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Doug Pederson Is the Ultimate Underdog

Tim Reilly - January 15, 2018

For a team that has embraced the underdog role, it’s fitting that the Eagles are led by Doug Pederson. While his team is relatively new to the feeling of being discounted, Pederson was fending off the skeptics long before Carson Wentz was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

Pederson’s first stint in Philadelphia was as a quarterback. Andy Reid imported him from Green Bay in 1999 to pilot the offense until Donovan McNabb was ready to take the reins. Pederson thought he would lead the team for the season. He was relegated to the bench by Week 10.

After his playing career ended, Pederson got involved in coaching. Reid brought him back to Philadelphia as an offensive quality control coach in 2009. Pederson followed Reid to Kansas City when the Chip Kelly revolution arrived at the NovaCare Complex in 2013.

The tumultuous Kelly years left the franchise in disarray. Kelly had mortgaged the future of the franchise during his one season in charge of personnel decisions. With Howie Roseman exiled to an underground bunker at Eagles headquarters, Kelly moved quickly to reshape the roster in his image. Gone were Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy; in their place were Sam Bradford and Kiko Alonso. The signings of Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray did not have the desired impact, to say the least.

At some point during the rocky 2015 season, Lurie had lost his appetite for revolution. He longed instead for the stability of the Andy Reid years. What better way to relive the Reid era than by plucking an apple from Big Red’s coaching tree?

And so Lurie targeted a Reid disciple. However, John Harbaugh wasn’t available. Instead, the Eagles settled on Doug Pederson.

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Thank God the Sixers Passed on Lonzo Ball and His ESPN-Enabled Father

Tim Reilly - January 9, 2018

It’s fair to say that Markelle Fultz’s rookie campaign has not gone according to plan.

Fultz, a player whose talents so intrigued the Sixers front office that GM Bryan Colangelo traded in some of the team’s prized draft assets to move into the No. 1 slot in order to select him, was supposed to be the culmination of the organization’s multi-season rebuild. At the very least, fans expected him to play a significant role as the Sixers shifted from “The Process” to the postseason.

So far, the Sixers’ young slasher has been stuck in neutral. Fultz labored through a shoulder injury that affected his jump shot and ultimately pushed him out of the lineup after four games.

There’s hope on the horizon, however. Kevin Kinkead’s Sunday notebook included a lengthy update on Fultz’s progress. The rookie’s participation in a full contact practice suggests his return to game action is imminent. The Sixers would certainly stand to benefit from Fultz’s presence in the rotation as they look to make a playoff push during the second half of the season.

No matter what happens this season, the Sixers made the right choice when they drafted Fultz. Ever since the NBA modified its hand-checking rule in 2004-05, point guards have never been more integral to the success of a team. The space-and-pace revolution that has overtaken the game demands a team employ a ball handler who can take advantage of overextended defenses by driving and dishing to open teammates. He also needs to be a perimeter scoring threat on his own who, ideally, can play off the ball as well. After all, the organizations that are excelling in the modern NBA are attacking defenses with multiple athletes who can run the offense.

Fultz’s ability to penetrate and pass to open teammates will make him a good player. But the three-point shooting ability he demonstrated in college will make him special.

There’s still time for Fultz to refine his game, of course. He’s only 19, and in the collegiate one-and-done culture that has been created in the wake of the NBA’s minimum age requirement, more and more players are starting their professional careers as raw prospects. Fultz likely won’t begin to hit his prime until his second contract.

Looking back on the 2017 NBA draft, there was really only one other viable option that the Sixers could have considered with the first pick. They could have taken a chance on Lonzo Ball. Continue Reading

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The Bu$ine$$ of College Football

Tim Reilly - December 13, 2017

Last week, the college football world experienced another iteration of what has become an annual scandal.

No, I’m not talking about the announcement of the four schools that were selected to compete in the College Football Playoff (CFP), or the various other bowl berths that were assigned. Undoubtedly, charting the four best teams makes for compelling television. Absent a truly objective way to assess teams that do not always play each other, there is always enough uncertainty built into the process to generate debate. But the dispute that arises at the conclusion of each regular season over the CFP participants pales in comparison to the year-end spending frenzy that takes place among the Power 5 conferences and the chaos that ensues throughout the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Universities that fell short of their boosters’ expectations scour the coaching landscape in search of a savior to lead their football programs back to prominence. Yesterday’s wunderkinds are discarded in favor of today’s geniuses. The outgoing head coach accepts his lucrative buyout package while the ink dries on his successor’s multimillion-dollar deal. When the game of mercenary musical chairs ends, everyone seems to find a seat. Everyone, that is, except for the players who provide the labor and risk their physical welfare for our entertainment.

