Rob rants about Thursday NFL games, Andy MacPhail and Simmons-Fultz

NBC Sports Philadelphia

Rob rants about Thursday NFL games, Andy MacPhail and Simmons-Fultz

With the Eagles off to a 4-1 start and sitting atop the NFC East, it would pretty tough to justify any rants thrown their way this week. So this will be an anti-Eagle edition of Rob's Rants. But that doesn't mean the NFL is off the hook.

Too soon
I love the NFL. Much to the chagrin of my family, I could and usually do watch it from 1 p.m. Sunday until whatever time the night game ends. Same goes for Monday Night Football. But I have never been a fan of the Thursday night games, for varying reasons. This week, our TNF antenna is up because the Eagles play in the game. It's actually a great matchup. A pair of 4-1 teams, both with exciting young quarterbacks, leading their conference and divisions. What's not to love? Here's what.

For starters, I'd like to be able to bask in the smackdown that was the win over the Cardinals. A full week of marinating in Carson Wentz's four-touchdown performance, the defense's impressive game and Kenjon Barner's returns would have been wonderful. Anyone who's been watching Eagles games for more than a decade knows they rarely win games comfortably, the kind of games you literally are not concerned about at all in the fourth quarter. Sunday was one of those non-white knuckles, agita-free kind of games that don't come along very often. Not to mention the high of a 4-1 start.

It would be nice to revel in that a few days longer before dealing with an equally hot Panthers team. One of the beauties of the NFL is the yin and yang element of its nature. You normally have six or seven days before the next one. That allows for a 3-4 day period of mourning or celebration from the previous game. Then it's time for the lookahead, which is the slow build to the next opponent. We all get to play coaches and coordinators as we break down whoever our team is taking on next. Playing once a week with that amount of time in between makes that league unique. The NFL, for all its faults, is the only league that has not hit a saturation point with its games. You can't find one or multiple games on every night like other in-season sports. Having a four-day turnaround kills the mid-week fun.

By its very nature, football should be played only once a week. The players need at least that amount of time to heal and recharge for the next contest. The league constantly preaches players safety. Protocols and more stringent rules have been put in place to protect the players. And the decision-makers deserve kudos. But don't try to tell me you're all about the welfare of your employees on the field and then ask them to play a violent, physical toll-taking game, four days later. You're not all about the good fortunes of the players, you're about the fortunes you're lining your pockets with. If you've seen any of these games, you know the performances are not up to standard. Players rightfully are tired and beat up from the game they played four days earlier. The product is usually bad.

Back to back
For the past two games, Eagles fans not in attendance or listening on the radio have been subjected to Dick Stockton and Chris Myers calling their games in consecutive weeks. This is cruel and unusual punishment. No fanbase should be forced to listen to this not-so-dynamic duo. Stockton was bad when I was a kid listening to him call the NBA and Sixers-Celtics playoff games. That was 30-something years ago. He has not improved with age. He has no feel for the moment and misses blatant plays throughout a game. Myers, who's also been around a long time as well, lacks any kind of juice, he's a cure for insomnia, and he shares Stockton's obliviousness when it comes to a big play or moment. The Eagles are too good to get the "Y" and "Z" broadcast teams. Stockton and Myers should make the Joe Buck haters reconsider their stances.

Andy MacPhail
Considering the team has one reliable starting pitcher heading into the 2018 season, I'm glad one of Phillies president Andy MacPhail's priorities is the P.A. system at Citizens Bank Park. I hear Dan Baker could project as a solid No. 2 if they can just get his sound straightened out. "Now starting for the Phillies, me."

Outside the paint
We're only three preseason games in but at some point, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are going to have to be willing to shoot the ball from outside the lane. We knew going in this was going to be an issue with Simmons and the hope was he would improve his shot this offseason. So far, we don't know because he won't pull the trigger. Fultz shot the ball better than 41.0 percent from three in his lone year in college at Washington. But he decided to tinker with his shot after summer league for whatever reason and whether it's the new form or a sore shoulder, he appears hesitant. Again, we're not even out of the preseason, but something to keep your eye on.

