In This Episode
Jason Concepcion joins special guest Jamel Johnson (Air Buds, Sorry We Love Football), alongside The Athletic’s Fred Katz and Zach Berman. Fred Katz, Knicks beat reporter, checks in to explain why the team is moving both backwards and forwards. Zach Berman, Eagles beat reporter, joins the show with a temperature check on the Philadelphia Eagles and their chances to remain perfect. Jason and Jamel discuss Kyrie Irving and how to combat conspiracy theories.
Fred Katz I mean, he ripped out the heart right from the beginning. He hit five 3’s in the first 9 minutes of that game and just knew he was going to be on like that. That spin move he went into for that righty dunk was unbelievable. Like, it wasn’t technically a revenge game because he never played for the Knicks. But I’ve never watched a game that wasn’t a revenge game that felt so much like a revenge game.
Jason Concepcion Let me just tell you something. Goddammit, Fred, as a Knicks fan, all I see revenge games everywhere. Kobe going off at the fucking Garden, LeBron coming into the garden. Killing us. Steph Curry coming out of the garden. Killing us. Were those revenge games? No, but everybody.
Fred Katz Ish Smith killing in the garden. Everybody.
Jason Concepcion Ish Smith.
Jamel Johnson John Wall. Got y’all on Christmas. Let’s not forget John Wall did it to y’all. Yes
Jason Concepcion People love to go against the Knicks and send a fucking message to everybody and it’s painful at this point. It’s just you have to deaden yourself to it. Hello and welcome back to Take Line. I’m your host Jason Concepcion alongside my my special special guest Jamel Johnson of Air Buds and Sorry, We Love Football. Two great podcasts that taste great together. We have a great show for you today in which two reporters from the Athletic are joining us. First up, we have Fred Katz, former Washington Wizards beat reporter, the only man who can credibly cover the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks. He’s coming to tell us what’s going on with the Knicks. They recently lost a marquee early season matchup to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the new home of Donovan Mitchell, who the Knicks lost out to this summer and some player movement deals. And we’re going to find out from Fred what it all means. Then we have Zach Berman, Eagles beat reporter for The Athletic to talk about Philadelphia, the hottest sports town in America right now. First up, Jamal, great to have you.
Jamel Johnson Always wonderful to be had. Good to see you. You’re looking good.
Jason Concepcion Thank you very much. You’re looking great. You’re looking. Look at the clean sweatshirt now.
Jamel Johnson I’m so summertime there.
Jason Concepcion Both of our teams are coming off losses. The Knicks got a vision of the future in the form of an alternative future that could have been in the form of Donovan Mitchell dropping all kinds of points and stuff on them. The Celtics just brushed away the Wizards over the weekend.
Jamel Johnson Watching Grant Williams to the postgame as Batman was.
Jason Concepcion That was. Yeah, come on.
Jamel Johnson We earned that, though. We earned that. Brad going 0 for 12 in the first half. Yeah he he’s Batman.
Jason Concepcion You know when Porzingis and this is not a knock on Porzingis but when he’s your leading scorer with 17. Aye
Jamel Johnson It’s an issue.
Jason Concepcion It’s an issue. Beard Looks good, though. This brings me to, you know, a thing that is both delightful because I love watching the Brooklyn Nets struggle and struggle mightily. But also, you know, it’s one it’s uncomfortable to talk about because Kyrie Irving has in recent days shared Alex Jones quotes and clips in relation to, you know, now several decades old conspiracy theory about the New World Order, about the shadowy totalitarian world government that is existing, you know, just underneath the surface, if anybody is like of an era to remember when there was like this urban legend that they were going to start tattooing like Social Security numbers on people and giving people like a type of number that was all part of this. And then he also shared a movie entitled Hebrews To Negroes Wake Up Black America. That is all kinds of anti-Semitic. You can there’s a good Rolling Stone article about this that came out in the wake of this whole controversy written by John Bluestein on on Sunday. And then Kyrie has defended himself by saying various things like, you know, describing himself as an omnist.
Jamel Johnson Look, I’ve been to a barbershop before, too, okay.
Jason Concepcion I think it’s. Yeah, I just want to read this. I’m I’m an omnist and I meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs. And the anti-Semitic label that is being pushed on me is not justified, does not reflect the reality or truths I live in every day I embrace and want to learn from all walks of life and religions. And then there’s hella hella with accents that I don’t know how to pronounce, so I don’t want to mispronounce it. Here’s my take. As someone who has had a person in their family who fell into conspiracy theories like a web of conspiracy theories and lived there for for several years, specifically like 911 conspiracies, you know, loose change was an important text over those years to this person. That’s what people are trying to unpack, like, what is Kyrie doing? What does he mean? He’s like, he’s he’s just caught in these conspiracy theories. Like, that’s what it is. And the thing that makes it really difficult is one, he has a huge platform, like a massive platform, and he’s spouting stuff that is toxic and has gotten people maimed and or killed over the years and and potentially could again end, you know, as a superstar NBA player. Does not have, I’m guessing, many people who are capable of puncturing the bubble that he is very capable of creating around himself with, you know, just facts about stuff. When I, when I the way I got I say I like I did it. But I think one of the things that got this person in my life out of these conspiracy theories was just like always, you know, pointing out the irrational points in the various like ideologies that they supported, pointing out historical inaccuracies, pointing them to better sources, and just kind of trying to, you know, create a pathway that they can find their way out of it. I don’t know that Kyrie has that those people around him and it’s unfortunate.
Jamel Johnson Yeah, it’s kind of hard when you’re worth 100 mil to have people like tell you to start talking. Something about money does this and we all know I mean, Kyrie Irving is a basketball player. He’s not a like a noted theologist.
Jason Concepcion Yes, he’s not he’s not an academic. He’s not a you know.
Jamel Johnson He went to Duke for three weeks.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Jamel Johnson It’s not long enough to learn this stuff.
Jason Concepcion It’s not long enough. It’s not long enough. But he does have he does have a platform which makes all of this again, like really unfortunate. I think it I think really in addition to pointing out the anti-semetism which, you know, is is just a theme of certainly our cultural discourse over the last few weeks with the ongoing meltdown of Ye, formerly Kanye West and various other groups that are like rising to meet that message, but also because it’s like, you know, it’s like the oldest bias in history, like people been blaming stuff on them for centuries.
Jamel Johnson Eons.
Jason Concepcion A long time.
Jamel Johnson Since we got out the water.
Jason Concepcion Long time. And man, I wish I could just take I wish I could just be like, man, the Nets suck. Isn’t this good? What do you think, KD’s? It is not escape by notice. D’s given some really like, you know, some of his quotes like when they lost to the Pacers just like we played shitty, you know, we’re not playing well, you know, like, just like very, very honest. Like I wonder what Kd’s like man?
Jamel Johnson Years ago, he was sort of pretending to be religious because he was dating a woman who was very religious. And then when they broke up, he just kind of made a choice like, look, I play ball. That’s it. I’m not walking around with just a Bible in my backpack anymore. I hoop, plain and simple. And he’s kind of turned himself into like ultimate hooper villain man. And that’s just kind of where he is.
Jason Concepcion Yeah. I mean, do you know anybody that got into conspiracy theories, like too far?
Jamel Johnson Oh, of course. Too far. Yeah. No, I’m. Yeah, I had some family as a family when they went to college that first summer, they was gone, came back showing me YouTube videos about the pyramids. Mike Look, man. Do you want to get lunch or not? You know, nobody asked you about none of that. And I mean, the wider thing for me is, like in the sixties, black America and Jewish America was together. We stood together.
Jason Concepcion Very strongly. Yeah.
Jamel Johnson Yeah. Was getting attacked by dogs together, the hoses together, the whole thing. And then something happened. And I don’t know. I don’t know what that thing is. And on top of that, it’s really interesting to me that. All of these religions end up in these conspiracy theories. But Christianity is clear, like no other religion has annexed continents. But somehow, nobody nobody’s looking for the Catholics when it’s conspiracy time.
Jason Concepcion Well, this is why this is people have been doing this for so many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, if not single digit, thousands of years, because people will believe it. And you can therefore, like, do all this other stuff that you’re trying to do, which is, you know, sell a book or make an excuse for why a certain disease has come into your realm and you couldn’t do anything about it. You know, this is like all kinds of things you could blame on them over the course of year. And people will just believe it. And and that’s why people keep doing it, because there’s just a segment of the world population that will go, you know, that makes some kind of sense, unfortunately, very sadly, very tragically.
Jamel Johnson And then you’ll hear people in the black community be like, look, we need to look out for ourselves. We can’t depend on anybody else. And then suddenly we’re looking at these this other group of people who is looking out for themselves and and and staying together. And we’re and we’re like holding them to the fire for this. It’s like, no, we need to just everybody just need to get on board, like, you know, get the blueprints. It’s like the end of Independence Day when they thought all the other countries had to take the aliens down. We need to just get with that. And I guess ultimately what I’m asking for is for more black people to be invited to birthright.
Jason Concepcion Yes.
Jamel Johnson Let’s just all go together. Let’s rock.
Jason Concepcion Let’s do it. Well. Now let’s talk basketball with our good friend Fred Katz. The Knicks are three and three. And honestly, I’m I’m I’m satisfied. I’m happy with that. Jalen Brunson has been brought in to be the Knicks, basically first legitimate point guard minus Stephon Marbury in 20 years. And he has done that. He is who we thought he was in a great way. Isaiah Hartenstein is one of the most underrated pickups in the NBA all offseason. The defense is improved. The pacing is great, but why not more? What? What? What’s keeping the Knicks from advancing to the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference elite? To help us figure out all of that is Knicks staff writer for The Athletic, Fred Katz. Fred, welcome to Takeline.
Fred Katz Thank you.
Jason Concepcion So, Fred, you came on saying that one of us, a Knicks and a Wizards fan, is angry and the other is sad. And I’m assuming now from your statements that is the Knicks fan that you assume to be sad. Why are Knicks fans angry today? Monday, October 31st, aka Halloween 2022. Why are they so mad?
Fred Katz Because they exist. I think that’s just the resting state of Knicks fans now, right? You just wake up and just kind of angry about Evan Fournier starting or you wake up and and you’re angry about like.
Jason Concepcion He had some nice moves in the game, you know, and they were sticking with it. A couple of canny moves to the hoop.
Fred Katz Fournier played well against Cleveland, but we’re just talking about the pulse of the fan base. Like.
Jason Concepcion For sure.
Fred Katz They go from the Yankees with Peraza not making the ALDS roster. And now and now Obi Toppin only playing 14 minutes.
Jason Concepcion Their manager sharing like inspirational Red Sox material for some reason. Why are Yankees managers doing that anyway? So there are a lot of, I think, silver linings in the kind of like orange and blue cloud that is the New York Knicks. But they got a real peek into like an alternate universe in which they had a superstar against the Cleveland Cavaliers the other night. And it was, I think, a hard lesson in what they’re missing because they have a lot of nice guys. Describe what Donovan Mitchell did to the Knicks and the Knicks fan base this weekend.
Fred Katz I mean, he ripped out the heart right from the beginning. He hit five threes in the first 9 minutes of that game and just knew he was going to be on like that. That spin move he went into for that righty dunk was unbelievable. Like, it wasn’t technically a revenge game because he never played for the Knicks. But I’ve never watched a game that wasn’t a revenge game that felt so much like a revenge game.
Jason Concepcion Let me just tell you something. Gotdamn it, Fred. As a Knicks fan, all I see revenge games everywhere. Kobe going off at the fucking Garden, LeBron coming into the garden. Killing us. Steph Curry coming out of the garden. Killing us. Were those revenge games? No, but everybody is.
Fred Katz Ish Smith killing in the garden.
Jason Concepcion Ish Smith.
Fred Katz That’s everybody.
Jamel Johnson John Wall. Got y’all on Christmas. Let’s not forget John Wall. Did it tell you.
Jason Concepcion People love to go against the Knicks and send a fucking message to everybody and it’s painful at this point. It’s just you have to deaden yourself to it, Fred.
Fred Katz I mean, look, I to be clear, as you slowly unravel and just just break down as a human being, like I feel like you’re not going to be able to do another podcast after this because you’re going to be emotionally broken. But I don’t think the Knicks messed up.
Jason Concepcion I agree.
Fred Katz By not trading for Donovan Mitchell, for what it’s worth. Like they there is a huge difference. Even if you say that they could have given up exactly the same amount value wise as what the Cavs gave up. The Cavs are just in a different position to make that move. They look really good. They already had an infrastructure of Mobley and Allen and Garland, who are really, really, really good young players that were a plus 500 team and were really good when everybody was healthy. They were ready for that next step and trading up everything or close to everything that you have for the first star in the door is just it’s different. But I don’t know how the Knicks are going to go get that first star because they’ve set up their cap sheet so they’re not going to sign them. So if you’re not going to trade it all for Mitchell, then you kind of have to wait for somebody who’s worth trading it all for. And, you know, that’s tough to figure out if you’re actually going to end up with them.
Jamel Johnson I mean, but they got a bunch of young guys like you think Quinton Grimes was worth all the trouble?
Fred Katz Well, we’re going to find out. He hasn’t played yet. He’s he’s been out. The Knicks releasing it with a sore foot. He is. He’s had a sore foot for what?
Jason Concepcion Foot made of biscuit.
Fred Katz For weeks he’s had a sore foot. I think he’ll be coming back at some point pretty soon. That’s my educated guess, but we don’t know. So all we know, I think Grimes has a chance to be really good. Honestly, I really do. He’s the exact kind of player you can plop onto all 30 teams and he can really help you on both sides of the ball without you having to change your ecosystem on the offensive or defensive end at all. And that he’s a good three point shooter. He makes intuitive plays in the offense. He can kind of as a secondary option take guys off the dribble attack closeouts. He’s a very good point of attack defender. There’s no question he’s their best perimeter defender. And by the way, they really missed that against Cleveland because.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Fred Katz Donovan Mitchell just killed them at the point of the attack. Like they could have had Grimes on him and that would have helped a ton. I think Grimes has a chance to be a really nice, really helpful player, but obviously he hasn’t had a chance to show that yet.
Jason Concepcion Another of their young players, RJ Barrett, who was recently signed to a contract extension that could be worth up to like 120 million if all the different incentives kick in. And certainly that deal was kind of mark the end of the hunt for Donovan Mitchell, whether the Knicks do it at that time or not. But he struggled over the course of this very young season. He’s improved more than I ever thought he would as a pro. He’s incredibly hard worker, but, you know, in a very large way, his ceiling is the Knicks ceiling. What’s going on with R.J.?
Fred Katz Yeah. The jump shot isn’t there. And honestly, I’m not too worried about the three point numbers being down. He hit three threes against Cleveland on Sunday night, which was helpful.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Fred Katz I’m not that worried about the jump shot, even though that’s not his game to me. What I would want to see out of him if I’m the Knicks is better finishing around the rim, like if he is going to be the best version of himself. That means attacking the rim all the time, which he does. He’s very self aware, but it also means finishing there in an efficient fashion, you know, after New Year’s last year, the last 44 games of last season. So it’s not a small amount. He took nine shots a game at the rim. Only LeBron and Giannis took more like he was really elite at getting to the rim. But the problem was of all the guys who you could consider elite at getting to the rim, R.J. had the worst percentage when he got there, and part of that is his lay up package. But another part of it is just making the right reads, being able to understand, okay, a third defender came in and I’m totally crowded, but that means that this guy’s open in the corner, so I’m going to kick to him, you know, understanding those reads, being able to make those plays. And I know he worked on that a ton over the summer, but I still think he’s somewhat struggling in those moments. You see him go up in traffic and and also he’s got to learn how to read off of having, you know, a legitimately good point guard who can run the offense with Brunson there.
Jason Concepcion He got short arms too, I’ll just say it.
Jamel Johnson I wonder sometimes too, if it’s like if it’s because he’s not getting star calls. Some of that is star calls. Like Bron and Giannis get calls for getting touched at certain points just because, you know, the ref’s kids like him, you know what I mean? Like there’s definitely like a little bit of that little bit of spice thrown in. But I mean.
Fred Katz Like the Zarba families just chatting about LeBron at Christmas dinner.
Jamel Johnson Yeah, something. Okay, here’s another one. When is Tib’s just going to let young men play basketball, like, does Cam Reddish need to, like, put a fake mustache on, like, an old man wig? Does he need to dress like the dirty grandpa to get on the floor?
Fred Katz It would be great if, like all the Knicks young guys just started pulling like Bobby Valentines do.
Jamel Johnson Yeah.
Fred Katz And so.
Jason Concepcion Oh, yeah, that would be fantastic.
Jamel Johnson Something. Because between him and Obi Toppin is like they’ve shown that they could play like real minutes, Tibs is just like I’m not going to do it.
Fred Katz I mean, with Reddish, I don’t know. I honestly don’t really hold the reddish stuff against Tibbs. He’s been good for the first five games, but Atlanta, you know, pretty willingly got off of him and oblige that trade request. They were just waiting for someone to trade. A first rounder for him and the Knicks were the first one to bite. And as soon as they did, Atlanta was like, Great, we’re we’re done here. Let’s do it. So so whenever a team is is willing to get off of a guy, as Atlanta was, I’m kind of like, okay. I mean, they’ve been around the experience for a while. You know, he shot well from three last year. He shot 38% from three. And that was the first time he’s really done that. I just don’t know if he’s that. In the preseason, his shot selection was really an issue. A lot of mid-range pull ups. He’s had some really good moments since the regular season started, but it’s like it’s very Jekyll and Hyde. And I think the reason that Tibbs tends to gravitate away from younger players is less because of age, because, like, he does play RJ and it’s more because of Tibbs likes consistency in his guys. He likes to know, okay, I’m putting Derrick Rose out there. I know exactly what I’m getting from Derrick Rose, and I think he has a bias towards that. I think most coaches have a bias towards that. And Cam is just so up and down and up and down and it happens night to night, but it’ll happen play to play. Like he’ll make some great play in a passing lane and then he’ll get too excited and he’ll gamble in that same exact passing lane against that same exact play. And he’ll give up an open layup, he’ll make a crazy finish around the rim, and then he’ll unleash some wild shot around the rim that doesn’t actually hit the iron at all. So I think Tibbs wants that consistency. As for Obi, it’s just like I maintain that is not just a Tibbs thing that they’re not playing, but it’s the organization. Like the organization watched Obi not be able to get time last year. They watched Tibbs, you know, want to have a rim protector out there. Tibbs not want to play Obi Toppin and Julius Randle together. They only played together for like 101 minutes last year for the entire season. And you watched all of that. And they watch how the energy changed when Obi was on the floor. They watched him take a leap near the end of last year and they decided, you know what, let’s re-sign Mitchell Robbinson and let’s sign Isaiah Hart and Stein. Let’s hold on to Julius Randle and just leave no minutes open. Like they constructed a roster, they converted Jericho Sims. Like they could have gone in a way where they said, We’re going to go light on centers and we’re just going to play Obi almost as backup. 5 minutes in and we’ll figure it out. We’ll find some way to make this happen. But this is a coordinated effort. This is how the organization as a whole views him. And I think it’s kind of confounding, to be honest, that you draft guy number eight, he shows that he can actually impact winning in a solid way. I don’t know if he’s a starter or a good third big or whatever, but he has shown that he has positive basketball traits and you don’t want to just know what he is. The fact that you’re not putting yourself in a position to say, okay, I know that Obi Toppin is a third big or I know that Obi Toppin is a starting big, or I know he’s good in these lineups and not these lineups like that. You’re not putting all that information together and compiling that sample is on a number eight pick is. I don’t understand it.
Jason Concepcion Well well said, Fred. Now I want to get positive for a moment. Julius Randle, who was roundly criticized by seemingly everyone that takes in Knicks games, that takes in Knicks content that is talking about the Knicks in any kind of way is playing really well this season. I think, you know, to this point is moving the ball in a way with a quickness that really wasn’t there last season is making faster decisions. Just that alone is huge. His drives are, you know, less convoluted, more straight line, less like watch me back a guy down and then try a spin move and get stripped kind of things. He’s just making whether or not the decisions are always the right decisions if you make them faster, usually that’s enough and it has been enough. I think he’s played really well. What kind of changes have you noticed in the way he’s approaching the game thus far?
Fred Katz Yeah, I agree. He’s he’s running the floor much better too.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Fred Katz I mean, last year. I hate that phrase running the floor. Like, what else are you going to run? Last year, he, he just was so often the last guy back in transition on both sides. And you still see him be the last guy back on defense in transition every once in a while. But by my, you know, unofficial count, I just don’t think it’s happening quite as much on defense and it’s certainly happening way more on offense. You know, last year, there were so many times where he’d get a defensive rebound and he’d walk the ball up the court. I think the biggest problem with the Knicks offense last year and you know, people might say the biggest problem was that they didn’t have a consistent point guard. And obviously that’s true in this kind of bleeds into that. But I think the biggest problem was that they would get into their offense so late. Like I wrote a story late into last year about how when Alec Burks there were 88 point guards at the time or 88 players at the time who had brought the ball up the court for at least 500 possessions. And when Alec Burks brought up the ball of those 88 players, the Knicks had the slowest offense. And the second slowest was when Kemba Walker broke up, brought up the ball. So it was like they just were getting into their offense so late and that just doesn’t work. If you’re running your first action with 13 on the shot clock instead of 18 or 19 on the shot clock, which they would do way too often, it just it makes you rush through your play. It makes it so if the first action fails, you don’t have time to run a second set or something like that. Like you want time. That’s a good thing. You don’t want to be getting stuff off with the shot clock at three, all of your possessions. And that’s what the Knicks were doing so often. And Randle just getting the ball and going, sprinting down the court off the ball like I think it’s been extremely helpful. He changed his diet. He lost his weight. I know Zach Brasileira from from The New York Post has asked him like three times how much he weighs.
Jason Concepcion And a weird, little weird question.
Fred Katz And every time and every time, Julius Julius is like noticeably creeped out and and responds to something along the lines of like, why do you keep asking me how much I weigh? Like, he’s just he’s just outwardly acknowledging why are you like it’s like it’s always been like I keep it on me. I don’t know. I like Zach. It was so funny. The first time he asked me was legitimate. It was in the middle of a conversation about Julius getting into better shape, you know? And Zach just wants to get his facts right. He’s like, Oh, how much? How much weight did you lose? And Julius looked down like, what a weird question, man. Like Zach followed up later. And what do you weigh now? Why do you keep asking me about my weight?
Jamel Johnson Hey Julius, those are some nice pants. What’s the waist on those pair?
Jason Concepcion What’s the waist on that? Save it for after Thanksgiving. That’s the time to do it. But clearly everybody’s thinking about it. But, you know, it’s that’s just a true. Me, too. Me, too. Zach.
Fred Katz We have such weird jobs traveling around the country, asking guys weird questions about how much they weigh. Like, just such a weird, weird job.
Jason Concepcion Fred, can I ask you, as we close and we say goodbye to the wonderful Fred Katz, one of the greatest to ever do it to the only man, once again, the only human being who has covered both the Wizards and the Knicks. Don’t look at that. Don’t research that statement. Just believe that it’s true. Which leads me into my it’s what I’m going to ask you, Fred. How are you doing with all the Kyrie mishegoss out there, with Ye’s comments over recent weeks? How are you feeling? How are you doing day to day? Fred Katz.
Fred Katz I’m okay. Okay, good. I’m fine. I’m living my life day by day. I’m good. I can’t believe that Kyrie press conference. I’ll tell you what.
Jason Concepcion It was nuts. It was insane
Fred Katz If I were a Nets beat writer and we have Alex Schaeffer doing the Nets and he does a great job. If I were a Nets beat writer, I would be going into Kyrie’s next press conference. I would have I would come in with a list of the things that the documentary said. And I think what you kind of have to do in that situation, I would want to run down the list of like, okay, the documentary says that Jewish people worship Satan. Yes. No. Do you believe it to be true? And I think you kind of have to go through totally unemotionally and totally non-confrontationally. You don’t want to back him in the corner because that’s when he’s going to feel cornered and he’s going to respond. I think sometimes people think that the point of asking a tough question is to actually ask the tough question when in reality, it’s to get the tough answer. And I think in this case, you have to be as sensitive as possible when you go in with your questions into that next press conference. So I would go in and there’s this thing in journalism, don’t ask yes, no questions. I think that’s generally true in this case. I don’t think it’s true because what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to give opportunity for him to talk around it. Right. If he doesn’t say yes or no, because all you want to know is, do you believe it? So you can ask, do you believe it? So I’d go in and I’d say, you know, do you believe that Jews were mainly responsible for the transatlantic slave trade? And if he talks around it, you can just say it’s just yes or no. You don’t have to give it expanded response. I’m just asking. You said the documentary was the truth and that was in the documentary. So I just want to confirm if you believe that. I think people who are not fans probably would want to know the answer to that question. I know I don’t cover the Yankees. I’m a huge Yankees fan. I’ve never covered baseball in my life. And for Yankee player, we’re doing that. I would want to know if he actually believed that stuff. So that’s how I’d handle it at the next one. Just be as unemotional as possible and just run down the list. And I don’t know how he would respond to it, and I don’t know what his answer would be, but I would love to know what he would say.
Jason Concepcion Fred, thank you very much.
Fred Katz Thank you.
Jason Concepcion Happy times in the City of Brotherly Love as the Phillies return home against the Houston Astros in the World Series of Philadelphia Union are marching towards the MLS Cup and the Eagles remain undefeated after they molly wopped the Steelers 3513 before a quick turnaround entering Week nine, in which the Bears will face the Texans on Thursday Night Football. We want to bring in Zack Berman, Eagles staff writer with The Athletic to help unpack Philly’s amazing start. Zack, thanks for joining us.
Zach Berman For sure.
Jason Concepcion So just incredible sports vibes in Philly. Let’s ignore the Sixers for a second. The Philadelphia Union are headed towards the championship, potentially. The Phillies are in the World Series and the Eagles are just running the league. They sent the Steelers packing. 35-13 Kenny Pickett, young Steelers quarterback, met reporters with a bunch of excuses about why it happened, but all of which is to say the Eagles are just absolutely rolling. What is the vibe? What’s your sense of the vibe in Philadelphia right now?
Zach Berman Well, overall, I would say there’s as much excitement as there’s been in quite a long time. I mean, certainly when the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, the city was rolling then. But you didn’t have the other teams going at this level. So the fact that the Eagles are undefeated and the Phillies are in the World Series playing a home game tonight, yeah I would say Philadelphia is electric, whatever adjective you want to use there. And you know, this is a city that really gets a lot of its identity and a lot of its day to day satisfaction from the sports teams.
Jason Concepcion Yeah.
Zach Berman So when they’re going like this, everyone’s happy and everyone’s pretty happy in Philly right now.
Jamel Johnson I live in L.A., which is like Philly like Philly’s Annex, like Philly’s second home.
Jason Concepcion Very true.
Jamel Johnson A lot. A lot of people in my life love the Eagles. And last year, the Nick Sirianni first year, it seemed like they were going to run him out of town from Van Nuys like people were. They weren’t feeling him. Everybody’s like, This guy’s goofy. I don’t get it. Year two looks like the exact opposite. What is Nick Sirianni doing just to make this run happen?
Zach Berman I would say the funny thing there is is Sirianni is not different than he was a year ago. They’re winning games. So the things that he says and does, they seem charming when they’re undefeated and they might be grating when they’re two and five. But to Sirianni’s credit, he has this locker room, you know, believing there is very much a college driven high school sense there. He always talks about connecting and competing. Those are some of his core values. And you see that in the locker room. Now, from a football perspective, what Sirianni is doing well is he has an offense and a defense that that’s really matchup dependent. So some coaches go into a game saying this is what we do, this is what we run and you’re going to have to react to us. Whereas the Eagles, they look at who their opponent is and really build a game plan each week based on that opponent. So you saw, for instance, Jalen Hurts yesterday was throwing the ball around the field. He only ran the ball two times, which that was his fewest amount of carries as a starting quarterback, tied for a time last year when he had an injured ankle. But he had the best quarterback rating that he’s had. He set a career high in touchdowns. Yesterday was a pass happy day. They’ve had run heavy days. With the defense, there are games when you know they’re in more odd man fronts, games when they’re in more even man fronts. Right. So they’re really adjusting based on who the opponent is and that’s what’s clicking this year.
Jason Concepcion You mentioned the defense leading the league in turnover differential plus 14, leading the NFL with points off takeaways. You mentioned the kind of adaptability that they have on both sides of the ball. Take us into defense coordinator is Jonathan Gannon’s like his style in implementing that kind of variability that flexibility on defense.
Zach Berman Yeah flexibility is a good word because that’s that’s one he’s used often. And the Eagles this offseason really changed their personnel to have the types of players who could fit that style. They signed Hassan Reddick in free agency. Someone who has that as an edge rusher, you know, is is almost like a chess piece there. They drafted Jordan Davis in the first round, giving them really a hard to find. Prototypical nose tackle who can change the running game, gives them a presence in odd man fronts. And, you know, they sign Kizer White, they go out and they trade for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. They signed James Bradberry. They they really upgraded the personnel on the defensive side of the ball. And you mentioned that the turnovers going into the season, there were two things that this defense really needed to do better, more than anything else. That was they needed to affect the quarterback. They were 31 in the league in sacks last year and then they need to force more turnovers and you’re seeing them do that each week. Then they trade for Robert Quinn last week, giving them one of the seven players, seven active players in the NFL who has at least 100 sacks so they can really get after the quarterback. They had six sacks yesterday and then they could take the ball away. And there’s often regression to the mean when it comes to turnovers. That could be a hard pace to sustain, but I think they’re doing a good job putting themselves in position to create turnovers this season.
Jamel Johnson Okay, one thing I’ve noticed, they’ve been the best team in football, kind of hands down at this point. Some struggles in the second half, especially the third quarter, a lot of slow starts coming out of the half. I think this Sunday was their most consistent four quarters. Are there any concerns about the slow second half’s coming out of Philly?
Zach Berman Well, I would say two weeks ago, going into the bye week from the outside, you had had those concerns. And one can say if if the biggest problem with your team is they’re not doing enough to build upon their double digit leads, then that’s a good situation to have here. But there was validity there. And it’s something that that they looked at during the bye week. It was a point of emphasis from the coaches. They talked about it going into the game. They talked about in the locker room at halftime yesterday. And what you saw was the way they came out of the second half noticeably better than in previous games. They scored a touchdown on that opening drive they built on the second half lead. Yeah, it’s a concern in the sense that you don’t want to lose leads. That said, they’ve won every game this year. Right. So, so that so they haven’t surrendered the lead and they’re seven and 0 for a reason. But a big thing they said yesterday was that it was the most complete game that they had and that was certainly noticeable.
Jason Concepcion Sirianni, Jalen Hurts, rest of the Eagles have are trying to avoid the conversation about the record but you know, it’s impossible to avoid the conjecture right now. What happens if the Eagles go to undefeated? Could they go undefeated? Could they you know first team since the 72 dolphins to do it if you had to pinpoint a potential loss on this calendar they don’t face an offense higher than 20 is until the cowboys on Christmas Eve. What would you pinpoint as a team that they could lose to.
