As we enter the stretch run of the season, despite having the best record in baseball, one has to wonder whether the Phillies will be able to maintain their lead over the Atlanta Braves. Certainly they have the advantage with a six game lead and pitchers like Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt and Worley, the surprise of this season for the Phils. However, Atlanta has demonstrated an amazing ability to stay right on their heels with a pretty good pitching staff of their own. Put that together with the fact that Atlanta will play the Phillies six more times before the end of the year, and one can see that they have little room for error. Put that together with losing a series to the Nationals and back to back losses to the Marlins and the Mets and one becomes a bit concerned. The Phillies really need to go on a winning streak and put the division out of reach or they may find themselves in the position of the Mets a few years ago when the Phillies overtook them in the final week of the season.
The deal with Cliff Lee is making Reuben Amaro look more and more like a genius as the season wears on. Lee, while he has had a few cold spells has in the latter half of the season looked almost unhittable much of the time. Not only that, he has also shown tremendous prowess with his bat. Lee has been the final piece to add to a Philadelphia rotation that should put fear into the hearts of opposing managers going into the postseason. Perhaps the best part of this story though is the fact that here is a player who gave up money in order to play for a team he really wanted to play for. How many players do that today? My hat is off to Cliff Lee, and I hope that he ends the season with a ring.
There is no way I am ready to “throw this team under the bus,” but the game against the Steelers shows that the Eagles have a long way to go before talking about a Super Bowl. I am not saying they cannot get there, but they have much work to do first. With an extremely young group of linebackers, and one that is somewhat light in the middle, the Eagles must develop that group quickly. There is a lot of talent there along with speed and quickness, but the lack of experience showed. The defensive line, while showing a good push up field, must also be cognizant of the screens that teams will use to beat that rush. The offensive line on the right side remains a bit of a question mark, and it may take a while for the receivers to regain the timing that is essential to this offense.
That being said, there is plenty to like on this team. While it may take a while for some of the new players to fit into the scheme, they will definitely be an upgrade. The defensive backs are exciting to watch and will be great as they learn the scheme and gain trust in one another. The defensive line looks hungry and will provide opposing offenses with headaches if they can control the screen. Lesean MCCoy, Ronnie Brown and Dionne Lewis all looked very good. Certainly, Michael Vick is not likely to have many games like the last one. This is a team that as it grows could become dominant.
The Eagles had a great defensive game Thursday evening while being without some of their prime offensive weapons. Six sacks against a team like the Ravens would indicate that this defense will be a serious upgrade over last year’s defense. The red zone defense also showed great improvement; however, the question still remains “Are they for real?” Can this team post these numbers on a consistent basis? Will the linebackers hold up and do their job? Will the Eagles defense be able to stop a running game that just grinds its opponents down? These are all questions that must be answered before one can term the Eagles as a favorite in the NFC.
Other elements that leave unanswered questions relate to types of plays called and amount of time the first team players are on the field. At this time no team is going to be exhibiting the more sophisticated offensive plays, or defensive plays for that matter, that will be unveiled when the season begins. Not only that, first string players are playing only for a short time during these early games. So the question remains, “Are they for real?” Hopefully, they will be.
Will the Eagles make any new moves in the near future. After seeing what they have already done this summer, one might think they would be finished, but as I look at recent events unfolding, I believe there is a strong possibility of a major move in the offing. With the likelihood of Mike Patterson being lost for the season and the loss of both Ricky Sapp and Victor Abiamiri, it seems more than likely that the Eagles will try to shore up the middle of the defensive line with more than a couple of untested rookies. Having a group of very young and largely untested linebackers makes the hole in the middle defensively so much more vital to fill. In addition to that, the safeties though talented are also very young.
While I think it is extremely unlikely that the Eagles attempt to shore up this position, the position at wide receiver a former position of strength, suddenly looks a bit uncertain. While the depth is there, the two standout wide receivers, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, have suddenly turned into question marks. Maclin by all reports is coming off an illness that caused him to lose twenty pounds and Jackson has yet to report to camp. The loss of either or both of these young men would be debilitating to an Eagle’s offense that threatens to be extremely potent otherwise. If the Eagles were not to have the high octane offense previously anticipated, opposing teams will be able to spend more time trying to ram the ball down the throat of their defense which could suddenly become a huge liability unless a deal is made for a strong interior lineman.
I have been a Philadelphia sports fan for what seems like forever, closely following both the Phillies and the Eagles even as they languished in last place as doormats of their respective leagues. Names such as Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn and Jim Bunning are etched in my memory as well as a few less known names such as Art Mahaffey, Chris Short, Dick Farrell, Solly Hemus,Willie Jones, Alex Gonzales, Johnny Callison, Don Demeter, Greg Luzinski, etc. Eagles players such as Wilbur Montgomery, Sonny Jurgenson, Ricky Waters, Reggie White, Harold Carmichael and Pete Retzlaff are a few Eagles from different eras that also come to mind. However, as I look at today’s Philadelphia sports scene, there is one major difference that jumps out at me. Today Philadelphia has owners of the current franchises that are truly committed to winning and are willing to pay for it.Witness the way the Phillies and the Eagles have anted up to bring in high quality talent. I believe the Flyers and the 76’ers are also committed to that same philosophy although I believe the front offices of the Eagles and the Phillies are a bit more astute with their moves. Certainly, following Philadelphia sports has become more interesting in recent years. For those harshly critical of the FO’s of these teams, take a long look back into their history and enjoy the present.
Last night three players who were not with the San Francisco Giants in what may well be a preview of this year’s NL championship series. Cliff Lee, who was with the Rangers last year and who perhaps has a little bit of payback in mind for the Giants, shut the Giants out in a complete game win, once again showing the dominant form that gave him a 0.24 ERA in the month of June. He was backed up by solo home runs by Hunter Pence and John Mayberry in the second inning. Hunter Pence has demonstrated why the Phillies were willing to give up four prospects, including their two top prospects, to bring him over from Houston to fill the void left by the departure of Jayson Werth. Pence is batting .360 as a Phillie while showing good power. Having him batting behind Ryan Howard seems to have also rejuvenated Howard’s game. Meanwhile, John Mayberry has made a serious push to demonstrate that he truly belongs on this roster. If the Phillies can continue their torrid pace of late, October could be very interesting for Philadelphia fans.
How much does DeSean Jackson mean to the Philadelphia offense? Certainly he makes the offense more dangerous by stretching the field and bringing a double team much of the time allowing other receivers to receive single coverage. Not to mention the threat he is to go the distance any time he touches the ball. I think that any of the people in the Eagles Front Office would say that he is an invaluable piece to their plans, so why is there no contract? I believe it comes down to a matter of principle. DeSean Jackson is still under contract for the coming year, so the team has every right to expect him to be in camp just like every other player on the roster. I truly believe that the team will negotiate a new contract, compensating him well after he arrives at camp because they do value DeSean’s contributions; and I don’t believe they want to see him hit the market as a free agent. However, the team does not want to set a precedent by allowing one individual to hold them hostage to his demands much like another wide receiver tried to do some years ago. Hopefully wisdom on both sides will prevail and DeSean Jackson will soon rejoin the fold and be rewarded commensurate with what he brings to the table.