By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 7, 2008: Except in rare, rare instances, each NFL team in each NFL season faces adversity at some point. Usually this takes the form of losing streak or losing a key player to injury. Some teams overcome, most do not.
Giants’ fans – like most fans of other teams – are long accustomed to this phenomenon. That’s what had made the 2008 NFL season such a treat and rarity for Giants’ fans, that is, up until last Saturday. At 10-1, and soon to be 11-1, the Giants had been cruising right along, without adversity, en route to what looked like an inevitable Super Bowl reappearance. Then Plaxico foolishly took a loaded, unlicensed firearm into a Manhattan nightclub, leading not only to a monumentally large distraction, but the loss of the Giants’ best wide receiver in decades.
I don’t care how anyone chooses to spin it, losing Burress is a huge hit, making it less likely that the Giants will be able to repeat. Burress demanded special attention from opposing defenses that now will not be overly concerned with the other receiving weapons in Manning’s arsenal. Opposing defenses will now shift an extra safety towards the line of scrimmage in order to defend the Giants’ running game. We’ve already seen that in the last two games that Burress has missed, with a dramatic decline in the running attack’s productivity. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I doubt it.
If the Giants have another loss or two in them, they had better get it out of the way during the course of the next four games. Because after that, a loss will end their season.
There is no use in crying over spilled milk. The Giants have to treat the Burress situation as if Burress was lost for the season due to an injury and move on. This is still a very good football team and no one in the NFC or AFC is overly impressive. It would be a damn shame to see the Giants’ best start in franchise history result in anything short of its eighth NFL Championship. The road just got a lot harder. The 2007 New York Giants demonstrated incredible resiliency. Indeed, that word defined that team. It’s now up to the 2008 version to prove that it is equally or superior in the resiliency department.
After all, you really didn’t think it would be that easy, did you Giants’ fans?
Giants on Offense: Well, we clearly know what the Giants will face from here on out. Teams will do what the Cardinals and Redskins did, that is, load up against the run and dare Manning and his receiving corps to beat them. Does this mean we’ve seen the end of the 200 yard rushing games by the Giants? Probably. But of course that does not mean that the Giants should abandon the run. Rushing for 100+ yards a game, especially in the playoffs, is still a good day at the office. And running the ball and the threat of running the ball will open up things in the passing game. The Giants’ offense will likely not be as dynamic however, unless Manning plays at a consistently high level and Toomer, Hixon, Smith, Boss, Moss, and Manningham really surprise.
Let’s be brutally frank here. This has easily been Manning’s best season thus far of his still young NFL career, but things just got a lot tougher on him. That’s OK because no quarterback in the NFL is mentally tougher than Eli. But it does mean that he will likely have to be “on” from here on out in order for the Giants to run the table, or run the table in the playoffs. Can he do it? Can he put together two back-to-back exceptional post-season runs? If he can’t, the Giants probably won’t repeat. If he can, he and the 2007-2008 Giants may go down as one of the best teams in NFL history.
As for the Eagles, Philadelphia was dreadful against the Giants’ running game the last time these two teams played each other. The Eagles have had 10 days to get ready for the Giants. They are well-rested and Eagles’ defensive whiz Jim Johnson likely has cleverly devised some schemes to prevent a repeat occurrence. So should the Giants come out running the football or try to cross Johnson up and come out throwing? Good question. The smart move is probably to take the latter course, but I’d be stubborn here and attack the smaller defensive line of the Eagles again with the power running game.
The real chess match here will be Manning against Johnson. One of the reasons why the Giants’ ground game has been so successful has been the ability of Manning to read the opposing defense and adjust plays at necessary at the line of scrimmage. Johnson will look to confuse Manning and cause him to adjust or not to adjust to the defense’s advantage.
The good news for the Giants is that for the second week in a row, they will see an aggressive defense that likes to play man coverage. I really like the way the Giants used TE Kevin Boss and HB Derrick Ward in the passing game last week. I also liked the slant passes to WR Domenik Hixon. WR Amani Toomer will likely be shut down by LCB Asante Samuel. The Giants really need Hixon and WR Steve Smith to step it up. Boss also becomes a more important target too.
The Giants will run the football, but the passing game will be the key. I would call plays that get the ball out of Eli’s hands quickly. I would also use plays that take advantage of the Eagles’ aggressiveness, such as screens and draws. And as I’ve harped on for weeks, keep mistakes to a minimum and score touchdowns in the red zone.
Giants on Defense: The Eagles scored 48 points last week. That doesn’t worry so much as we have seen the Eagles before score a lot of points one week against a non-NFC East opponent only to come crashing back to earth the following week, including against the Giants. But what worries me more this time around is that numbnuts Eagles’ Head Coach Andy Reid once again saw what happens when he lets Brian Westbrook actually carry the football 20+ times a game. The Eagles are so much more dynamic offensively when they run the football, but Reid has had a problem figuring this out over the years. He can’t be stupid enough to go back to winging the football on almost every down again, can he?
The focal point of the Giants’ defense the last time these two teams played was Westbrook and the Giants did a marvelous job of shutting him down, limiting him to 26 yards rushing (on 13 carries) and 33 yards receiving (on 3 catches). He obviously should be the focal point again. The Giants know this. The Eagles know this. What will the Eagles do to try to take advantage of all of the attention Westbrook is receiving? Misdirection, trick plays, more throws to the wide receivers, more throws to the tight ends? How will the Giants adjust? That will be the chess match.
The most dynamic player on the Eagles, aside from Westbrook, is rookie WR DeSean Jackson. He’s very small, but exceptionally quick and fast. The Giants’ corners must keep him under wraps as best they can. Also keep in mind that Jackson scored on a run out of the Wildcat formation against the Giants. Watch out for some variation out of that play, such as a throw.
Aside from covering Westbrook and Jackson, the real key will be the battle upfront between the Giants’ defensive line and the Eagles’ offensive line. The Eagles situation at right guard is not good unless Shawn Andrews (back) unexpectedly returns this week. His replacement was placed on Injured Reserve this week so the Eagles may be down to their third-string guard. Pressure McNabb – and like most quarterbacks – he can wilt. Tuck, Kiwanuka, and company need to get after his ass, while at the same time guarding against more runs to Westbrook than usual.
Westbrook, Westbrook, Westbrook. Stop the run. Get after McNabb. Don’t let Jackson break a big play.
Giants on Special Teams: The Eagles have a very dangerous return game. Jackson is a very dangerous punt returner and Quentin Demps is a dangerous kickoff returner. Both have returns for touchdowns. Demps hurt the Giants the last time these two teams played.
One of the unfortunate side effects of losing Burress is that Hixon may not be able to be used as a returner as much as he would have.