Didinger: Eagles-Giants Scouting Report


Didinger: Eagles-Giants Scouting Report

Sizing up Sundays game between the Eagles (1-1) and the New York Giants (1-1) at Lincoln Financial Field.

When the Eagles have the ball

All week the New York Giants said they hoped Mike Vick would start at quarterback for the Eagles on Sunday. Well, it looks like they will get their wish.

Vick, who suffered a concussion in Atlanta, practiced on Thursday and will start against the Giants, barring any setbacks. Mike Kafka, who played well in relief against the Falcons, appears headed back to the bullpen where he will be ready just in case.

For Vick, the good news is he will be going against a New York secondary crippled by injuries. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has patched things together as best he can, but it isnt a pretty picture. The Giants rank 24th in the league against the pass, despite facing two teams (Washington and St. Louis) that dont have a lot of weapons.

The Eagles, by contrast, have weapons galore. The Giants dont have the speed to cover DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin and they dont have the depth to match up when the Eagles spread the field with Jason Avant, ex-Giant Steve Smith, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy. This is the kind of game that makes Andy Reid giddy with delight. He will have receivers open all over the field.

The only question and well probably ask it every week is can the line protect either Vick well enough to allow him to hit the big plays that will be available down the field? Dont expect the Eagles to run much. The Giants run defense ranks third in the league, allowing an average of 3.0 yards per carry.

The Giants defense is built on one thing: the front four. The linebackers havent been good since the days of Lawrence Taylor and while they keep changing personnel in the secondary, it never seems to improve. They had a promising cornerback in Terrell Thomas, but he injured his knee and is out for the season.

The Giants still can be formidable if their line is kicking butt up front. Weve seen Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora dominate a game, but they are banged up now. Tuck is coming back from a neck injury and Umenyiora (knee) didnt play the last two weeks and seems unlikely to play Sunday.

Look for Jason Pierre-Paul to play a lot of snaps. If Umenyiora cant play, Pierre-Paul will start in his place. If Umenyiora does play, he will split time with Pierre-Paul, a 6-6, 280-pounder with the wingspan of a stealth bomber. He leads the team in sacks (2.5) and he gets better every week.

Left tackle Jason Peters, who played a strong game in Atlanta, will have the task of blocking Tuck. Right tackle Todd Herremans will have to contain whoever lines up on the other side, either Umenyiora or Pierre-Paul.

When the Giants have the ball

The Giants rank 24th in offense and they arent doing anything well. They are averaging 3.3 yards per rush and Eli Manning was so erratic in the last game against St. Louis that the home crowd was booing him in the first quarter.

After the Week 1 loss to Washington, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs criticized offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. They felt he was relying too much on the pass and not calling enough running plays. Gilbride called more runs against the Rams and while the Giants won, 28-16, Bradshaw and Jacobs didnt do a whole lot.

It will be interesting to see what approach Gilbride takes Sunday. The Giants came into the season vowing to return to the ground game that won for them in the past. It would be tempting to do that against an Eagles team that clearly has issues in that area. Their rush defense (30th in the NFL) was gashed for long touchdown runs in each of the first two games.

The Eagles shuffled their linebackers this week, finally admitting what everyone already knew: the alignment with Casey Matthews in the middle. Moise Fokou on the weak side and Jamar Chaney on the strong side wasnt working. Chaney is now back in the middle (he had 16 tackles against the Giants in his first start in the middle last season) with Matthews on the weak side and Fokou on the strong side.

Chaney will be an improvement over Matthews in the middle. But what makes the Eagles coaches think Matthews will be adequate on the weak side? He is unfamiliar with the position and he will have a whole new set of keys and responsibilities. Look for the Giants to test him by sending Bradshaw out on pass patterns and forcing the rookie to cover.

The Giants dont look good running the ball. The line, which was the best in the NFC a few years ago, is mediocre now. Will Beatty is the new left tackle and he could get eaten alive by Trent Cole (six tackles, four for a loss in Atlanta). The new center is ex-49er David Bass, who isnt the anchor Shaun OHara was in the middle. He will have problems trying to block Cullen Jenkins.

