Rob's Raves: A classy, passionate weekend from Philly sports fans

USA Today Images

Rob's Raves: A classy, passionate weekend from Philly sports fans

This space is usually reserved for my rants. I’ll sound off on things that have my ire that took place in the world of sports and beyond. They usually pertain to the Philadelphia sports scene. Truth be told, it’s therapeutic for me to let it out. Well, no counseling session or venting needed this week. There is just too much good to throw verbal darts. The Rants will be on hiatus for the moment, though I can’t promise they won’t return later in the week. But for now, we’re all about the love in this week’s Rob’s Raves.

It was a pretty amazing showing by the Philadelphia sports fans on both coasts. Let’s start on the west side, where a green wave engulfed Carson, California. Eagles fans always travel well, but the combination of a trip to Cali, an indifferent fan base in L.A., at best, and a small venue turned the StubHub Center into Philadelphia West. Birds fans took over. Whether you watched on television or listened on the radio, you knew regardless of geography, that was an Eagles home game. And it was not unnoticed by the team’s players and coaches. 

The fans were as dominant as the Birds' running attack. 

From Carson to University City, more specifically the hallowed halls of The Palestra. The Sixers held a Blue-White scrimmage there Sunday on Penn’s campus and they sold it out. I don’t care if the tickets were free — to get nearly 9,000 people to show up for an in-squad scrimmage speaks to a couple of things. First, this fan base is ravenous for this Sixers team. Home games are going to have playoff atmospheres night in and night out this season. There will be a distinct home-court advantage at the Wells Fargo Center. Second, it just furthers how in-tune and passionate the Philadelphia fans are in general. Not to mention the timing was perfect — the scrimmage tipped off at 1 p.m. and the Eagles kicked off at 4:05.        

We can’t forget about Phillies fans. The club finished with the third-worst record in baseball and the first half of their season was beyond miserable. But thanks to a much-needed and in some cases way-too-late infusion of youth, they not only started winning more but dare I say it, also became fun to watch.

On Friday, GM Matt Klentak and the organization decided that Pete Mackanin was not their guy going forward to manage the team. Mackanin inherited some of the worst rosters in modern baseball history in his two-plus seasons in Philadelphia. As a result, his teams lost a lot of games. But when Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins and guys who could actually play came up, a funny thing happened — they started to win. The club finished the second half 37-38 after going 28-58 in the first half with the likes of Michael Saunders and Brock Stassi. Mackanin presented the lineup card Sunday in his last game as skipper and as he emerged from the dugout to walk to home plate, he received a standing ovation from the Philadelphia faithful.

Class personified by the fans.   

Ground and pound
While the love fest rolls on we must give some to Doug Pederson. I, for one, have been critical of Pederson's pass-run balance or lack thereof in the past. The Chiefs game was a low point. But credit Pederson with seeing the error of his ways and not only gaining some balance but also committing in a big way to the run game. The last two weeks, the Birds have run the ball 81 times for 407 yards. Not coincidentally, they won both games and Carson Wentz has not thrown an interception during that time span.

The 6-minute, 44-second drive to close out the Chargers game was a masterpiece. L.A. knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop the Eagles' ground attack. Credit the offensive line and the backs for executing in a big way. But kudos go to the play-caller, Pederson, for his commitment. He dialed up a great game against the Chargers.

How 'bout 'dem ...
OK, I couldn’t help myself. I was getting a little too syrupy. As if the Eagles' winning and going to 3-1 on the season wasn’t sweet enough for the fans, you had the exacta of a Cowboys loss and Giants collapse late Sunday afternoon. New York is winless and its season is over. The Cowboys are now 2-2 and just one loss shy of their total from all of last season. Dallas lost at home to a Rams team that is vastly improved but still won just four games last year. 

In addition to the Eagles' 3-1 start, the Flyers and Sixers are both undefeated. Indeed, these are good times in Philadelphia sports.

Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

USA Today Images

Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

The strength of the Eagles is built on fundamental, sound pay on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Yes, the play of Carson Wentz is the biggest reason the Birds are 9-1, but the play of the defensive line and offensive line are also major factors.

There was no question coming into the season that the DL would pull its weight. I doubt if knowledgeable football minds could argue against the D-line being ranked the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz centered his defense around the play of his D-line's ability to generate constant pressure on opposing offenses, whether that's in the run game — the Eagles are the NFL's best run defense — or creating havoc on quarterbacks in the pocket. The defensive line has allowed the young secondary to catch up and perform well above expectations, and then Ronald Darby returned Sunday in Dallas (see story).

