Rob Ellis

Rob's Rants: Eagles, Sixers go away from true identity in losses

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Rob's Rants: Eagles, Sixers go away from true identity in losses

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which NBC Sports Philadelphia's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Seventy-seven days passed between losses for the Eagles. So it’s been a while since the Birds have made an appearance in Rob’s Rants. And while I am a firm believer it’s not panic time, they weren’t going to run the table and that it was a tough spot in the ebb and flow of an NFL season, that doesn’t mean the Eagles are immune to a rant or two. The Sixers will be providing the Birds some company this week after a horrific home loss to a terrible Suns team. And since it 'tis the season, I’ll throw in my top-10 Christmas songs of all-time. 

Sleepwalking in Seattle
Winning in Seattle is never easy. The Seahawks were the more desperate team and played like it. The Eagles took a big step up in class from the competition they faced in the previous weeks and they were not up to the task.

However, what was truly frustrating was not so much the play on the field but the approach by both coach and players.

The Eagles have been a swagger team all season. Doug Pederson set the tone Week 1 against the Redskins with his aggressive play-calling and it had carried over through their nine-game winning streak. Look no further than the numerous end zone celebrations, going for it on fourth down, throwing in a run situation, taking a deep shot or whatever the case may be.

Pederson coached at best tentative and at worst scared against Seattle, and it was completely out of character. But was it the chicken or the egg?

Did Pederson just come up small thinking a conservative, run-heavy approach in the first half would work against a Seattle team that was good against the rush? Not to mention, the Seahawks were without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the secondary. Surely attacking them through the air was the way to go, right?

Pederson twice passed on opportunities to go for it on fourth-and-short in the first half. Very much out of character. But is it possible the head coach decided he needed to play things safe because he felt his team wasn’t prepared? Both the players and Pederson himself admitted the team had not practiced well in the weeks leading up to its game against the Seahawks.

This wasn’t the Bears or 49ers it was facing. Either way, it was inexcusable. Pederson needs to stay true to this team’s personality and the players need to stop sniffing themselves. The hope is this loss will serve as a wake-up call and clean up either scenario. 

We may be only 23 games into the season, but the 2017-18 Sixers are a far cry from the tank-ridden doormats they were the previous four years. They should be a playoff team. They now play to win the games as Herm Edwards once said. In fact, they were 13-9 leading into Monday’s game against the Suns.

So when a loss to any team was no surprise when Tony Wroten was your best player on the floor, those days are gone. Losing at home Monday to a garbage Suns team that entered the game 8-16 and ranked last in points per game allowed is inexcusable. The Sixers are beyond this kind of thing now. And much like the Eagles, the team admitted after the game that it took Phoenix too lightly.

First, who is this group to look past anyone? There is a foundation for a sustained run and the Sixers have two superstars on the roster in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Still, this cast has no right looking past anyone.

The Sixers commit the second-to-most turnovers per game with 17.4 a night. Monday followed that troubling trend, as the Suns scored 22 points on the Sixers' 14 giveaways.

They are not good enough to cut corners and lack preparation, regardless of the opponent. Monday better have served as an alarm clock for this young group.

Top-10 Christmas songs
This is just to pivot off of the Eagles' and Sixers' losses and provide a little holiday cheer as we are less than three weeks away from the big day. Here are my top-10 Christmas songs. I can feel the comments and mentions coming already.

1. Do They Know It’s Christmas Time — Band Aid 
2. Happy X-Mas — John Lennon and Yoko Ono
3. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town — Bruce Springsteen    
4. Christmas Song — Nat King Cole
5. Someday At Christmas — Stevie Wonder
6. Father Christmas — The Kinks
7. Christmas In Hollis — Run-DMC 
8. All I Want For Christmas — Mariah Carey
9. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy — Bing Crosby and David Bowie
10. White Christmas — Bing Crosby

Week 13 a well-timed wake-up call for Eagles

Week 13 a well-timed wake-up call for Eagles

When you win nine games in a row in the NFL, there’s bound to be a sense of invincibility. Not from the coaches mind you, but from the players and especially the fan base, there becomes an expectation each week.

