Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Giants with Jimmy Kempski

Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Giants with Jimmy Kempski

Each week during the 2012 season we're going to hit up some of the
most knowledgeable people on the Internet when it comes to the team the
Philadelphia Eagles are playing that particular Sunday. This week we
have Jimmy Kempski, who runs the site Blogging the bEast. Follow him @Jimmy_Beast for all things Eagles, NFC East, and football-related.

Kulp: Who are the Giants? It feels like you can never tell if this team is great or not from one season to the next, sometimes one week to the next. Are they even great at all in the classical sense, meaning the way people think of New England or Pittsburgh?

Jimmy: That’s an interesting question.  In the last 5 years, not including 2012, the Patriots were 64-16 (.800) during the regular season.  The Giants were 49-31 (.613).  Patriots Super Bowl wins during that span: None, and a 4-4 playoff record.  Giants Super Bowl wins during that span: 2, and an 8-1 playoff record.

The two years they won it all, the Giants squeaked into the playoffs and got hot.  I think I’d call them a good team that has short spurts of greatness when it counts.

New York finished dead last in rushing yards and yards per carry last season, and they weren't exactly off to a fast start until Andre Brown stepped in. Brown came on in relief of an injured Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 2 and has run for 184 yards on 33 carries with three touchdowns. Has this journeyman back fixed their ground attack?

In preparation for the Giants-Panthers game last Thursday night, I reviewed the Panthers-Bucs game in Week 1, and the Panthers-Saints game Week 2.  In the Saints game in particular, the Panthers must have missed somewhere in the ballpark of about 15-20 tackles.  I also came away from both games wildly unimpressed by their defensive line.

And so, in my Giants-Panthers game preview, I thought that the Giants could exploit the Panthers’ bad run defense, even though, as stated in your question, it has been a while since they’ve had any kind of consistent running game.

Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been the problem.  It has been their offensive line, which simply can’t move anyone off the line of scrimmage.  Against the Panthers’ bad DL, they were finally able to beat a team in the trenches, and Andre Brown’s big night was the end result.  I think they would have had similar success in the run game against the Panthers with a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw.

That’s not to dismiss Andre Brown, mind you.  When Brown came out of college, he was guy with 4.4 speed.  He ruptured his Achilles his rookie season with the Giants and bounced around with 4 other teams before returning to NJ.  It sure looks like he has re-gained some of that burst, which is scary for a guy that goes 220-230 lbs.

At the very least, Brown has probably earned himself some kind of role in the Giants’ offense alongside Ahmad Bradshaw. While I don’t think he has fixed the Giants’ running game, I can say very confidently that he’s a lot better than Brandon Jacobs.

Coming into 2012, tight end Martellus Bennett had posted personal bests of 33 catches, 283 yards, and four touchdowns in four seasons with Dallas. Through three games with the Giants, he's well on his way to a career year with 15 catches, 185 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Has he stepped out of Jason Witten's shadow, or will his production tail off eventually?

I’m not so sure his production will tail off.  When you think about the best passing attacks in the NFL, the Giants are most definitely in that conversation.  With teams having to worry about Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, things open up for the TE in that offense.

In 2011, the Giants lost Kevin Boss in free agency.  At training camp that season, I saw a big lumbering oaf getting a lot of reps at TE.  I asked one of the Giants beat writers who it was.  He told me where I could find a roster sheet.  Translation: He had no idea who it was either.  Turns out that was Jake Ballard.  And what happens?  Ballard wins the starting job and has more receiving yards than Kevin Boss ever did as a Giant.  And what happened to Kevin Boss?  One crappy year in Oakland before they cut him.  The Giants have been very good at getting the most out of their tight ends.

In Dallas, Martellus Bennett was known for his blocking ability.  He was a complete non-factor in the passing game.  Bennett had 50 catches over the last two seasons, with 45 of them falling exclusively into 4 buckets:

§  Short (2-10 yard) stop routes

§  TE screens

§  Nobody was open, the play broke down, and the QB found Bennett as a safety valve

§  The misdirection screen, AKA the “Oh shoot” screen

That was basically the limit to what Bennett was capable of in Dallas’ passing game.  He also had one catch on a shallow crosser, and just 4 catches in which he caught a pass more than 10 yards down the field.

In fact, here were Bennett’s numbers when Dallas threw to him more than 10 yards down field in 2010 and 2011:

4 for 10, 72 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT, 25.8 passer rating.

