Roob's Random Points, Part 2: Wentz's toughness, Jahlil Okafor, John Mayer's evolution

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Roob's Random Points, Part 2: Wentz's toughness, Jahlil Okafor, John Mayer's evolution

When is it too early to start looking for concerts to attend in Minneapolis Super Bowl week? Also … Carson Wentz's toughness, Jahlil Okafor riding the bench, Japanese ceremonial tea houses, Hank Baskett, Robert Pollard side projects ... we've got it all covered in today's Part 2 of this week's Roob's 25 Random Points!

1. For all his accomplishments — the touchdown passes, the first-down runs, the big plays — Wentz also deserves a tremendous amount of credit just for his toughness. What's he missed, six snaps in his career? How many times has he gotten clobbered and popped back up to throw a big touchdown pass, like he did on the Mack Hollins touchdown Monday night? Just by the nature of the way he plays, keeping plays alive with his legs, diving for extra yards, fighting off defenders in the pocket, Wentz is going to get hit a lot. For him to stand tall snap after snap, week after week is remarkable. Just another reason Wentz is such a natural leader. Just being out there for his team every single play no matter how hard he gets hit makes him a guy everybody on the roster wants to play hard for.
 
2. Bring on the rain Sunday. Bring on anything. It won't bother this football team. I don't know if I've ever seen a more focused group. The 2004 team was incredibly talented, but that team won despite the growing feud between Donovan and T.O. and the distractions their deteriorating relationship created. This team? Mature, focused, disciplined, serious-minded, goal-oriented. No excuses. Only hard work.
 
3. I just don't get not playing Okafor. Yes, he's a defensive liability, but not everybody in the NBA is going to be Rudy Gobert. Okafor has terrific offensive skills and is a competent rebounder. You mean to tell me he can't help this team more than Amir Johnson with 8-12 minutes off the bench? Jah is 21 years old. As a 19-year-old rookie, he averaged 7.0 rebounds and 17.5 points and shot 51 percent from the field! Do you know how many rookies have averaged 17 and 7 and made over half their shots in the last 25 years? Five. Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Karl Anthony-Towns and Okafor. Nobody's saying he's in the class of those other guys, but geez, he's a 21-year-old kid with a unique skill set. Why not coach him up and help him become the player you wish he was instead of burying him on the bench?
 
4. Phil Collins. Incredibly underrated drummer.
 
5. There are more fifth-round picks on the Eagles' roster (11) than first-round picks (10). I'm not sure what that means, but hey, it's working!
 
6. It's also remarkable to me how different this roster is from last year. There are 22 players on the 53 who weren't here last year. That's 42 percent! That's an incredible turnover. For a team to be able to incorporate 22 new players and play at the level the Eagles are playing at is a credit to Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas for bringing in the right guys but also to Doug Pederson and his staff for making it all work.
 
7. Jalen Mills is one of only three players in the NFL with two or more fourth-quarter interceptions. He's been really good this year.
 
8. I can't think of a single musical artist who I've changed my opinion about more dramatically over time than John Mayer. The dude has transformed himself from an irrelevant treacly pop singer-songwriter to an absolutely brilliant interpreter of Grateful Dead material and a worthy successor to Jerry Garcia in the Dead collective.
 
9. My Top 5 Robert Pollard non-GBV albums: 1. From a Compound Eye (Robert Pollard), 2. Blues and Boogie Shoes (Keene Brothers), 3. Choreographed Man of War (Robert Pollard and his Soft Rock Renegades), 4. Ask Them (Lexo and the Leapers), 5. Not in my Airforce (Robert Pollard).
 
10. No player in NFL history has more career TD catches of 85 yards or more than Hank Baskett. This blows my mind. 
 
11. Minneapolis concerts already scheduled Super Bowl week: First Aid Kit, Josh Ritter, Marilyn Manson. Hmmm. Beat the 49ers, Broncos and Cowboys, and I start buying tickets!
 
12. There's a really cool exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum of Japanese ceremonial tea houses. One entire teahouse is recreated in its entirety, and the backstory is amazing. The museum sent someone to Japan in the 1920s to buy a teahouse and the museum's teahouse expert found one for sale on a property owned by noted Japanese architect Ögi Rodö. The teahouse was dismantled and shipped to Philadelphia, but the museum couldn't find anybody to put it back together. So it sat in storage for more than 30 years before it was finally restored and put on display. Now you know!
 
12½. Prediction: Wendell Smallwood's first career 100-yard rushing game comes against the 49ers on Sunday.

Roob's Random Points, Part 1: Eagles' power ranking, playoffs, I-95 traffic tips

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Roob's Random Points, Part 1: Eagles' power ranking, playoffs, I-95 traffic tips

Are the Eagles the best team in football? Parking in Northern Liberties? Carson craziness? And Modern Baseball's final shows?

You can find it all in Part 1 of this week's 25 Random Points! Look for Part 2 at some Random time in the near future!
 
1. Watching football all day Sunday, it was impossible to ignore the reality that the Eagles are as good as anybody out there. One after another, the teams you wondered where the Eagles stacked up against lost. The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers and then lost meekly to the Vikings. The Falcons, once unbeatable in Atlanta, lost at home to the Dolphins. The undefeated Chiefs lost at home to the Steelers. The Broncos, who come to the Linc in a couple weeks, lost at home to the winless Giants. The Redskins barely hung on at home against the winless 49ers. And meanwhile, the Eagles just keep on winning. If I had to rank the 32 teams right now, the Eagles would be at No. 1. I'm sure the Chiefs would have something to say about that based on a head-to-head win and an identical 5-1 record. But as far as where everybody is today? You can make a compelling case that the Eagles are the best team in football. Yep.
 
2. A big theme on Twitter since Thursday night has been fans saying, "Calm down, don't get carried away, settle down, it's only six weeks." You know what? This team hasn't done anything since 2008 and they're now 5-1 with four straight wins, a hot quarterback and the best run defense in the NFL. There's nothing wrong with getting excited!
 
3. Of all the areas he's improved, Carson Wentz's interception ratio is the most dramatic and most important. He's seeing the field better but more than anything he's just not forcing throws like he did last year. With three INTs in 207 attempts, he's got the sixth-best INT ratio in the NFL out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks (1.45 per 100 attempts). This after ranking 17th out of 36 last year (2.31). Based on all 281 QBs in NFL history who've thrown 750 passes, Wentz now has the eighth-best career INT ratio at 2.09.
 
4. I'm crushed that they shut down the giant free parking lot behind the Acme across the street from the Piazza where Germantown Avenue hits 2nd Street. There is now officially nowhere to park in Northern Liberties.
 
5. Once the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention, Philly's streak of consecutive seasons without a team advancing in a postseason series increased to 21. That goes back to a 76ers team led by Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday eliminating the Bulls in an Eastern Conference first-round series on May 10, 2012. That streak includes six Phillies seasons and five 76ers, Flyers and Eagles seasons. Not only is that streak about to be smashed to smithereens, I also wouldn't be surprised at all if all four teams advance in a postseason series over the next year.
 
6. Speaking of the Smithereens, they are without a doubt one of the most underrated American rock bands of the last quarter century. Here's my Smithereens Top 10: 1. Strangers when we Meet, 2. Behind the Wall of Sleep, 3. A Girl Like You, 4. Only a Memory, 5. Blue Period, 6. Yesterday Girl, 7. Top of the Pops, 8. Time Won't Let Me, 9. Drown in my own Tears, 10. House we used to Live In.
 
7. The Eagles are only the 10th team since 1970 with 750 or more rushing yards gained and fewer than 400 rushing yards allowed after six weeks.
 
8. Wentz's current streak of eight straight games with one or more touchdown passes and one or fewer interceptions is the longest by an Eagles quarterback since Randall Cunningham had a 12-game streak in 1990.
 
9. If he throws three touchdowns Monday night, Wentz will become the first Eagles QB to throw three TD passes in three straight games in 64 years — since Bobby Thomason in 1953 (three at Pittsburgh, four vs. the Giants, three vs. the Colts). Only one QB has thrown more than one TD pass against the Redskins this year. Wentz. Of course.
 
10. Attending one of Modern Baseball's final three shows over the weekend was a genuinely moving experience. Modern Baseball — or MoBo, as they're affectionately known because MoBa looks stupid — is a beloved Philadelphia pop-punk band whose lyrics by co-songwriters Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewald are deeply personal and resonate in a powerful way with the 17-to-22-year-olds who make up most of their massive world-wide audience. MoBo over the past seven years made a completely unexpected and meteoric rise from playing basements at Drexel to 20,000-seat arenas opening for Brand New. But the band is going on hiatus — perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent — because, as Ewald wrote on the band's Facebook page, "The project we started as a source of joy and positive expression had become something that was slowly eating away at our mental health and our friendships." But I'll tell you what … seeing 1,500 fist-pumping, body-surfing kids at Union Transfer joyously singing along to literally every word to every song Friday night really makes you realize just how much this band meant to so many people. A powerful, profound experience.
 
