Speaking with the Enemy: A Look at Sunday's Giant Clash

Speaking with the Enemy: A Look at Sunday's Giant Clash

Perhaps overlooked amid several of the other huge stories going on around town, the Philadelphia Eagles, winners of three straight, are locked in a first place tie over the NFC East, and must play the Giants in New York this Sunday night. It's kind of a big deal. We see the Giants a lot, but they're a bit of a different team this season, so we asked Rick Resch from Giants Football Blog some questions about their current make-up, and what we can expect to see this week and maybe even down the road.

Donovan McNabb had one of his best games of the season the last time these teams met (you knew I was going there). If Osi Umenyiora doesn't make his presence known, and he hasn't been having his best season, do the Giants have enough of a pass rush otherwise to match up against the Eagles' explosive offense?

The Giants' pass rush has disappointed all season, and while I'd love to see it come alive Sunday night, I don't know if I can honestly predict that.  Even in a rejuvenated performance against the Cowboys, Romo was usually given enough time to find an open receiver.  I could see the Giants doing what they did against the Cowboys and lock down on the running game, making the Eagles' offense one dimensional (which might actually play into Andy Reid's hand).

Specifically on Osi, he has basically been relegated to a part time player, only getting on the field in passing situations.  He does have a nose for the big play, but he is lacking on a play-to-play basis.  Mathias Kiwanuka started in his place last week, and he is the better overall player right now.  If the Giants are going to get their pass rush going, it'll start with Justin Tuck and Kiwanuka winning their battles.

The Giants just recently lost the quarterback of their defense in Antoino Pierce, pressing second year linebacker Jonathan Goff in at middle linebacker. How did he perform in his first start last week against the Cowboys, and what are his limitations or those of the defense when he's in the game?

I thought Goff played well given that it was his first start.  He plays the run very well and is faster than I thought, although he did over-pursue the ball carrier a couple of times.  It's still too early to tell if he can be the future at MLB, but I saw more positives than negatives in his first game.  

As for the loss of Pierce: it hurts in a leadership perspective, although last week Pierce was on the sideline acting as a coach/cheerleader.  Michael Boley has stepped into Pierce's shoes as the quarterback of the defense, and I feel that he is the linebacker most suited for the role.  When healthy, Boley has been the Giants' best linebacker, Pierce included. 

The Giants rushing attack has been averaging 124.6 (10th) yards per game, which is somewhat surprising because they haven't been able to get both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw going within the same 60 minutes for much of the season. Jacobs in particular has struggled. The offensive line has been healthy, so what is the problem?

This actually surprises me; I didn't know the Giants still averaged that many rushing yards.

My opinion is that there are three problems with the Giants' running game.  Jacobs seems to be running a tad bit more cautiously than in the past, although recently he looks like he's been running harder.  Bradshaw has been plagued with injuries, although he looked like his old self last week. 

Most importantly, the offensive line just hasn't been playing like it had the past couple of years.  Both Jacobs' and Bradshaw's troubles are related to the lack of holes being opened up by the offensive line. They are getting pushed around by defenses, and my only guess is that age has finally started to catch up with them.  I hope that they can keep momentum going from their performance last week, but I'd be less surprised if the Giants go into the offseason with offensive line as a top priority.

Like the Eagles, the Giants have a deep group of young receivers. Steve Smith is having what could be considered a Pro Bowl season, though I'm not sure we're talking about a dominant player here. Will he ultimately wind up the best of the bunch, and how would you describe Mario Manningham's and Hakeem Nicks' roles compared to Smith?

I am very high on the Giants' receiving core, as I believe the team has turned a weakness into a strength.  Coming into the 2010 season, wide receiver depth will be one of the Giants' greatest assets.

I think Nicks will become the best of the bunch, probably by next season.  He has deceptive speed, good strength and the best hands on the team.  He has a knack for making the big play, and he has already become a go-to weapon for Eli when he's on the field.

Manningham's biggest problem is a common case of the butterfingers.  When he has the ball in his hands, he can be as tricky to tackle as anyone, and he does a great job of keeping his feet in bounds along the sidelines.  But he's always a candidate to drop or bobble a ball.  If he can get past the drops, he can turn into a very good NFL receiver.

Steve Smith is one of the most confusing players on the team.  He's not that fast, he's not tall and his go-to move after making a catch is the "fall down."  Yet, on third downs, it is impossible to cover him.  At least a couple times a day, I find myself saying "how can they let Smith get that open?"  Whenever Eli needs a first down, he's usually looking for Smith, who just knows how to find soft spots in the defense.

Coming into the season, I expected Smith to be relegated to slot receiver, while Nicks and Manningham would become the focus of the passing attack.  But 78 catches and almost 1,000 yards later, I have learned not to underestimate Steve Smith.  So, no, Smith does not have a dominant skill set, and he's not a prototypical number one receiver.  But it's hard to argue that a guy on pace for 104 receptions and 1305 yards is not a dominant player.

