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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 22, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
If the New York Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants will return to the playoffs for the first time in five years. If they lose, they can still get in this week if one of four other teams lose on this weekend.

The Eagles have lost five games in a row and are 5-9. But they are still playing hard and they always give the Giants trouble. It’s always a rough spot for the road team on Thursday night football, and the Giants are a bit banged up right now.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • OL Marshall Newhouse (shoulder) – probable
  • OL Will Beatty (lower leg) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – probable
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (knee) – questionable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (shoulder) – probable
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (back) – questionable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out
  • LS Zak DeOssie (hamstring) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Eagles are a very respectable 12th in defense (13th in points allowed). They are 17th against the run and 12th against the pass. Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, they are well coached. The challenge for the Giants is blocking the guys up front. Fletcher Cox (6.5 sacks) is a disruptive player at defensive tackle and Philadelphia’s two ends – Connor Barwin (4 sacks) and Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks) – usually give the Giants fits. Philadelphia has good depth on the defensive line and will rotate their players frequently. The Eagles have 31 sacks on the season. Second-year middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is coming on and he has three interceptions.

The last time these two teams met in early November, the Giants offensive line did a decent job in pass protection but the Giants were only able to generate 58 yards rushing, averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per carry. The Eagles held the Giants to 16 first downs. The Giants only had two drives longer than 31 yards. But the defense helped to provide New York with good field position and Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes.

So the key question here is do the Giants continue to force-feed the running backs this week, like they did against the Cowboys or Lions? Or does Ben McAdoo worry about the Giants’ previous ground-game ineptitude against the Eagles and come out with a greater focus on the passing game? My guess is that McAdoo has decided to get this ground game going come hell or high water. While the point production hasn’t been there, the Giants have reduced their mistakes and become a more physical offense with the greater run emphasis. That doesn’t mean New York won’t take its shots to the wideouts. Odell Beckham (2), Sterling Shepard (1), and Roger Lewis (1) combined for four touchdowns in November. If Eli has time, the Giants have to like their match-ups against this secondary.

To me, offensively, this game really comes down to how well the Giants offensive line and tight ends can block the Eagles up front. Philadelphia has owned New York in recent years because the Giants get their asses kicked on the line. Ideally, the offensive front will build on its decent game against the Lions. Both tackles – especially Ereck Flowers – need to do a reasonable job. Fletcher Cox and Bernie Logan will also challenge the interior trio.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Eagles are currently 20th in offense (9th rushing, 24th passing). Their offensive line has been doing a very good job of run blocking, and Lane Johnson now returns to right tackle after a 10-game suspension. Running back Ryan Mathews has eight rushing touchdowns and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The mercurial Darren Sproles averages 4.7 yards per carry. The Eagles ran roughshod (169 yards) over what had been the NFL’s best run defense (Baltimore Ravens) last week. In the November match-up, the Eagles ran for about 100 yards and had two rushing touchdowns against the Giants.

The defensive focus is obvious: stop the run. Not only do the Giants have to be tough, stout, and physical up front, but they have to be disciplined as the Eagles will run the read-option (something New York did well against in November, but that was with Jason Pierre-Paul in the lineup). The Eagles will test Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, and Owa Odighizuwa in run defense. They also know that Jonathan Casillas (knee) and Keenan Robinson (shoulder) are beat up.

Although the Giants defeated the Eagles in the first match-up, the defense did not have one of its better games. Two interceptions helped, but the defense gave up four plays of more than 30 yards and allowed five drives over 50 yards. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 364 yards. And the Eagles tight ends killed the Giants, accruing 152 receiving yards. While the Giants did a good job on Sproles in coverage, the Eagles are likely to test the Giants undercoverage again with a heavy dose of passing to the tight ends and Sproles. Keep in mind that the Giants two best cover linebackers are playing hurt.

The Giants match-up fairly well with the Eagles wide receivers. But the health situation of Janoris Jenkins is a concern. If he can’t go, the Eagles will likely target Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade. Wentz has been up-and-down this year with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His favorite targets are wide receiver Jordan Matthews, tight end Zach Ertz, and Sproles.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Eagles are tough on special teams. In the first game, Darren Sproles returned one punt for 66 yards (his longest of the year) and was a shoe-string tackle away from an 81-yard score on that play. The Giants obviously have to do a better job of keeping him in check. The Eagles led the NFL in kickoff return average. Jason Pierre-Paul – who will miss this game – did block an Eagles field goal attempt. It will be fascinating to see how much the Giants use Odell Beckham at punt returner moving forward.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Philadelphia’s defensive line: “They play very well up front. There will be some carryover from the scheme we saw last week with Detroit. They play a lot of the wide nine, but they’re loaded up front. One of the best front fours in the game.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Having two division rivals play on Thursday night this late in the season is absurd. Despite the fact that the Giants are the better team, this is a tough spot for them as they will be the road team on a very short week with no real practice. The Giants have more to play for and this is definitely a very winnable game, but don’t be shocked to see the Eagles pull off the upset.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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