Eagles Opposition Report: Bills Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Bills Defense

If you like shootouts, Sunday's contest between the Birds and the Bills could be the game for you. By any measure, Buffalo's defense is near the bottom in the NFL, most notably surrendering the sixth highest number of yards in the league. They don't do anything particularly great, so in theory, the Eagles should be able to score some points.

LDE Marcell Dareus
Not so fast though. The Bills finally operate out of a 3-4 after a failed attempt to convert to the system last season, and Dareus is the primary reason why they were able to make the move this time. The third overall pick out of Alabama, Dareus gives the defense another big body that can control the line of scrimmage, which they needed desperately. At 6-3, 340, he already commands double teams from the offensive line, and he can play either end or nose. Needless to say, Danny Watkins will have his hands full in his first career start.

NT Kyle Williams
Dareus joins the disruptive Williams, who essentially held the interior of Buffalo's front together on his own. A Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons, Williams is an adept run defender who puts up silly tackle numbers for a lineman. The sixth-year veteran will utilize his ability to penetrate and occasionally pressure opposing quarterbacks as well, last season racking up a career best 5.5 sacks. We've noticed Jason Kelce has been getting blown off the ball in some key short yardage situations, and while Williams has only average size for a nose tackle (6-1, 301), he could easily give the rookie center fits this week.

ILB Nick Barnett
Barnett is an active linebacker who is more than capable of cleaning up whatever scraps are left over after Dareus and Williams are finished. He spent the previous eight seasons in Green Bay, but couldn't finish two of the last three because of injury, and found himself out of a job. He's still got some years left in the tank, but isn't a big time playmaker the offense will have to game plan around.

ROLB Shawne Merriman
The Eagles will catch a slight break on Sunday, as Chris Kelsay will miss the game with a calf injury, leaving Merriman as the Bills' only proven pass rusher. Of course, proven would only be an apt term if this were 2007, the last time Merriman showed any evidence of being able to get after the passer himself.

Injuries have worn down the man once known as "Lights Out." After exploding on to the scene with 39.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the Chargers, he has just five in the last four seasons, playing in only 22 games. Even when he's healthy, the burst that made him such a dangerous player coming off the edge is gone, and it's never coming back. Merriman might pull some wily veteran tricks out of the bag to beat King Dunlap a few times, as he will be starting in place of the injured Jason Peters, but at this stage, whoever is out there should be able to contain number 53.

CB Leodis McKelvin
Selected 11th overall in 2008, McKelvin hasn't developed into the shutdown corner Buffalo had hoped. To be fair, his second season was derailed by a broken bone in his leg, and he may have been spent last season trying to get back up to speed, but a pair of interceptions in 2010 is not the productivity they were searching for. McKelvin is still a threat to take one to the house when he gets his hands on the ball, but he's not going to eliminate one side of the field or anything like that.

CB Drayton Florence
Florence is a crafty veteran who just sticks wherever he goes. A second round pick of the Chargers in '03, Sunday will mark his 85th start over a nine-year career. He already has two picks on the season, so even though he'll be 31 in December, the offense has to respect his talent.

FS Jairus Byrd
It's hard to say what the Bills have with Byrd, as you would have a difficult time finding a much more uneven start to a career. As a rookie in '09, Byrd intercepted nine passes and earned an invite to Honolulu. Last season, he picked just one in what Football Outsiders described as a "miserable sophomore campaign." The truth is the huge total he posted as a first-year player was in part fueled by some lucky breaks, and he's not likely to sniff that number again. His coverage abilities undoubtedly will be tested by DeSean Jackson several times in this contest, so we'll soon see for ourselves if Byrd is the real deal, or if he is merely that one statistic.

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MIAMI -- A person familiar with the deal says the Miami Marlins have acquired outfielder Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta in a three-team trade.

The person spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity Wednesday night because the trade hadn't been announced.

The Texas Rangers also were part of the trade. Francoeur was the only major leaguer involved.

Miami is contending for an NL wild-card spot and isn't sure whether star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will return this season from a severe groin strain.

Francoeur was hitting .249 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 99 games for the Braves. The 32-year-old plays left field and right field and is known for a strong arm.

Nationals acquire lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski from Athletics
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals have acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski from the Oakland Athletics for minor league infielder Max Schrock.

The A's also sent cash to Washington as part of the trade announced Thursday.

