The SportsTalk Shop: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

One of the regular elements of the “RCN SportsTalk” program is that on each show, all of our studio panelists identify a person or a group of people in the sports world for doing something extraordinary (“thumbs up”) and calling out a group or individual for doing something excessively bad (“thumbs down”).    Most weeks, I don’t have much difficulty coming up with at least one “winner” to identify on each week’s show/podcast, but some weeks—like this one—I have a hard time trying to limit my choices to one, or even two.

I’m always interested in hearing what our viewers/listeners have to say and love hearing your feedback, and this week, I’d like to extend that invitation to you to help me figure out who is most deserving of these “honors.”

Here are the nominations…

“THUMBS UP” CANDIDATES
Washington Redskins
The rumors are that the Redskins, who had the number-5 overall pick a year ago will not be looking to make a big splash in this year’s draft.  Instead, the word is they’ll be looking to trade down to get more picks (we’ll have more on both the Redskins & Eagles draft options & possibilities on our April 21st “NFL Draft Preview Show.”   I like the idea of Washington continuing to accumulate talent and add capable bodies, in lieu of getting caught up in the hip of a “named” player and think the team is continuing to head in the right direction, fresh of their division title from a year ago.

Villanova Men’s Basketball
I put the Wildcats on here for several reasons…

Not just for the fact that they won a national championship.  Not just that they did it in dramatic fashion (for my money, the most exciting finish to the tournament, EVER).  Not just for the fact that they did not have any “big named” stars, but instead won with fundamentals, great team defense, an outstanding coach and a blue-collar, workmanlike approach in their victories.  BUT…they also handled themselves with class, before, during and after the game (unlike someone else—see below).  For more thoughts and comments on the Wildcats great run, check out last week’s “SportsTalk” podcast here .

Flyers
After some tough losses on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, the team rebounded with a tremendous win over Pittsburgh to not only clinch a playoff berth, but to sweep a weekend pair of games (the second win was against the Islanders) and pay tribute to their owner Ed Snider.  Ed was one of the most passionate owners in sports and tried to do whatever it took to put together a winning team each year.  The gritty effort by the Flyers for most of the season, and especially this weekend, was exactly what that organization was all about for many years, with Mr. Snyder leading the way.   He will be truly be missed by fans, players, coaches and everyone surrounding the Delaware Valley region.

Phillies
As I stated in the above video clip (with a great response by ESPN Radio’s Eytan Shander), there were WAY too many Phillies fans that were panicking last week when the team lost its first four games of the season.  Again, it is a REBUILDING year.  No one—including the front office themselves—is looking at winning anything this season.  Take this year for what it is—the team has accumulated one of the deepest prospect pools in all of the major leagues.  It will be extremely unlikely that at least some of the young players won’t contribute at some point.  Patience is what’s needed here, and it is an exciting time to watch these guys develop, along with a few other somewhat interesting storylines (eg., how will Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz’s final seasons play out, will Darin Ruf earn a full-time spot in the future, will Cody Asche bounce back and more).  The team rebounded with two nice wins in New York and will have their share of well-played games.  But please, stop getting carried away over the wins and losses of this year’s team.  The record isn’t what’s important this summer…the maturation of their young stars IS.

HS spring athletes
I know it’s not uncommon for the scholastic spring sports athletes to deal with unreasonably cold temperatures and poor weather conditions for the first half of their sports season.  I have many memories over the last few years (and once again experienced it last Friday) of sitting in a chair in an open space, trying to make notes on games and capturing video (which is hard to do with gloves on) while the cold, gusty winds blow…to say nothing about what the athletes have to endure (hitting a metal bat is one of the most painful ‘regular’ experiences one can have in sports).  With frigid temperatures all last week and snow cancelling games the last few days, many sports programs are going to have a grueling schedule over the next month playing catch-up to get all their games in, and it’s truly not fun, even playing a sport you love, when the conditions are this bad.  However, our area young people will continue to battle and give themselves a chance to keep playing meaningful games—when the weather finally becomes more athletics-friendly.

*******

“THUMBS DOWN” CANDIDATES
Philadelphia 76ers Front Office
I’m still shaking my head trying to figure out what the heck happened to the “Hinkie process.”  Was this purely a Colangelo-family hostile takeover?  Was the organization strong-armed by the league itself to make a change?  Or was there another conspiracy theory that hasn’t gotten much attention, as we speculated on last week’s program.  We’ll try to get a better assessment of the front office changes and the future direction of the franchise on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” (live, 7-8pm, RCN-TV) as one of our guest will be Eric Goldwein (who runs the ESPN-affiliated site Hoop76.com) and also covers sports for the Washington Post.