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line has also become a top-five unit in the NFL, and that's without future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. I know Carson Wentz wouldn't argue that.

In Sunday's 37-9 win over the Cowboys, the Eagles' O-line, against a pass rush with featuring a stout defensive front that includes NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawerence (11 1/2), didn't allow a sack. A lot of credit goes to Lane Johnson for his work on Lawrence.

With no real individual leader to hold this Eagles' offense's hat on, it's a total team effort in which the Eagles go about their about their business. This is just a shining example of why this O-line is so good and underrated. At 9-1, there has not been a wide receiver over 100 yards in a game. If my memory serves me right, the Birds have had a 100-yard rusher twice, both by LeGarrette Blount. So, even with the absence of the all-world Peters, I am secure in rating the Eagles' OL as the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Fundamentally speaking, football is won in the trenches. I was privileged to be a part of a Super Bowl team with the same formula the Eagles are using to win eight straight games: A young franchise QB (Ben Roethlisberger), a really good defense and a very good O-line.

The Eagles are just scratching the surface with their potential. Like these young players — guys like Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Derek Barnett — develop in the trenches, the sky's the limit for the core of this team.

Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

USA Today Images

Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

One kicker is getting better. One kicker just got hurt. One kicker isn’t even a kicker at all. Who’s going to kick Sunday? Maybe Caleb Sturgis, maybe Jake Elliott, maybe someone else. Definitely not Kamu Grungier-Hill. 
Does that clear everything up?
Head coach Doug Pederson revealed Monday that Elliott, the rocket-legged rookie, will be the Eagles’ placekicker long-term moving forward, but he also said he doesn’t know whether Elliott — who suffered a concussion Sunday night during the win in Dallas — will be available for this Sunday’s game at home against the Bears.
"We haven't made any decisions yet," Pederson said. "We still have a couple days before we have to make a decision."
Elliott replaced Sturgis, who suffered a quad strain in the opener against the Redskins and has been on injured reserve since. 
Ideally, the Eagles want Elliott to be cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol and be able to kick Sunday so they can keep Sturgis on IR. 

If Elliott isn’t ready, they could activate Sturgis, who Pederson said is "close," but that would mean they would have to clear a spot on the 53-man roster for a guy who they don’t plan on keeping long-term. 
"He's continuing to rehab, he's begun a kicking regimen," Pederson said. "He's getting himself back to where he was prior to the injury. He's close. He's close."
If neither Elliott nor Sturgis is able to go, the Eagles could add a third kicker for a week or two, although that would also require keeping two kickers on the 53 (and another on IR).
"Again, you're talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature," he said. "We're not there yet. We'll continue these discussions the next couple days."
Most importantly, Pederson said despite Sturgis’ excellent track record since joining the Eagles, Elliott will be the team’s kicker once everybody is healthy. 
"I think so," Pederson said. "If he's healthy and he can play. You hate to disrupt that right now. I'd have to say yes to that one."
Sturgis is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Elliott is under contract through 2018, and the Eagles control his rights through 2019.
Elliott, whom the Eagles signed off the Bengals’ practice squad in September, is 17 for 21 this year. He missed from 34 yards against the Cowboys Sunday night, although that miss came after he apparently suffered the concussion. 

Pederson said the concussion symptoms weren't discovered until after Elliott had attempted the field goal.
Elliott has made five of six attempts from 50 yards and out, including the franchise-record, game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants.
Sturgis is 7 for 11 as an Eagle from 50 yards and out. Including his years with the Dolphins, he's an 81.0 percent kicker, although with the Eagles he's made 84.8 percent of his field goal attempts — third-best in franchise history behind Cody Parkey (87.5 percent) and Alex Henery (86.0 percent).
"I think moving forward, as we continue to evaluate this week, we'll find out more in the next couple days with Jake, and I don't want to put myself in a box, but we'll keep all the options open," Pederson said.
"It kind of goes back to the same old thing. We still have a couple days here today and tomorrow to evaluate Jake and see where everybody's at. There's still a little while before we play Sunday."
There's one other option.

No, not letting Grugier-Hill kick. Going for two all the time.
Pederson — who's 9 for 12 as Eagles head coach on two-point conversion attempts — admitted he's thought about it.
"Yeah, I have," he said. "You always go into a game with a few (plays) in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night. But, yeah, you look at the numbers. If you're around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate should be in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
"We keep a couple extra plus-five red zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out, I think 3 for 4 last night. It's something we'll look at going forward."