Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 9, 2007: I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. And before you say, “Eric, you always have a bad feeling about the upcoming game,” that has not really been true this year. My previews, while pointing out potential match-up problems for each opponent, have been mostly positive.
Overall, I firmly believe the Giants are the better team. However, what also matters is when you play a team. Here are my major concerns heading into this game:
(1) The Giants are as beat up as they have been all year. Not only are Derrick Ward and Mathias Kiwanuka gone for the season, a number of essential players will not play against the Eagles or will be limited. These include both starting safeties, the starting middle linebacker, the starting rookie corner, the starting running back, and the best player on offense. On the other hand, the Eagles are the healthiest they have been all year. Only Brian Westbrook is even on the injury report and he is playing.
(2) Related to the first point, despite the fact that the Eagles have lost their last two games, they are actually playing their best football right now. They very easily could have beaten the Patriots and Seahawks. On the other hand, the Giants have not been playing very well for the last four games.
(3) The Eagles need this game or their season is over. The Giants don’t need the game. Winning it for the Giants would make their lives a lot easier, but this team seems to enjoy pain and agony (and bestowing those same feelings on us Giants fans).
(4) Don’t pay too much attention to what happened in the first game between these two teams. Brian Westbrook, William Thomas, L.J. Smith, and Brian Dawkins didn’t play in that game. Their absence had a major outcome on that contest.
What gives me some hope is the following:
(1) The Eagles are coming off two hard fought and physical football games. How much do they still have in their gas tanks?
(2) Donovan McNabb is back. Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense, but McNabb has never been truly embraced by Philadelphia since the day he was drafted. He’s just about done in the City of Brotherly Love. He has been the centerpiece of fan frustration in that town all year. If he struggles early, the boo birds will be out and the crowd actually may work in favor of New York.
(3) The Giants are on the road. They play better on the road.
Giants on Offense: Many charge that Eli Manning is afraid of pressure, but he usually plays decently against an Eagles team that is known for pressuring the quarterback and who has a history of punishing Manning. The big problem the Giants’ passing game is the Plaxico Burress injury situation. Plaxico is the one guy who has killed the Eagles when they have come after Manning. But with Plaxico seemingly getting worse each week, how afraid will the Eagles be of him? Can Plaxico even make a big play down the field?
The good news is that Steve Smith is back. However, this rookie hasn’t played since September. He’s got to be rusty as hell. It will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the playing time? Sinorice Moss, David Tyree (who played well last week), or Smith?
The Giants need Jeremy Shockey to step it up and really be a difference in the football game. It doesn’t seem like Shockey ever has really big games against Philadelphia, but the Giants need him to do so in this one.
The other injury-related concern of course is Brandon Jacobs’ hamstring injury. If I was Tom Coughlin, I would be tempted to give him one more week. Because if he pulls it again, the Giants’ season will be over. Ward is done. Reuben Droughns is not the kind of guy you want starting. Ahmad Bradshaw needs more seasoning (having him on the field against the blitz-heavy Eagles would be a recipe for disaster unless he is in there with someone else who can pickup the blitz).
With Eli not having a healthy group of receivers or backs, the onus really falls on the offensive line in this game. They played well against the Eagles in the first game. They need a similar effort this week. The match-up to watch is LT David Diehl against RDE Trent Cole.
How to attack the Eagles? That’s a good question. The Giants will most likely stay balanced like they always do with the run and the pass. But you have to be careful of staying out of obvious pass rushing situations with the Eagles. That’s when they are their most dangerous. I think I would take my shots in the passing game on early downs when the Eagles may be expecting run. That said, if the Giants don’t connect on these efforts, those 1st-and-10’s turn into discouraging 2nd-and-10’s. But I don’t think the Giants can play it safe in this game. Philadelphia is desperate. They will bring their “A” game. The Giants need to respond in kind.
Giants on Defense: More than half of DE Osi Umenyiora’s 11 sacks came against the Eagles at the end of September. But that came against a back-up left tackle, not William Thomas. That said, the Giants will need the same time of intensity and effort from the down four in this game. While the Eagles can hurt you from time to time running the football, this really is a passing team, a West Coast offense-type team. It’s an offense based on timing and short passes to underneath receivers. The best way to disrupt that kind of offense is pressure on the quarterback. This may be the last time the Giants play Donovan McNabb in an Eagles’ uniform. It would be nice to make this game an unpleasant memory for him.
Everyone knows what the true key is on this side of the ball: All-World Brian Westbrook. He’s the Eagles’ main guy as a runner and receiver. He is exceptionally dangerous. The Giants were able to really get after McNabb in the first game because they didn’t have to fear Westbrook on short passes out of the backfield, particularly screens. Look for the Eagles to try to bait the Giants early and often and get the ball out quickly to Westbrook out of the backfield. The big question is this – who do the Giants assign to cover Westbrook? Antonio Pierce, who may not play, is too gimpy with his ankle. Reggie Torbor and Kawika Mitchell lack the speed and quickness to stick with him. The gimpy James Butler?
What I would do is this – play the nickel the whole game. I know that opens up the running game for the Eagles, but Andy Reid usually can’t stick with the run, especially when McNabb is playing QB. I’d have a corner shadow Westbrook all over the field.
The other scary element for the Giants is the injury situation at safety. The Giants were very fortunate last week that the Bears missed open receivers deep or dropped passes deep. The Eagles won’t do that. Donovan McNabb and his receivers have to be licking their chops at the thought of going against the injured Butler and the rookie Michael Johnson. Also keep in mind that Aaron Ross isn’t anywhere near 100 percent. Unfortunately, I expect the Eagles to complete some deep bombs in this game.
One guy the Giants can’t forget about while they are concentrating on Wesbrook is TE L.J. Smith. Smith has been a major thorn to the Giants in previous games. He poses match-up problems as well. The linebacking corps of Torbor, Mitchell, and probably Chase Blackburn will be tested in coverage.
Giants on Special Teams: Got to win this match-up. The Giants need a big game from Lawrence Tynes, their kick coverage unit, and their return game. It’s time for Bradshaw to take one to the house. David Tyree really turned a game around back in 2005 when he blocked a punt against the Eagles.