Eagles-Jets Yes, They Are Still Alive...

Eagles-Jets Yes, They Are Still Alive...

Update: Dallas predictably steamrolled hapless Tampa Bay last night, but Washington is currently taking care of business against the Giants, which would leave the window cracked for the Eagles in the NFC East. Woo? Now they need the Giants to lose to the Jets on Christmas Eve, then beat the Cowboys Week 17, while Philadelphia must win out.

Alternate headline: Eagles-Jets -- Hope You Just Love Football, or Have Fantasy Interests.

Face it. If you're still watching, you're either a hopeless optomist who believes the Birds can sneak another miracle post-season berth (or merely counting on the inevitable collapses of Tony Romo and Eli Manning), or you love the NFL. Nothing wrong with that, and since the Eagles are mathematically still in the running, you should be treated to a competitive football game against a strong New York Jets team either way you approach this afternoon.

A breakdown of some of the key story lines after the jump.

Welcome Home?
The last time the Eagles played in front of a Lincoln Financial Field crowd, the fans started chanting "Fire Andy" in the third quarter, then flooded out the gates in the middle of a game that was not quite out of hand. Who could blame them? The Eagles have only won one game at home all season, racking up an impressive 1-5 record in Philadelphia. Home field advantage, indeed.

How or why they can't win at home is almost beyond explanation, but we're curious to see what kind of atmosphere the Linc provides today. With those slim playoff hopes still out there, there's a good chance 69,000 people will start the afternoon fully behind their Eagles.

But how quickly will they turn on their Birds? How early will the sea of humanity transform into large expanses of empty seats? After the old fashioned walkout, will some ticket holders choose to send a message and never show up at all? Lots of intrigue in the stands, as well as on the field.

Eagles Receivers v. Jets Secondary
Will DeSean Jackson visit Revis Island?

Back in August, we hoped the Birds' secondary would be one of the best in the league, only rivaled by the group in New York. But while Nnamdi Asomugha appears to have been vastly overrated, and Asante Samuel plays a fairly one-dimensional role, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the real deal. Revis is a shutdown corner who expertly uses his body and the boundaries to disappear receivers, Cromartie a freak who can match size and athletic ability with practically any receiver in the league.

Yet as we all know, Jackson is a unique talent capable of blowing by any defensive back out there. Rarely if ever do you see any team attempt to cover him one-on-one, so even though it is Revis -- the consensus best corner in the league -- I would expect to see a scheme that provides at least some help over the top.

And on that front, the Jets lost safety Jim Leonhard for the season to injury last week, which could come as good news for the Birds. Leonhard is their best safety, the quarterback of their defense, and when he went down last year, New York's defense took a step back. We'll see if Mike Vick and the Eagles can take advantage.

Eagles Defense v. Jets Running Game
Juan Castillo's unit will have their hands full today with running back Shonn Greene, who has really turned up the noise in recent weeks.

The Eagles enter the game with the NFL's 18th ranked run defense, allowing 115 yards per game, and 4.4 yards per carry. New York's ground attack is only 22nd overall, but they are strong up front, and Greene is on a roll. After getting out to a slow start, the Iowa product is beginning to reach his potential, gaining 711 yards on 4.6 per carry, and punching in five scores over his last nine games.

With playmaking wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, and athletic tight end Dustin Keller to test them vertically, the Eagles will not easily be able to over-commit to stopping the run. That means a pair of Pro-Bowl offensive linemen -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson and and Nick Mangold -- could have multiple opportunities to tee off the Birds' beleaguered linebackers.

Meaningless Trivia
The Eagles have never lost to the Jets in eight games. That means they never will lose to the Jets, right?

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego -- 6.19 -- and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games -- five losses -- and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings. Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We’re better than this. I know we’re better than this. We’ve just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it’s something we’ve got to do. Today wasn’t too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice ground ball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It’s hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it’s all because we’re missing good pitches to hit. We’re getting pitches to hit and we’re not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We’re trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it’s tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We’re just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."