Rzepczynski gives the Nationals another lefty out of the bullpen since trading Felipe Rivero and putting Sammy Solis on the disabled list. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 56 appearances this season for Oakland.

The 32-year-old joins the sixth team of his major league career. It was not clear if he'd be available for Washington's game Thursday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The 21-year-old Schrock was a 13th-round pick in 2015.

Red Sox place rookie Benintendi on 15-day DL with knee sprain
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  -- The Boston Red Sox have placed rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi on the 15-day disabled list with a left knee sprain.

Benintendi was hurt in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss in 11 innings to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. He tried to avoid a tag while running toward second base, but was tagged out on a double play.

Red Sox manager John Farrell says team doctors are evaluating the results of an MRI exam on Thursday. He says the severity of the injury isn't clear and will be "determined after the review."

Farrell is hopeful Benintendi, a first-round draft pick in 2015, will return before the season ends.

Chris Young will be the primary left fielder with Benintendi sidelined. Infielder Marco Hernandez was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.

Future Phillies Report: Jorge Alfaro ticketed for a September call-up?

Future Phillies Report: Jorge Alfaro ticketed for a September call-up?

Minor-league schedules are wrapping up and both Reading and Lehigh Valley have just a dozen regular-season games remaining. From there, both teams will be in their league's playoffs, giving many of the Phillies' top prospects a chance to win a championship.

Even if the Fightin Phils and IronPigs fall short, 2016 has provided many of the Phillies' top young players with a taste of winning. In that respect, it's been a successful season. Even at the major-league level, guys like Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and the Phillies' young starting pitchers have seen what winning feels like. The Phils played very well for the first six weeks of the season, and even though they've faded from contention, they're not nearly as irrelevant as they were at this time a year ago.

This week, the Future Phillies Report begins at Double A:

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Alfaro, hitting .279/.322/.444 on the year with 13 homers and 60 RBIs, could be playing with the Phillies by mid-September. He's the only catcher on their 40-man roster other than Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp. With the 40-man roster filled and teams routinely bringing up a third catcher when roster expand in September, it seems likely Alfaro could get his first taste of The Show.

Reading is the favorite to win the championship, which ends on Sept. 17 if it goes the full five games. The Phillies will almost certainly keep Alfaro with Reading through the end of its run; it would make little sense to keep him at Double A all year only to move him when the Fightin Phils are within striking distance of a title.

But those Alfaro skills you've been hearing and reading about for a year — power, arm strength, athleticism — could be on display at Citizens Bank Park for a few games in mid-to-late September. That opportunity would be as positional as anything else, because Alfaro is likely to begin 2017 at Triple A.

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
It's not a huge surprise that Cozens has gone homerless in his last six games, all on the road. He has 37 homers and 114 RBIs on the year, with 28 HR and 77 RBIs coming at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading.

Cozens is 1 for his last 20 with 10 strikeouts. Those K's just continue to pile up for him — he has 162, second-most in the Eastern League and 43 more than teammate Rhys Hoskins, who ranks fourth with 119.

Cozens has the tools. He has impressive raw power, he can run, he can field his position. But the tendency to swing and miss could hold him back from ascending the minor-league ladder as quickly as Phillies fans want. It certainly has this season. If Cozens had his same numbers — .284/.361/.608 with 36 doubles, 37 HR and 114 RBIs — but with 40 fewer strikeouts, he'd probably be in Triple A by now. But a 30-percent strikeout rate is impossible to overlook. For reference, only six players in the majors have a higher strikeout rate than Cozens: Steven Souza Jr., Chris Davis, Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, Trevor Story and Giancarlo Stanton.

And keep in mind this is Double A pitching Cozens is whiffing against. It's not like he's faced an assortment of experienced former major-leaguers with five-pitch mixes. 

Look for the Phillies to work this offseason and next spring training with Cozens to correct the issue. He has so much power potential that he could be a true difference-maker if he makes more contact and becomes less of a liability vs. lefties (.205 BA, four HR).

1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Reading's powerful first baseman has slowed down in August, going 54 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. But Hoskins continues to walk, so he has a .352 on-base percentage over that span despite hitting .190.

As I outlined in last week's Future Phillies Report, Hoskins' walk rate has increased in each of the last four months — he walked in seven percent of his plate appearances in May, nine percent in June, 13 percent in July and 21 percent in August.