11. I once sat on a flight next to the manager of a Hard Rock Café. He had a great quote: "We're not a restaurant. We're a T-shirt store that also sells hamburgers."
 
12. LeGarrette Blount played in his 100th career regular-season game on the final day of last year with the Patriots. Thanks to the wonders of the Pro-Football Reference, we can compare his rushing average in all his games since No. 100 with every other running back since 1950. The result? Blount's rushing average of 5.6 after his 100th career game is the highest by any NFL running back in Game 101-on since Doak Walker averaged 6.2 yards from 1953 through 1955.
 
12½. Pro Tip: When there's an accident on 95 South near Center City, take the 2nd Street ramp off 95 and then turn left on Market and get back on 95 South. Even if you haven't passed the accident, the ramp is so long — 9-10ths of a mile — it will get you past a ton of blocked traffic before dropping you back on 95 South. 

Roob's 25 Random Points: Cory Undlin, Mike Golic and access to the zoo

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AP Images

Roob's 25 Random Points: Cory Undlin, Mike Golic and access to the zoo

As the Eagles get ready for their first game in the Los Angeles area in 27 years, we look back at what was at stake the last time they played here. 

Also in today's 25 Random Points we ponder MAC cards, Cory Undlin, Eagles quarterbacks drafted by the Rams, the SEPTA regional rail station that doesn't exist at the Philadelphia Zoo, Mike Golic and a South Jersey band called Pine Barons.

And lots more!
 
1. Undlin deserves a big ol' boatload of credit for his ability to teach the Eagles' young cornerbacks and get them ready to play. We've spoken a lot about how far Jalen Mills has come and how comfortable rookie Rasul Douglas looks, but behind their development is a very tough, very involved and very detail-oriented position coach who gets the most out of what he has. Watching Undlin at training camp is always a trip. He is so engaged in what he's doing, and he's got this perfect combination of being a hard-ass and a tough, demanding coach. He's also funny as heck and able to keep his guys loose and having fun. And he spends so much time and energy on every guy on the roster. A special teamer like Chris Maragos, who had only played one snap on defense since opening day 2016, was forced to play the entire game at safety, but he was ready. Factor in a born leader like Malcolm Jenkins, a Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring, and Brian Dawkins, who's around the team a lot, this is a very healthy environment for young defensive backs. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this group.

2. Last time the Eagles played in L.A. was Week 3 of 1990 against the Rams at Anaheim Stadium. The Eagles were 0-2, and whispers — very loud whispers — were that owner Norman Braman was so fed up with head coach Buddy Ryan that he had made up his mind to fire Buddy if the Eagles lost to the Rams and fell to 0-3. But Randall Cunningham threw TD passes to Mike Quick and Calvin Williams, Mike Golic had an interception and a sack, Anthony Toney rushed for 103 yards, and the Eagles got out of town with a 27-21 win and saved Buddy's job. At least for a few months. Despite a third straight double-digit win season, Braman fired Buddy after a third straight playoff loss. "I've been fired for losing before," Buddy said that day. "I've never been fired for winning."

3. Golic, by the way, is the last Eagles defensive tackle with a sack and interception in the same game. 
  
4. Doug Pederson was technically correct Monday when he said his analytics guys told him that 4th-and-8 was a 33 percent play. Using the Pro Football Reference database, we can determine that teams have converted 32.4 percent of the time since 1994 (as far back as stats are available) on 4th-and-8. That's 103 conversions in 318 attempts. But that includes every 4th-and-8 in every situation: The last few seconds of a game, when defenses are playing a soft zone. Kneel downs. Fake punts. Plays when the opposing team has a 51-point lead, etc. So again using the PFR database, we can get extremely detailed information about situational 4th-and-8 plays. For instance, the Eagles went for it on 4th-and-8 with a seven-point lead. Teams with a lead are going to be defended a very specific way on 4th-and-8. Historically, teams with a lead of seven or more points convert on 4th-and-8 only 14.5 percent of the time (8 for 55). The last conversion came in 2010 when Browns punter Reggie Hodges — a former Eagle — ran 68 yards for a first down on a fake punt against the Saints. He was tackled by Malcolm Jenkins. What about historical 4th-and-8's when a team is up by a touchdown and outside the opposing 40-yard-line in the first half? Then it's a 0 percent play. So technically, Pederson was accurate when he said 4th-and-8 is a 33 percent play. But in that situation, it was anything but. That's the problem with analytics. They're great in theory — and sometimes certainly in practice. But there is no way to express all this information in the brief few seconds between plays. You might learn that 4th-and-8 is a 33 percent play. But what about in the specific situation the offense is in? I don't know how it's possible to express all that in such a limited time. Then you end up basing your decision on flawed data. And you don't really have the same odds to convert that you think.
 
