Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, January 7, 2007: This game has quite a few interesting plots and subplots.
Because the Eagles are one of the Giants’ fiercest rivals and the very sight of an Eagles’ helmet is sure rile up the players, one could argue that this is the ideal opponent for the Giants to face in the first round of the playoffs. In other words, regardless of how inspired the team was heading into the post-season, if Giants can’t get motivated to play their best against Philadelphia, then nothing will.
On the other hand, because the Eagles are the hottest team in the NFC, one could argue that this is the least ideal team for the Giants to face. And playing in Philadelphia is always a tough task, even under ideal conditions.
The Giants and Eagles split the season series, with dramatic plays at the end of both games, and each team winning on the road. Throw into this mix the fact that this will be the third time the Giants and Eagles have played each other in the playoffs, which is a bit unusual for division rivals. The Giants beat the Eagles in the previous two playoff games, and there are similarities to the Giants’ current underdog status heading into Philly and the 1981 team.
Then there is Tom Coughlin’s situation. He was in charge of a Giants’ team that got blasted in the playoffs last season. If it happens again, Coughlin will likely be fired. However, if he and his team can pull off the upset, it just may be enough to encourage the new owners to retain his services. Beating the Eagles in the post-season may be worth more brownie points than simply one playoff victory.
On paper, the prospects for the Giants do not look good. The offense will be hampered by the absence of Luke Petitgout and Amani Toomer, as well as a gimpy Jeremy Shockey. Eli Manning is still terribly inconsistent. The left side of the offensive line has been revamped again. Defensively, the Giants are simply not playing playoff-caliber football. They have struggled to defend the pass and the run. The defense is not playing with much confidence. And the team certainly misses Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, LaVar Arrington, and Corey Webster.
But this is Giants-Eagles. These games are usually hard-fought blood baths. Anything can happen and usually does. Knocking the Eagles out of the playoffs might redeem what has otherwise been a terrible two months of football. Other than winning the Super Bowl, nothing would feel better. It also may save the head coach’s job.
Giants on Defense: The Giants can’t rush the passer. The Giants can’t cover opposing receivers. The Giants can’t stop the run. Other than that, the defense is playing great!
The defense is truly dreadful and unless the players and coaching staff turn it around quickly, the Giants will likely get knocked out of the playoffs right away for the second year in a row. What the Giants need to do, obviously, is (1) stop the run, (2) keep QB Jeff Garcia in the pocket while at the same time applying pressure, (3) don’t allow receivers to run unchallenged through the secondary, and (4) force some three-and-outs and turnovers. Just as importantly, the defense needs to play well for four quarters (or, if necessary, in overtime too). Play a complete game!
The Giants are in a bit of pickle in terms of their defensive game plan. Before the last Giants-Eagles game, the Eagles had been a very pass-oriented team. But they crossed the Giants up with a power running game in that contest behind their mammoth offensive line. Now the Giants have to be wary about both aspects of the Eagles’ attack. This provides Andy Reid and his offensive coordinator the luxury of either starting off with the passing game (such as what the Eagles did in Week Two) or the running game (such as what the Eagles did in Week Fifteen). I’m not sure the Giants can cheat their defenders in either direction now, and that’s not good for a defense that struggles in most situations.
Personally, I think the Giants need to gamble. This is contrary to Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis’ nature, but I think if the Giants are going to go anywhere in the playoffs, they need to do something out of character to confuse opponents as well as change the morale of the defense. I would attack and take my chances in the secondary. That may lead to quick points by the Eagles and a blowout, but it could also prove problematic for Philadelphia if they are not expecting it. Blitz. Get your better athletes on the field, even if they are defensive backs, and use them to cover the likes of HB Brian Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith. Use personnel packages the Eagles haven’t seen. That may mean subbing Carlos Emmons and/or Brandon Short for the likes of Gerris Wilkinson, Jason Bell, or James Butler. Switch out of 4-3 looks to 3-4 looks. Vary zone with man coverage, and man-zone combinations. Keep Philadelphia guessing. Just don’t sit there with a zone-blitz four-man rush and two-deep coverage and get picked apart. Do something different!
