By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 11, 2009: The divisional round is for the big boys. And it doesn’t get much better than playing a hated division rival like the Philadelphia Eagles. This is what football is all about. Giants-Falcons or Giants-Cardinals just wouldn’t have seemed right. But Giants-Eagles? This is the good stuff. One way or the other, for better or for worse, this is the kind of game you remember…the kind of game you will likely still be talking about 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Ever since this playoff matchup was set last Sunday, I’ve seen a lot of angst on the part of the media and the fans about playing the Eagles. Why? You want tough? Last year was tough…at Tampa, at Dallas, at Green Bay, and then facing the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. If the Giants are good enough to repeat as NFL Champions, they will have to prove it on the playing field, starting Sunday. If they can’t beat the Eagles at home, then they do not deserve their eighth NFL Championship. Let the better team win. It’s really that simple. So stand up, root like hell for your beloved New York Giants, and have fun! Like I said earlier in the season, this is a golden age of Giants football so enjoy it.
The Giants know the Eagles and the Eagles know the Giants. This game won’t be about X’s and O’s. It will be about which team is the most physical, which team executes the best, and which team makes the fewest mistakes – on offense, defense, AND special teams. It’s that simple. Because of that, this will be an old-school type game. Those looking for clues or signs that suggest one team has an advantage over the other are fooling themselves. Those boasting the sureness of victory or predicting doom are whistling in the wind. Like almost all Giants-Eagles games, this one is going to be tight and unpredictable. Style points won’t matter. Survival will.
Giants on Offense: No match-up talk this week. You want that, go re-read my two previous Giants-Eagles previews. The game plan – especially this weekend and especially against this opponent – is as obvious as it is simple: be physical, keep mistakes to a minimum, and score points. The Giants’ offense must, absolutely must, be more physical than the Eagles’ defense. Old school baby! Knock their asses into the turf! Run the ball, right at them. Maul them. But keep mistakes to a minimum. That means missed assignments, negative yardage plays, penalties, fumbles, interceptions. Don’t get cute with some fancy play. Keep it basic. Out-execute your opponent!
The ability of the offensive line, tight ends, fullback, and wide receivers to block will crucial. Everyone knows that Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Johnson likes to bring it. But if you are in position to make your block and execute that block well, big plays will be the result. It’s games like this where you need your money players to make big plays – Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, and Amani Toomer need to play well. Youngsters like Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, and Kevin Boss need to step up and make a difference. Who will be the one to make the big play when it is needed the most? Who will make the great block? The great catch? The great run? Make that play in this game and you will be remembered forever by Giants’ fans everywhere.
Giants on Defense: Broken record time. Not X’s and O’s. Be physical, execute, don’t make mistakes. Don’t let the Eagles get any kind of ground game going and make them one dimensional. When these teams last met, the Eagles ran the ball too well and thus Philadelphia was able to keep down-and-distance situations manageable and open up their entire playbook. Too many third-down conversions were the result. Stop the run. Get after the passer and cover the receiving targets. Get off the field! Even better, create some turnovers! The team that turns the ball over more is likely the one that will lose.
Yes, Brian Westbrook is THE key to the Eagles’ offense. But he’s not the only one the Giants have to worry about. The Eagles run a West Coast Offense that likes to throw to the backs and tight ends. Linebacker and safety coverage on the backs and tight ends will be huge. Be wary of surprise passes to even the back-up tight ends or back. In the wide receiving department, DeSean Jackson is the little big man who the Giants have to keep under wraps.
The Eagles make it tough to get to McNabb because they will max protect and/or use a lot of three-step drops and get rid of the ball quickly to the underneath receivers. To disrupt that type of game, the defensive players have to get physical with the tight ends and backs. Hopefully the refs don’t make ticky-tack calls. The Giants have to get heat on Donovan McNabb. Again, the money players – Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Fred Robbins, Antonio Pierce, Corey Webster – have to step it up. But at the same time, the Eagles will know that the Giants will be jacked – watch out for screens and misdirection early when the adrenaline levels will be at their highest. Expect the Eagles to break out their bag of tricks early in an attempt to take the crowd out of it.
Be physical and be smart. For 60 minutes or longer. Whatever it takes!
Giants on Special Teams: Games against division rivals are often decided by special teams. Playoff games are often decided by special teams. The Giants must – absolutely must – keep DeSean Jackson and Quintin Demps under wraps on punt and kickoff returns respectively. Even though he is not a kickoff specialist, the Giants may seriously want to consider activating Lawrence Tynes (in addition to John Carney) for kickoffs. The Giants need Jeff Feagles to be at his very best too against the dangerous Jackson. On punt returns, the #1 priority is ball security. On kickoff returns, given the importance of the game, the Giants may want to have Domenik Hixon do the returning.
Prediction: Many would disagree, but come January, I’d go with Eli Manning over other more highly-touted quarterbacks and take my chances.