Dec 152010
 
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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 19, 2010: This is obviously the game of the season in the NFC East. The winner will be in good position to win the division, and possibly earn a first-round bye. The loser will have to battle the Packers and Buccaneers for the final NFC Wild Card spot.

Be loud and supportive Giants fans, even if the game does not seem to be going well.  Your team needs you on Sunday and you can make a difference in the ball game.  Be the 12th Man.

Giants on Offense: I hate to overly simplify this football game, but the contest will probably come down to which quarterback plays better.  For whatever reason, Eli Manning has not been sharp in recent weeks and he is coming off one of his worst performances.  At the very least, the Giants need Eli to stop turning the football over and manage the game.  At best, the Giants need him to make some special plays that prove to be the difference in the ball game.  This is why they pay him the big bucks – to be a difference maker.

Many of the interceptions early in the season were on the receivers.  But lately Manning has been making bad decisions or bad throws.  It doesn’t help that his wide receiving corps is banged up, but he’s got to deal with it.  In too many Giants-Eagles contests, turnovers by the Giants, and especially by Manning, have been killers.  If he doesn’t clean that up, the Giants won’t win the game.

With Steve Smith done for the season, the passing game is not likely to regain its earlier form for the remainder of the season.  Combine that with the rapid improvement in the running attack and arrival of cold weather, the obvious course of action for the Giants’ offensive brain trust is to focus more heavy on the ground game.  Tom Coughlin, Kevin Gilbride, and Eli Manning should not get too cute.  Pound the football.  The Eagles have a respectable and disruptive defense, but you can run on them.  And they are missing a very important run defender in MLB Stewart Bradley.

Of course, the Eagles know the Giants will want to run the football.  And they will likely bring up extra defenders to stop the run, especially if CB Asante Samuel returns to action as expected.  So that begs the question, should the Giants actually throw more early in the game in order to take advantage of a defense that is geared to stop the run?  It’s an excellent question.  If Manning doesn’t play a whole lot better, then the answer is no.  But can the Giants keep pace with the #1 offense in the NFL if they don’t throw the ball down the field?

The fact of the matter is the Giants will likely remain what they are: a balanced offense that will not emphasis one element over the other.  But it certainly is tempting to wonder how well the Giants might succeed if they turn back the clock to 1990 and just pound the rock.  I think that would be my strategy.  Try to run early and run often.  I would gamble on my offensive line being tougher and more physical.  If it doesn’t work early, hopefully the Giants’ defense keeps the game close, and the Giants can remain patient with the run.  If the defense allows touchdowns, then obviously it will be difficult for the Giants to remain patient.

Up front, the Giants seem to have become a physically punishing offensive line again with Rich Seubert at center, Kevin Boothe at left guard, and Bear Pascoe at fullback.  The offensive line, fullback, tight ends, and wide receivers must block well up front to help Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  The Eagles are lighter on defense.  Punish them.  Be more physical.  Keep penalties to a minimum.  And like Manning, both running backs need to protect the football. Both Jacobs and Bradshaw have had costly fumbles this season, including Bradshaw against the Eagles a month ago.

When the Giants do put the ball up, they need a top performance from banged up receivers Hakeem Nicks (leg) and Mario Manningham (hip). Both can make the big play, but both have had issues with running imprecise routes. This has been a factor in the turnovers. For example, Coach Coughlin suggested that Eli’s second pick against the Vikings was on Manningham. The Eagles are sure to focus more on Nicks, so Manningham must come through. And with Steve Smith out, the roles of Kevin Boss and Derek Hagan become all that much more important. Boss usually plays well against the Eagles.  And I do wonder if this is the week we finally see Travis Beckum more emphasized in the passing game down the field.

The Giants don’t have to play a perfect game.  The Eagles are good, but lesser teams have moved the ball on them and scored.  Just keep turnovers and penalties to a minimum.  Be physical.  Pound the football.  And Eli has to have one of his better games on Sunday, not one of his worst.

Giants on Defense: The Eagles have the #1 offense in the NFL in terms of yards gained per game. They are 4th in rushing and 6th in passing. They are a VERY fast team with speed at ALL of the skill positions, including quarterback.

The Giants did a nice job on the Eagles the last time these two teams met until late in the 4th quarter.  Then they gave up a killer 50-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1. “Almost” doesn’t cut it.  The defense needs to play lights out for four quarters (or more if the game goes to OT).  The last thing the Giants can afford is to get into a shootout with the Eagles.  The Giants’ passing game simply can’t keep pace.

The chess match here is this: the last time the Giants played the Eagles, the Giants blitzed a lot from the weakside in order to keep Michael Vick from moving to his left. Many times the blitzer was S Antrel Rolle. The Eagles have had a month to think about countering that strategy. Do the Giants employ the same tactic?  Or do they anticipate the Eagles doing something differently that will expose that defense?  Tough questions.

My biggest worries in this game are (1) preventing WR DeSean Jackson from making the big play, (2) not getting killed by the Eagles’ screen game, and (3) not forgetting that HB LeSean McCoy can beat you rushing the football if you are not careful.  The Giants have gotten hurt in recent Giants-Eagles games by big rushing touchdown, including by both the halfback and fullback.  As much as everyone says blitz Vick and cover those fast receivers, you have to stop the run first and foremost against the Eagles.  McCoy has almost 1,000 yards rushing and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

The Giants will obviously mix up their defenses quite a bit against the Eagles.  Sometimes they will blitz, sometimes they will bring the house on the blitz. Other times they will play more men in coverage.  The defensive players need to be physical and punish the quicker, faster finesse players on the Eagles.  Hammer DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant.  But also wrap up and tackle well.  A missed tackle can turn a short gain into a long touchdown against these Eagles.  Be smart and be disciplined too.  Don’t try to do too much and beat yourself.

I don’t think we’ve seen the Giants’ secondary play their best game yet. They are quite capable of being even better than they have been. Wouldn’t this be a great time for some big-play turnovers?

Giants on Special Teams: In tight divisional games, special teams often are decisive.  The Giants’ coverage teams were dreadful last week.  If that does not improve this week, it will hurt the Giants dearly.  The Giants have to do a better job of giving their returners a chance, especially on punt returns.  Sometimes it seems like the Giants are not even trying to block opposing gunners.

The Giants have had success in blocking kicks against the Eagles in recent years.

Coaching: Andy Reid has had Tom Coughlin’s number since late 2008.  The pressure is on Tom to turn that around and for once out-coach Andy and his staff.  With the loss of Steve Smith, offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride will have to adjust his offense for the remainder of the season.  The Eagles know the Giants are going to run the football.  Can Gilbride still surprise them?  Defensive Perry Fewell must also instinctively find a way not only to keep Vick in check, but not expose his team too much to the very dangerous Eagles’ screen and deep passing games.  Finally, can Special Teams coordinator coax his unit to a superior performance for once?

Prediction: These two teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Eagles have won five games in a row against the Giants.  There is no reason why this series should be so lopsided lately.  On paper, the Giants’ defense should be more problematic for the Eagles because the Giants’ defense is so athletic and built around defending the pass.  Offensively, the Giants are physical up front and run the football so well.

I have a sneaky suspicion that Michael Vick doesn’t like playing in the cold.

Finally, the Giants beat the Eagles.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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