Rob's Rants

Rob rants about Thursday NFL games, Andy MacPhail and Simmons-Fultz

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Rob rants about Thursday NFL games, Andy MacPhail and Simmons-Fultz

With the Eagles off to a 4-1 start and sitting atop the NFC East, it would pretty tough to justify any rants thrown their way this week. So this will be an anti-Eagle edition of Rob's Rants. But that doesn't mean the NFL is off the hook.

Too soon
I love the NFL. Much to the chagrin of my family, I could and usually do watch it from 1 p.m. Sunday until whatever time the night game ends. Same goes for Monday Night Football. But I have never been a fan of the Thursday night games, for varying reasons. This week, our TNF antenna is up because the Eagles play in the game. It's actually a great matchup. A pair of 4-1 teams, both with exciting young quarterbacks, leading their conference and divisions. What's not to love? Here's what.

For starters, I'd like to be able to bask in the smackdown that was the win over the Cardinals. A full week of marinating in Carson Wentz's four-touchdown performance, the defense's impressive game and Kenjon Barner's returns would have been wonderful. Anyone who's been watching Eagles games for more than a decade knows they rarely win games comfortably, the kind of games you literally are not concerned about at all in the fourth quarter. Sunday was one of those non-white knuckles, agita-free kind of games that don't come along very often. Not to mention the high of a 4-1 start.

It would be nice to revel in that a few days longer before dealing with an equally hot Panthers team. One of the beauties of the NFL is the yin and yang element of its nature. You normally have six or seven days before the next one. That allows for a 3-4 day period of mourning or celebration from the previous game. Then it's time for the lookahead, which is the slow build to the next opponent. We all get to play coaches and coordinators as we break down whoever our team is taking on next. Playing once a week with that amount of time in between makes that league unique. The NFL, for all its faults, is the only league that has not hit a saturation point with its games. You can't find one or multiple games on every night like other in-season sports. Having a four-day turnaround kills the mid-week fun.

Safety
By its very nature, football should be played only once a week. The players need at least that amount of time to heal and recharge for the next contest. The league constantly preaches players safety. Protocols and more stringent rules have been put in place to protect the players. And the decision-makers deserve kudos. But don't try to tell me you're all about the welfare of your employees on the field and then ask them to play a violent, physical toll-taking game, four days later. You're not all about the good fortunes of the players, you're about the fortunes you're lining your pockets with. If you've seen any of these games, you know the performances are not up to standard. Players rightfully are tired and beat up from the game they played four days earlier. The product is usually bad.

Back to back
For the past two games, Eagles fans not in attendance or listening on the radio have been subjected to Dick Stockton and Chris Myers calling their games in consecutive weeks. This is cruel and unusual punishment. No fanbase should be forced to listen to this not-so-dynamic duo. Stockton was bad when I was a kid listening to him call the NBA and Sixers-Celtics playoff games. That was 30-something years ago. He has not improved with age. He has no feel for the moment and misses blatant plays throughout a game. Myers, who's also been around a long time as well, lacks any kind of juice, he's a cure for insomnia, and he shares Stockton's obliviousness when it comes to a big play or moment. The Eagles are too good to get the "Y" and "Z" broadcast teams. Stockton and Myers should make the Joe Buck haters reconsider their stances.

Andy MacPhail
Considering the team has one reliable starting pitcher heading into the 2018 season, I'm glad one of Phillies president Andy MacPhail's priorities is the P.A. system at Citizens Bank Park. I hear Dan Baker could project as a solid No. 2 if they can just get his sound straightened out. "Now starting for the Phillies, me."

Outside the paint
We're only three preseason games in but at some point, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are going to have to be willing to shoot the ball from outside the lane. We knew going in this was going to be an issue with Simmons and the hope was he would improve his shot this offseason. So far, we don't know because he won't pull the trigger. Fultz shot the ball better than 41.0 percent from three in his lone year in college at Washington. But he decided to tinker with his shot after summer league for whatever reason and whether it's the new form or a sore shoulder, he appears hesitant. Again, we're not even out of the preseason, but something to keep your eye on.

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

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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.

Fandom
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.

After promising Week 1, where has Nelson Agholor gone?

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After promising Week 1, where has Nelson Agholor gone?

After a great start to the season and perhaps some validation for being selected in the first round three years ago, Nelson Agholor has been very quiet the last two weeks. He caught six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown vs. the Redskins in Week 1. He was also targeted eight times in that game. 

Weeks 2 and 3 have mirrored Agholor’s first two years in the league when he was, for the most part, a non-factor. To his credit, he did catch a very late touchdown pass in Kansas City to cut the Chiefs' lead to a TD. The Birds successfully completed an onside kick, but a Hail Mary was not in the cards and they lost. The touchdown reception was his only catch in the game. 

Last week against the Giants, he was equally invisible. Two catches, 20 yards. More troubling, Agholor’s only been targeted six times in his last two contests. In fairness, the Eagles concentrated on the run game vs. New York. And the trio of Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith did catch 16 balls for 140 yards in the game. Keep in mind, Carson Wentz's attempts dropped from 56 to 31, from Week 2 to Week 3. Certainly fewer opportunities to make plays.

And Agholor is not alone. Jeffery has been solid and made a huge catch to set up Jake Elliott’s game-winner Sunday, but he’s yet to have a breakout game. Smith has been quiet. Some of this falls on Wentz who has missed some deep shots to both (see story). And this may fall under the category of nit-picking or jumping the gun, considering we’re just three games into the season. But throughout the offseason, OTAs, and training camp, the organization expressed steadfast belief that Agholor was the real deal and had put his lack of production behind him, ready to fulfill the promise of being the 20th overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Jordan Matthews was traded in part because he was entering the last year of his rookie deal and the Eagles did not want to pay him elite wide receiver money. But part of that decision was founded in the faith the organization had in Agholor that he could deliver in the slot. Matthews was a very productive player for this team in his three seasons in Philadelphia, averaging 75 catches for nearly 900 yards per season. Agholor in his first two seasons in Philadelphia caught 59 passes for 648 yards and found the end zone just three times. 

Which begs the question: Is this just a two-game blip for Agholor in what’s a long NFL season? Or was Week 1 the anomaly?