How the loss of Jordan Howard has damaged the Eagles

How the loss of Jordan Howard has damaged the Eagles

Jordan Howard still hasn’t been cleared for contact nearly five weeks after he hurt his shoulder, and at this point it certainly seems more likely than not that he will miss a fourth straight game when the Eagles face the Giants Monday night at the Linc.

A lot of factors have contributed to the Eagles’ three-game losing streak, but Howard’s absence is an under-rated huge one.

The Eagles were 5-4 and averaging 23 points per game with the fourth-year running back, and they’re 0-3 and averaging less than 17 points without him.

With Howard on the field, the Eagles were controlling the clock and keeping defenses off-balance. Doug Pederson spoke more than once about how an authoritative running attack had become the team’s identity.

That identity no longer exists.

Howard injured his shoulder in the win over the Bears on Nov. 3.

Pederson didn't mention Howard's injury after the game or the next day, and when the Eagles went into the bye there was no reason to believe it was serious.

Pederson first referred to Howard's injury as a “stinger,” or nerve damage in the shoulder area, on Nov. 15, nearly two weeks after Howard first got hurt.

Howard has practiced on a limited basis since the injury, but Pederson said Thursday he still hasn’t been cleared for contact and said there’s no change in his status.

Although rookie Miles Sanders has played very well, the Eagles miss Howard tremendously.

Through nine games, he was 14th in the NFL with 525 rushing yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Most importantly, he was moving the chains and getting in the end zone.

Going into Week 10, he had rushed for 28 first downs, 14th-most in the league (despite averaging just 13 carries per game), and he had six rushing TDs, 6th-most in the league.

In the three games Howard has missed, Sanders has averaged 4.6 yards per carry but has only 40 carries as Pederson has moved away from the running game.

The Eagles don’t have a rushing touchdown since Howard got hurt.

Interesting to note that in the nine games Howard played, the Eagles ranked 5th in the NFL in time of possession at 32:13 per game. Without Howard, they’re 13th at 30:44.

There are obviously other factors, but the Eagles’ offensive scoring is also down dramatically without Howard, from 23.3 to 16.7.

And most notably, instead of increasing Sanders’ workload with Sanders out, Pederson has simply decided not to run nearly as much.

In the nine games with Howard, the Eagles had the 6th-most rushing attempts in the NFL and a 55-45 pass-run ratio.

In the three games without Howard, the Eagles have the 3rd-FEWEST rushing attempts in the NFL and a 69-31 pass-run ratio.

The Eagles, who have lost running backs Corey Clement and Darren Sproles to season-ending injuries, signed Jay Ajayi a few weeks ago, but he’s only averaging 3.1 yards on eight carries so far.

When can we expect to see Howard?

It’s impossible to tell.

Pederson said Thursday he doesn’t expect this injury to be season-ending, but the season is over in 24 days, and Howard hasn’t played in 32 days.

Adding to the equation is the fact that Howard is scheduled to become a free agent after this season and the Eagles need to decide whether to offer him a long-term deal or not.

The season is slipping away, the Eagles haven’t won a game in over a month and one of the players they miss the most remains sidelined with an injury that won't go away.

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Eagles sign training camp standout receiver Marken Michel to practice squad

Eagles sign training camp standout receiver Marken Michel to practice squad

The Eagles on Thursday signed preseason and training camp standout Marken Michel to their practice squad.

Michel, 26, had an impressive summer in Philadelphia and was a strong contender to make the initial 53-man roster but was released at final cuts. The Eagles kept just five receivers out of training camp.

The Eagles reportedly had Michel in for a workout earlier this week.

During the preseason, Michel had four catches for 117 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on a deep post against the Titans from Nate Sudfeld.

Michel is the older brother (by about a year and a half) of Patriots running back Sony Michel. While Sony has found a home in the NFL, Marken’s route has been more circuitous to this point.

Marken Michel went undrafted out of UMass in 2016. He spent one summer with the Vikings and then carved out a career in the Canadian Football League for two years. He was a teammate of Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton on the Calgary Stampeders when the Stampeders won the 2018 Grey Cup.

With this move to sign Michel (5-11, 190), the Eagles’ practice squad is now at capacity with 10 members and three of them are receivers. They have just four receivers on the 53-man roster.

The Eagles also have Robert Davis (6-3, 210) and Marcus Green (5-8, 191) on the practice squad.

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