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Eagles Film Review: Rodney McLeod has been sorely missed

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USA Today Images

Eagles Film Review: Rodney McLeod has been sorely missed

But for two plays, the Eagles' defense has played stellar in 2017. And the two big plays the Eagles' defense has surrendered this season occurred at least in part because free safety Rodney McLeod was out of the lineup.

McLeod is set to return in Week 4 after a missing a game-and-a-half with a hamstring injury, and not a moment too soon. His replacement was largely to blame for both a 53-yard touchdown run by Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and 77-yard touchdown reception by Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepherd.

Those just happen to be by far the two biggest scoring plays against the Eagles' defense so far this season — and some real backbreakers at that.

Let’s jump back to Hunt’s run in Week 2, already in progress. Obviously, one look at this frame can tell you this was going to be trouble from the start. Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks loses track of the football, and gap integrity along with it, leaving the middle of the football field wide open.

McLeod’s replacement — Corey Graham in this case, at the top of the screen — becomes the last line of defense.

Here is the precise moment Hunt begins to make his move — a simple cut to the left. It’s unfair how much room the ball carrier has to work with, but he’s also going to catch Graham a little flat-footed here.

Does McLeod definitely make this tackle? No. Hunt has been sensational, with at least one rushing attempt of 50 yards more in each of his first three NFL games. This is a difficult spot for just about anybody.

But McLeod is 27 years old and generally does a solid job at free safety. Graham is a 32-year-old journeyman whose move from cornerback to safety a few seasons ago was at least in part the result of his losing a step.

The point here isn’t to bag on Graham, but to merely point out McLeod may have come up with this stop. Instead, the Chiefs took a 13-10 lead in the third quarter, and the Eagles were never ahead again.

A case could be made Hunt scores regardless. Shepherd’s touchdown this past Sunday, on the other hand, was a disaster brought about almost entirely by a player in an unfamiliar role.

Two hamstring injuries later, the Eagles are down to Chris Maragos at free safety. A special teams ace, Maragos lines up on defense so infrequently, he saw a grand total of 19 snaps during the preseason. Now, there he is on the far right side of the frame, with the receiver coming on the slant.

Shepherd beats Patrick Robinson in man coverage, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning fits a perfect ball between the linebackers in zone. There’s really not much the Eagles can do about this except tackle the receiver and minimize the damage.

Except not only does Maragos miss the tackle, but he also barrels right into Robinson, knocking the one person trailing Shepherd out of the play as well. Rather than hold the Giants to a first down and force them to drive the field, the Eagles give them the touchdown and a 21-14 fourth-quarter lead in one chunk play.

Again, the point here is not to rip Maragos, who did an otherwise solid job. However, this is an example of a play McLeod almost certainly makes, if for no other reason than he has far more experience and this is a common play free safeties are asked to make all the time.

McLeod isn’t quite a star himself, but he’s a good to very good player. Clearly, the Eagles missed him the last few weeks, and now that he’s back, maybe these huge plays over the middle will become much more infrequent.

Challenging week ahead, but time for Sixers to feast after

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USA Today Images

Challenging week ahead, but time for Sixers to feast after

The Sixers yawned their way to a 116-105 win over the Orlando Magic at home last night. Orlando put a half-scare into the Sixers by leaping out to a 15-6 lead over a sluggish-looking home team, but the Ballers quickly regained momentum — credit Brett Brown for having the instinct to put Richaun Holmes in off the bench for an energy boost, and credit Holmes for actually providing it — and then the Sixers cruised from there, with Joel Embiid putting up 28 points and 14 boards (on 10-17 FG) in 27 minutes, Robert Covington hitting four threes for the first time in a month and the bench doing just enough to keep the starters from having to re-enter in the fourth. 

It should have been an easy win against the Magic, and essentially, it was. The Sixers moved to 32-25 on the year, comfortably leading the reeling eight-place Heat by 2.5 games and ninth-place Pistons by 4.5 games in the East standings as of Sunday morning, winners of seven in a row and still undefeated at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. Brown's crew has mostly made it look easy the last few weeks — but now it's about to get hard again. Briefly. 

Tonight, the Sixers kick off a three-game road trip in Washington, playing a Wizards team that was supposed to be an easy target for the Sixers to pass in the playoff race once star point guard John Wall was ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury. But backup point guard Tomas Satoransky has flourished in Wall's place, shooting guard Bradley Beal has emerged as fully weaponized and the Wizards have gone an improbable 8-3 in Wall's absence, still leading the Sixers by one game in the standings. 

The Sixers' other two games this trip are also against playoff competition — the 31-29 Heat and the 35-23 third-place Cavaliers — meaning postseason implications are aplenty over the next week. It could end with the red-hot Sixers finally being doused with cold water, or it could close with the Sixers making a serious push for home-court advantage in the first round. 

Either way, the trip stands as the last really challenging part of the Sixers' schedule. After this, the Sixers have 22 games remaining, only seven of which come against teams currently ticketed for the postseason — none against the top two squads in either conference and only two of which come back to back, when the Sixers host the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets in consecutive home games towards the end of March. Beside that, it's a whole lot of Hornets, Nets and Hawks for the Sixers, who've earned their chance to fatten up on the lottery-bound after a brutal schedule for the first 2/3 of the season.

It's worth taking a moment at this point to step back and appreciate the big picture here. Two seasons ago, the Sixers entered March still just hoping they would be able to win two more games all season to avoid historic infamy and ended up only barely able to do so. Now, they're not just in the playoff picture, they're a serious threat to enter the postseason as a first-round favorite while their three most productive players are all in their first or second year and their No. 1 overall pick from last season hasn't played since October. Remarkable stuff, and you only hope that all concerned can make it to the finish line with all limbs and appendages still functioning properly. 

Philly won weird Super Bowl bet with Brockton, Massachusetts

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Mayors of Philly/Brockton

Philly won weird Super Bowl bet with Brockton, Massachusetts

Mayor Jim Kenney doesn't seem to fully understand the concept of a sports wager.

The general rule I like to follow: if you win a bet, you GET SOMETHING OF VALUE in return.

Now, the Mayor of Philadelphia won a bet with the city of Brockton, Massachusetts, and he has to SEND THEM STUFF.

Makes no sense.

Anyway, I guess the city of Brockton now has to dress their Rocky Marciano statue up in Eagles gear. Lulz. So Mr. Kenney is shipping them some goods. I hope the people of New England had to pay for it.

As Eagles fans know all too well, the official Eagles gear is not cheap.