Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Sixers put on quite a show in the season opener before ultimately falling to the Wizards, 120-115, Wednesday night (see observations).

The biggest story, of course, was Joel Embiid playing 27 minutes after head coach Brett Brown said the 23-year-old big man would play "in the teens." Both Embiid and Ben Simmons shined but it wasn't enough.

After struggling in the first half, All-Star point guard John Wall took over in the second in leading Washington to the win. Wall finished with 28 points, but it took 28 shots to get there.

Despite the loss, there was plenty to like about the Sixers' performance. They'll start the season 0-1 but have plenty to build off of going into Friday night's home opener.

Turning point
With the Sixers battling back and down just two after a Simmons layup, Bradley Beal missed a three from the corner. If the Sixers could've corralled the rebound, they would've been looking at an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Kelly Oubre Jr. timed it perfectly for a put-back slam to make it 106-102 with 5:50 left.

After getting a stop, the Wizards came right back down in transition and Beal threw a pretty alley-oop to Wall. It pushed the lead to six and got the crowd on its feet. 

The Sixers had three different opportunities to tie the game with less than a minute left, but two killer turnovers and a missed three from JJ Redick ended the comeback attempt.

Key stat
We all knew the Sixers' three-point shooting would be improved this season with the addition of Redick (4 of 8) and a healthy Jerryd Bayless (3 of 7), but my goodness. The Sixers shot 15 of 35 as a team. And that's after starting the game 2 for 9.

Offensive stud
Speaking of threes, Robert Covington was lethal from beyond. After getting off to a horrendous shooting start last season, Covington was on fire Wednesday. He led all scorers with 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 7 of 11 from three.  

Embiid and Simmons also get an honorable mention here. Embiid dominated early and late, going for 18 points, 13 boards and dishing out three assists (see highlights). Simmons looked in control as the team's point guard, finishing with 18 points (7 of 15), 10 rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut. Most importantly, Simmons had just one turnover.

Offensive dud
For the most part, the team performed really well offensively. Amir Johnson had a forgettable stretch offensively with a couple of ill-advised post-ups in the third quarter. The Sixers' newest big man finished 2 of 7 and fouled out in the third quarter.

Defensive stud
T.J. McConnell did an excellent job leading the second unit on both ends of the floor. Including pestering Wall. Before Wall got into a rhythm in the second half, McConnell held him to just 3 for 13 in the first. When McConnell was in the game, nothing was easy for Wall.

Defensive dud
Redick and Bayless certainly struggled with the combination of All-Star guard Wall and Beal. Then again, there are many across the NBA that have had the same struggles. And in reality, Redick and Bayless aren't here for their defense. They're here to make shots, which they did plenty of.

Injuries
Exhale, Sixers fans. The team got out of this game healthy.

Up next
The Sixers play their home opener against Kyrie Irving and the Gordon Hayward-less Celtics on Friday night at 7 p.m. on NBCSP.

Eagles rookie report: Barnett gets on the board; Hollins comes up clutch

Eagles rookie report: Barnett gets on the board; Hollins comes up clutch

The rookies were active early and often in the Eagles' 28-23 win in Carolina on Thursday night (see breakdown).

First-rounder Derek Barnett got on the sack board with a half-sack, WR Mack Hollins came up in the clutch and CB Rasul Douglas had an eventful night.

Here are a few highlights from Thursday's huge win.

1st quarter, 9:07, 1st-and-10 at CAR 49 - Eagles 0, Panthers 0
Hollins recorded two receptions late but made a big block early on. The rookie receiver is lined up to the left and tight to the line. LeGarrette Blount is running off tackle to that side. Veteran safety Jairus Byrd reads the play well and creeps up to the line of scrimmage. Hollins comes across Byrd's face and puts him on the ground with a nice block. Hollins' effort springs Blount for a 14-yard run.

1st quarter, 7:02, 4th-and-7 at CAR 32 - Eagles 0, Panthers 0
How good has Jake Elliott been? Well, even a poor snap couldn't stop him. Long snapper Rick Lovato snaps the ball off to the right. Punter/holder Donnie Jones does a tremendous job reaching to his right and still putting down a perfect hold. Elliott does an excellent job not losing his focus and nails a 50-yarder to give the Eagles an early lead (see 10 observations).

2nd quarter, 10:34, 1st-and-10 at CAR 16 - Eagles 3, Panthers 3
Welcome to the NFL, Rasul Douglas. The Panthers use a ton of motion, which is effective because of playmakers like rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel and, of course, former league MVP Cam Newton. With both rookies in the backfield, Newton runs a triple option. With Vinny Curry crashing hard on McCaffrey going up the middle, Newton keeps it and gets 10 yards down the field before he even sees a defender. The defender he sees is Douglas, whom Newton fakes out of his cleats for a 16-yard score.

2nd quarter, 6:34, 3rd-and-5 at CAR 14 - Panthers 10, Eagles 3
Payback! In reality, Fletcher Cox makes this play by ferociously collapsing the pocket and forcing Newton to throw it up for grabs (more on Cox here). Douglas still has to be alert enough to know the ball is in the air and has reliable hands to come down with the ball. One of the easiest picks Douglas will ever get, but he still had to pull it in.

3rd quarter, 12:18, 1st-and-goal at PHI 5 - Eagles 18, Panthers 10
One of Carolina's biggest assets is its big receivers. On this play, Newton is looking for former first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin on a fade route. This plays right to Douglas' strength as a tall, long corner. The throw could've been better by Newton, but Douglas is in perfect position and makes a play on the ball. This was a big play. The Panthers would eventually have to settle for a field goal.