5. Carson Wentz has hit only seven passes of 20 or more yards so far this year, tied for 18th-most in the league after three weeks. At this point last year, he had hit on nine — with inferior receivers. The Eagles won Sunday without a completion of 20 yards, the first time that's happened in eight years. I think there are a lot of factors that play into this — not having great chemistry yet with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, losing Jordan Matthews, uneven pass protection and just missing some open guys. There's been a lot of talk about Wentz missing on the deep ball, but the Eagles need to get the mid-range game going as well.
 
6. I've never liked Alex Smith as a quarterback. I even thought Big Red made a mistake cutting ties with Nick Foles and keeping Smith. But I may have to rethink that stance. Smith has opened the 2017 season by becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 75 percent of his passes (minimum of 20 attempts) in each of his first three games. The other was Tom Brady in 2007. Smith took a beating in the Eagles game and stood in the pocket and made all the throws he had to make. It's only three games, but Smith is completing 77 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions for the undefeated Chiefs. Heck, he's almost halfway to his entire 2016 total of 15 touchdowns. Smith is 33 years old and has won only two playoff games, but he's playing better than ever. Andy Reid is usually right about quarterbacks. Maybe he was right about Smith. 
 
7. The couple sitting next to me on the nearly six-hour flight from Philly to Los Angeles was very nice. They also brought nothing to do, nothing to read. So they sat there reading the vomit bag instructions for six hours. I mean, it's not a secret how long the flight is. Bring a book? A crossword puzzle? A magazine? Something?  
 
8. This one is crazy: There have been 19 players in Eagles history who've rushed for 2,000 or more yards, and 16 of them are players the Eagles drafted. That's incredible. The only exceptions are Herschel Walker, Timmy Brown and Ricky Watters. The last five to reach 2,000 yards were all Eagles draft picks — Shady, Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter, Donovan McNabb and Duce Staley. And only two of those 19 backs were first-round picks — Clarence Peaks in 1957 and Keith Byars in 1986. Who'll be the next one to hit 2,000 yards? My money's on Wendell Smallwood. He can play.
 
9. How is there not a SEPTA regional rail station at the zoo? The tracks run literally 14 1/2 feet from the zoo. You can actually see the lions and tigers in Big Cat Falls in the back of the zoo as you ride the train out of 30th Street Station. It's a pain getting to the zoo and parking. A station with an elevated walkway and dedicated zoo entrance would make the zoo so much more accessible (and ease traffic on the Schuylkill as well). Heck, if that's unrealistic, make it a shuttle that runs a few times a day during peak season from 30th. The Zoo Train! Just seems ridiculous that you can actually see the animals from the train, you just can't get to them.
 
10. I didn't like the new National record. Found it boring, heavy-handed and lacking dynamics. Boring as heck. Then I saw them play the thing in its entirety at Union Transfer, and now I love it. Funny how that happens.
 
11. Man, Rick Pitino involved in a scandal?!?!?! That's just a flat-out stunner.
 
12. This just blows my mind: Wentz, just three weeks into his second season, already has the fifth-most wins in franchise history by a quarterback the Eagles drafted. The list looks like this: Donovan McNabb [92], Randall Cunningham [63], Sonny Jurgensen [17], Foles [15], Wentz [9], Pete Liske [7]. What's even crazier is that as many quarterbacks drafted by the Rams have at least 10 wins quarterbacking the Eagles as quarterbacks drafted by the Eagles: Ron Jaworski [69], Norm Van Brocklin [20], Bobby Thomason [18] and Roman Gabriel [12] were all Rams draft picks who won 10 or more games for the Eagles. Throw in Sam Bradford [7], and five of the 18 winningest QBs in Eagles history are Rams draft picks.

13. I still call it a MAC card.
 
14. With Nelson Agholor’s TD catch with 14 seconds left against the Chiefs and Jake Elliott’s game-winning field goal Sunday against the Giants, the Eagles have scored in the final 20 seconds of back-to-back games for the first time in 17 years. Last time it happened was in 2000, when David Akers made a game-tying field goal against the Cowboys with 11 seconds left in regulation at the Vet and a game-tying field goal as time expired a week later against the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium. Akers won both games in overtime.
 
