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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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Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

All-Star Bradley Beal returned from the break Friday night with an All-NBA performance.

The Wizards still lost 123-110 at Charlotte.

Within those two sentences there's hope and fear for this season and beyond.

Beal destroyed the Hornets for a season-high 46 points. His work over 42 minutes included high-level efficiency – 16 of 25 from the field, sank all 10 of his free throws plus seven assists and one turnover – and powerful moments. 

Beal scored 26 points in the second half, including 10 of Washington’s 23 in the final period. The Hornets knew where to focus their defensive effort. Washington’s leading scorer couldn’t have cared less and turned in arguably his best all-around game of the season.

When viewing a Wizards team going forward this season and especially next year for however long the injured John Wall sits, performances like this from Beal offer hope. Add starter-worthy help this summer, let Beal’s vibe lead the way and perhaps the team isn’t climbing uphill from the start next campaign.

Finding steady assistance now is the dilemma. If the Wizards intend on bringing back many of the current pieces, that dilemma could linger.

The non-Beal’s made only 10 more baskets than Beal and finished 26 of 72 (36.1 percent) from the field. Their collective assist-to-turnover numbers (17-12) explain some unsteady moments, especially during the second quarter when Charlotte rallied after Washington led 38-27. They tried. They just didn’t offer enough as Washington lost for the eighth time in 11 games.

Washington insisted veteran forward and 2019 unrestricted free agent Trevor Ariza remains in its plans beyond this season. That’s understandable based on Ariza’s historically strong two-way play even if his age (33) and possible contract demands (earned $15 million this season) offer potential downside.

The Wizards haven’t received the full-throated version since the trade with the Suns sent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix. Ariza had 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting (2 of 7 from deep) against the Hornets. Usually a viable perimeter threat, Ariza entered Friday shooting 31.9 percent on 3-pointers. Oubre, a consistent clank during his four-year career, is hitting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc. 

Ariza’s addition offers more than just scoring, and some aspects are not easily quantifiable. Some numbers that attempt that feat are not in love. Ariza’s PER (13.1) trails Oubre’s (16). 

Chasson Randle and Wesley Johnson are not Washington’s most curious backup guard tandem this decade. They might be close, however. Other contenders usually played behind Beal and Wall, thus limiting the downside.

Johnson missed all five of his field goal attempts against the Hornets, while Randle played a basic 13 minutes. The Wizards' bench was outscored 38-21.

Head coach Scott Brooks resorted to a big lineup with Beal as the lone guard. This maneuver worked easier with Otto Porter or, at least defensively, Oubre on the court. Neither lives here anymore.

Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant offer Brooks two energetic interior options. With their size, mobility and shooting range, they seem like a viable pairing. For a team battered on the boards all season, using Bryant and Portis together conceivably boosts Washington’s rebounding chances. 

Brooks skipped using them together much before this game. Their defensive struggles against Charlotte showed why. Washington was outrebounded 53-43 all the same.

This team looks nothing like the one Brooks coached during his first two seasons. Only Beal, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi played for the team that came within one game of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. 

Ideally, Brooks’ patchwork lineup generates needed momentum while a playoff berth remains in reach. Washington (24-35), now a season-worst 11 games under .500, fell four games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff berth. 

Conceivably, this core returns next season. Washington opened salary cap space by trading Porter’s hefty contract. Keeping Ariza, Jeff Green, Satoransky, Portis and Bryant eats up much of that space. Growth from 2018 first round pick Troy Brown and the arrival of a player with a 2019 first round selection increases the upside. The hope for a turnaround comes from those that faced Charlotte Friday night.   

The non-Beal’s can do more now. Asking extra from Beal is outrageous, even if the shooting guard suggests that’s possible.

“I wish I could pinpoint on one thing,” Beal told reporters postgame when asked how this team finds a winning path. “But I just have to elevate my play, that’s all I know I can do is elevate my play and my leadership to do whatever it takes.”

That Beal believes more is possible is why he’s a keeper. None of us should doubt him considering the strides made during his second All-Star season. His determined approach is the kind found with contenders.

Even two-time All-Stars need help. Beal’s teammates must provide some quickly to keep hope alive this season as the organization ponders plans for the next one.

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The Capitals are looking for a rare sweep of the Buffalo Sabres

The Capitals are looking for a rare sweep of the Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres do not rank high among the Capitals’ most hated rivals, but when you look back at the history of these two teams, Washington has struggled against the Sabres more than you may think.

In the Caps’ first two seasons they faced Buffalo 10 times. Washington lost nine of those games and tied one. In fact, the Caps managed only two wins total in their first 32 meetings.

Even when Washington advanced past their initial struggles as a franchise, success against Buffalo has been hard to come by. In their 43 seasons as a team, the Caps have only managed to sweep the season series with the Sabres three times in 1988-89, 2012-13, 2016-17.

On Saturday, however, the Caps can make it four.

Buffalo visited Washington twice in December with the Caps winning each game. On Saturday, Washington heads to Buffalo for their final meeting of the season. (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Games notes

Hagelin debut

Carl Hagelin will make his Capitals debut Saturday.  He suited up for the first time with his new team on Friday after getting trade by the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He practice on the fourth line with Nic Dowd at center and Chandler Stephenson on the wing.

The newly acquired Nick Jensen will not be available for the game.

End of the road

Saturday’s game will be the sixth and final game of a season-long six-game road trip. Washington has already earned three wins guaranteeing them at least a .500 finish. A win Saturday will give them four out of six and turn a respectable road trip into a very good one.

Watching the standings

With two points, Washington can pull even with the New York Islanders. The Caps have 75 points while the Islanders sit in first place with 77. New York has a game in hand on Washington and they play later Saturday night, so a tie in the standings on Saturday afternoon could prove to be short-lived.

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