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.

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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.

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Ty Kelly is currently the 25th man on the Phillies' roster, a utility man who has all of two starts with the club this year.

But two and a half months ago, he was one of the headlining players on the Cinderella squad of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Kelly was the starting third baseman for Team Israel, which made a surprising run to the second round with a perfect run through Pool A. The team began the WBC with an upset over host South Korea before wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the next round in Japan but fell to Japan and the Netherlands handily.

Unlike most MLB players who spent their spring in Florida, Kelly got to experience two major Asian cities -- Seoul and Tokyo -- while getting his preseason at-bats.

"It was a great experience, trying the food and all that and seeing all the sights," Kelly said.

However, he wasn't too adventurous with trying the local cuisine compared to his teammates.

"Some of the guys were really trying to seek out the native food," Kelly said. "I wanted to do that as much as I could, but at the same time, you're still trying to get ready for baseball games in a tournament, so you've got to do what's best for your body.

"Chicken sandwiches for me were the way to go for the most part," he added with a laugh.

Kelly's participation with the squad began in the middle of 2016, when Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, emailed him and asked if he had a Jewish grandparent. Kelly's mother's side of the family is Jewish, making Kelly eligible.

Last year was also the end of Kelly's long road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2009 out of UC Davis, Kelly was traded multiple times, once straight up for current Brewers slugger Eric Thames before Thames went to Korea and back. Kelly wound up with the Mets and finally made his MLB debut two months shy of his 28th birthday. He played 39 games for the Mets at six different positions and got a hit in his only postseason at-bat, which came vs. Madison Bumgarner no less.

Kelly still had to make the Mets this spring, which could have made joining the WBC a tough decision. However, the organization was on board with Kelly playing in the tournament.

"It made it difficult, but I talked to the Mets about it and they were all for me going over there and still playing and getting experience," he said. "People were still watching, so once I got the go-ahead from them, it was an easy decision."

Kelly made the Mets out of the spring but had just one at-bat before he put on waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jays. Eight days later, he was traded to the Phillies. He has four hits (three doubles) in 19 at-bats with the Phillies and had the game-winning RBI single two weeks ago in the front end of the Phils' doubleheader with the Nationals.

He's the only player from Team Israel to have played in the majors this season. Ryan Lavarnway and former Mets 1B Ike Davis are in Triple A while the roster also included former MLBers Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis.

While none of his WBC teammates have parlayed Team Israel's run into MLB time, Kelly still thinks the team caught the eye of people in the game.

"There was definitely a lot of fandom around our team," Kelly said. "A lot of people rallied around us, including people in front offices I think. Of Jewish descent or not, I think a lot of people liked what we did.

"Being a part of that definitely looks good for me, which is just an added bonus."