Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Giants with Jimmy Kempski

Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Giants with Jimmy Kempski
September 26, 2012, 8:30 am
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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.

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