It's time to change the narrative about Philly sports fans

It's time to change the narrative about Philly sports fans

Old narratives often die hard in network television. Especially when it comes to sports broadcasting. 

Game in New York, you’re almost guaranteed to see an aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty or Times Square. Redskins play on a Thursday night, Lincoln Memorial. Chicago, Lake Michigan scenic shot. Philadelphia, cheesesteaks being fried on the grill at Pat’s and Geno’s or the Rocky statue. You can almost book it.

What you can also bank on is a producer in New York or L.A. (usually not from Philadelphia) pre-producing a package that week leading into a nationally televised game in which snowballs being thrown at Santa Claus or something of that ilk is referenced. If it’s not done in the package, the subject is injected or introduced to the lead broadcasters in the production meetings leading up to said game. The old Philadelphia-fans-are-knuckle-dragging-cretins angle. 

It’s tired. It’s lazy. It’s predictable. And it’s gone on for years. It’s the easiest way to push the buttons of a Philadelphia sports fan. But there may be an end in sight to the false narrative.

Take the last couple of years for example. Let’s go back to the 2017 NFL draft, held at the Ben Franklin Parkway. It was a game-changer for the league. The outdoor setting was perfect, the weather could not have been better, but it was the fans that stood out. They came out in droves. They lustily cheered on anything the Eagles did. They had fun with the commissioner, booing him upon first sight — and Roger Goodell played along beautifully. They jeered Drew Pearson, who attempted to give them the business. Brian Westbrook responded in kind the next day. Philly fans showed the world what passion was those three days. The NFL noticed. So did virtually every national broadcaster.  

Fast-forward to last season with the Eagles and the absolute domination by the fans at road games. This was nothing new but it was taken to a different level in 2017. Exhibit A, the Chargers' game in L.A. was an absolute takeover; it was an Eagles home game. Other cities do not travel that way. 

Then on to the Super Bowl championship parade. Broad Street and the Parkway covered in a sea of green with a jolly green giant dressed in a Mummers suit speaking for all those misrepresented fans who didn’t have that platform. It was epic. 

To the baseball team over the course of the last month. Chase Utley returned to a three-day love-fest. And this past weekend, a stirring, heart-wrenching speech from Brandy Halladay, the wife of the late Roy Halladay, about how this city has embraced her and her family through their most trying time. The weekend was capped off by nothing but cheers for prodigal son, Jayson Werth. Instances like Werth’s introduction — if it was anything but warm — would have been chum for the national narrative that Philadelphia fans are the worst.  

Lastly was Brian Dawkins' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, his devotees showed up in droves, outnumbering any other group. Dawkins closed his speech acknowledging and thanking them. It was a perfect ending to an emotionally draining oration. Oh, by the way, 40,000 people showed up for a practice Sunday evening at the Linc.

Who knows if any of the above evidence will end the false perception put forth by the Michael Wilbons, Colin Cowherds and Skip Baylesses of the world. Not to mention those network suits. 

Perhaps it was Union supporters, Sons of Ben, echoed by esteemed philosopher and poet, Jason Kelce, who put it best:

“We’re from Philly, f------ Philly, no one likes us, we don’t care.”

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Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh concerned by Titans' pass rush

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Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh concerned by Titans' pass rush

Three takeaways from Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh’s chat with the media Tuesday:

Did you see what the Titans did to Blake Bortles?

The Titans are fourth in the NFL in point allowed (16.7 per game), and they really did a terrific job on Blake Bortles Sunday, limiting the Jaguars’ quarterback to just 155 yards on 34 passing yards and sacking him three times. Bortles’ longest completion went for just 19 yards.

“They just made it really challenging on Bortles,” Groh said. “They got good pressure, (and) he couldn't really set his feet in the pocket and make any throws. They had some throws down the field to make, but he would have to move off his spot, and then when he tried to reset the throw there was somebody else in his face and he couldn't get the ball out of there.”

This is big because the Eagles are coming off a game in which Carson Wentz was sacked five times, matching the most sacks the Eagles have allowed at home in five years. 

It wasn’t all on the offensive line. Wentz did run into some trouble Sunday. But the bottom line is that the offensive line has to pass block better and give Wentz time to work. If they don’t, it’s going to be a difficult day Sunday.

