Eagles' secondary improved since coaching changes


Eagles' secondary improved since coaching changes

PHILADELPHIA (AP) In two games since Philadelphia coach Andy Reid fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn and hired veteran Tommy Brasher to replace Washburn's wide-nine scheme with a conventional front, the Eagles' secondary has suddenly become respectable.

``It's helped the defense out tremendously,'' said Kurt Coleman, who will start at safety alongside Colt Anderson against the Washington Redskins on Sunday in the Eagles' latest revamped secondary.

After allowing quarterbacks to complete 68 percent of their passes with 18 touchdowns during the eight-game losing streak that doomed Washburn and his wide nine, a scheme that makes life difficult for defensive backs, the Eagles have allowed just three TD passes and limited quarterbacks to a 44 percent completion percentage over the last two weeks.

``I think what we're doing now has helped everyone's comfort level, especially mine,'' said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who struggled much of the year before turning in consecutive solid performances.

The wide nine puts a tremendous amount of pressure on defensive backs by forcing them to think run first, since the defensive ends are so far out of position to play the run. This creates massive areas of the field that simply can't be covered.


``It's more true,'' Coleman said. ``It's a more true defense. And you're not asked to fill holes as fast. You can be a little more patient, which helps us out and helps the corners because they know they can have a little under presence by a safety or over-the-top presence, whatever the coverage may be. So it's helping everyone all the way around.''

After losing eight straight games and allowing quarterbacks an astronomical passer rating of 117.6 during that span, the Eagles beat the Buccaneers two weeks ago in Tampa, Fla., and then didn't allow a touchdown drive longer than 44 yards in a loss to the Bengals a week ago Thursday.

The passer rating against the Eagles the last two weeks: A dramatically improved 73.8.

``I think we're mixing some things up a little more,'' said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who replaced Juan Castillo when the Eagles were 3-3. ``There are times when we're helping up front and times we're helping in the back. Just having a good mix overall kind of helps the coverage.''

On Sunday, the retooled Eagles defense gets a rematch with a team that gave the unit fits during the losing streak.

Five weeks ago, Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was 14 for 15 (93.3 percent) for 200 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a 31-6 win over Philadelphia.

The Eagles, 4-10 and in last place in the NFC East, host the 8-6 Redskins, winners of five straight. It's another chance for this pass defense to demonstrate that the root of its problems wasn't personnel or execution but scheme.

``Since Todd came around there was a starting-over process with us,'' Asomugha said. ``Now it's starting to take shape ever since the Tampa game. ... Being able to play a little bit faster always helps.''

In 12 games this year with Washburn in place, the defensive linemen had only 13 sacks. They have eight in two games since Brasher took over.

``The D-line is playing really well, so that always helps us in the back end,'' Asomugha said. ``You've definitely seen more of what (Bowles) can do. (The defense) is a little more intricate than it was in the weeks before.''

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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