3rd quarter, 10:37, 2nd-and-10 at PHI 43 - Eagles 18, Panthers 13
Hollins makes his first of two big catches. On this play, the Eagles are lined up with trips to the right with Hollins being the receiver on the line. Nothing fancy here. Hollins runs an in and pulls in a huge 18-yard reception on third down. This play eventually led to a field goal.

3rd quarter, 1:21, 3rd-and-16 at PHI 18 - Eagles 21, Panthers 13
If the play on the field goal drive was big, this play was critical. On 3rd-and-forever, Carson Wentz does what he's done all season: stand up in the face of pressure and delivers an on-target throw to convert. Again, nothing fancy here by Hollins. Just a solidly run 20-yard in route. The rookie hauls it in for a big first down. This play led to the deciding touchdown (see report card).

4th quarter, 4:23, 2nd-and-10 at CAR 47 - Eagles 28, Panthers 23
This had to feel great for Barnett. Funny enough, after winning so many battles and coming up empty, Barnett loses early on this down. But as he's done all season, he doesn't give up on the play. The coverage is solid and Barnett is able to grab Newton's leg from behind. The rookie holds on for dear life and brings down one of the toughest QBs in the league to corral. 

Analysis
Six games in and the monkey is off Barnett's back. Really, it was only a matter of time. Two plays later, Barnett pressured Newton into a bad throw that was almost picked off by Douglas. Hopefully the sack (technically a half-sack) was the first of many for the 21-year-old.

Hollins looks like he's going to be a solid pro. As mentioned, he didn't do anything earth-shattering on either catch, but he ran the right route and secured the catch. That's more than can be said for some of the receivers that have come through here recently. 

Of course Newton made Douglas look silly on that TD, but Newton has done that to many DBs. It was another solid performance from the rookie overall. He nearly had a second pick later in the game. He led the nation in interceptions last season, so it's not a coincidence that this kid is always around the ball.

And ho-hum, Elliott nailed two more field goals (50, 48). Bye, Caleb Sturgis.

Eagles rookie report: Derek Barnett just misses 1st NFL sack

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USA Today Images

Eagles rookie report: Derek Barnett just misses 1st NFL sack

First-round pick Derek Barnett just missed out on his first NFL sack in the Eagles' dominant 34-7 win Sunday over the Cardinals (see breakdown).

Cornerback Rasul Douglas and running back Corey Clement also had a hand in the win, and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls makes his first appearance on the rookie report.

Here are a few highlights.

1st quarter, 0:16, 2nd-and-10 at ARZ 42 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 0
On this play, Douglas is lined up against the speedy John Brown. Brown is clearly not the target on this route and runs a lazy slant. Douglas recognizes this and sees quarterback Carson Palmer dump a short out to tight end Jermaine Gresham. The play is designed to pull the corner away from that side of the field and allow Gresham to gain some yards up the sideline. Instead, Douglas makes an aggressive play on the ball and tackles Gresham for a minimal gain.

2nd quarter, 9:05, 1st-and-10 at ARZ 10 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 7
Barnett shows off what made him a first-round pick. He uses an outside rush and beats John Wetzel badly and tosses him aside. Palmer steps up in the pocket just enough to avoid the sack and get a short pass off to Andre Ellington. Barnett was flagged for roughing the passer, but it was pretty soft. It sort of looked like Barnett was falling to the ground and just held onto Palmer as he did. The coaching staff probably won't get on the rookie too much for that one.

2nd quarter, 2:00, 1st-and-10 at PHI 38 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 7
Nelson Agholor is lined out wide to the left. He motions at full speed like he might get the ball on a jet sweep. Carson Wentz takes the snap from under center, gives a hand fake to Agholor and then a ball fake to Clement. Clement then goes left for a screen. The rookie back then takes the ball into Cardinals' territory for a 22-yard gain. Clement does an excellent job selling the run and shows his patience and vision in setting up his blocks (see Roob's 10 observations). Excellent call by Doug Pederson. Clement isn't typically on the field for plays like this and it appeared to catch Arizona off guard.

2nd quarter, 0:32, 1st-and-10 at ARI 33 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 7
This time lined up against Jaron Brown, Douglas has sort of a weird play. He runs with Brown down the left sideline but just sort of stops after about 15 yards. Was it a zone look? Did he know he had help over the top from Malcolm Jenkins and saw where Palmer was going with the football? If we give Douglas the benefit of the doubt and say the latter, then it's a mighty impressive play. He does appear to take a peek into the backfield and then times the throw well and gets a hand on it. 

3rd quarter, 0:27, 1st-and-14 at ARZ 21 - Eagles 31, Cardinals 7
Welcome to the NFL, Qualls. Qualls has seen action but had yet to have an impactful snap. Palmer tries to carry out a play-action fake to the right and then come back for a receiver screen on the right. Qualls is unblocked. Perhaps Arizona was hoping Qualls would buy the fake. More likely, the Cardinals' offensive line is just playing really bad football. Qualls shows his burst off the line and plants Palmer into the ground, causing an incompletion.

Analysis
Douglas and Barnett weren't much of a factor, but only because it was such a dominant effort by the defense overall (see report card). Palmer seemed to keep picking on Patrick Robinson instead of Douglas, but the veteran corner was excellent. Barnett narrowly missed his first sack. It'll come.

Clement finished with 17 yards on seven carries and the one catch for 22 yards. Overall, it was a solid performance by the rookie back. I liked the idea of getting him involved on a screen. Clement possesses excellent patience and vision, crucial elements to run a successful screen play.

Worth mentioning, Jake Elliott was 2 for 2. He may never miss a kick again.