This time of year, the coaching market moves at warp speed. It can be incredibly disorienting. Take Willie Taggart, for example. One minute, the coach is flashing the “O” during a recruiting trip on behalf of the University of Oregon:

Nine days later, Coach Taggart has abandoned Eugene and the “O” for Tallahassee and the Tomahawk Chop: Continue Reading

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Clay Travis Leads a Social Media Uprising Against Greg Schiano

Tim Reilly - November 28, 2017

For a brief moment on Sunday, it appeared as if the University of Tennessee would hire Greg Schiano as its next football coach. When word of the impending decision filtered into the social media universe, a virtual firestorm erupted, the flames of which were extinguished only when the university walked away from the deal.

The brightest torch in the cyber mob that gathered to oppose Schiano belonged to Clay Travis, a sports personality who has built himself a sizable platform catering to SEC country. Travis is a Tennessee native who, when he’s not busy believing in “the First Amendment and boobs,” takes an avid interest in Volunteer football.

If you’re not familiar with Travis, think of a less talented version of Bill Simmons when the Sports Guy was still churning out regular copy. Travis has essentially appropriated Simmons’ shtick, but tailored it to his own audience. Though he’s not the best writer, Travis plays the role of contrarian very well. The Vanderbilt-trained lawyer is particularly adept at framing arguments and advocating them in a persuasive way.

Case in point: Travis’ long-running feud with ESPN. Travis has written several articles on his website, Outkick the Coverage, documenting ESPN’s hemorrhaging of subscribers and subsequent ratings decline. He’s linked the downward trends to the network’s perceived censorship of conservative voices and concession to political correctness. To buttress his narrative, Travis has contrasted ESPN’s treatment of Donald Trump critic Jemele Hill with the firing of Curt Schilling and suspension of Linda Cohn. He also broke the news of ESPN’s ridiculous decision to remove announcer Robert Lee from play-by-play duties for a University of Virginia football game after the protests in Charlottesville over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.

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Pederson’s Progression Dooms Dallas

Tim Reilly - November 20, 2017

There was a moment late in the third quarter of the Eagles’ 37-9 demolition of the Dallas Cowboys that perfectly captured the essence of the game.

The camera panned to the owner’s box and found Jerry Jones. Seated next to Jones was America’s favorite part-time governor, Chris Christie, who had the look of a man who had just been told the stadium vendors had run out of hot dogs.

Christie, who enjoys bashing Philly fans when he’s not restricting access to bridges or catching some sun on a closed public beach, could only watch as the Eagles methodically sucked the air out of AT&T Stadium during a 30-0 second half surge.

The outcome was so obvious that even Cowboys superfan Skip Bayless got to work early offering up his sorry excuses for Dallas’ wretched performance:

Sad!

Let Cowboys fans whine about their misfortune as they count their franchise’s Super Bowl trophies and weep into their Jay Novacek shirseys. The Eagles are 9-1, have a stranglehold on the NFC East, and appear primed to make a run at home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the words of the great philosopher Richard Sherman, “a lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of a sheep.”

Instead, let’s marvel at the progression of Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson, who arrived in Philadelphia after the Chip Kelly saga, was so unheralded as a coaching candidate that no other organization interviewed him for the top job. He was perceived as a fall-back option for the Eagles after top coordinator candidates Ben McAdoo and Adam Gase went off the market and a quixotic pursuit of John Harbaugh failed. Pederson’s willingness to collaborate with Howie Roseman also was believed to play a role in the hiring decision.

Ultimately, the prevailing perception was that Pederson would be Andy Reid-lite. He was no offensive genius like Kelly or McAdoo. He would lack the assertiveness to rein in a strong personality like defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He was in over his head. With the benefit of hindsight, we can scoff at NFL analyst Mike Lombardi’s vicious criticism of Pederson now, but he was not alone in expressing these sentiments: Continue Reading

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Just Say It, The Eagles Are Super Bowl Contenders

Tim Reilly - November 6, 2017

The more cynical among us won’t want to admit it. After the Eagles’ 51-23 trouncing of the Denver Broncos, they’re likely fumbling to find a narrative that will obscure the truth our eyes are telling us.