Right now, who would you say most Giants fans feel will win the NFC East?

It's funny what one big win can do for a fan base.  I think most Giants fans are pumped up by the win over the Cowboys, and having gotten a glimpse of what this team can do when firing on both sides of the ball, a newfound hope has been restored.  I'd say that most Giants fans expect to make the playoffs, and a good deal of them believe they will win the division.

Personally, given the Cowboys' tough remaining schedule, I think there's a good chance that the winner of Sunday night's battle will take home the division crown.

Let's get ahead of ourselves.  Which team would you feel more comfortable facing in a potential playoff game: Eagles or Cowboys?

Any team can beat any other team in the NFL, and for that reason, I usually don't get caught up in rooting for a certain playoff opponent.

With that said, I do think I would feel less comfortable playing a team that has knocked us out of the playoffs twice in the past three years.

The Giants have beaten the Cowboys twice, albeit in two well contested games, and their Winter struggles are well documented.  But we've all seen heavy favorites fail to win that third playoff game after sweeping the regular season series, and the Cowboys are due to bust out of their cold-weather slump.

In the end, I'd welcome either challenge.  But if I had to pick one, not knowing what the outcome of Sunday night's game will be, I would choose the Cowboys.

Prediction time: who you got on Sunday?

Obviously, I have to pick the Giants, which is why I don't like doing predictions.  So instead I'll say this:

I fully expect the Eagles' offensive line to keep Donovan McNabb clean once again.  If the Giants can get more than two sacks, I'll do naked cartwheels in Times Square.  And with a healthy DeSean Jackson and the emergence of Jeremy Maclin, no pressure would mean McNabb can pick apart the Giants' secondary.

So if the Giants' offense can come out with a balanced attack and put some points on the board, I think the Giants can win.  But if they wait till there's 4 minutes left in the first half to score, it could be a long day.

I'd say if the Giants can score more than 30 points, they should be able to win.  If the defensive line somehow plays like its 2007, things can swing in the Giants' favor.

These are some big ifs, but as I said, I have to have faith in my team.  I'll say Giants 31-30.

But I hate doing predictions.

That was Rick Resch from Giants Football Blog. You can check out our interview with Rick right here.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies (16-29) vs. Reds (22-24)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Following their first win in a week, the Phillies open a new series this weekend against a beatable team in the Cincinnati Reds, who are 3-9 in their last 12 games and 1-7 in their last eight road games.

Let's have ourselves a look-see:

1. Nola's turn
Aaron Nola is on the mound tonight for his second start since a month-long DL stint. He was extremely impressive his last time out, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings in Pittsburgh.

Nola's fastball reached as high as 95.5 mph against the Pirates, which is notable because he threw only two pitches faster than 94 mph all of last season. His velocity was up before the lower back strain and it's a great sign that the elbow injury which ended his 2016 season is truly in the past.

In Pittsburgh, Nola (2-1, 3.52) threw 19 of 27 first-pitch strikes. He got 11 outs on the first three pitches of at-bats. 

He's faced the Reds twice in his career and dominated them both times, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings with one walk and 17 strikeouts.

Current Reds have gone 7 fo 39 (.179) against him with just two extra-base hits. Joey Votto is 0 for 5.

2. What to do with Odubel
Pete Mackanin has an interesting decision to make this weekend with slumping Odubel Herrera, who on Thursday became the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in a game.

Herrera is down to .226 on the season with a .275 on-base percentage. In May, he's hit .194 with one walk and 28 strikeouts.

Mackanin could bench Herrera like he did with Maikel Franco for two games earlier this week. It would send a message to the player that poor at-bats and wild swings have consequences. And, quite frankly, sitting Herrera for a day or two might give the Phillies a better chance to win.

The issue, of course, is that there's a thin line between giving a player a chance to clear his head and ridding him of opportunities to get back on track.

Plus, the Phillies don't have great options in replacing Herrera in the lineup. They have a four-man bench at the moment and the only options would be putting Ty Kelly or Brock Stassi in left field and moving Aaron Altherr to center.

Herrera just has not been himself this season and it's troubling. At this point last season, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. He's been an undisciplined hitter in 2017 and when you have two of them in the middle of the lineup in Herrera and Franco, it makes things really easy on pitchers at times.

Herrera started the year hot, hitting in his first eight games. Since then, he's hit .203/.239/.324 in 155 plate appearances with six walks and 42 K's.

3. Tommy time
Tommy Joseph has been one of the very best hitters in baseball this month, batting .329/.400/.671 with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.

He's 148 games and 499 plate appearances into his major-league career and has hit .257 with 23 doubles, 28 homers, 69 RBIs and an .804 OPS. That's about 10 points higher than the league average OPS from first basemen over that span.

Had Joseph's April slump continued into May, prospect Rhys Hoskins might have already been called up. But Joseph has done enough so far to hold off Hoskins, who appears to have more upside because of his combination of power and plate selection.