Washington Wizards
Wow, what happened here?  Fresh off an impressive 2014-15 season and an optimistic-to-realistic chance to improve coming into this season, the Wizards fell flat and didn’t even come close to making a late run for a playoff berth—let alone not improving on their performance from a year ago.  There’s plenty of rumors as far as who gets the most blame (along with a CBS report of the players taking shots at each other).  Some long, hard questions will have to be addressed this off-season and the once promising future of this team, centered around the talented John Wall, is now very much in limbo.

North Carolina Men’s Basketball Fans
After losing the championship game to Villanova, the Tar Heel fans were so bothered by their upset loss, that they apparently lost their minds.  They are actually circulating a petition calling for the NCAA to reverse the outcome of the national championship because they questioned one of the referee’s calls.

Seriously?

North Carolinians couldn’t have just graciously accept a thrilling victory by the Wildcats and give them their rightful honor following a tremendous run in the tournament?  I know quite a few people that support the Tar Heels and really feel badly that some of their fellow-supporters tried to give all of their fan base a black eye for a tasteless attempt at redemption.

Chip Kelly
I still haven’t gotten over the way he gutted the team while harboring a nasty attitude towards just about everyone he came in contact with, then tried to take the ‘weasel’ approach after he left by saying he had nothing to do with the 2015 collapse.  I’ll probably keep him on this list for quite some time.

So, let’s hear it!  Who do you think deserves a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” the most?  Email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and hear us read and respond to your opinions on our weekly show/podcast!

Behind the Mic: Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly became the Eagles’ head football coach in January of 2013.  And, boy, has he shaken things up.

DeSean Jackson is gone; LeSean McCoy is gone; Nick Foles is gone; Michael Vick is gone; and most of the secondary is gone.  Add Trent Cole, Jeremy Maclin, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis to the “gone” list, and, just this past weekend, Brandon Boykin was let go.

The Eagles were 10-6 in Kelly’s first two years.  They made the playoffs in year one; just missed them in year two.  Not bad, right?  Obviously, it was not good enough for Chip Kelly.  Eleven of last year’s twenty-two starters are gone!  Nine of the eleven were part of the 2013 playoff team.

So, will they be better?

OFFENSE
They will be better at quarterback if Sam Bradford’s knee holds up.  They should be better with both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews sharing running back duties with a sprinkling of Sproles.  They may be equal to last season with this receiving corps and just as good at tight end. The offensive line cannot possibly be better.

DEFENSE
The defensive line is solid.  The exits of Trent Cole and Casey Matthews seem to make the Eagles weaker at linebacker and that is never a good thing.  The Eagles really needed help at cornerback and appear to have acquired that help when they got Byron Maxwell from the Seahawks.  They retained Nolan Carroll and signed four rookies.  Success rests on the improvement of this area over last year.  Malcolm Jenkins returns at free safety, but the strong safety spot does not look particularly strong.

Will they make the NFL playoffs?

For some reason, I have faith in Chip Kelly.  I certainly enjoy his style of football; I respect his confidence in the changes he has made; I like his philosophy of keeping players who love to play football as part of a team.

Eagles’ fans, as we all know, are an impatient bunch (perhaps, much like Kelly himself).  All of Philadelphia is ready for a winning season from at least one of its major pro teams and the city painfully waits for the next championship team.  It will be awhile (make that a LONG while) for the Sixers, Flyers, and the Phillies.  And certainly the expectations rest more heavily upon the Eagles and Chip Kelly to get it done much sooner.  Make no mistake, Kelly knows that and I, for one, think he will excite the Philadelphia masses this year.  I don’t envision a Super Bowl quite yet, but, if at all possible, try to be PATIENT!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME NO-HIT MUSINGS) 

  1. Remember this past Wednesday when Twitter put it out there that the Mets’ Wilmer Flores was traded to the Brewers. Flores got word while he was playing for the Mets and cried in the infield.  He had been in the Mets’ organization since he was 16-years old.  It turns out the internet was wrong.  He remained a Met. Flores capped off the week with a walk-off home run against the Nationals on Friday night.  Watch:

  1. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won the Haskell Invitational in Oceanport, NJ on Sunday. A record crowd of 60,983 people cheered him on.  Betting on him, however, did not make anyone much money – $2.20 on a $2.00 bet.  It is anticipated that the $5 million Breeder’s Cup Classic will be his final race in October.  Then, it’s on to the breeding life.
  2. For Eagles’ fans who love to read anything bad about the Cowboys comes the story out of training camp that WR Dez Bryant got into a fist fight with CB Tyler Patmon on Sunday. Each one swung at the other and both missed!
  3. Unlike Dez Bryant, UFC Bantamweight champion Rhonda Rousey did not miss her foe on Saturday night. She knocked out the previously undefeated Brazilian Bethe Correia in 34 seconds in Rio de Janeiro.  Her last three fights have lasted a total of 64 seconds!