Why opening in no-huddle made so much sense 

One of the underrated coaching moves Doug Pederson and Mike Groh did Sunday was opening the game in no-huddle. What better way to get a quarterback who hadn’t played in 9 ½ months into a quick rhythm?

This wasn’t out of the Chip Kelly playbook. Running tempo all the time is lunacy because of the pressure it puts on a defense. But as a change-of-pace, it can be a tremendous weapon, and it was Sunday.

Wentz was 5-for-7 for 55 yards and a touchdown to Dallas Goedert on that drive, with all but the first snap coming on no-huddle.

“Just another way to try to get Carson immediately into the game and into the flow of the game and not have any time to think about anything,” Groh said. “Just get up to the line of scrimmage and be able to conduct the game from there.”

Where are the big plays?

There are a lot of explanations for the lack of big plays from the Eagles' offense so far.

No Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace or Mack Hollins. No Darren Sproles or Jay Ajayi last week. A quarterback change. A couple new coaches.

But the reality is that the Eagles are making it very difficult on themselves by not getting the football down the field.

They have only five pass plays of 20 yards or more so far, and only the Bears (four), Cowboys (three) and Titans (three) have fewer. 

“We haven't had as many explosive passes as we would like,” Groh said. “For 40 minutes (time of possession), we would like to have more than 20 points. We left some points out there on the field.”

Yeah, you can’t control the clock for 40:20 minutes and score just 20 points. The Eagles are only the third team in the last 10 years to do that (not counting OT). But that’s what happens when you don’t hit big plays. You can move the ball all over the place between the 20s, but you don’t score. The Eagles were fortunate to escape with a win Sunday but they won’t be able to get away with it every week.

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Titans love to run, which will play right into Eagles' hands

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Titans love to run, which will play right into Eagles' hands

In an era where the average team throws 41 times a game and runs 24 times a game, the Tennessee Titans are a rare exception to NFL convention.

They run more than they throw. Way more.

The Titans love to run. Which should play right into the Eagles’ hands Sunday, when they face the Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The Titans are averaging 32.7 rushing attempts per game so far, second-most in the league (they have one carry fewer than the Redskins). But they’re only 24th in yards per carry (3.7).

It’s an anachronistic way of operating an offense in the NFL these days.

So far, the Titans have run 54 percent of the time and thrown just 46 percent.

The league averages are 37 and 63.

So Tennessee runs 27 percent more than the average 2018 NFL team.

They’re averaging six more rushing attempts per game through three weeks than passing attempts.

The combination of a very good defense and ball control means the Titans want to win low-scoring games, like they did Sunday, 9-6 over Jacksonville.

They’ve only scored three offensive TDs this year, but they’re 2-1.

The Titans are the only NFL team that hasn’t scored or allowed more than 50 points, and they’re actually only the third team to do that after three games in the last nine years.

But in the Eagles, the Titans will see the best rushing defense in the league.

Since 2016, they’ve allowed an NFL-low 89 rushing yards per game. This year, that number is an NFL-best 61.7, their lowest since 2008.

At their current pace, the Eagles will become only the 11th team since 1960 to allow fewer than 1,300 rushing yards in consecutive seasons.

The Eagles have faced 54 runs so far this year, only four for 10 yards or more and only two of those by running backs.

Nobody has even rushed for 40 yards against the Eagles in their last five games, the first time that’s happened since the last two games of 2002 and the first five games of 2003.

The Eagles haven’t allowed a second-half run over nine yards this year and just one over six yards.

So a team that wants to run far more than it throws is about to take on a historically great rush defense.

“They are committed to the run,” Jim Schwartz said. “They've invested a lot of resources in it.

“Drafted a couple offensive lineman, offensive tackles (in the first round). They’ve got a veteran offensive line. They have a Heisman Trophy running back. They had probably their premier free-agent pick-up this year, Dion Lewis, and they have a running quarterback.

“So obviously it's what they want to do and they're committed to it, so it's our job to combat that. … So our goal is to get opponents stopped. However we do it, we do it.”

Lewis is the Titans’ leading rusher with 143 yards but only 3.7 per carry. Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner for Alabama, has 139 yards but only a 3.0 average.

QB Marcus Mariota is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has a 5.9 career average, ninth-highest in NFL history.

He’s really the Titans’ only threat in the backfield.

“He's probably the fastest quarterback in the NFL right now,” Schwartz said. “Looks like a 40-yard dash he's running so fast.”

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