by Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: The Giants partially stabilized their sinking ship last Sunday against the Redskins, and they could really right the ship with a win against the Eagles this week. But it won’t be easy. Both teams are desperate and both are a bit banged up.
I’m always reluctant to label a game a “must game” because I think history has demonstrated that games you felt at the time were “must games” ended up not being so. I felt last week’s game was a must game because if the Giants went 0-3, I thought the wheels would start coming off.
I don’t think this week’s game is a “must game” but I do think it is darn close. There is a big difference between being 2-2 (and 2-1 in the division) and 1-3 (and 1-2 in the division). This is especially true with the Cowboys excelling.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams units have been hurting them more than they have been helping them thus far in the season. There was a turnover, a missed field goal, and too many big returns given up on both kick and punt coverage. And the Giants have not broken a big return of their own yet. This needs to change if the Giants are going to produce a winning record. The bad news is that PK David Akers is one of the best in the NFL.
Giants on Defense: The Eagles run a West Coast Offense that focuses heavily on the short-passing game, including passes to the backs and tight ends. The big worry here is that this is the weakness of the Giants’ defense as the Giants’ linebackers and safeties have not excelled in coverage. Particularly troubling is the match-up of HB Brian Westbrook against any linebacker. Westbrook has been bothered by an abdomen injury, but he will play. As Antonio Pierce mentioned earlier this week, Westbrook always seems to be on the injury report and then comes out and kills you.
To be blunt, I don’t think any of the Giants’ linebackers can stay with Westbrook. Since the Eagles appear to have reverted back to a pass-first team again with Donovan McNabb back at quarterback, if I’m the Giants, I actually play my base defense with five defensive backs. My new nickel would be six defensive backs. Get the better athletes on the field in coverage. This is something that Colin at the Great Blue North Draft Report has been lobbying for and I think he is right. Take last week for instance. With the Redskins trailing and desperately needing a score, why was LB Kawika Mitchell on the field covering WR Santana Moss on 4th-and-8? That’s stupid.
Take out a linebacker and get another corner on the field. Have a corner shadow Westbrook. He’s the key to the game defensively.
The Giants must also keep an eye on the other short and intermediate targets such as TE Matt Schobel, HB Correll Buckhalter, and FB Thomas Tapeh. TE L.J. Smith (groin) will not play.
Another potential scary match-up for the Giants is WR Kevin Curtis, who is coming off of a monster game against the Lions (11 receptions for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns), against CB Aaron Ross or CB Corey Webster. Ross may start and this will be a tough test for him. The Giants should keep it simple for Ross and allow him to play aggressive man-to-man defense against Curtis, who is not a very physical player. The Giants desperately need CB Sam Madison to hold his own against WR Reggie Brown.
The Giants’ defensive line seems to be coming out of its shell somewhat. The Eagles have a good offensive line however. LT William Thomas (foot) may not play, but the Eagles have a former high draft pick (Winston Justice) to fill in.
Giants on Offense: The Eagles love to feast on Eli Manning. Of Manning’s 74 career sacks, 22 have come from Eagle defenders. Plus, the Eagles are currently leading the league in sacks. LT David Diehl will be on the spot against DE Trent Cole. Diehl held his own against Cole in last year’s playoff game, but Cole is a guy who has really hurt the Giants in the past. RT Kareem McKenzie faces the tough DE Jevon Kearse. Inside, former first-round draft picks Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley make this an athletic and dangerous starting front four. Worse, the Eagles’ depth is outstanding with guys such as Darren Howard, Juqua Thomas, Montae Reagor, and Kimo von Oelhoffen coming off the bench. Howard would start for most teams. The Eagles come at you in waves.
I’ve always felt the way to attack the Eagles is to run the ball at them. Pound the ball between the tackles and off tackle. Philadelphia is athletic, but they are not real big and stout. This would have been a perfect game for Brandon Jacobs to play in. The Giants will have to count on the somewhat gimpy Derrick Ward (ankle) and possibly an expanded role for Reuben Droughns. I like what I’ve seen thus far from FB Madison Hedgecock – he’s a big boy and he can hurt you. Pound the ball. I would also take advantage of the Eagles’ aggressive defense with screens, draws, and maybe even a reverse.
The Eagles’ secondary is a bit beat up with FS Brian Dawkins (neck) and CB Lito Sheppard (knee) nursing injuries. However, given the importance of this game for both teams, I expect these two to play. Sheppard will face Amani Toomer while CB Sheldon Brown battles WR Plaxico Burress. Burress’ ankle is a worry. He admitted this past week that he wasn’t sure he could finish the game against the Redskins. The Giants need him because not only is he the Giants’ best offensive player (with the possible exception of Manning), but Burress has been a big thorn in the side of the Eagles in recent games.
With Steve Smith still out, there remains pressure on the other receivers – Sinorice Moss, Anthony Mix, and David Tyree – to perform. Jeremy Shockey needs to play well against the Eagles – no more drops Jeremy!
Lastly, knock on wood, Eli has been pretty darn sharp thus far this year. He seems like a different quarterback – confident, poised, in control. His accuracy has been good as has most of his decision making – though I didn’t care for the interception last week against the Skins where he just threw the ball up for grabs. That crap has to stop. This is the type of game where the Giants need Eli to take control and out-play McNabb.