Nationals

2 quarterbacks, 2 increasingly desperate teams

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2 quarterbacks, 2 increasingly desperate teams

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Michael Vick and Drew Brees came into the NFL the same year.

Now, they're in the same predicament: trying to bail out two increasingly desperate teams, both teetering on the edge of collapse.

Brees has essentially become a one-man show for the New Orleans Saints (2-5), who are plagued by a historically leaky defense and anemic running game, not to mention the lingering effects of a bounty scandal.

For Vick, the stakes are even higher in Monday night's game at the Superdome. He's the face of the struggling Eagles (3-4), who have lost three straight games, and facing weekly questions about his job security.

If Vick fails to shine against the Saints - who are giving up 50 yards more per game than the next-worst team - embattled Philadelphia coach Andy Reid might have little choice except to change QBs, despite giving No. 7 a strong vote of confidence.

``Things could be a lot better,'' Vick said. ``Not only myself but everybody on this team feels like there is more that they can do to help put us in position to be satisfied with our record. In this game, you just have to keep pushing and try to keep getting better every week.''

Brees is having another stellar year statistically, ranking second in the league in yards passing, but there's no room for error. When he struggled last week against the Denver Broncos, the Saints were blown out 34-14.

``I feel like we've gotten better every week with the exception of last week,'' Brees said. ``We just did not play up to our standard, certainly with the hype going into that game, and we were all hurt by it. But it also lights a fire within all of us that we don't want that to be the lasting memory people have of our team. We're better than that, and we need to show them on Monday night.''

Vick was the top overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, the same year Brees was taken with the first pick of the second round by the San Diego Chargers. Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted that year, they are the only two still on an NFL roster.

``I feel like I've known him a long time,'' Brees said. ``He's obviously had a lot of success in this league, both in Atlanta and in Philly.''

Not so much this season.

Vick has turned it over 13 times - eight interceptions and five fumbles - and he's coming off a pedestrian performance in Philadelphia's ugly 30-17 loss to the Falcons. Right after the game, a frustrated Reid sounded like he might switch to rookie Nick Foles. Then, after thinking it over, the coach stressed that Vick remains the starter, for this week and beyond.

``Michael was the quarterback, is the quarterback and will continue to be the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles,'' Reid said. ``I can't make it any more clear than that.''

Then again, there's just as much speculation in Philadelphia about Reid's long-term prospects. Owner Jeffrey Lurie put the coach on notice after last season's disappointing 8-8 finish, and the challenge seemed to work when the Eagles started off with three wins in their first four games - by a total of four points. Then, the defense squandered late leads in losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, costing coordinator Juan Castillo his job.

``It's important that I get my job going in the right direction and making sure that we win football games and that I coach to win football games,'' Reid said. ``We're all accountable for it. We're all stand-up men and we understand our responsibilities and we've got to do better. But it starts with me.''

Defense isn't the only concern. Despite a seeming abundance of playmakers, from Vick to running back LeSean McCoy to receiver DeSean Jackson, the Eagles are a dismal 28th in scoring, averaging just 17.1 points a game.

Scoring is usually not a problem for the Saints, who are sixth in the league with a 27.1-point average, but the defense has totally collapsed without coordinator Gregg Williams, who was banished by his league for his role in the alleged bounty program.

New Orleans is the first team since at least 1950 - and very likely in the history of the NFL - to surrender more than 400 yards in seven straight games. At this rate (474.7), the Saints will shatter the 31-year-old record for yards in a season, set by the Colts when they were still in Baltimore.

Just how bad is this defense? New Orleans is more than 200 yards worse than league-leading San Francisco (271.4). In fact, the Saints aren't even close to 31st-ranked Buffalo (424.1).

``If I had the answer, I would say something and everything would be solved,'' linebacker Scott Shanle moaned. ``Everybody has a different explanation, different theories. It hasn't been what we thought it would be so far. All we can do is try to keep getting better and see what happens from here on out.''

The Saints also rank last in the league in rushing (72.6 yards), and they'll have to get by this week without all-purpose stud Darren Sproles, who is sidelined with a broken hand.

Which puts even more of a burden on Brees.

``We can't look at the rest of our schedule. We can't look at our division,'' he said. ``We can't look at anything other than how do we win this week?''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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