15. There's been a giant sign at the intersection of Byberry Road and Bustleton Pike for a month stating, "road closed local traffic only." This is kind of a big deal since Byberry is the only access to Woodhaven Road and ultimately I-95 from the Somerton section of Northeast Philly. But here's the thing. The road isn't closed. And it never was closed. And it probably never will be closed. And you can still get to Woodhaven Road off Byberry. There's not even a detour. The only thing that's closed is a tiny section of Byberry between the entrance to Woodhaven Road and Roosevelt Boulevard — near the old Nabisco plant. And you can still get to the Boulevard pretty easily just by hopping on Woodhaven and taking the first ramp. You might think the fake road closed sign might help with traffic but no. It still takes 46 minutes in the morning to get to Woodhaven.
 
16. Two weeks ago, I wrote here that I heard the worst song ever. I heard one that's worse. It's called "In the Name of Love" by Martin Garrix and Babe Rexha. And it really is worse.
 
17. Since Douglas began playing a couple weeks ago and performing at a high level, people have been looking for an Eagles cornerback to compare him too. I've heard Bobby Taylor, and yeah, they're both tall and rangy, but Douglas is way more physical than Taylor ever was and not as fast. Sheldon Brown? Yeah, they're both terrific tacklers and love to come up and support the run. But Brown was 5-foot-10. Douglas is 6-2. Troy Vincent? Troy was a tremendous cover corner who had size (6-1) and could run and also didn't mind mixing it up at the line of scrimmage. He's probably closest, but he's also a five-time Pro Bowler and Douglas has only played in two games, so it's a little premature to even go there. But as far as tall, physical corners with coverage skill, that does seem to be the best comparison. I really wonder if the Eagles would have made the trade with the Bills for Ronald Darby if they knew what they had in Douglas.
 
18. The interesting thing about Vincent — he didn't make a Pro Bowl until his eighth season. Clyde Simmons didn't make one until his sixth season, Jermane Mayberry and Jon Runyan both made it for the first time in their seventh season. Even Dawk didn't make one until his fourth year in the league. Why am I always preaching patience? This is why. Players get better. What you see as a rookie or even in a guy's second or third or even fourth year isn't necessarily the final product. That's why you don't cut Donnel Pumphrey after a few bad preseason games. Time is an amazing thing.
 
19. Let's just stop for a second and consider how underrated Jason Avant was. During his heyday with the Eagles, the six-year period from 2007 through 2012, Avant caught 83 passes on third down, and 68 of them went for first downs. That's 82 percent, and that's ridiculous. Think about it — over a six-year period, he only had 15 catches on third down where he didn't move the sticks.
 
20. Is it weird that when I'm in an office building or hotel room and I can see my car out the window a few flights down I like to make the hatchback go up and down?
 
21. I can't stand rotating offensive linemen. I just don't like it. Put the best guy in there and leave him in there. Stefen Wisniewski right now is the Eagles' best option at left guard. He outplayed Chance Warmack throughout the preseason, he should have been in there at halftime in Kansas City, and he should be in there the whole game Sunday against the Chargers. Period. There's a reason nobody rotates guards. 
 
22. Hey, this would be a good time to look at the Eagles' 2018 schedule. Their opponents at home, in addition to their three NFC East rivals, will be the Falcons, Panthers, Texans and Colts. On the road, they'll face the Jaguars, Saints, Buccaneers and Titans in addition to the NFC East opponents. They'll also play on the road against the NFC West team that finishes in the same spot in the standings and at home against the NFC North opponent that finishes in the corresponding spot in the standings.
 
23. I feel like people who whistle in public should be arrested, and I really don't think that's extreme.
 
24. Last weekend at World Café Live was the inaugural Philadelphia Music Festival, an ambitious non-profit endeavor that was the brainchild of Philly lawyer and music nut Greg Seltzer, who founded the festival to showcase the burgeoning Philly indie music scene. The two-day festival, which also featured local artwork and craft breweries and raised about $15,000 for local arts groups, featured 26 artists from Philadelphia and South Jersey performing all day Friday and Saturday on World Café's two stages. Something like this wouldn't have been possible five years ago. There weren't enough good bands and the scene hadn't developed yet to the point where people would support an event like this. But Philly has become the center of the pop music universe, and you could easily book another 26 quality bands next year without repeating one. That said, here's my top-10 from this year's festival (with the caveat that I missed Strand of Oaks): 1. Pine Barons, 2. Dominic Angelella, 3. Cheerleader, 4. Eric Slick, 5. Sports, 6. Harmony Woods, 7. Slomo Sapiens, 8. Slaughter Beach, Dog, 9. Kississippi, 10. Tiny Hueman.
 
25. And 10 Philly bands I'd like to see play next year's festival, which will be held the weekend of Sept. 28-29: The Obsessives, Weller, Sheer Mag, Pilkington, Hemming, Cherry, Restorations, the Whips, Thin Lips and Mercury Girls.