Voice of Philly Sports Fan: Putting the blame where blame is due

Trent Cole emerged from the Federal Witness Protection Program to proclaim that the Eagles’ defensive line is the NFL’s best. There was no evidence he was under the influence of a hallucinogen, nor that he was trying out material for a stand-up act.

The nine men who comprise that line have combined for seven sacks in five games, which currently trails individual players Clay Matthews (8) and J.J. Watt (7.5). Even more bizarre is the fact that Cole made this bold pronouncement right after the Eagles’ defense had blown a big game to Pittsburgh, absorbing a physical pounding for the final 6:33 before giving up a game-winning 34-yard

field goal.

The only good news that came out of Cole’s postgame bravado was that the 6-foot-3, 270-pound lineman is still alive. We can all call off the manhunt for the veteran end, who has already pocketed an $8-million signing bonus and will receive $3 million more in salary during an invisible season.

How bad has Trent Cole been? Cole’s nine tackles in five games (1.5 sacks) have come on 219 snaps, an average of one tackle every 25 plays. By way of comparison, Watt entered last night’s game for Houston with 20 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 197 snaps, an average of one tackle every 10 plays.

What was especially surprising about the demoralizing loss was the reaction of Eagles fans. They blamed quarterback Mike Vick for his early fumbles, coach Andy Reid for his time mismanagement and defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha for his chronic ineptitude. Those are all good choices after most losses, but not this time.

The biggest problem was a defensive line dominated by a makeshift Pittsburgh front wall and Ben Roethlisberger. One year ago, these same Eagles linemen tied Minnesota for the NFL lead with 50 sacks and inspired coach Jim Washburn to say he should be fired if his players couldn’t top that number in 2012.

So what has happened?

Cole said opponents have used maximum-protection packages this year, making it all but impossible to get near the quarterback. It’s a shame someone from the Eagles defense’ of the early 1990s wasn’t within earshot when Cole made that comment. A Reggie White or Jerome Brown would have enjoyed quite a belly laugh.

No, the problem is not offensive strategy, it is defensive production — or rather, the lack of it. Great players adjust. Mediocre players make excuses. Somebody needs to tell Trent Cole and the rest of his linemates that they are not as good as they think they are — not even close.

And if they need a second opinion, just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers.

All about Bynum

Upon the opening of training camp, the Sixers had a great deal to say. Coach Doug Collins and his invigorated roster of young players sounded even more optimistic than most teams do in the rose-colored first few days of a new season.

Unfortunately, not one word they said had any meaning once the news spread that the most exciting new Sixer, center Andrew Bynum, would not be playing for three weeks. What Collins and everybody else refuses to acknowledge is that Bynum’s return is the only thing that matters.

Bynum is the most intriguing Sixer since Allen Iverson because he has mad skills and because he is so unpredictable. The notion that he left his new team shortly after the trade to have an experimental treatment in Germany speaks volumes. Bynum is a major talent, but a huge question mark.

The further development of Evan Turner is only a concern until Bynum returns. The jockeying for position among the many athletic forwards is cause for conversation only until the big guy takes over. The presence of career stiff Kwame Brown should induce nausea only while we wait for Bynum.

Interest in the Sixers hasn’t been this intense since the end of their great run in the early 2000s, but the passion runs no deeper than the cartilage in Bynum’s knees.

Hide the scrapbook

The Phillies have a scrapbook hidden at Citizens Bank Park commemorating all of the great moments in the past six years — a parade, two World Series, a no-hitter, a perfect game, adoring fans, champagne.

Unfortunately, the 2012 Phillies are only a sad relic of those days, an aging team with management clinging foolishly to the past. Why else would GM Ruben Amaro Jr. decide to bring Charlie Manuel back for a farewell tour? Is there any other logical explanation for why Amaro and Manuel would speak about taking one last stab at a title?

This group of decision-makers is so gripped by nostalgia that they don’t even see how insane it is to place Manuel’s successor, Ryne Sandberg, in the third-base box next season, peering over the aging skipper’s shoulder and sharpening the cleaver. President Dave Montgomery and his underlings waited decades for a team like the recent Phillies, and they just can’t bear to deal with reality.

They still speak of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard as stars, even though their declining statistics suggest otherwise. Roy Halladay, aching shoulder and all, is still a Cy Young candidate. Cliff Lee, they believe, will triple his six wins of 2012. Next year, those players will be 34, 33, 35 and 34, respectively. They are all in serious decline.

The coaching shake-up and the bold words of hope were one more reminder that this amazing run of success is over. The sooner the Phillies put the scrapbook away and start living in the present, the sooner they will have a chance to return to the glory days.

– Angelo Cataldi is the host of 94 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30-10 a.m.

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