Carson Wentz is too young for this stage. He’s not ready yet to take the step to the next level.

Doug Pederson is too inexperienced. He’ll be outcoached when the team reaches the playoffs.

The schedule is too tough down the stretch. The Cowboys will catch the Eagles and win the division, or the Eagles won’t win enough games to secure homefield advantage in the playoffs.

Even if the Eagles win the NFC, they aren’t as good as the Patriots.

I actually agree with this last contention. At this point in the season, the Eagles aren’t as good as the Patriots. They’re better.

In fact, the Eagles are Super Bowl contenders. They might even be the favorites to win the Lombardi Trophy.

It’s a sentiment that we all need to stop fighting and start embracing. I know such optimism is anathema in this town, but it’s time to shed the pessimism we wear as a protective shield and come to terms with reality.

Sure, there are going to be speed bumps and moments of doubt. Maybe the Eagles will lose in Dallas after the bye week, or suffer a frustrating loss at home against the rebuilding Chicago Bears. Perhaps the two-game West Coast swing will get the better of the Birds, arming the doubters with the ammunition they need to reinforce their tired negativity.

Don’t buy it. This team is for real. Continue Reading

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While You’re Dreaming About Jay Ajayi, Don’t Sleep on Corey Clement

Tim Reilly - November 3, 2017

On Tuesday, the Eagles bolstered their backfield when they swapped a 4th round pick for Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi. In pulling off the bold move, oft-maligned GM Howie Roseman solidified his place in the good graces of the mercurial Eagles fan base – for now.

As he surveyed the NFL landscape, Roseman likely saw a league that lacks a dominant team. The perennially contending Patriots have struggled to finish drives and look vulnerable on defense. Notwithstanding the addition of left tackle Duane Brown, the Seahawks still have a major problem keeping Russell Wilson upright. The Cowboys must negotiate the extended absence of the suspended Ezekiel Elliot, while the Packers’ playoff flame has extinguished with the injury to Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings have managed to survive thus far while Sam Bradford recovers from a knee injury, but it bears watching if the team can succeed when the competition gets more difficult. The Falcons seem to have reverted to their mediocre ways, while the upstart Saints have won games thanks to an opportunistic defense and a reinvented offense. Meanwhile, the much-improved LA Rams lurk in the NFC West. Will Jared Goff, who played behind a leaky offensive line at Cal and struggled against the blitz last season, continue to thrive when the Rams face teams with an elite pass rush?

And then there’s Andy Reid, who may just have the most complete team in the NFL. Sorry, Andy haters.

It was a perfect time to make a splash, and Roseman found a willing partner in the Dolphins. In Ajayi, the Eagles are getting a power back with considerable burst. Ajayi is coming off a 2016 season in which he ran for 1,272 yards total and 4.9 yards per carry. His stellar season earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. Although Ajayi has struggled to rediscover his 2016 form, many of his issues are attributable to a nonexistent passing game piloted by a thoroughly disinterested Jay Cutler and below average Matt Moore.

It was a good deal, one that all Eagles fans should cheer. However, as we applaud Howie’s audacious trade, let’s take a moment to appreciate the outstanding work of a rookie whose playing time will likely diminish with the acquisition of Ajayi: Corey Clement.

Clement arrived in Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent. If the anonymous draft whisperers are to be believed (and they shouldn’t be trusted about any observation that is not readily apparent on tape), Clement carried some baggage with him. According to NFL.com’s draft profile: Continue Reading

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Peter Laviolette’s Predators Ground the Flyers: 7 Takeaways from Predators 1, Flyers 0

Tim Reilly - October 20, 2017

Anthony had a previous commitment, so I bravely (stupidly?) volunteered to take on the responsibility of the “Takeaways” column. It feels a bit wrong, kind of like the time I skated backwards down a hill holding a stick on my shoulders behind my head.

I fell flat on my face and chipped my tooth. Here’s hoping I have better luck this time.

Without further ado, let’s get into it: Continue Reading

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