It’s never easy playing behind a star player like Jason Witten, although Bennett never really pushed him.  And it’s not as if Bennett never saw the field.  According to Pro Football Focus, he got 1825 snaps in Dallas, which would have made him one of the most heavily utilized 2nd tight ends in the NFL.  I’m not sure if it’s a testament to the Giants coaching staff for getting the most out Bennett, if the Cowboys’ coaching staff failed in some way, or if Bennett just started caring this season.  Maybe it’s a combination of all three, but he certainly looks far better than I’ve ever seen him in the passing game.

OK, sorry for the mini-novel on Martellus Bennett’s life story.  Onto the matchup against the Eagles:

Bennett is 6’6 and probably somewhere around 290, although he’s listed at a much lower weight.  Those numbers on paper are one thing, but to see him in person, you really appreciate how big he is.  He looks like one of the bigger offensive lineman, except he runs fast.  Mychal Kendricks is 5’11, and if Akeem Jordan is a no-go on Sunday, 5’9 Brian Rolle will start in his place.  The height (or lack of height) of the Eagles’ linebackers is something that was talked about prior to the season.  It has not yet been a factor through Week 3, and Kendricks’ overall play has been excellent.

The Giants have undoubtedly watched tape of Kendricks and have already probably come to the conclusion that he’s going to be around for a while.  It’ll be interesting to see if they try to get Bennett matched up one on one against the rookie so they can test him up high and determine if it’s something they exploit with regularity against Philly.

New York's vaunted pass rush has been slow getting out of the blocks this season, at least relatively speaking. They are in a four-way tie for 18th with six sacks after finishing third in 2011. Is this in any way a sign of decline, or is there something else at work?

I don’t know if it’s decline or something else, but you’re right about the Giants DL being slow getting out of the gate.  Osi Umenyiora sacked Cam Newton Week 3, but otherwise, he and Justin Tuck have been borderline invisible through the first three weeks of the season.

Tuck got off to slow start last year as well.  Through Week 14 last season, he had 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and no FF.  From Week 15 through the Super Bowl, he had 25 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 1 FF.  Last year, he dealt with a nagging neck injury and the death of a family member.  This year, no such injury/personal issues that I know of.

The one player that continues to be amazing is Jason Pierre-Paul.  JPP had 16.5 sacks last season, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story on what kind of player he is:

§  In 2011, he batted 10 passes at the line of scrimmage.  That was more batted balls at the line than the entire Eagles’ team had last year.

§  He makes plays on special teams.  Remember that kind o
f important, game-sealing blocked FG against the Cowboys last year?

§  He’s exceptional against the run, as he had the most tackles in the league among all defensive linemen.

§  Incredible competitor.  I’ll always remember the Saints-Giants blowout last year.  The Saints did pretty much whatever they wanted to the Giants’ defense last year at the Superdome, and with the game completely wrapped up at the end of the 4th quarter and the Giants stacking the interior of the line to stop a likely clock draining inside run, the Saints ran up the score a little by calling a pitch to Mark Ingram.  Ingram had a free run to the endzone, and just about all the Giants kind of jogged and watched.  Not JPP.  He sprinted after Ingram all the way to the goal line and almost caught him.  That unwillingness to quit stuck with me.

Though the stats don’t say so, JPP has absolutely dominated in all three of the Giants games this season.  I haven’t yet studied the tape on Demetress Bell from Sunday, but on my first pass he did not look good.  He may have gotten away with about a half-dozen holds.  I never thought I’d ever type this… but… The Eagles better hope King Dunlap can play this week.

Another matchup to watch is DT Linval Joseph against the Eagles interior OL.  Very good, young player.

The surprise standout performer on the Giants defense has been outside linebacker Michael Boley, who has an interception in all three games so far -- he had none the previous three years. Are the coaches doing anything different with the eight-year veteran, or has it been a case of right place at the right time?

I think it’s a right time/place deal for Boley.  In the Dallas game, it looked like Tony Romo didn’t see Boley, and Boley made the easy play.  Pick #2 was an overthrow by Josh Freeman in desperation time that went right to Boley.  Pick #3 was against Carolina, in which Cam Newton threw into a crowd on 3rd and 22.

Credit Boley with being where he was supposed to be, but Deion Sanders he is not.

Still, Boley is the Giants’ best linebacker, and a very good player.  Last year at the Linc, Boley was the player that made the huge stop on LeSean McCoy on a crucial 4th and 1.  Boley and 2nd year player Jacquian Williams will get some Brent Celek responsibility.

At least on paper, the Giants routinely field what appears to be one of the thinnest secondaries in the league, particularly on the edges. Have they ultimately proven the importance certain front offices place on the cornerback position should be diminished, or are their defensive backs better than we think?

