The700Level

The Jahlil situation is a mess, but at least we still have Nerlens

The Jahlil situation is a mess, but at least we still have Nerlens

Jahlil Okafor was rewarded a DNP - REST in the box score last night, as the Sixers took on the Hornets in Charlotte. The real reasons for Jahlil's absence, of course, were far too long and complicated to fit into one stat line, as our No. 3 overall draft pick's was instructed to not even travel with the team, with a trade -- finally, a trade -- supposedly due any moment. It was at least three days ago that Okafor was informed of the team's intentions to move on -- which is why he also sat out the Miami game -- and as of writing, Jah certainly appears to us plebs to still be a Liberty Baller, with trade talks seeming to only get more abstract in the hours since. 

This is not a good situation. It's going to be exceedingly difficult to welcome Okafor back to the team now, but you have to imagine that every day he sits, our leverage in working out a deal for him lessens. I didn't really expect the team to deal him this far ahead of the trade deadline, but when a team holds a player out due to an imminent trade, usually it means the trade is actually imminent. To put Jah in limbo like this makes us look cruel, and possibly downright silly. 

But as badly as this is going, you can only get so mad, because it could've been so much worse. As much as the Colangelos may have mishandled this (and some other recent personnel issues), you have to give them a decent amount of credit for one thing: They seem, at least for now, to be holding onto Nerlens. Though things got so bad with our Process O.G. a couple months ago that a trade seemed nearly as inevitable as it currently seems for Jah, they declined to deal the center for 40 percent on the dollar. And good thing, because right now, he's playing like an absolute star, and perhaps the biggest reason they picked up their third W in a row last night in Charlotte. 

In the 105-99 win, Nerlens had 12 points (on 5-6 shooting) and seven rebounds, with three steals and two blocks. Pretty good stats for 28 minutes of play, but I don't think they really do his contributions justice -- he was everywhere for the Sixers on defense last night, constantly helping and recovering, switching where necessary, jarring balls loose and disrupting possessions at every possible corner. I used to be bothered by his lack of rebounding (only 9.3 boards per 36 minutes this season, his career-worst rate), but now I realize that he's barely ever in rebounding position only because we ask him to be so many other places for us as well. (Our other forwards are picking up the slack for him anyway -- particularly Dario Saric, who had his fifth double-double of the season last night with 18 and 11.)

And I think we might be overlooking his offensive contributions a little, as well. His stats there are a career-best this season -- 16.3 points per 36 minutes on an incredible 61% shooting -- but again, the real impact is non-statistical, as the gravity he pulls just by diving into the rim and forcing the defense account for him as a lob threat opens so many things up for both our point guards and our surrounding shooters. It's how Tyson Chandler managed to be the fulcrum of such effective offenses in Dallas and New York, and it bodes really well for how effective he can be playing with both Ben Simmons and whatever wing talent we add to the team before next year. 
 

Of course, this isn't to say that Noel will definitely be a Sixer forever. At some point in his development alongside Joel Embiid -- who we, uh, have to hope will come back at some point -- having Noel around as a backup center might be enough of a luxury that it's worth seeing if we could score a real bounty for him on the trade market. But while Embiid is injured, and before we really see what they can do on the court together -- I still get heart palpitations picturing JoJo holding down the middle on defense while Nerlens causes anarchy on the perimeter -- having #4 around allows us to be competitive in every game, and actually win a bunch of 'em too. As badly as Jahlil Okafor's end days with the Sixers are currently being handled, as long as it's his bags they're prematurely packing and not Noel's, we're still coming out on top.

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles