What do the Phillies Need from Utley, Howard, and Halladay to Be Successful in 2013?

What do the Phillies Need from Utley, Howard, and Halladay to Be Successful in 2013?

There are a lot of “ifs” for the Phillies heading into this
season, perhaps none bigger than “if” Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy
Halladay are healthy and return to form. As long as the heart of the lineup and
ace of the staff can rebound, these aging Fightins should still pose a threat
even in a crowded National League East.

But those are three players, none of them younger than 33,
coming off of serious injuries and/or declining numbers. It might be
unreasonable to bet on any one of them replicating their award-winning and
All-Star seasons, let alone all of them. I think everybody understands that.

The good news is they might not have to.

Looking back on last year, there are some obvious, bare
minimum benchmarks for each of them. Utley needs to be available for more than
half of a season for starters, the 83 games he played in 2012 the lowest since
his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. Howard needs to get on base more
than his career-worst .295, and Halladay can’t allow an earned run average of
4.49.

The real question is: what does each of them need to as
individuals to be considered successful in 2013? Because while it might be
unreasonable to expect them to revert to an All Star, MVP, or Cy Young, I’m not so
sure any of them has to attain quite that level of performance, either.

Utley

I’m not sure how much Utley’s numbers really need to improve
as much as he needs to be on the field more. For the first season in awhile, a lot of his stats were actually better than the year prior. Despite appearing
in 20 fewer games than ’11, Utley had just as many home runs (11) and one more
RBI (45). His OBP was also .21 points higher, up to .365 which is closer to what
he’s been throughout most of his career. Chase is probably past the days where he’s
going to post an OPS in the .900s, but with a full spring training and a year
of reasonably good health, a return to 2010 production (.832) is not out of the
question – it was .793 in '12.

That – good health – is the key though. Utley hasn’t played above
115 games in a season since ’09. Production is generally not the issue here, it’s
whether or not he is well enough to put his cleats on most days. If Utley can play
between 130-140 games this season, the Phillies should be better off no matter
what. Early indications are he's going to be able to do just that.

Howard

Yes, this past season was abysmal by any standards, not just Ryan
Howard’s, but what did everybody expect? He was still learning how to run again
when he came back from his torn Achilles tendon, and didn’t have much of a
spring training or rehab stretch to get the timing on that big swing of his
down.

Then again, when you’re talking about the Big Piece, just his presence
alone is meaningful. In the 66 games Howard started for the Phillies last year,
the Phillies showed slightly improved run production, going from 4.14 per game
to 4.35 per game. The difference is not quite as marginal as it might seem, as
that’s a difference of 21 runs over the course of a season, which would’ve been
enough to bump up one spot to seventh in the NL in scoring – ahead of the
Atlanta Braves. The Phillies also had a 39-27 record with Howard in the lineup,
the .591 winning percentage a few points better than what they posted over the
second half (.587). Think had he been swinging the bat reasonably well.

So even stinky Howard is better than no Howard. With his
Achilles healed, there’s no reason to believe his numbers can’t bounce back to ’10-’11 territory – we’re talking 30-35 homers, 110+ RBI, with OBP and slugging percentages
hanging around .350 and .500 respectively. That might not mean living up to his
enormous contract, but it’s enough to help the Phils win a lot of baseball games, that's for sure.

Halladay

Doc is the guy we might have to be worried about the most.
He’ll turn 36 this season, making rapid decline increasingly likely, and the stats
in 2012 are already some of his worst in over a decade. The velocity on his
fastball dipped, and perhaps as a result he was trying harder to pitch around
batters rather than running through them. After leading the league in
strikeouts-to-walks ratio for four consecutive years, that number (.367) fell below
his career average, maybe the most telling number of any.

Of course, we can now confirm that Halladay was hurt all
along. He recently admitted to having a lower back issue which he says altered
his mechanics, and there was a lengthy trip on the disabled list for an arm problem
later on.

Doc is the kind of guy you can never count out because of
his intensity though, so by no means am I predicting he can’t return to ace
status in the twilight of his career. Many great pitchers remained among the most effective in the game into their late 30s. I’m also not sure they need him to be
exactly the same pitcher who won a Cy Young with the Phillies in 2010, and
finished as the runner-up in ’11. Cole Hamels is at the top of his game, and
despite the inconvenient lack of run support, Cliff Lee still had a fine ’12 –
plus Kyle Kendrick has become reliable at the back end of the staff.

Not even really going out on a limb, but a healthy Roy
Halladay can easily do a full point better on last year's 4.49 ERA at least, and if
the Phillies are inclined to watch his innings, a quality bullpen should be
there to pick him up this season. Assuming Doc has everything sorted out with regards to his health, no
reason he shouldn’t win 16+ games again this year – and that’s if he’s not
chasing a third Cy Young award toward the end of the season.

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Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews experienced something new on Sunday. Something he hoped he’d never have to experience. 

He was relegated to spectator.  

After never missing a game dating back to little league – through high school, college, and into his third season in the NFL – a right ankle injury kept him out of Sunday’s 32-14 loss in Cincinnati. 

“It’s definitely not fun,” Matthews said. “But it’s one of those things where I try not to dwell on it or be like ‘woe is me.’ There’s people going through way worse things in America than me missing a football game.”

The Eagles certainly could have used Matthews on Sunday. But they should get him back this weekend when the Birds host Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Linc. Along with Ryan Mathews and Dorial Green-Beckham, Matthews is listed as questionable. 

But he seems confident he’ll be good to go. 

“I think one game is definitely going to be enough for me,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely going to try to get back out there Sunday.” 

On Friday, during his first media availability in two weeks, Matthews said he chose to find the positives in his absence from Sunday’s game. Namely that Paul Turner and Trey Burton got some extra reps. 

Burton had five catches for 53 yards and Turner, in just his second NFL game, had six catches for 80 yards. 

“I try to see the positives,” Matthews said. “I liked seeing what PT was able to go out there and do. I was happy for him and his first live-game action, being able to go out there and make plays. I was also proud of Trey. His role got to expand with me being out and I think he played extremely well. He got to show what he can do and show how he can help this team. We just have to continue to utilize him moving forward. There’s always a positive in it. 

“We might not see it now, in a loss, but just think, some of those guys are going to be weapons for us in the future. And we saw they can go out and perform well without me in there, so I think it’s going to end up being a positive. But I definitely can’t wait to get back out there.”

Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the team would still try to get Turner involved. Since the team sees Turner primarily as a slot receiver, that means Matthews could see time outside this weekend. There’s an even better chance when taking Green-Beckham’s injury into account. 

Before the season, Pederson talked a lot about wanting to play Matthews both inside and outside, but this season, Matthews has been in the slot for 74 percent of his snaps. Forty-four of his 57 catches have come from the slot too. 

On the play where Matthews hurt his ankle against the Packers, he was actually lined up outside and caught a back-shoulder throw from Wentz. 

“I was actually joking with Carson,” Matthews said, “I was like ‘bro, the reason I got hurt was because our back shoulder was better than Jordy [Nelson] and Aaron [Rodgers’]. So it didn’t mesh well with the universe. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way on Monday night for everybody to see, so the football gods took my ankle. So it’s all good. … That’s a joke.”

Matthews, despite being in his third season, is clearly one of the Eagles’ leaders on offense, especially in a very young receivers room. He’s looking forward to playing Washington after he thinks they were the first team that “actually came out and beat” them earlier in the year. 

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim. But Matthews thinks it’s important for the team to finish strong, especially with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. 

With Wentz, Matthews thinks the Eagles have already taken the first step toward building something special. 

“He’s the guy,” Matthews said. “He looks like the guy, he walks like the guy, he talks like it. And he goes out there and plays like it. It’s more we have to continue to ride around him and coach Pederson and be positive and go out there and produce.”

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27