That's a valuable skill for an all-offense slugger like Hoskins to develop. 

He's hitting .278/.369/.562 this season with 25 doubles, 35 homers, 107 RBIs, 61 walks and 119 K's.

OF Andrew Pullin (AA)
An underrated member of the Phillies' farm system, Pullin has had an impressive year. In 80 games, the left-handed hitting corner outfielder has hit .321 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs and an .885 OPS. 

In 44 games since his promotion to Reading, Pullin has hit .344 with with nine doubles, 10 homers and 32 RBIs. He's hit at home and on the road, against lefties and against righties. Pullin, who had a two-homer game on Sunday, has hit .348 with a .400 OBP in 100 plate appearances vs. left-handed pitchers this season.

A fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Centralia HS in Washington, Pullin is still just 22 years old after five seasons in the Phillies' farm system. He doesn't have the same prospect label as a Nick Williams or a Cozens, but he's produced.

Pullin, citing personal issues, actually retired in April before returning to Clearwater in May. The Phillies are glad to have his bat back. The organization has so much more young outfield talent now than it did a year or two ago, when that position group was as bleak as it got.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams' bat has picked back up this week. He had multi-hit games Tuesday and Wednesday, and four of his last eight hits were doubles.

But again, he's striking out a lot and not walking. Over his last 150 plate appearances, Williams has one walk and 40 strikeouts. He's hit .236 with a .240 OBP over that span. If you're hitting .236 with, say, a .320 on-base percentage, you can still provide your team value during a slump — especially if you're a middle-of-the-order hitter like Williams. 

But Williams doesn't do that. When he's cold, there's no production at the plate. That's an issue and it's not one you just correct at the major-league level, where pitchers have more control and command than anywhere else in the world.

Williams has power. He has bat speed and foot speed. But if his plate selection doesn't improve in a tangible way, his ceiling will be limited. There are plenty of guys in the majors with power and speed and a sub-.300 on-base percentage. They're mostly role players, not stars.

SS J.P. Crawford (AA)
Crawford has three errors in his last five games to give him 19 on the season. For most of the year, he was well ahead of last year's pace, when he committed 27 errors. Now, he's in line to finish with 22 or 23, which wouldn't represent meaningful progress.

Of course, defensive ability is not perfectly illustrated by an error total. Errors don't take into account all the balls an infielder reaches that others don't. Things like range and arm strength don't show up in that one counting stat.

Crawford has range and impressive arm strength. He has the tools that will enable him to stick at shortstop and potentially be an above-average defender there one day. But talent alone doesn't make you a good defensive shortstop. Look at Freddy Galvis as an example — for years, the Phillies touted Galvis' glove as he showed flashes of brilliance but also made a lot of mental mistakes or miscues on routine plays. There was a difference in the defense of Jimmy Rollins and Galvis — Rollins had the flashiness while also making just about every routine play every season. It took Galvis a few years, but finally in 2016 he's lived up to his defensive potential. It could take Crawford a similar amount of time.

Offensively, Crawford continues to walk — he has 69 walks and 69 strikeouts this season. He's hit .253 with a .342 OBP in 334 plate appearances at Triple A.

RHP Nick Pivetta (AAA)
Pivetta lasted just four innings on Thursday night, giving up two runs in a loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox. He hit 95 mph and struck out six more batters, though, giving him 20 K's in 15 innings since his promotion to Triple A.

The Phillies appear to be monitoring his innings count. Pivetta is at 139, seven above his career-high with probably three more starts to go. He'll finish somewhere between 155 and 160 innings in his age-23 season. 

The rising strikeout rate and decreasing walk rate with Pivetta are true signs of progress. He's struck out 8.5 batters per nine this season and walked 3.0. Prior to this season, his K/9 was 6.9 and his BB/9 was 3.3.

RHP Jimmy Cordero (AA)
Cordero, the hard-throwing reliever the Phillies acquired from Toronto last summer for Ben Revere, has pitched well lately at Double A. After giving up three runs in his first two appearances with Reading, he's allowed just one run over his last 7⅓ innings.

Cordero's presence on the Phils' 40-man roster and his potential as a setup man or closer could get him a look in the majors in September. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wants more relief options, and Cordero has the stuff to spell Edubray Ramos or Hector Neris. Ramos has made 24 appearances since July 1, and Neris has pitched in a MLB-leading 64 games.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn has homered in two of his last three games, both from the left side. That's good news for the switch-hitter because he is naturally right-handed.

