Sep 262012
 
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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 30, 2012: Stating the obvious, this is a big game.  The Giants are 0-1 in the NFC East with five more division games to play.  Falling to 0-2 in the division would not be good.

The Giants have a weird history with the Eagles.  It’s been well documented that each team has a tendency to dominate the win-loss record over the other for long stretches.  Currently, the Eagles have won seven of the last eight games against the Giants.  Before that, the Giants had won six of eight.  And back and forth and back and forth.  The good thing is that for the Giants is that even some of the most traumatic losses suffered to the Eagles have actually spurred the team to great heights.  “The Fumble” led to George Young and two NFL Championships.  The meltdown in the Meadowlands in 2010 led to “Finish” and the 2011 NFL Championship.  Meanwhile, the Eagles win in the regular season but have very little to show for it.

The Giants-Eagles match-up is a great one.  The players don’t like each other.  The fans don’t like each other.  The games are often close and memorable.  It’s the NFL at its best.

The Eagles are a very talented team.  They have some explosive weapons on offense.  And their defense is vastly improved in the front seven.  Like the Giants, they dramatically improved their linebacking corps, and also like the Giants, they are very deep on the defensive line and can get after the quarterback.  But the Giants have one big advantage and that’s at quarterback.

This game will likely come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and who makes more plays in the fourth quarter.

Giants on Offense: The bad news for the Giants is that the Eagles’ defense got a lot better in the offseason.  They added veteran DeMeco Ryans at middle linebacker and impressive rookie Mychal Kendricks at strongside linebacker.  On the line, they added guys like Fletcher Cox to an already deep and talented group.  They did trade CB Asante Samuel in the offseason and that’s a move that should help the Giants as Samuel had given New York more problems than the other Eagle corners.

The Eagles can rush the passer.  This will be a far stiffer test for the Giants’ revamped offensive line than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Carolina Panthers.  David Diehl (knee) may return this week, but if I’m Tom Coughlin, I don’t tinker with the Beatty-Locklear combination at tackle right now.  Obviously, the key match-ups are the Philadelphia ends against the Giants’ tackles.  That means Jason Babin and Brandon Graham against Locklear (or Diehl) and Trent Cole and Daryl Tapp against Will Beatty (or Locklear).  Inside, the Eagles can be tough too with defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, and Fletcher Cox.

The Eagles will attack up front.  They have a pass-rush focused defense but on their way to the passer, they often disrupt the run too.   In Week Two, HB Ray Rice of the Ravens did run for 99 yards on 16 carries (6.2 yards per carry average) on the Eagles’ defense.   Most of that damage came in the first half (7 carries for 78 yards) as the Eagles’ defense clamped down on Rice in the second half (9 carries for 21 yards).  On the other hand, last week, HB Ryan Williams of the Cardinals had greater success running on the Eagles in the second half (8 carries for 65 yards) after a big lead than he did in the first half (5 carries for 18 yards).

So the key questions for the Giants are these: do the Giants come out running the football on first down or do they come out throwing?  And when they run the football, do they go with the hot hand in Andre Brown or go back to the established veteran in Ahmad Bradshaw?  (Tom Coughlin says Bradshaw will start).

Regarding the first question, who the hell knows?  Is the Giants’ offensive line (combined with Martellus Bennett and Henry Hynoski) for real?  Or did they look better against lesser competition in the Buccaneers and Panthers?  Or is there a structural weakness in the Philadelphia defense (the wide gaps left by the linemen) that beg for the Giants to pound the rock?  Obviously, in a perfect world, Giants’ fans would love to see the running backs gain six yards a pop, setting up play-action passes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Bennett.

Regarding the second question, Bradshaw is the safer bet because of his experience in blitz pick-ups (especially against this blitz-crazy defense).  But I think Brown’s no-nonsense, north-south running is better suited to attack the Philadelphia defense.  If Bradshaw struggles early, it will be interesting to see how quickly Brown comes off the bench.

My early game plan would be this: combine quick, short passes to the wide receivers, Bennett, and running backs (including Hynoski) with between-the-tackle/off-tackle running plays.  Move the chains.  Later attack the Eagle cornerbacks deeper down the field.  The Giants obviously are not intimidated by the Eagles’ cornerbacks, but my worry is how much time will Eli have to throw the football?  In other words, I don’t trust this offensive line yet.  Get rid of the ball quickly.

