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Eagles' secondary improved since coaching changes

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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.

Now?

``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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Capitals roster cuts: Draft picks Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas headline initial round

Capitals roster cuts: Draft picks Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas headline initial round

The Capitals made their first round of training camp cuts on Thursday, trimming 18 players from the team’s roster including preseason standouts Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas.

McMichael was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2019. He tallied an incredible assist in Monday’s preseason opener, backhanding a no-look pass to a wide-open Damien Riat. His solid performance earned him another game on Wednesday where he moved up to the third line. The highlight of the night was McMichael attempting a between-the-legs shot on Stanley Cup champion goalie Jordan Binnington.

“It’s a pretty good goalie he was trying that move on,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “He has some swagger to him, he has some confidence. He’s not afraid to try plays. That’s some of the stuff that pushes guys into the first round.”

McMichael’s strong play in camp and in the preseason opened the door perhaps for him to compete to stay in Washington for the start of the season.

With the suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington finds itself down a center for the first three games. With Lars Eller moving up to the second line, that leaves an opening on the third between Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik, where McMichael played on Wednesday.

That, however, does not appear to be in the cards as McMichael is headed back to his junior team, the London Knights.

Protas, who scored a goal and two assists on Monday, was also among the players cut. A third-round draft pick in 2019, Protas was extremely impressive in the preseason for his all-around game. He showed good awareness, vision and speed. His skating form needs work, but this is a player who looks like he has an NHL future ahead of him which is not always the case for mid-round draft picks.

The fact that McMichael and Protas were among the first cuts should not be seen as an indictment of their play by the team. Junior players are usually among the first cuts so they can return to their teams during training camp. The only reason this was a question was because of Kuznetsov’s suspension, but ultimately the team has other candidates to turn to at third-line center. With a brutal October schedule, the first week of the season may not be the best time to get cute or creative with roster choices.

Here are all of the cuts the Caps made on Thursday:

Loaned to their junior teams:

Eric Flrochuk (Saskatoon, WHL)
Alex Kannok-Leipert (Vancouver, WHL)
Connor McMichael (London, OHL)
Aliaksei Protas (Prince Albert, WHL)

Released from their ATOs:

Hayden Hawkey
Beck Warm

Assigned to Hershey:

Casey Bailey
Erik Burgdoerfer
Tommy Hughes
Kale Kessy
Chris McCarthy
Matt Moulson
Logan Thompson
Matthew Weis
Steven Whitney

Kody Clark and Riley Sutter, who are both dealing with upper-body injuries, were reassigned to Hershey as well to continue rehab.

In addition, Damie Riat has been returned to his European team EHC Biel-Bienne of the NLA in Switzerland.

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Local teams, stars congratulate Elena Delle Donne on historic second WNBA MVP award

Local teams, stars congratulate Elena Delle Donne on historic second WNBA MVP award

Elena Delle Donne is, once again, the Most Valuable Player in the WNBA.

She's the first player in WNBA history to earn the honor with two different teams.

"I am extremely proud of this honor, but we still have work ahead of us and we’re all focused playing our hardest to bring a championship to Washington," Delle Donne said in a release.

After the announcement of Delle Donne's historic achievement, her teammates and the greater D.C. sports community showered her with praise all over social media.

Delle Donne and the Mystics will take on the Las Vegas Aces in Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night.

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