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Eagles Film Review: Rodney McLeod has been sorely missed

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Eagles Film Review: Rodney McLeod has been sorely missed

But for two plays, the Eagles' defense has played stellar in 2017. And the two big plays the Eagles' defense has surrendered this season occurred at least in part because free safety Rodney McLeod was out of the lineup.

McLeod is set to return in Week 4 after a missing a game-and-a-half with a hamstring injury, and not a moment too soon. His replacement was largely to blame for both a 53-yard touchdown run by Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and 77-yard touchdown reception by Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepherd.

Those just happen to be by far the two biggest scoring plays against the Eagles' defense so far this season — and some real backbreakers at that.

Let’s jump back to Hunt’s run in Week 2, already in progress. Obviously, one look at this frame can tell you this was going to be trouble from the start. Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks loses track of the football, and gap integrity along with it, leaving the middle of the football field wide open.

McLeod’s replacement — Corey Graham in this case, at the top of the screen — becomes the last line of defense.

Here is the precise moment Hunt begins to make his move — a simple cut to the left. It’s unfair how much room the ball carrier has to work with, but he’s also going to catch Graham a little flat-footed here.

Does McLeod definitely make this tackle? No. Hunt has been sensational, with at least one rushing attempt of 50 yards more in each of his first three NFL games. This is a difficult spot for just about anybody.

But McLeod is 27 years old and generally does a solid job at free safety. Graham is a 32-year-old journeyman whose move from cornerback to safety a few seasons ago was at least in part the result of his losing a step.

The point here isn’t to bag on Graham, but to merely point out McLeod may have come up with this stop. Instead, the Chiefs took a 13-10 lead in the third quarter, and the Eagles were never ahead again.

A case could be made Hunt scores regardless. Shepherd’s touchdown this past Sunday, on the other hand, was a disaster brought about almost entirely by a player in an unfamiliar role.

Two hamstring injuries later, the Eagles are down to Chris Maragos at free safety. A special teams ace, Maragos lines up on defense so infrequently, he saw a grand total of 19 snaps during the preseason. Now, there he is on the far right side of the frame, with the receiver coming on the slant.

Shepherd beats Patrick Robinson in man coverage, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning fits a perfect ball between the linebackers in zone. There’s really not much the Eagles can do about this except tackle the receiver and minimize the damage.

Except not only does Maragos miss the tackle, but he also barrels right into Robinson, knocking the one person trailing Shepherd out of the play as well. Rather than hold the Giants to a first down and force them to drive the field, the Eagles give them the touchdown and a 21-14 fourth-quarter lead in one chunk play.

Again, the point here is not to rip Maragos, who did an otherwise solid job. However, this is an example of a play McLeod almost certainly makes, if for no other reason than he has far more experience and this is a common play free safeties are asked to make all the time.

McLeod isn’t quite a star himself, but he’s a good to very good player. Clearly, the Eagles missed him the last few weeks, and now that he’s back, maybe these huge plays over the middle will become much more infrequent.

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Cheesesteaks are great.

People who are new to Philadelphia should eat cheesesteaks. People who are not new to Philadelphia should also eat cheesesteaks.

New 76ers draft pick Zhaire Smith is new to Philadelphia so he went to eat a cheesesteak.

Thankfully, it was a pretty good one at Jim's Steaks on South Street. It appears as if there is no ketchup or other strange substances on his cheesesteak. Hot peppers are not only acceptable but encouraged, in my humble cheesesteak eating opinion.

Congrats, Zhaire for enjoying a cheesesteak successfully without embarrassment.

You can learn much more about Smith and his abilities and fit with the Sixers right here.

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Brett Brown sold me.

I agree with my colleague Andrew Kulp that the moment the news of the Sixers trading Mikal Bridges broke that I was flabbergasted. His mother works for the Sixers! Bridges was literally talking about how excited she was for him to be in Philly when the news broke. His poor mother! It was pretty much as rough as it gets in terms of optics. 

It looked awful from a PR perspective. There are tons of disappointed Villanova alums today.

But it's an unfortunate situation, in my opinion, not an organizational embarrassment, as Kulp wrote.

An unprotected first-round pick though? Damn. That's enticing.

Then Brett Brown came out after the first round ended and put my mind at ease that the Sixers made the right move.

They did what they believed to be best for the Sixers, a "Godfather offer" if you will. Here's Brown's, incredibly honest and thoughtful opening statement. You can watch it in full above. I think it's worth watching to realize how much thought Brown and his decision-makers put into this one.

"We had 1A and 1B and when the ninth pick was selected you realize, we’re going to get one of our two, and we chose Mikal. And to see that play out knowing the history that he has had in this city and at Villanova, it was very much aligned and he was somebody that could come in a fit with what we had. And so it goes from that level of excitement in the extreme coincidence, given his history in this city, to a situation in between that the phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him. We didn’t rate it to be a Godfather type of deal, something that really would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much."

"And then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire (Smith), who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make. And for me, and all of us in that room, what also rules our day is a few things. First — and in this order — what is always best for the organization, I’m going into my sixth season with the Philadelphia 76ers and so what is best for the organization and how do you win a championship, how do you acquire things that can attract stars or develop stars? That pick might be the key to all of this. That pick might be the thing that links a possible trade, and we have our 1B in Zhaire."

The trade was jarring emotionally. There's no sugarcoating that. Bridges is, by all accounts, a wonderful and thoughtful kid. Not to mention a hell of a basketball player who would absolutely help the Sixers in 2018.

Brown later added a line that should make you more comfortable with the Sixers moving on from him: "We are star hunting or we are star developing."

If the Sixers didn't believe that Bridges would be one of those stars, they added an incredibly valuable piece in the unprotected first that can help acquire a star. Either via trade or in a future draft. And they got their 1B on top of it.

Some very smart NBA people even believe that Smith is a better prospect than Bridges. Only time will tell on those two players. But the Sixers did what they believed put them in the best position to land a star.

Isn't that what the Process is all about anyway?

"I'm here to win a championship," Brown said at the introductory press conference for Smith Friday morning.

They pulled off this trade because they believe it helps them get closer to a championship. At the end of the day, are you worried more about one family's feelings or the Sixers winning a championship?

If you watched Bridges speak to the Phoenix media following the trade, he'll be just fine growing alongside Deandre Ayton. That kid is a pro. And the Sixers put them in the position they believe best sets them up to land a star.

Now they just need to go out and do it.

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