All five of Quinn's homers this season have come from the left side. But he's actually hit 35 points better (.319) from the right side. It's important for a switch-hitter to hold his own against both sides. We saw for years with Shane Victorino, for example, that when a hitter is so much weaker from one side (Victorino was from the left) it almost nullifies that switch-hitting ability.

Quinn, who has deceptive power, has hit .320 over the last week with a double, a triple and those two homers. He's hit .278 with a .355 OBP with Reading this season and has 29 steals in 37 attempts.

On 'prove-it' deals, have Rueben Randle or Chris Givens proven anything?

On 'prove-it' deals, have Rueben Randle or Chris Givens proven anything?

This offseason, in an attempt to boost a putrid receiving corps, the Eagles went out and signed two veterans in Rueben Randle and Chris Givens. 

Both were one-year contracts, without much guaranteed money — what are commonly referred to as “prove-it” deals. But a couple weeks away from final cuts, their two roster spots seem to be in jeopardy. 

So, have they actually proven anything yet? 

“Well both of them really have come on,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday. “I think with Chris' skill set, a speed guy, he's done a nice job catching the ball this week – as all of them have done. Rueben is kind of the veteran, the savvy guy, the smooth, more of the silky runner. And [they are] really two veteran guys that lead that young receiver group.”

It will be hard to lead the receiver group if they’re not on the team — and that certainly seems to be a possibility. The Eagles went out and traded for Dorial Green-Beckham, while undrafted rookie Paul Turner has come on strong, fighting for a roster spot. 

Of course Randle and Givens both said they expect to make the roster. They’re confident and they should be. If not, then what’s the point? 

They each came to Philly on such cheap and short deals because they had something different they needed to prove and the Eagles gave them a shot to do it. 

Randle, 25, finished out his rookie deal with the Giants last year with a good season: 57 catches, 797 yards and eight touchdowns. Yet as a free agent, Randle’s deal with the Eagles was worth just $1.025 million with just $500,000 guaranteed. The problem for Randle in the NFL hasn’t been talent, it’s been his personality and his perceived effort. 

Talking in the spring, Randle said the Giants judged him incorrectly because of his laid-back personality. When asked if Eagles view him differently, Randle said, “I hope so.” 

Then there’s the issue of his on-field effort, which came into question while he was with the Giants and has already come into question since he’s been with the Eagles. 

“I understand that,” Randle said. “I feel like I get read wrong because I do a lot of things naturally and it doesn’t seem like I’m giving much effort. I get a lot of [flak] from that. If I go out there and make a one-handed catch and make it look effortless, I get praised for it. If I do all these other things effortlessly, it’s like I’m not giving much effort. It’s just kind of one of those things, you just have to go out there and make some plays and see how it goes from there. I don’t read into it too much. I put my best foot forward each and every game.”

In the first two preseason games, Randle played 54 snaps, was targeted five times and had three receptions for 13 yards.

Then, there’s Givens, 26, who had his best NFL season as a rookie with Sam Bradford in 2012. The Eagles signed him to a one-year deal worth $840,000, with $180,000 guaranteed, hoping he could rekindle the on-field chemistry he once had with the quarterback. 

What did he want to prove coming to Philly? 

“That I’m a guy that they can depend on and I’m a guy that can do more than one thing,” Givens said. “I’m a guy that really takes working on my craft and becoming the best player that I can be to heart. And that I’ve really put in the work and the time to do all the things that I need to do and be in the right place all the time.”

Givens hasn’t played much in the first two preseason games. In 17 snaps, he’s been targeted just once and doesn’t have a catch. Givens said he’s not worried about his lack of preseason snaps because if the Eagles needed to see him play more, he’d be in. 

The veteran also said he doesn’t feel pressured by the younger receivers who are pushing hard for a roster spot; Givens said he’s never been one to worry about what other guys are doing. He just wants to focus on himself. 

So has he proven what he wanted to so far? 

“I think I have,” Givens said. “I feel like I definitely surprised a lot of people as far as being able to run routes and catch the ball and things like that. It’s just one of these things where I continue to work on it every day and being able to show that I can do all the things that are asked of me in this offense.”