Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 27, 2013: In 1994, the Giants started the season 3-0. The team then lost seven games in a row. At 3-7, the season looked over. But with Dave Brown at quarterback, a decent running game, and an improving defense, the Giants won their final six games and just barely missed the playoffs. And the game that started them off on that winning streak was an ugly, ugly 13-10 win against a lowly Houston Oilers team.
The good news is that the Giants are not dead. And even counting the losses to the Eagles and Bears, the team is clearly playing better. The Giants are playing more physically on both sides of the football and new additions John Conner, Jon Beason, and Peyton Hillis have helped. The defensive line showed signs of coming out of its funk against the Vikings.
The bad news is the Giants no longer have any room for error. Simply put, the Eagles game is as “must” a game as one can get. We all thought the same thing heading into each of the four previous losses, and yet those games were all losses. The Vikings game proved that if the Giants can win the turnover battle, they can win the game, but they got lucky too, with two lucky bounces on fumbles and a dropped pick-6. And Josh Freeman was horrible.
But like the game against the Oilers in 1994, the Giants may just have needed a win, no matter how ugly it was, to start turning things around. False hope? We shall soon find out.
What we do know is this – something has to give. The Eagles have lost nine home games in a row, the last victory being – you guessed it – against the New York Giants. At the same time, the once “road warrior” Giants have lost eight away games in a row. Both teams have issues. But when these two teams get together, there are usually some interesting fireworks.
Giants on Offense: It’s about the turnovers. If the Giants don’t turn over the ball, they probably win. There were no offensive turnovers against Minnesota, but as mentioned, the Giants got a bit lucky too. What was interesting was the strong commitment to the running game, despite the lack of overall productivity (two yards per carry), and even more importantly, the focus on the short passing game to the running backs and fullback. Given the chaotic state of the offensive line, where has the latter been all year? Will that continue? Hillis may lack wiggle, but he seems to have a knack for being a factor in the passing game, as was demonstrated in Cleveland as well. If the Eagles focus most of their attention on the wide receivers, Hillis could continue to do some damage catching the football.
A key question is will Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) be able to play? And if he does, how effective will he be? He had an inspirational game against the Bears and it would be better for the Giants to have his veteran presence in the lineup in the hostile Philly environment rather than the inexperienced Michael Cox. John Conner has been a tremendous addition to the Giants and Conner, Jacobs, and Hillis bring a physicality to the offense that was missing earlier in the season. Eagle defenders have talked about it themselves this week. Jacobs is officially doubtful for the game. If I’m the Giants, I play him. If the Giants lose this game, the season is over. If they lose Jacobs, Andre Brown will be back after the bye week.
The Eagles’ defense was atrocious to start the year, but has played much better since – yup – the Giants game. Their best game of the season was last week against the Cowboys, even though Dallas ended up winning that game. Philadelphia is aggressive and chaotic up front, and they dare you to beat their big corners outside, who play tight, aggressive coverage. In the last Giants-Eagles game, the Giants receivers were doing some damage against the Eagles secondary with quicker passes, then the Giants, for some reason, moved away from that. The temptation will be there to use the deep ball – the 7-step drop and go for the throat. And I do think the Giants should take a couple of shots. But a steady diet of shorter drops, quicker throws did work, is better suited for a shaky offensive line. It’s up to the wide receivers to win those one-on-one match-ups. If they do, and Eli takes care of the football, they will be able to move the ball. The Eagles seem to bring out the best in Rueben Randle, and Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are due for big games.
Obviously, much depends on the offensive line. Cordle is now the center for the remainder of the year. He’s actually been decent, but teams have been testing the Giants’ center and guards with inside pressure. This is another reason to get rid of the ball more quickly. The Eagles are going to try to confuse and intimidate the front. They will want to stuff the running game and make the Giants one-dimensional. The Giants must, absolutely must, stay out of third-and-long situations.
The big dilemma is this: can the Giants afford to be patient with the running game early against a defense that is likely to stack against the run? If they were playing the Vikings, yes because the Vikings couldn’t move the ball. But I don’t think they can do that against the Eagles unless the Giants simply can out-man them across the board up front. But I don’t have that much confidence that the offensive line and tight ends will be able to do that on a consistent basis early. It would be great if the Giants could simply out-power and run over the Eagles, but I’m not sure I would take that chance. I would come out throwing quickly to the backs and receivers, and then come back hard with the running game once the Eagles are more back on their heels. Unlike the Vikings, the Eagles are going to score; the Giants must keep pace.
Giants on Defense: Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s about defending LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Michael Vick – and in that order. Also, watch out for those tight ends, including Brent Celek who has a history of making that one play that hurts New York, and the emerging Zach Ertz, who has become a security blanket for Eagles’ quarterbacks.
The Giants did an excellent job of McCoy in the first game, but still lost the game. That would seem to suggest he isn’t the most important cog. I would vehemently disagree with that. McCoy is still the straw that stirs the Eagles’ offense, both as a runner (leading the NFL in rushing) and receiver (third-leading receiver on team). If you keep McCoy in check, your chances of winning the game improve dramatically.
Jackson had a big game against the Giants in Week 5 with seven catches for 132 yards and one touchdown as he was covered by both Trumaine McBride and Prince Amukamara. Both will probably be on the spot again. McBride had a chance to pick off a pass last time against Jackson, but the ball went through his hands on a 56-yard reception. He obviously is the explosive, deep-play guy you have to keep in check.
Vick (hamstring) returns for the first time since – yup – the Giants game. He hurt New York more with his feet than his passing. And it wasn’t so much about getting to the edges and the defensive ends not containing, but it was the defensive tackles who allowed him to scramble up the middle. Will the hamstring impact his ability to scramble? Regardless, pocket discipline by the line is probably more important than sacks this week. I’m sure fans don’t want to hear that, but you can’t allow Vick to run for 20-yard chunks or you are going to lose the game. DT Shaun Rogers (knee) is doubtful so pressure will be on Mike Patterson and Johnathan Hankins to perform as reserves.
Giants on Special Teams: Obviously the special teams coverage units are really hurting the Giants right now. The Giants have given up three long touchdowns on punt returns and they almost gave up a 109-yard kickoff return against the Vikings in addition to the 86-yard punt return.
The Giants’ return game has been anemic. Could Eagle-killer Randle finally break one here?
One area where the Giants have been flashing is rushing the punter. They seem to come close to blocking a punt almost every week.