  1. As I write this, the Mets are tied for first place in the National League East and the Phillies are the hottest team in baseball in the last ten games going 8-2. It must be a very cold day in Hades!

Behind the Mic: Sideline – For the Birds!

Up front, I want to say that Chip Kelly is a breath of fresh air as an NFL coach. He is innovative, plays an up-tempo game that the fans find interesting, and seems to win with unknowns and makes them “knowns”. He has reinvigorated professional football in Philadelphia. And by now, I am sure you are waiting for… but…

There are times when I watch a game (and I see plenty of games), I wonder what is the coach thinking? I felt that way watching the Eagles this past week against the 49’ers. The Eagles lost 26-21 but were in position to win at the end. They could have been in a better position to win the game, except, in my opinion, for some coaching decisions. Let me give you three examples:

1. All Eagles’ fans are aware that the Birds are playing with a much-depleted offensive line – center Jason Kelce is out with a hernia; guard Evan Mathis has a knee injury; and tackle Lane Johnson is suspended. That is three of five offensive line positions. I love the hurry-up offense, but with so many injuries up front, might one consider to use a “slow-it-down offense”? On Sunday, the Eagles could not sustain drives. Seven of their eleven possessions ended in less than two minutes and the reasons were that they could not block the 49’ers and they could not run the football. Sprinkle in an awful day by quarterback, Nick Foles, and the Eagles’ offense spent the majority of the time on the sidelines. Remember, all 21 points were scored by the defense and special teams. This, also, means the defense had to spend an inordinate amount of time ON the field. With the way things were going on Sunday, the big early lead, the offensive blocking woes, and the lack of any offense, might this have been a good time to slow down the hurry-up?

2. In the fourth quarter and the Eagles down by two, the 49’ers were stopped on a third-and-three. This created a field-goal try of 42 yards. The Niners, however, were called for an offensive pass interference penalty on the third down play. Decline the penalty, right? Let them kick the field goal – worst case scenario – down by five; best case – still down by two. Coach Kelly accepted the penalty and the 49’ers got a first down on the next play and eventually kicked a field goal which was eleven yards closer and allowed the continued possession to use three more minutes of precious game time.

3. Despite #1 and #2, the Eagles still had a chance to win the game. Two minutes were left in the game and the Eagles were on the 49’ers one-yard line. They have LeSean McCoy and they have Darren Sproles; one can move the pile and one can seemingly go under the pile. Instead, as Tony Dungy pointed out in a postgame show, the Eagles chose twice to throw the ball with the linebackers playing 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. At least run it once. As I am sure you have already guessed, both pass attempts were unsuccessful.

So there’s my beef. Let me repeat – I am not a coach, nor do I profess to be one. But, I did stay at a Holiday Inn once!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Has anyone had a classier exit from sports than Derek Jeter? There was walk-off drama in his last at-bat in Yankee Stadium and an RBI base hit in his final at-bat ever at Fenway Park. Jeter made a point of shaking every Red Sox players’ hand before the game and telling them how much he enjoyed competing against them. He even stopped at the mound to shake the pitcher’s hand because he did not get a chance to do that before the game. Jeter finished his career #6 all-time in hits, #7 in at-bats, and #9 in runs scored. And kudos to the Red Sox for honoring Jeter in a perfect way.

2. We are four weeks into the NFL season (one-quarter of the way) and there are only two undefeated teams left. Seattle and Denver, right? Uh, no. It’s Arizona and Cincinnati! This is going to be a strange, strange season. Those suicide pools, where you pick one guaranteed winner each week, but you can’t re-pick the same team again are probably done by now. This year, you could start one every four weeks.

3. The baseball playoffs started this week. If you’re a fan, expect very little sleep FOR the next three weeks or so. Night games start late, end late, and seem to take forever.

4. I watched Whitehall take apart Parkland on Friday night. Before the game, the “experts” were all picking Parkland to win and most thought rather easily. That didn’t happen. That’s why you play the game. The Zephyrs travel to Easton (both undefeated) this week. It’s on RCN-TV LIVE at 7:00 with Chris Michael and John Leone.