The book on Manning hasnt changed. Pressure him and he will make mistakes. He will start throwing off his back foot and floating the ball into coverage. He led the NFL with 25 interceptions last season.

During the off-season, the Giants allowed Mannings favorite receivers, Smith and tight end Kevin Boss, to leave and he has not developed the same chemistry with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. In an offense built on option routes where the quarterback and receiver have to read coverage and adjust patterns on the fly that can be deadly.

In the past when Manning was rushed, he knew where Smith and Boss would be. Now when the walls are closing in, he doesnt know where to turn. Here is a telling stat: He is 29th among quarterbacks on third-down efficiency through two games.

The Eagles front four (nine sacks) should get a heavy pass rush and force Manning into some of those Uh oh throws. With Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie lurking in the secondary, the Eagles should pick off a few.

Special teams

The memory of Jacksons punt return last season still haunts the Giants. Nothing has gone right for them since that memorable walk-off score. Could history repeat itself Sunday? Possibly.

The Giants cut Matt Dodge, the punter who hit the line drive to Jackson, and replaced him with Steve Weatherford. But the real issue is the Giants kick coverage. It has been lousy for years. Jackson could pop another big return and since Lawrence Tynes ranks next to last in touchbacks, Dion Lewis should have several chances to do the same on kickoffs.

For the Eagles rookie specialists, kicker Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry, this will be their first regular season game at the Linc and also their first regular season game outdoors.


There is no doubt the Eagles are in the Giants heads. They have beaten them the last six times they played and last seasons back-from-the-dead 38-31 win knocked the Giants out of the playoffs. The Giants claim they are using that as motivation this week, but their bravado sounds rather hollow to me. I think the Eagles have their number.


The Giants have had nothing but bad luck since the start of training camp and a trip to Philadelphia isnt likely to improve matters. The Eagles defense will swarm all over Manning and make it easy for the offense.

Eagles 24, Giants 13.
E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies


Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT – Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
Those days are gone.
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting – and Howard keeps struggling – the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve gave a lot of power on that team.”
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip – three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle


With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle


DETROIT — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a strong statement Monday night when he benched his best hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game.
With Odubel Herrera on the bench for the final innings, the Phillies went on to lose, 5-4, to the Detroit Tigers (see Instant Replay).
Mackanin did not regret his decision to yank Herrera and his team-high .335 batting average from the game.
“It’s important to me to set that tone,” Mackanin said. “When you don’t hustle, I’ve got a problem.”
Herrera had singled in each of his first three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies’ first run with a hit in the third inning.
But when he bounced back to the pitcher and took his time getting to first base in the seventh, Mackanin abruptly pulled him. Even Ryan Howard said something to Herrera in the dugout.
“He didn’t run,” Mackanin said. “One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that guys play with energy and they play hard. We’re training them to play the game the right way and not running is not the right way.”
Herrera said he did not run because he was “frustrated” and “angry” with the at-bat. He said Tigers reliever Justin Wilson “got in his head” by varying his delivery times. Herrera even mentioned that Wilson quick-pitched him.
“The pitcher was playing with me,” he said. “I have to learn from it. I didn’t think [Mackanin] was going to bench me, but I understand why. I can’t argue. I was frustrated. I respect the decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes and it won’t happen again.”
Mackanin is a huge fan of Herrera. He has predicted the 24-year-old Venezuelan will someday win a batting title.
But Mackanin indicated after Monday night’s game that Herrera might be developing some bad habits — at least when it comes to the hustle that Mackanin values. The front office values it, too. Playing with “energy” is something the front office frequently says it wants to see, and the ability to get his players to play with energy is one of Mackanin’s strengths.
“I’ve seen it in the past and it’s been trickling in,” Mackanin said of Herrera’s occasional lapses in hustle. “I didn’t like it and I made the decision. He knows he should have run.”
Jonathan Papelbon put a chokehold on Bryce Harper’s neck last year in Washington for a similar transgression.
In the Phillies’ dugout Monday night, Herrera got a little talking-to from Howard.
“That was great to see,” Mackanin said.
Said Howard: “Doobie's got a lot of promise. He’s going to be around this game for a long time. He makes things happen. He brings energy to the game.
“The pitcher lost the grip and had to double-pump. If you’re running hard, maybe he makes a bad throw and you’re on base.
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat you wanted, but look at me, bro, I’m still out there grinding.’ If he’s running there, the pitcher could throw it away and he could be on second and we could squeeze a run out.”
Howard went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
Mackanin said his message to Herrera was complete. Herrera will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2


NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2


TORONTO -- A series that once looked lopsided is now even.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, including a driving layup in the final minute, and DeMar DeRozan had 32 as the Toronto Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 in Game 4 on Monday night.

DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points and Bismack Biyombo had 14 rebounds as Toronto improved to 8-2 at home this postseason and got back on level terms after big losses in Games 1 and 2.

"We've been counted out, and we like that challenge," DeRozan said.

The next challenge for Toronto? Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.

"We have to continue to make sure that when they punch, we punch back," Lowry said. "And if they punch three times, we punch four times."

The Raptors are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs.

After a 10-0 start to these playoffs, the Cavaliers are counting on home court advantage to help them reach their second straight Finals.

"Going back home we have to play a lot better and I think we will," LeBron James said.

Cleveland lost consecutive playoff games to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time since dropping the final three games of the conference semifinals to Boston in 2010.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can't have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "They executed every time we made a mistake."

James scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 26 for the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 18 points. Channing Frye scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Lowry scored nine in the fourth and DeRozan had 12, connecting on five of six shots.

"It's a cakewalk for me when (Lowry) gets going," DeRozan said. "It opens up everything."

The Raptors led 78-69 to begin the fourth but Frye made consecutive 3-pointers as Cleveland opened the final quarter with an 8-0 run, cutting it to 78-77. The Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch up the whole game," James said.

Frye's errant 3-point attempt at 4:12 was Cleveland's first miss of the fourth. DeRozan made two free throws at the other end and, after another miss by Frye, Carroll made one of two to put Toronto up 99-96 with 3:23 to go.

A long 3 by Irving made it 101-99 with 2:00 left, but DeRozan answered with a driving bank shot at 1:33. Toronto got the ball back after Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith's 3, and Biyombo kept the offensive possession alive by rebounding Lowry's missed shot. After a timeout, Lowry let the shot clock wind down before driving for the decisive layup, making it 105-99 with 22 seconds to go.

Toronto jumped out to a 13-5 lead as Cleveland missed eight of its first 10 shots. Following a timeout, the Cavs made five of their next six to cut the deficit but the Raptors led 27-24 after one quarter.

Lowry scored 15 points in the second, making three of Toronto's four 3-pointers, as the Raptors opened a 57-41 halftime lead despite not shooting a single free throw in the first two quarters. It marked the first time a team led by 15 or more at halftime in a conference finals game without shooting a free throw since Game 2 of the 2001 East Finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Bucks made two of six from the line, the fewest ever made in an NBA playoff game at the time.

DeRozan shot Toronto's first free throws at 6:13 of the third after being tackled by Smith on a drive. The foul drought came after Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials following Toronto's Game 3 win.

Fans cheered derisively when Matthew Dellavedova was called for Cleveland's first foul of the game at 8:56 of the second.

Not much to Love
After shooting 3 for 19 in Game 3, Kevin Love shot 4 for 14 in Game 4. He finished with 10 points. Love did not play in the fourth after appearing to injure his left ankle when he stepped on referee David Guthrie late in the third. "It didn't feel too great," Love said. Lue said Love's health was "no concern."

Fair and foul
Cleveland didn't shoot any free throws in the third quarter and had just two in the fourth. Twelve of Toronto's 19 free throws came in the fourth.

Cavaliers: James and Irving each had six assists. ... Cleveland shot 3 for 23 from 3-point range in the first half. The finished 13 for 41. . Cleveland's Dahntay Jones served a one-game suspension for hitting Biyombo in the groin in Game 3.

Raptors: Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas was active but did not play. He's been out since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7. ... Toronto is 10-1 in the playoffs when holding opponents below 100 points.