Cataldi: Eagles defense historically bad

Billy Davis came to Philadelphia with less-than-stellar credentials as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.
Billy Davis came to Philadelphia with less-than-stellar credentials as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

Based on early impressions, the Chip Kelly era is going to be every bit as exciting as we have anticipated. Unfortunately, it’s going to be even more exciting for opposing offenses. Yes, it’s already time to make a bold pronouncement. The Eagles’ defense is atrocious.

Granted, it was only one preseason game and the opponent was the gifted New England Patriots, but 334 yards allowed in the first half? A 62-yard run on the very first play from scrimmage? A 51-yard touchdown run on a broken play? Really?

The prevailing thought after that 31-22 loss had nothing to do with all of the talk that had preceded it. The quarterback battle is a two-man contest now, and Mike Vick has the early lead. DeSean Jackson has been backing up his big talk with even bigger plays. Somehow, Riley Cooper has already become a footnote.

What has emerged from the first weeks of Kelly’s tenure is a belief that the Eagles’ defense is not just bad — as it was in Andy Reid’s final season here — but historically bad. Even before the first preseason game, word from last week’s joint training camp with the Patriots was that Tom Brady was destroying the boys on the other side of the line.

The game itself was even worse. Brady was on the field for only two series, and he still managed a 140 quarterback rating by running the ball exclusively for six plays that consumed 80 easy yards, and then completing 7-of-8 passes on a second, sweat-free 80-yard drive. Brady could have put up 50 points in a full game — and that’s only if Pats coach Bill Belichick showed some mercy on his pal Kelly.

And speaking of Kelly, he has made one huge mistake since he took the job in March, and it wasn’t the re-signing of Vick or the handling of the Cooper mess. It was hiring a journeyman assistant with no record of success, defensive coordinator Billy Davis. The contrast between the Eagles’ offense — Kelly’s primary area of expertise — and the defense under Davis already is staggering.

Basically, his 3-4 scheme doesn’t fit the personnel. The linebackers look hopelessly confused and the secondary is an abomination. Is it too soon to pine for Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie? What about Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles? Billy Davis served as a coordinator twice before getting the Eagles job — in San Francisco and Arizona — and lasted only two years both times. He will not make it that long here.

Chip Kelly is bringing a new spirit to football in Philadelphia. He is smart and quick and full of positive energy, a perfect fit for our passionate football city.

But first, he’s going to have to fix a defense that has the potential to undermine all of our dreams.



 Are Sixers moving to New Jersey


If you are a fan of the Sixers, the next few paragraphs may be the most important you read in many months — or they may be utterly meaningless. At this point, there is no way to know for sure.

All we can say right now is that the current ownership of our basketball team appears to be constructing a wall between Philadelphia and New York so thick and tall that it is completely shutting itself off from its fans. Never has a Philadelphia sports franchise conducted its business in a more insulting manner than the Sixers are doing right now.

Just in the past week, owner Joshua Harris and his reclusive new GM Sam Hinkie have been conducting interviews and negotiations with the next head coach, Brett Brown, 100 miles away in New York, which just happens to be Harris’ base of hedge-fund operations.

At the same time, Harris appears to have won the bidding for the New Jersey Devils, a team situated right across the bridge from Manhattan in Newark. The deal includes the new arena. The Nets, you may recall, have moved to Brooklyn. The Newark arena has no NBA team.

Are you putting together the clues yet? New-York-based owner buys a New York metropolitan hockey team, hires New York PR man Scott O’Neill to serve as spokesman for the Sixers and conducts Philadelphia business in New York. How far a leap is it to wonder whether Harris is hoping to move the 76ers closer to home?

Maybe it’s all just a crazy coincidence. Maybe Joshua Harris is not the cold-blooded billionaire that he appears to be. Maybe these growing fears that the Philadelphia 76ers could become the New Jersey 76ers sometime soon are all just nutty speculation.

That’s not the problem. The problem is, what if they’re not?


Utley plays baseball the right way

The Phillies spent $27 million last week to keep Chase Utley in red pinstripes through 2015, and even before the debate began over whether it was a good investment, Utley settled it himself. In this me-first era, he proved once again that he is a real hero.

Last Wednesday, the veteran second baseman was trying to score from second base on a single, something he had done successfully in 118-of-123 previous tries. The ball arrived before him, so he let his instincts take over. His entire body, including his brittle left knee, crashed into Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro. Utley was out, but that outcome meant nothing, nor did the game itself.

Utley had risked $27 million on that play because he hadn’t signed the new deal until the next day. Imagine that. In a meaningless game, on a disappointing team, with millions at stake, Utley still knew how to play baseball only one way — the right way.

The make-up of next year’s team already looks like a bizarre mix of old and new. An infield with Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley is more a reminder of the past than an investment in the future. An outfield of Dom Brown, Ben Revere and Darin Ruf is so young and inexperienced, they’ll need a babysitter. In short, the Phils may be both too old and too young next season.

And yet, if there is no place for Chase Utley on a team, how good is that ballclub? Bravo to the Phillies for bringing back a player who honors the game and our city every time he puts on his uniform.



Idle thoughts from Cataldi


» Stop the presses. After a 116-day search, the Sixers have hired Brett Brown to be their new head coach. Maybe it took that long to convince the San Antonio assistant to commit to a franchise with an absentee ownership, a publicity-shy GM and the worst roster in the NBA. Good luck, Brett. You’ll need it.

» Cary Williams, the 49th-ranked cornerback last season, is much better at running his mouth than actually running. He recently slammed coach Chip Kelly for making defensive players into “a doormat.” Williams wants a more physical approach. Fine, but shouldn’t he stop begging off practice with minor injuries before he talks so tough?

» Did anyone actually buy the ridiculous notion that Riley Cooper left the Eagles for a long weekend, and suddenly the demons that led to his outrageous, racially insensitive conduct were banished? I didn’t think so.

» The decision to allow Charlie Manuel to keep managing the Phillies is hurting Ryne Sandberg’s reputation even before he gets the Phillies’ managing job. Based on Sandberg’s shaky work as third-base coach, fans are losing faith in the heir apparent. Is there one good reason why Manuel is still here?

» After releasing two more free-agent busts last week, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro admitted he wasn’t perfect. He took over a championship team, blew his huge budget on bad players and now he’s saying he’s not perfect? What gave it away?


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