The700Level

Visual proof that Big V is really, really good

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Visual proof that Big V is really, really good

Before Eagles fans felt a sense of dread over losing Carson Wentz, there was the impending doom caused by the season-ending injury to Jason Peters. Turns out, just like at quarterback, they were going to be fine at left tackle.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been largely fine in place of Peters all season but may have played his best when the Eagles needed it most in the NFC Championship Game. Working against Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen for much of the contest, Vaitai silenced the three-time Pro Bowler and defense’s best rusher.

Big V opened holes in the running game and did his part to keep Nick Foles upright in the pocket. Technically, Griffen was credited with two quarterback hits, though both were ineffective — one well after Foles released the football, the other a glancing blow.

Prior to the matchup, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called Griffen “a game wrecker.” Yet, a supposed backup offensive lineman shut down one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

It’s time to give Vaitai his due. The kid is pretty good.

Early on, Pederson gave Vaitai plenty of help. It wasn’t necessarily in the form of straight double teams, but the Eagles used the traffic created by tight ends running their routes and simple misdirection to slow Griffen’s attack.

But in the second quarter, Pederson began trusting Vaitai to block Griffen one-on-one. It worked. Some observers would even be tempted to say Big V had his number on this particular series.

Here, Griffen tries to bull rush his way through Vaitai. The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defender does get some initial push, but the 6-6, 320-pound tackle stands his ground, keeping the pocket clean for Foles.

Next play, Griffen attempts to use his speed and go around the edge on Vaitai. That’s not happening, either. The second-year player is in perfect position the entire time and barely lays a finger on the rusher, who winds up running himself right out of the play.

Finally, on the very next pass-rush opportunity, Griffen goes to his vaunted spin move. Vaitai sticks with him the whole way. Not even close.

The Eagles wound up punting two plays later, but Vaitai’s ability to handle Griffen allowed Pederson to open up the offense. For example, the 41-yard flea flicker to Torrey Smith in the third quarter doesn’t happen if there isn’t the utmost confidence in Big V to win his one-on-one matchup.

It wasn’t exactly a pancake block or very pretty but Vaitai got the job done. Same again on Foles’ earlier 51-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, which required the offensive line to hold up in protection for five full seconds until the ball was released.

Vaitai put the exclamation point on his near-flawless performance at the end of the game. With time winding down and the Vikings fully aware the Eagles were running the football, Big V helped clear the way for two first downs.

Minnesota never got the ball back in the final 5:52 seconds, in part because of blocks like these from No. 72.

Griffen is 30 years old. The eighth-year veteran managed just 2.0 sacks over the final seven games of the season, including playoffs. It’s possible, perhaps likely he was worn down by the NFC Championship Game.

Regardless, some people still have this perception that going against Vaitai can rejuvenate a pass rusher who’s in a slump. That clearly was not the case here and hasn’t been for most of the season.

Over the course of his first two seasons in the league, Vaitai has proven he can be a full-time starter in the NFL — maybe better. After all, he just shut down the top defensive lineman on the No. 1 defense in football, doing his part to clear the way for the Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

Leather Eagles Super Bowl jacket is amazing, crazy expensive

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NFL Shop

Leather Eagles Super Bowl jacket is amazing, crazy expensive

Philadelphia fans aren't the only ones who can't get their fill of Super Bowl championship memorabilia. The Eagles' players want in on the surfeit of champs gear as well.

Take Beau Allen for example. A true man of the people, Allen tweeted his desire for this absolutely beautiful leather jacket commemorating the Eagles victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Allen tweeted aloud, wondering why the Birds' players hadn't been issued one of these leather jackets yet?

One guess? They retail for a cool $3,000. Totally worth it. 

You can pick one up right here for a low $2,999.99. It's listed as a "Men's NFL Pro Line by Fanatics Branded Black/Green Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Champions Full-Button Leather Jacket."

You'll be happy to know it's an officially licensed NFL product and is made in the USA. Just like Beau.

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

You can't really fake it at an All-Star Game, especially one where people are actually trying. There's no lucking your way into a couple open shots and a couple generous foul calls and all of a sudden rolling your way to a 30-plus-point game; there's no isolating one defensive mismatch and exploiting it to make yourself look like '01 Shaq. Generally speaking, an All-Star Game shakes out as it should: The best shine the brightest, and those who aren't ready yet fade into the periphery with extra motivation to step things up for next year. 

And that's why it's so awesome that Joel Embiid, a mere 75 games into his NBA career, unquestionably belonged on the biggest stage with the biggest names last night. Playing for Stephen Curry's squad, JoJo posted 19 points on 8-13 shooting, with eight rebounds and two blocks, and a +5 rating for the night — the only positive plus/minus for the Steph starters. 

Out of context, those numbers may not sound particularly impressive for an All-Star outing, considering the final score of 2017's game was 192-182. But thanks to increased financial and personal motivation in this year's game, the competition was ratcheted up, and though the final score was still a robust 148-145 — Team LeBron emerging victorious — no one player really went off in this one, with Team Stephen being led in scoring by DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard (21 each). Consider that JoJo's 19 outpaced both teammates James Harden (12 points on 5-19 FG) and Curry himself (13 on 4-14 FG) — only two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. 

And what's more, down the stretch it was Embiid who seemed most ready to rise to the moment. With minutes remaining and his team up one, Embiid posted up LeBron James — LeBron James!! — for an easy bucket, and with the score tied and under a minute left, he got stuck isolated on the perimeter against Paul George, and still ended up blocking George's shot to win the possession back for his team. Had his squad been able to hang on in this one, he would've been able to mount a fairly compelling case for MVP, which would've made him the first player since at least the 20th century to win top honors in his first All-Star appearance. 

Of course, it didn't happen that way, and Team Stephen coach Mike D'Antoni might get most of the blame as to why. With his squad up one and Team LeBron inbounding out of a timeout, D'Antoni opted for some incomprehensible reason to bench Embiid, his best defensive player — which, somewhat unsurprisingly, resulted in LeBron scoring quickly and easily at the basket to go up one, and then DeMar DeRozan throwing the ball away at the other end. Embiid entered for the final possession, with his team needing a three to tie, and he had a chance to hoist one, but understandably passed to Curry, who drove his way into traffic and ended up not even getting a shot off. Team LeBron won, and James took home his third MVP. 

Frustrating finish, but it can't ruin what came before: Joel Embiid squaring off against the best the NBA has to offer, and proving himself a factor. (Also nailed a three and then blocked a Russell Westbrook drive at the other end, btw, so that beautiful random feud lives on.) He got as good as he gave — LeBron drilled a triple in his face immediately after JoJo took him down low — but he was in the mix, and a crucial part of his team's successes and failures. It should be the first of many such All-Star starring roles for Embiid, and hopefully the last for some time that doesn't also include him being flanked by Process Truster in Arms Ben Simmons. 

But even if it isn't — even if nothing good ever happens again with Joel, and we look back at this All-Star Game 25 years from now as the high point of this career — it still would have all been worth it. It was worth it when the team went 10-5 two Januarys ago. It was maybe worth it when Embiid gave his first-ever post-game interview following a Sixers win. 

That's what people will never understand about The Process, and that's what makes nights like this so gratifying. Franchises go decades, entire generations, without getting a moment to feel this way about one of their players, and even getting the chance to feel it about one of ours is worth seasons of sacrifice. JoJo lives, and somewhere in the bowels of the Staples Center last night, Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie had to be there and be smiling. Hope he enjoyed the Fergie national anthem as much as I did, as well.