I hope the Giants don’t get too cute with the running game.  I’d run between the tackles or off tackle – I wouldn’t do a lot of running laterally against this defense.  Even if David Wilson plays – and the Giants love to run Wilson outside – I would cross the Eagles up by having him run up the gut or off tackle.  (Besides the Giants are making it too obvious when Wilson comes into the game that it is an outside run).

Most importantly, don’t turn the football over.  The team that loses the turnover battle is most likely the one that is going to lose the game.

Giants on Defense: The Eagles are putting up very respectable offensive numbers: fifth overall in yardage gained and very balanced (eighth overall in rushing and passing).  Their biggest problem has been turnovers, particularly by the quarterback.  QB Michael Vick has thrown six interceptions and fumbled the ball five times (losing three) in three games.  HB LeSean McCoy has also fumbled the ball away twice.  The Eagles also have problems finishing drives (31st in scoring).

So the narrative is obvious.  The Eagles are sloppy with the football.  Take advantage of their sloppiness.  But if the Eagles don’t turn the football over, they can be very dangerous on offense.  When the ball is on the ground, the Giants have to be the one coming up with it.  If Vick throws a ball to a New York Giant, he must catch it.

The Eagles’ offensive line is not good and on paper the Giants have a big advantage with their defensive line against that unit.  However, as DE Justin Tuck correctly stated this week:

“It is not like we are licking our chops,” Tuck said. “We know that Philadelphia is going to pose a huge challenge for us. Normally, they find a way to put it together against us. We got a lot of film to look at to get together a game plan and hopefully slow down their weapons, just like other teams have so far this year.”

And that’s been the problem for the Giants in too many games against the Eagles ever since that 12-sack effort back in 2007.  Heading into many games since then, one expected the Giants’ to dominate up front by the Eagles’ offensive line did enough to hold the Giants’ marquee linemen at bay in order to win the game.

New York needs to change that this week and kick some ass up front.

The Eagles have not been running the football enough with McCoy.  I expect that to change on Sunday night.  In the past, when Reid has been criticized for not running the ball the previous week, he will come out and do so the following week (including in games against the Giants).  Moreover, I can’ t imagine that Reid is going to want Michael Vick to continue to get pounded the way he has thus far this season.  So the defense must focus on stopping the run.  And they also have to be very wary of screens, slants, and misdirection (reverses, trick plays, etc.) early designed to take advantage of the Giants’ aggressiveness up front.  The backside ends must be on guard and not pursue too hard down the line.

When the Eagles pass, Giants’ fans tend to focus on DeSean Jackson for obvious reasons.  But the Giants have done a pretty good job on Jackson the receiver in recent years.  That’s not to say that he’s a key match-up issue for New York.  But Vick throws to TE Brent Celek and McCoy are top targets in the passing game.  So are wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.  This is a game where the Giants really could use Keith Rivers (hamstring), but it’s probably questionable at best if he plays.  Michael Boley and Jacquian Williams will have to pick up the slack in coverage.  Hopefully, the Eagles don’t get some bad mismatches on Chase Blackburn.

In the secondary, the Giants need a strong game out of Corey Webster.  Prince Amukamara will be really tested for the first time this year.  Injury/availability concerns remain with Jayron Hosley (hamstring) and Michael Coe (hamstring).  If Hosley and/or Coe can’t play, the Eagles may cause match-up problems for the Giants by forcing Justin Tryon on the field.  The key is to take away Vick’s first read.  If you do that, he tends to get confused and start scrambling and make mistakes.  Don’t give him easy completions to his first read and the Giants should be OK.  It would be nice if Kenny Phillips or Antrel Rolle came up with a pick.

Lastly, don’t be shocked if Vick doesn’t make it out of this game either due to injury or benching.  If he does come out, the Giants must not let rookie Nick Foles spoil the night.

Stop the run.  Take away the first read.  Hold onto those turnovers.

Giants on Specials: I think the Giants hold a big advantage here on specials.  New York has two of the best kickers in the game.  And I think the Giants are close to breaking kick and punt returns.  Don’t be shocked if the Giants win this game on special teams.

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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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