Controlling the strike zone is the next step for Joseph. He has a .311 OBP so far with 33 walks and 112 strikeouts as a Phillie.

But over the last two seasons, he's been one of the few Phils who's taken advantage of this ballpark. Joseph's hit .276 with an .844 OPS at Citizens Bank Park compared to .240 with a .769 OPS on the road.

4. Scouting the Reds
The Phillies face 29-year-old Reds right-hander Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).

You look at the ERA and think, OK, maybe the Phillies' bats will wake up tonight. But keep in mind that the Rockies' four starting pitchers this week entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA and the Phillies scored three runs against them in 27 innings.

There's nothing special about the 6-foot-5 Adleman. He throws his fastball and sinker in the 88 to 91 mph range with a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. His opponents have hit .300 against his fastball and have eight extra-base hits with a .290 batting average against his changeup.

In six starts this season, Adleman's yet to go deeper than six innings. The Phils faced him last season and scored three runs in five innings. Cesar Hernandez went 2 for 2 with a walk and Franco went 1 for 3 with a double.

As for Cincinnati's offense, Votto is obviously the hitter you worry about most. He's hit .299/.422/.591 this season with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 38 RBIs, 35 walks and 24 strikeouts. A typical Votto season.

Shortstop Zack Cozart has been surprisingly hot these first two months, hitting .340 with 20 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 29 strikeouts. It's most surprising to see him walking this much because he never has. He's 15 walks away from matching his career high.

Leftfielder Adam Duvall has killed the Phillies over the last two seasons. He went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a homer in the season-opening series in Cincy and went 8 for 18 with four doubles against them last season.

5. This and that
• Over the last seven games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 22⅔ innings.

• Howie Kendrick started at third base for Lehigh Valley during his rehab assignment Thursday. He was hit by two pitches and removed from the game.  

• Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. He's 8 for 8 in save chances this season with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He's struck out 28 and allowed just one home run in 24⅔ innings. His ability to go multiple innings is what makes him stand out — he's Andrew Miller-like in that regard. Iglesias has pitched more than one inning in 7 of his 19 appearances.

Catching up on some big Eagles stories from Week 1 of OTAs

Catching up on some big Eagles stories from Week 1 of OTAs

It was great to be back at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday and take in an Eagles practice, even if it was non-contact. There’s a lot of buzz around the team right now, and minimal time to cover everything, so let’s dive into some of the storylines that slipped through the cracks during the first week of OTAs.

The thought that the Eagles are secretly fuming over Carson Wentz seeing a private quarterback guru seems ridiculous. It’s not uncommon for NFL players -- even quarterbacks -- to seek council during the offseason. Tom Brady did it, and I don’t recall any drama ever unfolding with the Patriots as a result of that. Perhaps some mild concern has been expressed behind closed doors, as Wentz’s mechanics are a constant work in progress, and Eagles coaches surely prefer he learn the methods they’re teaching. Then again, I highly doubt somebody earned the title of “quarterback guru” if they’re not passing along standard NFL techniques. It was an even bigger reach to suggest Doug Pederson’s displeasure over this development was on display during his press conference on Tuesday.

I’m not one to place a whole lot of stock into OTAs, but seeing rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas on the field with the first-team defense in nickel situations is a promising sign. He didn’t look out of place, either. At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Douglas matched up well with Alshon Jeffery. I could see his size being an asset against NFC East rivals like Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Terrelle Pryor -- bigger receivers the Eagles will face two times each this season. While performance in OTAs typically means squat, it was about this time last year when Jalen Mills began ascending the depth chart, and he wound up playing quite a bit. It’s early, but given the situation at cornerback, not at all far-fetched to anticipate a similar role coming for Douglas.

While I agree with the premise Nelson Agholor could improve and go on to have a respectable NFL career, Eagles teammate Brandon Graham isn’t really the most relatable example. It’s time for the seemingly annual reminder that Graham’s progression was derailed by a major knee injury as a rookie. He essentially missed the following season, and was buried on the depth chart upon returning. A year later, the defense switched to a 3-4, which was an adjustment as well. Yet, time and time again, Graham would perform at a high level whenever he got into games, finally earning his starting job back in 2015. Agholor has been a starter the past two seasons, and aside from a high ankle sprain his rookie year, he’s been relatively healthy. What’s the excuse here? Agholor may be a late bloomer, but Graham’s experience breaking into the league was vastly different.

The revelation that Vinny Curry was affected by a knee injury last season can be taken one of two ways. Some may see it as an excuse for his modest performance after signing a massive contract extension a year ago, which currently looks like an expensive mistake. I prefer to view the injury news as another reason to give Curry a slight pass. We’ve all seen what an explosive pass rusher he could be, racking up 9.0 sacks in 2014 while playing only one-third of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. If he was hampered by the knee -- Curry admitted wearing a brace for much of the season -- that could certainly help explain why he often seemed invisible. Even if he simply wasn’t very good, Curry has another opportunity to prove himself in 2017. Might as well take the optimistic outlook.