Some players may be better than you think, and some may be worse.  So far I’ve been very impressed with rookie Jayron Hosley.  Hosley started Week 2 and Week 3.  You would have thought the Bucs might target him more than regular starter Corey Webster Week 2.  Nope.  Webster saw 3x as many targets as Hosley in that game.  Then in Week 3, Hosley made 2 big plays in the 1st half.  He chased down Cam Newton on a blitz and forced a bad throw while getting a hit on the QB, and made a really nice one handed snag on a deflection for an INT.

The enigma is Corey Webster.  As noted above, teams have not shied away from targeting him.  The Cowboys repeatedly roasted him in Week 1, and so far, according to Pro Football Focus, teams have targeted Webster 15 times.  They’ve completed 11 passes for 251 yards and a TD.

Meanwhile, Michael Coe and Prince Amukamara have both been OK.

The Giants are very banged up at CB.  Coe and Hosley are both battling bum hammies, and Webster has a broken hand.  To be determined who will play and who won’t on Sunday.

On a side note, the perception is that the Giants draft a ton of defensive linemen, but they actually put more emphasis on drafting corners, at least in recent drafts:

2012: Jayron Hosley, 3rd round

2011: Prince Amukamara, 1st round

2009: DeAndre Wright, 6th round, Stoney Woodson, 7th round

2008: Terrell Thomas, 2nd round

2007: Aaron Ross, 1st round

2006: Gerrick McPherson, 7th round

2005: Corey Webster, 2nd round

That would be 5 corners drafted in the first three rounds in the last 8 drafts, and only one draft in the last 8 in which they didn’t draft any corners.

Be honest: you can't stand Victor Cruz and his stupid dance.

I really don’t get the infatuation with it.  I mean… It’s not like it’s funny or difficult, or anything like that.  It may just be a matter of repetition.  You know how in Seinfeld, George keeps repeating his name (“Coooo – Stan –ZA”) to a woman he is pursuing.  She initially hates him, but as she repeatedly hears his name, he begins to grow on her.  Maybe there’s some of that going on there.

Thanks to Jimmy for answering our questions this week. For more NFC East coverage, be sure to check out the blog and follow him on Twitter.

*

Our Week 4 Freeroll with $250 in prizes is now live on DraftDay. Sign up for FREE here. Enrico's going with Shady McCoy to anchor his team this week expecting big things against Osi and the G-Men. We're also doing a $1 QB Club game - It's a pick'em style game where you draft only quarterbacks. Feel free to give that a shot.

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores 36 as Raptors down Nets, 119-109

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores 36 as Raptors down Nets, 119-109

NEW YORK -- DeMar DeRozan had 36 points and 11 rebounds, Cory Joseph scored a career-high 33 and the Toronto Raptors beat the free-falling Brooklyn Nets 119-109 on Tuesday night.

Toronto won its fourth straight game and extended Brooklyn's losing streak to 11 in a row. The Nets have not won since Dec. 26.

Terrence Ross added 15 points for the Raptors, who opened the game with an 11-0 run but fell behind after the first quarter.

Brook Lopez had 28 points for the Nets. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 apiece.

Toronto took a 92-85 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. DeRozan led the way with 10 points in the third period, equaling LeVert's total in the quarter.

Lopez and Joseph each scored 14 in the second (see full story).

Mavericks edge Bulls, 99-98, for 3rd straight win on late Matthews' 3
CHICAGO -- Wesley Matthews made a go-ahead 3-pointer from the wing with 12 seconds left, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Chicago Bulls 99-98 on Tuesday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Six players scored in double figures for the Mavericks, including all five starters. Harrison Barnes had 20 points, Seth Curry added 18 and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Dallas trailed 98-96 after Jimmy Butler made a long jumper over Matthews with 23 seconds left, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle decided against a timeout and Deron Williams drove into the lane before kicking out to Matthews for the 3.

Chicago had one last chance, but Dwyane Wade missed a potential game-winning jumper from the corner on his 35th birthday as time expired (see full story).

Dragic scores 21 and Heat stun Rockets, 109-103, despite Harden's triple-double
MIAMI -- Goran Dragic had 21 points and eight assists, Wayne Ellington scored 18 off the bench and the Miami Heat overcame another triple-double from James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 109-103 on Tuesday night.

Dion Waiters scored 17, Tyler Johnson had 16 and James Johnson added 15 for the Heat. Hassan Whiteside finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

Harden had 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Rockets (32-12), his 13th triple-double of the season. He shot 12 for 30 from the field and got his triple-double with an assist to Montrezl Harrell with 12.6 seconds left, an uncontested dunk with the Heat simply waiting for the clock to run out.

Harrell had 13 points for the Rockets, who got 12 from Patrick Beverley.

There were 19 ties and 15 lead changes in a game that was back-and-forth for 42 minutes, before the Heat finally took control (see full story).

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”