Sep 102004

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 12, 2004: A lot of BBI‘ers accuse me of being far too negative in my regular season game previews. I think these people misinterpret the focus of my previews which are to highlight the primary obstacles the Giants will face. If you do not acknowledge your opponent’s strengths, then you are not taking a realistic view of the tactical situation. The NFL is the most competitive professional sport in the United States because every team has its strengths and every team can beat any other team.

I’ve debated all week what kind of tone to take with this game preview. The basic problem I have is that I am not totally sure what kind of team the Giants have.

The optimist in me says the Giants have very good skill position players (Kurt Warner, Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer, and Ike Hilliard); a strong front seven on defense; drastically improved special teams; and better coaching.

The pessimist in me says the offensive line is still a work in progress; Warner and Barber are prone to turnovers; Shockey and Hilliard are injury-prone; and there are big question marks in the secondary with CB Will Allen not being on top of his game and the safeties not being standouts. And short-yardage continues to be this team’s Achilles heel offensively.

As a Giants’ fan, it really ticks me off that everyone is talking about the Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins in the NFC East and ignoring my team. But until the Giants’ players and coaches prove they can compete, that is the way it is going to be. They need to circle the wagons, shut out the noise from the press and fans, and concentrate on the task at hand: beating the Philadelphia Eagles. Do that, and they will start to gain some respect.

Coaching: Andy Reid and his staff continue to be terribly underrated by the national media. While Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells get all the press, the Eagles quietly go about their business in their effort to win their fourth NFC East title in a row. To me, one of the most interesting elements of the Giants-Eagles game will be how surprised will the Eagles be with the truly unveiled Giants’ offensive, defensive, and special teams schemes. If you listen to Reid, the Eagles feel they are prepared. He says the Eagles have studied what Coughlin and Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis have done in the past with their previous teams.

Coughlin hasn’t coached a winning season since 1999. Most of his staff comes from teams with losing records in 2003 (that’s why they were available). This staff has a lot to prove.

Giants on Offense: I firmly believe that the most important key for the Giants to win this game is to win the turnover battle. The onus (or as John Madden would say, “omus”) is on QB Kurt Warner to not throw interceptions or fumble the football when hit. Turnovers have been his biggest liability. If he throws interceptions or fumbles the ball against the Eagles, the Giants will lose the football game. It is as simple as that. In addition, the Eagles, more than any other team, are conscious of HB Tiki Barber’s fumbling issues. After all, it was against the Eagles in 2002 that Barber fumbled the ball away three times in one game. The Eagle defenders will gang tackle Tiki and that second and third defender will be looking to rip that ball out of there. Barber can’t afford to play scared, but he has to hold onto the football.

Every legitimate football fan in the world knows that the Eagles and their superb defensive coordinator (Jimmy Johnson) love to blitz and do so from all angles. They know that this Giants’ offensive line lacks cohesion and is likely to be confused by blitzes and stunts. So look for the Eagles to bring the house. How well the offensive line, tight ends, and running backs pick up these blitzes and stunts will be a huge factor in deciding the outcome of the game.

The Eagles may also feel that they can get significant pressure on Kurt Warner without bringing the house. One of the scariest match-ups up front for the Giants is RT David Diehl versus left defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Jerome McDougle. I am confident Diehl is going to be a very good offensive tackle in this league for a long time, but he is still learning his new position and this is a match-up the Eagles should win handily. It could be so bad that the Giants may have to keep an extra tight end in the game to block. With the Giants’ focus being on the right side in pass protection, the last thing the team needs is for LT Luke Petitgout to struggle against right ends Derrick Burgess or Hugh Douglas. Rookie RG Chris Snee will face off against DT Corey Simon. LG Jason Whittle will battle DT Darwin Walker.

Of course, the way to defeat a good pass rush is to run the ball effectively. It will be interesting to see if Coughlin plays it conservatively and tries to pound the ball at the Eagles. This could play right into the hands of the Eagles. If I’m Jimmy Johnson, I emphasize run defense on first and second down, and then bring the house on third down. Do the Giants follow that game plan or try to cross the Eagles up by throwing on first and second down early in the game? A strong case could be made for either game plan. A conservative game plan will take the pressure off of the offensive line and should help to prevent turnovers (and remember I think turnovers will decide this game). However, the conservative game plan is not likely to generate many points.

Another worrisome issue is short-yardage, where the Giants lack complete confidence to get the job done. If Ron Dayne is still the short-yardage back in this game (and he is expected to be), then I am going to hold my breath every time he gets the football on 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2. Short-yardage failures are drive-killers. With only so many offensive possessions in a game, each failure prevents a valuable scoring opportunity.

When the Giants do put the ball up in the air, everyone (including the Eagles) will expect 3- and 5-step drops, screen passes (remember all of the WR screens the Giants ran in the preseason), and quick passes to Toomer, Hilliard, and Shockey over the middle. My biggest concern with Shockey is him staying on the field. I have the sneaky suspicion that he is going to get hurt again.

The Eagle linebackers are ordinary at best so I think the Giants should try to create favorable match-ups against them with Shockey, Barber, and Visanthe Shiancoe.