5. If you are interested in Lafayette football this week, show me some love on Friday night at 6:30. I will be in the Bronx to do an audio-cast of the Lafayette-Fordham Patriot League football game. The game will be televised by the CBS Sports Network (on the RCN dial), but Mike Joseph and I will be doing an audio broadcast on the internet at goleopards.com. Watch the game on TV, turn the sound down, and use the computer to hear our biased Lafayette broadcast. Just a thought.

Gary's Picks
(Last Week – 9-4; Seasonal Record – 34-27: 56%)

GREEN BAY
CAROLINA
CLEVELAND
PHILADELPHIA
GIANTS
NEW ORLEANS
DALLAS
DETROIT
INDIANAPOLIS
PITTSBUGH
DENVER
SAN FRANCISCO
SAN DIEGO
CINCINNATI
SEATTLE

The SportsTalk Shop: Questions Surrounding DeSean’s Departure

 

OK. I’m going to try my best not to make too big a deal of this issue…for the rest of the year. But you have to admit, the departure of DeSean Jackson, whether you agree with the move or not, has raised a ton of unanswered questions.

The initial release of the Philadelphia Eagles’ most electric player has been debated for several weeks, and there are more pressing on-field issues that this organization, and its fan base, need to start addressing. But before we turn the page—or at least try to, since this topic will resurface if and when the current receivers have a bad game—there are specific questions I still have. For myself and for many football fans in the Delaware County and Lehigh Valley areas, these questions must be answered before we can even think about moving forward–from an emotional standpoint.

Since the Eagles themselves continue to be tight-lipped and refuse to address this issue, here are the questions I’m going to be asking the Eagles’ beat writers when they are our guests on this Thursday’s “RCN Sports Talk” show (live at 6pm).

1) The timing of the release?
Once the initial shock subsided, this was my biggest question. Why now? Why not at the beginning of free agency when you could have explored bringing in another receiver? Why wait until all free agent options are now gone before opening up that spot? And if you weren’t going to do it earlier, why not wait until you get close to the NFL draft? Maybe someone gets desperate, wanting a receiver or looking to maneuver for a different pick, and becomes a willing trade partner so that you get something…anything…for him in return. Since the Eagles didn’t immediately pursue another option, nor have they in the weeks that followed, I’m left to wonder if they really had a plan to replace him at all.

2) Why a release?
I’ve been told by my football contacts that they would not have gotten very much —at the time they released him—in return for Jackson through a trade. A seventh-round pick? A journeyman linebacker who wouldn’t make the team? What would be the point?

My beef is, by releasing him, they left themselves open for the real possibility that any team, including their divisional rivals – Giants, Cowboys and Redskins – could swoop in and pick him up.

Remember the dreadful Cliff Lee deal, in which the Phillies traded Lee to Seattle for three prospects who have yet to taste major league success? At least the Phillies traded him to a team that could not come back to haunt them in their own league. By releasing Jackson and making his salary more flexible for a team to pick him up, they’ve allowed for a team (aka Washington) that can—and will—use Jackson against the Eagles in their two meetings this year. Do you think fans will forget the release if Jackson has a big game against them and keeps them from making the playoffs this year? You’d have a better chance of the national media forgetting the Santa Clause-snowball incident from decades ago. If the Birds only win two games this year, they better hope and pray it’s against the Redskins, if only to avoid a huge public relations nightmare.

3) Is Chip Kelly’s ego really at the heart of the matter?
I would hope that the Birds’ second-year head coach is man enough to realize that you can’t let your personal feelings get in the way of achieving success for your franchise. Times have changed and coaches can’t make whimsical decisions with millions and millions of dollars—including taxpayer-designated money—just because their feelings are hurt. I keep coming back to this question and want to believe that it did not. There are certainly enough allegations to speculate there’s more to the story than anyone is admitting.

However, the fact that Kelly refuses to publicly address this issue , and the fact that a positive response to this question would nicely satisfy the first two queries, continues to make me wonder.

It also helps to know if DeSean’s style of play influenced the Eagles’ decision and if they would like to go in a different direction at his position. If they want to replace Jackson’s pure-speed ability with a big, physical receiver, they might have to trade up for a higher draft pick before next week’s NFL draft in order to get a quality player they may covet.

What do you think of DeSean Jackson’s departure from the Eagles? Will it ultimately help or hurt the team this season? Send your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll address them on this Thursday’s program, along with a complete preview of next week’s NFL draft and insights on the Eagles’ 2014 schedule. Plus, remember to bookmark our page and check back in with our blog next week for exclusive insights on next Thursday’s NFL Draft and the latest rumors swirling around the Eagles.