Shanahan. And if not them, then give us Chris Palmer or Brian Billick or Gary Kubiak. We want a who’s who and you give us a who’s he.

The vocal elements of the fan base and the legion of talking heads who presume to speak for them on television and radio are very good at pinpointing what was or what’s now. It’s much more challenging to identify what’s next. Though it may have seemed unconventional at the time, selecting Reid was an inspired decision that would pay almost immediate dividends.

Reid was a Bill Walsh disciple, and he would bring his version of the West Coast offense to Philadelphia. Reid imported an obscure quarterback named Doug Pederson from Green Bay to run the unit until his prized draft pick, Donovan McNabb, was ready to assume the reins. Once McNabb entered the lineup, the Eagles took flight.

Beginning with the 2001 regular season, the Birds booked four straight trips to the NFC Championship game. In 2008-09, they returned for a fifth time. Only once, in January 2005, were the Eagles able to lay claim to the Halas Trophy and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to borrow from Charles Dickens. The Eagles were finally relevant again. They were the class of the NFC East, and they were among the league’s elite. But they were never the best.

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Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too: A Review of Clay Travis’ New Book

Tim Reilly - October 9, 2018

“With your help, I still believe,” writes Clay Travis at the conclusion of Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too, “sports can still be the one place we go in America where […] we can all be equal.” Travis, whose book is subtitled How the Left is Ruining Sports with Politics, argues that athletics and liberal politics have become destructively intertwined.

In 272 pages, Travis makes an occasionally compelling, frequently repetitive case for either the permanent divorce or more balanced presentation of sports and politics. The book would have benefited from a sharper-eyed editor who could eliminate some of the redundancies and remedy the litany of comma splices that appear throughout the text.

But the readers of Travis’ website, Outkick the Coverage, aren’t drawn to the author because he’s an eloquent sports journalist in the vein of David Halberstam; they read Travis because he’s a persuasive and entertaining writer. He also sticks to an accessible style. I’m by no means a fast reader, but I was able to finish Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too in the space of a weekend.

Travis begins by detailing the events of his confrontational appearance on CNN, in which he boldly declared his belief in the First Amendment and boobs. The resulting controversy almost cost Travis his spot on Fox Sports Radio.

I found it a bit difficult to sympathize with a person who summoned his own social media mob to submarine the hiring of Greg Schiano at the University of Tennessee, but the point Travis makes about performative internet outrage is well taken. Too often, such displays are nothing more than empty virtue-signalling exercises. Travis bolsters his point by citing the bizarre Twitter expedition into Donte DiVincenzo’s social media posts as a young teenager, in which he quoted a Meek Mill rap lyric that featured the n-word.

Moreover, the attention that is generated by mass displays of anger only empowers a provocateur like Travis. He wears the resulting stigma quite literally like a badge of honor. Just check out the cover of his book, which proudly trumpets Travis’ bans from CNN and ESPN.

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A Short Rant As This Phillies Season Approaches Its End

Tim Reilly - September 12, 2018

I’m not sure how I came by my Phillies pessimism. Was it a product of nurture or nature? On one hand, one of my earliest enduring memories as a young Phils fan was watching Joe Carter launch a Mitch Williams offering into orbit. It was an abrupt and brutal ending to what had been a dream season for the upstart ’93 Phillies, and a bitter pill to swallow for a seven year old who was still unaccustomed to the fickle whims of the baseball gods.

The wound caused by Carter’s home run left a scab that would rip open as one lost season followed another. Curt Schilling’s dominance notwithstanding, the Fightins offered little in the way of hope that a return to the playoffs was on the horizon through the rest of the ’90s and well into the next decade.

On the other hand, I was introduced to the game by men who had internalized its hard lessons long ago. My grandfather, Mick, a Massachusetts transplant whose South Bostonese accent was almost as stubborn as his fervent devotion to the Red Sox, had learned how to cope with the constant disappointment of baseball fandom: he came to expect failure. It was a lesson he would pass down to his son, who shared it with me.

Mick died in September 2004, just one month before the Red Sox would improbably break the Curse of the Bambino and claim the World Series title. In one of his last moments of lucidity, Mick happened to be watching a Chicago Cubs game in his hospital room. He stared in disbelief as Nomar Garciaparra (whom he called Gaparra- he could never quite get that name right) took his place at shortstop for the Cubs. It would be the final in a long string of indignities his hometown baseball team imposed on him.

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