The Eagles' last loss was Sept. 17. That’s a long time ago. The pre-Gabe Kapler era Phillies lost at home that day to Oakland. The Flyers were still 18 days away from their season opener. The Sixers would begin their training camp nine days later.  And many high-profile Hollywood and media types, now disgraced, were still employed.

It’s remarkable really that in such a week-to-week league that any team, let alone one that lost nine of its last 13 a season ago, could put together such an impressive streak. So naturally, when said team loses in a game in which it was favored, there’s going to be an overreaction. The Eagles were not going 15-1.

Seattle is arguably the toughest place in the NFL to play. The Seahawks entered the game 7-4, on the outside looking in for a wild-card berth. They had already lost two home games. Despite major injuries to their secondary, this was going to be a tough game. This was a desperate, perennial playoff team at home that had to have this game. Factor in the Eagles now admitting they did not practice in the ensuing weeks the way they should have to be prepared for such a game and this is far from a panic-time loss.

Yes, the way the game played out was painful. But I view this as a wake-up call at the perfect time. Let it be Week 13 rather than a first-round playoff game. You can commit a ton of penalties against the Bears and win. Do it against a team like the Seahawks and it’s tough to overcome. You may get lucky and recover your own fumble in the end zone against the same hapless team but most times, especially in the red zone, it’s a killer. If Carson Wentz scores on that run to start the second half, it is a completely different game.

As much as fans hate to hear this, there are times you tip your hat and give props to the other guy. Russell Wilson was brilliant. He outplayed Wentz, plain and simple. The Eagles' secondary had its problems and things that must be cleaned up for the Rams, but when the opposing quarterback buys an extra four seconds on multiple plays, no defensive backs will be able to hold up.

Wentz did not play well in the first half. He showed you in the second half the combination of heart and skill that makes him an MVP candidate.

Doug Pederson has pushed every right button since the loss to the Chiefs. He’s been aggressive all season. That’s his team’s identity. His approach was tentative, perhaps because he knew his team wasn’t ready. Perhaps not. Jim Schwartz has been masterful all year dialing up the right defensive calls. He guessed wrong on several occasions. Whoever you want to blame, it didn’t work. It happens. Plays are missed and in-game mistakes are made. Learn from it and don’t let it happen again.

The Eagles ripped off nine straight wins after their last loss. But the 9-3 Rams this week will be a much sterner test than the dumpster-fire Giants in Week 3. My confidence in this team was not swayed by the loss to the Seahawks. Despite all the self-sabotage, the officiating, etc., the Eagles were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, playing their C-game.

With the scorching hot Vikings having an identical 10-2 record and several other teams on the Birds’ tail in the NFC, this is a huge game this week. But it goes beyond standings. We’ll find a lot out about this team’s makeup this week in SoCal. 

Based on what we’ve seen for a large majority of the season, the Seattle game will be the anomaly. Everything’s going to be alright.

Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

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Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

Without Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers won't be at full strength tonight against the Celtics. Then again, the Celtics haven't been at full strength all season, playing every game without $30 million man Gordon Hayward. Boston has managed to go 18-4 to lead the NBA so far without him, which serves as just another example of how well constructed the Celtics' roster is.

The teams are on two different timelines, but outside of the Warriors, there are few if any teams built better to both win now and win in the future than the Sixers and Celtics.

Which invites the question: Which team is in the better situation moving forward with players, cap space, flexibility and draft picks — Sixers or Celtics?

Jessica Camerato — Sixers
The Celtics are ahead of the Sixers in their progress toward contention, but the Sixers have the pieces to catch up and even surpass them. The Celtics have designed their roster to compete now with All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Hayward (pre-injury) while developing their potential future in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They face questions about the makeup of their team, though, following next season when both Irving and Horford have player options for 2019-20. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are just beginning to lay the foundation of a bright future. Embiid and Robert Covington are locked up for five seasons. The team is being extremely methodical with its cap space to have room available when it comes time to talk contract with Ben Simmons and also be able to make a run at top-level free agents in upcoming offseasons.