What will be strange is that long-time Eagle corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor are no longer in the picture. But Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown played a lot last year and the Eagles’ defense played well when both Vincent and Taylor were hurt. Brown is the right corner and will line up over Toomer, while Sheppard plays over Hilliard. The Eagles are strong at safety with the best free safety in the game in Brian Dawkins and a good strong safety in Michael Lewis. With the Eagle pass rush being a factor, it is imperative for the Giants that their receivers (including the tight ends and backs) get open quickly against the secondary and linebackers. The last thing the Giants want is Kurt Warner holding onto the football in the pocket waiting for a receiver to get open. That’s how Kurt tends to take sacks and fumble the football. Sacks will be key in this game too as the field position game will be very important if this is a close contest.

So how do the Giants win? Want to hear the obvious? Don’t turn the ball over, keep penalties to a minimum, don’t take sacks, run the football, and hurt the opposition with the pass when they blitz. But you could say that about any opponent on any weekend.

Giants on Defense: For all the press that Donovan McNabb gets, the Eagles have never really been a high-scoring or impressive offensive football team. They don’t always run the football very well and much of their success or failure ultimately depends on which McNabb shows up on game day: the impressive McNabb who can beat you with his arm or legs; or the unimpressive McNabb who is wildly inaccurate. I hate to say this, but much of what transpires on Sunday will be out of the Giants’ hands. It will depend on which McNabb shows up.

My game plan for the Eagles would be relatively simple. Focus on shutting down the run. Keep McNabb contained in the pocket. Force McNabb to beat you with his right arm. The latter will be tougher this time for the Giants because not only is WR Terrell Owens in the picture, but the guy who would normally be covering him, Will Allen, may be limited with foot and knee issues (and he may not play at all). Allen struggled some in the preseason as he was still recovering from the offseason foot surgery. Plus missing more time with the sprained knee can’t help the rust factor. The big question for the Giants is do they keep Will Peterson on Owens, wherever he lines up? Or do they count on Peterson to shut down Todd Pinkston while giving double-team support to Allen (or Frank Walker or Terry Cousin)? Personally, if Allen doesn’t go, I’d start Walker and keep Cousin in his more natural nickel spot. But what do the Giants do if the Eagles put Owens in the slot, like the 49ers did two years ago? I would hate to see Cousin on Owens.

Other than Owens, the other obvious targets for McNabb are his tight ends (Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith) and his backs (HB Brian Westbrook and FB Jon Ritchie). The undercoverage by the linebackers and strong safety will be critically important in this game as the Eagles do run a West Coast Offense designed to spread the football around to these underneath receivers. The Eagles may attempt to target MLB Kevin Lewis on first and second down.

As usual, so much depends up front. I’ll tell you, the collision of rookie RG Shawn Andrews (340lbs+) and DT Norman Hand (340lbs+) will be worth the price of admission. Andrews is an incredible run blocker while the strength of Hands game is run defense. It is essential for the Giants for Hand to hold his own here. Fred Robbins will line up against LG Jermane Mayberry. Outside, the old duel between Michael Strahan and Jon Runyan begins again. On the weakside, Keith Washington and Osi Umenyiora will split time against LT Tra Thomas. A big battle will be FB Jon Ritchie against the Giants’ middle linebacker on running plays – this is a match-up the Eagles will count on winning.

The Giants have kept their defensive game plans pretty vanilla in the preseason, except for the game against the Jets. The Eagles undoubtedly studied that game and looked at what Lewis did in Pittsburgh. They know he likes to blitz and have probably prepared a few screen plays of their own (Westbrook is very dangerous on the screen). The Giants also must be careful of draw plays to Westbrook and misdirection plays to Umenyiora’s side when he is in the game.

The Giants’ coaching staff may try to confuse McNabb with their coverages, but NcNabb is a veteran now. And football still comes down to your guys out-playing or being out-played by the other guys. Scheming can only do so much for you.

To summarize: stuff the run, keep McNabb in the pocket, and don’t let the underneath receivers beat you. Pray you have someone who can cover Owens and that McNabb is having one of his off days.

Giants on Special Teams: One of the big reasons why the Eagles have been so good in recent years has been their special teams. PK David Akers is the best in the NFC. He is automatic on field goals and is a quality kick-off guy.

The Giants have Steve Christie. He is not a good kick-off guy as he has not had a touchback since 2000. Christie doesn’t have to hit the endzone as long as he gets good hangtime on his kicks and they still land inside the 10-yard line. So we shall see. I do feel better about having a veteran kicker in place than the untested Todd France.

As for the Giants, the team is in the unenviable position to have new punt returner (Mark Jones) who has never returned a punt with the team in the preseason. In other words, Jones has no feel for his blockers at full speed. It will be interesting to see who returns kickoffs – Willie Ponder or Jones. I also still wonder if Tim Carter will be given a shot back there.

As every Giant fan knows, the Eagles beat the Giants at home last year with a punt return in the final seconds of the game. Needless to say, punt and kick coverage will be critical.

What would be a good way for the Giants to make a statement? Block a punt. David Tyree and Jack Brewer can pressure the edge.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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