Zach Berman Yeah so it’s a good point there. This is a a relatively weak schedule, right. That the best teams in the NFL, the Bills, the Chiefs, they’re not on the schedule. So if you’re saying where can that loss calm. Well you watch the Packers right now and you say that’s not a team playing particularly well, but you never want to see Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the field, right, Aaron? Aaron Rodgers can always beat you. They have a game against Tennessee and even before Green Bay against Indianapolis, neither team. Well, the Colts are obviously not playing well this year, but the Eagles have Jordan Davis banged up right now. That could affect their run defense when you’re going up against decorated runners like Jonathan Taylor or Derrick Henry, certainly something to be cognizant of. The Giants have won games this year. You know, it’s it’s hard to look into the record that they have. And then you mention that Cowboys game on Christmas Eve. The Eagles played them on October 16th without Dak Prescott. That’s a different team with Dak Prescott. But if I had to identify before Dallas where that loss could come, I would say seeing Aaron Rodgers and then potentially Tennessee with the way they run the ball, if Jordan Davis is not back yet.
Jamel Johnson Can also I throw the Saints in there. I know that the game’s in Philly, but if the Saints are going to play like they played yesterday, it’s at least worth maybe a possibility.
Zach Berman So I was pointing out the games before Dallas on Christmas Eve. But yeah, but, but but certainly January 1st against the Saints, January 8th against the Giants. Those are, I suppose, two potential roadblocks. The thing is, the Eagles are rolling over everyone right now.
Jamel Johnson You’ll be resting, guys by then. You guys will be playing practice squad in the last two games.
Zach Berman You know, they beat the Vikings week two, for instance. And and that’s a team that that’s beaten everyone except the Eagles this year. You know they beat the Cowboys they’ve beaten teams this year that are having their way against other opponents.
Jamel Johnson Has Jalen Hurts done enough to just be the long term guy in Philly at this point? Do you think?
Zach Berman It’s hard to argue against it? Right. When you see the way he’s been playing, he’s answered the bell with everything. I mean, Jalen Hurts is a bonafide MVP candidate. And there were questions going into the season about his consistency as a passer. And the lasting memory from last season was that playoff game against Tom Brady, where Jalen, he picked a bad day for a bad day and he he needed to get better. And he’s clearly better this year. And there are a number of factors you can look at. This is the first year that he’s in the same offensive scheme since he was in high school playing for his dad and Channelview High School in Houston. Personnel around him is is is certainly better they acquire AJ Brown. But the thing that I kept hearing throughout the off season from people in the in the Eagles building is that whatever Jalen Hurts’ ceiling is, he’ll be able to hit it because of the way he’s wired like an investment in Jalen Hurts is as much in the person as he is than the player he is. And what you’re seeing now is why he’s improved every year going back to Alabama, gone. But you know, his time at Oklahoma from his rookie year, it was second year, it was third year in the NFL. He’s wired the right way. He has intangible characteristics. And so the question was, is he the long term quarterback for the Eagles? Well, if you’re going to bet on someone, you’re betting as much about what they are off the field as on the field. And he he has qualities that are really hard to find.
Jason Concepcion He is Zach Berman, Eagles staff writer for The Athletic. Zach thank you so much for joining Takeline and congratulations to Philly on this really unbelievable run of Philly sports right now.
Zach Berman I appreciate coming on I don’t know if I could speak on Philly’s behalf, but for all the all those listening, I imagine they’re pretty thrilled right now.
Jason Concepcion Well, that’s been our show today. Jamel, what do you have to plug? Plug it all. Tell us what you’re doing.
Jamel Johnson I got a bunch of shows coming up in November. If you’re in Los Angeles, it’s Broccoli House on Instagram, NonprofitComic on Twitter. And yeah, I got some podcast. Go figure it out.
Jason Concepcion Let me just say this one thing about Jamel. If you are in L.A. or anywhere where Jamel Johnson is doing stand up, such a tremendously funny stand up. I, Jamel, I have seen you do like sets where it’s like you before you even get to the jokes, you’re just talking about like what you eat or what happened or what happened backstage or some conversation we had before you went up. And and it’s hilarious. That’s the kind of guy you are.
Jamel Johnson Look, just catch me when I had a good meal before a show and I. And I’ll give you a good one. You know.
Jason Concepcion I’m making the the Italian finger gesture. Jamel, thank you so much.
Jamel Johnson Thank y’all man.
Jason Concepcion That’s it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to Takeline show and check out my pop culture and entertainment podcast, X-ray Vision, which comes out every Friday. Check it out, folks. Goodbye. Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin. Our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard. Engineering, Editing and sound design by the great Sarah Dubalaska and the folks at Chapter Four. And our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kelman is on the Zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.