By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, November 9, 2008: Two weeks ago, many Giants’ fans (myself included) thought it would be crucial for the team to go 2-1 during the Steelers-Cowboys-Eagles three-game stretch. Well, with two in the bag now and at 7-1, Sunday night’s contest with division rival Philadelphia is important, but not crucial.
That said, there is a tremendous opportunity here for the Giants. With the win over the Cowboys last week, the Giants all but eliminated the Cowboys from the divisional race. The Giants can do the exact same thing this week with the Eagles. Indeed, with a loss, the Eagles would be even in worse shape as they would fall to 0-3 in the division. A win for the Giants would likely mean the division race would become a two-team battle between New York and Washington.
This game will not be a repeat performance from last week. The Eagles are healthy and playing well. This is an absolutely critical game for them. Expect their best. The good news for the Giants is that New York has performed fairly well at Lincoln Financial Field in recent years. The Giants are not intimidated at all playing there.
It ought to be a great game – the kind that makes pro football the best sport in the world.
Giants on Offense: Good news, bad news from last week. The good news is that the Giants dramatically improved their red zone offense for at least one week by going 5-for-5 in red zone opportunities. The bad news was that the Giants turned the football over three times and were lucky to recover another fumble.
As is usually the case under Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson, the Eagles once again are a very tough defensive team. The Eagles are fifth in total defense (eighth in passing defense/191.5 yards per game and eighth in rushing defense/89 yards per game). The Eagles love to blitz, early and often. They will bring linebackers, corners, and safeties. Their blitz packages are designed to confuse and disrupt.
The Eagle defensive line is quick, but on the small side. Look for Johnson to try to prevent the Giants from mauling the Eagles up front with timely run blitzes. However, such blitzes can expose a defense to the big play, both in the running game and passing game (the latter with play action). The Giants run the ball as well as anyone and they should mix it up and pound the football, if for nothing more than to prevent the quicker rushers from teeing off on Manning. Left end Juqua Parker is only 6-2, 250lbs and left defensive tackle Mike Patterson is 6-0, 292lbs. Right defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley is 6-2, 306lbs and right end Trent Cole is 6-3, 270lbs. Smash mouth – especially at the strongside behind RG Chris Snee and RT Kareem McKenzie. I wouldn’t run anything slow developing, but keep with the off tackle and inside runs with Brandon Jacobs. Then allow Derrick Ward or Ahmad Bradshaw to cutback against an over aggressive defense.
The Eagles’ linebacking corps is much improved with Stewart Bradley in the middle and Omar Gaither and Chris Gocong outside. These three have good size and athleticism. A real key will be the ability of the blockers (linemen, tight ends, fullback) to effectively engage these three on running plays.
Remember, the Eagles run a style of defense similar to the Giants. Aggressive, in-your-face defense that makes it difficult to matriculate the ball down the field (as Hank Stram would say). But what the defense does do is enable you to hit the big play if the quarterback, receivers, and blockers can execute. Eli Manning has a good history of hurting the Eagles with the big play. So does Plaxico Burress, who is long overdue for a big game. The right corner is his old familiar foe Sheldon Brown. The new left corner is Asante Samuel. The former starter Lito Sheppard comes into the game in the nickel and provides Philly the luxury of three quality cornerbacks (though Sheppard has been bothered by a groin injury). Joselio Hanson will usually play the slot in the nickel. The Eagles will single up on the Giants’ wideouts. Can Burress, Amani Toomer, Steve Smith, and Domenik Hixon make the Eagles pay for their aggressiveness? Can the offensive lineman give Manning the time? Can Manning make the big throws in the clutch situations? The answers to these questions will likely determine the outcome of the game.
Two guys who I would like to see get more touches this week are Kevin Boss, who, as I said last week, is really starting to come on, and Bradshaw. I think Bradshaw’s style – somewhat similar to Tiki Barber’s, is particularly well suited against the Eagles’ defense that can be hurt by the cutback. The Giants should also consider really crossing up an opponent soon in their two-tight end formation with a pass to Darcy Johnson or Michael Matthews in the red zone.
Giants on Defense: You never really know what kind of offensive opponent you’ll get with the Eagles and I have always thought the reason behind that was the inconsistent play of Donovan McNabb and the over-reliance on the pass by Eagles’ coaching staff (Eagles are currently third in the NFL in passing offense but 23rd in rushing). If Donovan is “on”, this will be a very difficult game for the Giants. If he is not, the Giants should win. Obviously, Brian Westbrook is the primary offensive threat. He can hurt you as a runner, receiver, and returner. In fact, he is probably a more dangerous receiver than runner. What I find a little odd is that Chase Blackburn was working with the first unit again this week. I would have thought the coaching staff would want the more athletic Brian Kehl on the field because of match-up concerns with Westbrook. If I’m Spagnuolo, and James Butler is healthy enough to play well, I strongly consider using three safety packages a lot and have rookie safety Kenny Phillips mirror Westbrook. Phillips is an extremely athletic safety – a guy who could stick with Westbrook.
Another huge match-up concern for the Giants is how to defend rookie WR DeSean Jackson, who is as quick as a hiccup. Ideally, the Giants probably would have wanted to keep the smaller but quicker Kevin Dockery on him, but with Dockery out, the Giants’ bigger corners may have problems with Jackson’s quick moves. The starting wide receivers Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown; Curtis is a guy who can stretch the field and make the big play. Hank Baskett and Jason Avant round out the receiving corps. The Eagles will go multiple quite a bit.
At tight end, L.J. Smith is coming off a concussion, but he should return. Regardless, his back-up Brent Celek had a big game catching the ball last week (131 yards receiving). The West Coast Offense, which the Eagles employ, places a heavy emphasis on spreading the ball around to the tight ends and backs. Westbrook and fellow halfback Correll Buckhalter are actually second and third on the team in pass receptions. There will be a lot of pressure on the Giants’ linebackers and safeties to perform in coverage. While the Giants’ safeties are athletic, the linebackers are not. Look for the Eagles to try to expose Blackburn, Danny Clark, and Antonio Pierce in coverage.
Obviously, the pass coverage will be tremendously added if the Giants can get heat on McNabb. The interior of the Eagles’ offensive line will not be as tough with the loss of RG Shawn Andrews (back). But LT William Thomas and RT Jon Runyan are still quality football players. As is usually the case, look for the Giants to create mismatches inside with Justin Tuck on obvious passing downs. The Giants must get a good game out of their entire defensive line in this game. The linebackers and secondary will be under too much pressure on the backend of the defense.
Final note, watch out for misdirection and trick plays from the Eagles. They will likely try to take advantage of the Giants’ aggressiveness on defense.
Giants on Special Teams: The Eagles have a very dangerous return game. DeSean Jackson is averaging 11 yards per punt return and already has one score. Jeff Feagles will have to be at his very best in terms of directional kicks. Quintin Demps has a 63 yard return as a kickoff returner. David Akers is a tremendous place kicker, who for some reason, struggles kicking against the Giants.