The guy who the Giants absolutely need to play well in this game is Antonio Pierce, both against the run and in coverage. He hasn’t had a good season (he has been hampered by injuries), but the team needs him to step up now more than ever. The Giants also need Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora to contain Garcia, while at the same time applying heat. If the Giants take chances up front, the corners need to play well in one-on-one situations against Donte Stallworth, Reggie Brown, and Hank Baskett. Safety coverage on the underneath receivers (Westbrook and Smith) is critical.
Giants on Offense: We all know what the Eagles’ game plan. DE Trent Cole, a Giant-killer, did not reveal any surprises when he said:
“We can get (Eli) rattled. You’ve seen it for yourself. You get him rattled and his game starts going downhill…That’s what we want to do – dominate. We want to stop the running game and get us into a pass-rushing mode. That’s what we do best. Like I said, we want to go back out there and expose them again…If we can take Tiki away, I think we have a good enough defensive backfield to stop their passing game.”
So the Eagles are going to load up against the run in an attempt to limit the damage Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs do, and dare Eli Manning and his undermanned receiving corps to beat them. A smart and obvious strategy.
Can the Giants run against an Eagles’ defense specifically designed to stop the run? In the first Giants-Eagles game, Barber ran the ball 21 times and only gained 51 yards. In the second game, he ran the ball 19 times for 75 yards. Recent history says that Barber will not be able to run wild on the Eagles. Does that mean the Giants shouldn’t try? Of course not. The Giants can’t and shouldn’t stop running the ball. But what it does mean is that the backs, offensive linemen, tight ends, and fullback are going to have to do a much, much better job of executing up front. If the Eagles run blitz and are blocked, a huge play can be the result if the back breaks into the open at the second level. And more than that, the Giants need to run in order to keep the Eagles guessing and prevent at least some pressure on Manning.
All that said, if the Giants are going to win this game, Manning and his receivers will have to play one of their best games of the season. I would start out with a short-passing attack with quick throws to Barber, the wide receivers, and the tight ends. Three-step drop, get rid of the ball quickly. Use the bubble screen and slants to the wide receivers. Throw the football to Barber in a variety of ways – screens, swing passes, out of the slot, etc. While the Giants need to take their shots down the field at some point in the game, you don’t want Eli holding the ball a long time against this defense. Especially when you consider that David Diehl has very little experience at left tackle. Not only will Diehl likely have problems in one-on-one pass protection situations, but look for the Eagles to confuse him and his flankmate (be it Rich Seubert or Grey Ruegamer) with different blitz looks since this side of the line hasn’t played together much.
One of the big problems the Giants will have is that the Eagles will likely double Plaxico Burress. Why not? Jeremy Shockey will be limited if he plays and the other receivers have done zilch for the Giants. Furthermore, an added wild card is that William James (a.k.a. ex-Giant CB William Peterson) will be available to play this time and the Eagles supposedly like his ability to match-up well with Burress (James didn’t play in the previous two meetings). Stating the obvious, the Giants desperately need Tim Carter or Sinorice Moss to play well and make an impact. If not, things could get ugly quickly. Manning needs someone to get open in order to complete passes. It’s not just all on him.
Two final keys: (1) don’t turn the football over; and (2) score touchdowns, not field goals, in the red zone. If the Giants are successful in both areas, they have a great chance to win the football game.
Giants on Special Teams: One of the killer plays in the last Giants-Eagles game was the 64-yard kickoff return given up to Reno Mahe. In a game where the Eagles have a lot of match-up advantages, the Giants can ill-afford to lose the special teams battle. The Giants must keep Mahe under control on both punt and kickoff returns. And both Jeff Feagles and Jay Feely need to help out there with quality kicks.
At the same time, the Giants need their special teams to provide the offense with good field position, either with a strong kickoff or punt return, or a blocked kick. Make a play on specials that will help your team win the game!