While the Celtics are running the East this season, the Sixers' combination of Embiid, Covington and Simmons is the group of assets I would rather have moving forward.

Corey Seidman — Sixers (by a 51-49 margin)
I'd also take the Sixers' situation, even though I genuinely believe the Celtics can win a championship at some point in the next three years if the Warriors suffer even one key, late-season injury. 

Kyrie is one of the best ball-handlers of all-time and one of the most clutch players of the last 25 years. The Sixers don't have a player like him — nobody does. But the Celtics don't have a player like Simmons or Embiid — nobody does.

One thing that could shift my opinion with this is if Jayson Tatum takes a quick leap to stardom at some point in the next two or three seasons. Aside from Simmons, he looks like by far the best rookie in this class. There's just so little hesitation with Tatum. Most rookies defer early in their careers and pass up an open look for an even better look because they think that's what a good NBA teammate does. Tatum takes those open shots and takes advantage of open driving lanes. It makes sense for Utah's Donovan Mitchell to do it because he has so little scoring help around him. But Tatum does have a lot around him and still is confident enough in himself to drive the car when he needs to.

Markelle Fultz hasn't scratched the surface of what he might be able to do in the NBA, but it's difficult for me to envision him making more of an impact — offensively and defensively, at the rim or beyond the arc — than Tatum will over the course of his career.

But for me, the Tatum > Fultz thing isn't enough to offset the unique, superduperstar upside of the Sixers' top two players. 

The Celtics are built to win 55-ish games for the foreseeable future. But does anyone really remember a 57-win season? The Sixers are built to — if they add one more star — have one of those crazy, 66-win seasons that don't come along often.

Paul Hudrick — Celtics
This is tough.

It's hard to dispute that the team with the best record in the NBA — that also happens to be missing its prize free agent — has the better roster going forward, but there is certainly a case to be made for the Sixers. 

Embiid and Simmons have the potential to be more dominant than any player on the Celtics' roster. Fultz is the obvious questions mark. Can he live up to the billing of being the No. 1 overall pick? I believe he can. Once he gets healthy and regains his confidence, I expect an elite scorer to emerge.

For most, the comparison of Fultz and Tatum will be the key to determining this question. For me, it's Fultz vs. Jaylen Brown. Brown has already shown flashes of being an elite defender and unstoppable in the open floor. He's also hitting 41 percent of his threes on over four attempts a game. 

The Sixers and Celtics both have dynamic duos. Will Fultz or Brown become a star first to make it a trio? For now, because of his NBA track record, my money is on Brown and the Celtics.

But Fultz's presence could easily change that assessment.

Rob Ellis — Split-decision: Celtics
I love the fact that we are even discussing which organization has a brighter future. It's been too long since the Sixers could even be considered in a debate like this. While there's no question the Celtics are certainly built for now in terms of contending in the East, I believe the Sixers' rise to compete with the big boys will be quicker than some anticipate. That said, this is very difficult. I actually think both teams will win at least one title and be really good for close to a decade. 

But in terms of which team has the brighter future, certainly who and what Fultz is or will become could be a swing vote one way or the other, especially considering how well Tatum has played in his rookie season in Boston. Another unknown on the Celtics' side is Hayward and how he will respond from a pretty horrific injury suffered in his first game in green.  

I view the Sixers' core five as Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid. Versus the Celtics' five of Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Horford.

With the exception of Horford, these two teams are scary young and talented. While I think the upside of Simmons and Embiid is greater than any combo of two on the Celtics' roster, I have to lean toward Boston. Brown projects higher for me than Covington and maybe it's just recency bias on my part but I'll go Tatum over Fultz. If Fultz is who the Sixers thought he was when moving up to one to draft him, or if Hayward is not the same player we saw in Utah pre-injury, the nod goes to the Sixers.