One of two outcomes will occur late Saturday night. The New York Giants will pull off one of the biggest post-season upsets in franchise history. Or the Giants and their fans will learn just how big the talent gap is between them and a Philadelphia Eagles team that will have won all three games against them this season.
Let’s address the unpleasant reality first. The Eagles are the better team. While the Giants have some very good players, the Eagles simply have more at all levels of offense, defense, and special teams. Almost as importantly, their depth is superior. When one of their starters leaves the game, the drop off isn’t as noticeable. The Eagles finished the season 14-3, best in the NFC and tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in football. Philadelphia has the #3 offense and #2 defense in the entire NFL. That’s balanced dominance. Thus, the odds makers have appropriately favored the Eagles by more than a touchdown to handily defeat the Giants.
Giants’ fans are understandably giddy right now. Their team was not expected to win a playoff game, let alone have a winning record or make the playoffs in the first place. It appears the franchise will not have to start over again at quarterback, thus accelerating the rebuilding process. Beating the 13-4 Minnesota Vikings on their home turf felt great. However, the NFL post-season graveyard is filled with Wild Card winners getting smacked in the divisional round by superior and well-rested teams. There is a good chance reality is about to slap New York fans back into reality.
If I were a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I don’t think I would be feeling particularly comfortable right now. Yes, your team has owned the Giants for the better part of the past decade, including the two regular-season games this year. But the Giants are clearly ascending at the right moment. Meanwhile, the Eagles seemed to prematurely hit their stride earlier in the season. There are questions about Jalen Hurts’ shoulder. And a group of predominantly second- and third-teamers just gave Philadelphia a tougher game than anyone expected less than two weeks ago against these very same Giants on your home field. Above all, divisional opponents have a way of making games far tighter than anyone anticipates. The Giants know the Eagles. Finally, Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Don Martindale are far superior than the likes of Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, and Joe Judge. Coaching won’t be an issue. The Giants will be ready to play.
Eagle fans are busy telling themselves this game is in the bag. The Giants are merely a road bump on an inevitable Super Bowl run. They believe the Giants did them a favor by beating the Vikings as it makes their playoff path that much easier. All of this might be true. But if being a sports fan has taught me anything over the past several decades, it is there is such a thing as karma. The more convinced you are of something, the more likely the powers that be will bitch slap you back into reality. Eagle fans are unpleasant and unlikeable people who live in an unpleasant and unlikeable city. Whatever self-awareness they might have is swallowed up by their ugly inability to relate to the rest of humanity. If anyone is due a karmic kick to the groin, it’s them.
Bring it on.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Isaiah Hodgins (ankle – probable)
- OLB Azeez Ojulari (quad – questionable)
- ILB/S Landon Collins (ankle – probable)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (back – probable)
- CB Fabian Moreau (hip – probable)
- S Julian Love (hamstring – probable)
- S Jason Pinnock (abdomen – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I have already covered the Eagles in two previous game previews. Much of this will sound like a broken record. Big picture is that while many pundits and fans love to focus on offense, defense still wins games and the Eagles have one of the best defenses in the NFL. In terms of yards allowed, only the San Fransisco 49ers are better (and only by ONE yard). If anything, the Eagles defense is underrated. They are #1 against the pass and a more pedestrian 16th against the run. Most importantly, they are #8 in scoring defense.
What happened this offseason is the Eagles built up their secondary, combined with further improvements to an already strong defensive front. Adding ex-Giant James Bradberry at cornerback and ex-Saint safety C. J. Gardner-Johnson significantly altered Philly’s defensive backfield for the better. Bradberry now teams with Darius Slay for one of the better and more-aggressive corner duos in the game. Gardner-Johnson is still tied with the league-lead in interceptions despite missing all of December with a lacerated kidney. He was just activated from IR and can fill in as a slot corner.
The Eagles did not stand pat up front either. They drafted Jordan Davis at DT with the #13 overall pick. During the season, they signed Ndamukong Suh and ex-Giant Linval Joseph. These three are the BACKUPS behind Giant-killer Fletcher Cox (7 sacks) and Javon Hargrave (11 sacks). Milton Williams (4 sacks) is no slouch either. Outside is another Giant-killer in DE Brandon Graham (11 sacks). He teams with Josh Sweat (11 sacks) and in-season pickup Robert Quinn (18.5 sacks with the Bears in 2021). To add icing on the cake, the Eagles also signed Haason Reddick (16 sacks), a player who has given the Giants fits in the past with other teams. Long story short, the Eagles lead the NFL with 70 sacks. No other team has more than 55. (The Giants have 41 sacks with Dexter Lawrence leading the team with 7.5).
In the Eagles’ 48-22 drubbing of the Giants on December 11, just over a month ago, Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor were sacked seven times and officially hit 12 times. The Eagles also were credited with an extremely high 10 tackles for losses. Brandon Graham had three sacks, but the usual suspects all got into the act too, including Cox, Reddick, and Sweat. In his game review, Sy’56 wrote: “This was a match-up nightmare for the NYG offensive line. Not just from a macro-perspective (PHI DL simply being better than NYG OL), but also from a micro-perspective. The holes in the games of the NYG line – player by player – were exploited greatly by the skillset of the individuals along the PHI defensive line.”
Sy’56 then highlighted the difficulties all of the NYG offensive linemen had up front. Andrew Thomas allowed a sack. The interior of the line really struggled. Evan Neal got abused, allowing two sacks and five pressures. Four weeks later, Thomas and Glowinski sat, but Neal, Bredeson, and Gates all played. Neal struggled again. So did Bredeson.
You’ve heard me say it for years now when covering the Giants and Eagles. The Eagles have dominated the Giants in the W-L column because they have dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It’s really almost that simple. The obvious target for the ire of most Giants fans right now is Neal, but the entire line hasn’t been very good at all against the Eagles. If Thomas, Gates/Bredeson, Feliciano, Glowinski, and Neal don’t elevate their game against a very talented and very deep defensive line, the Giants are going to lose this football game.
As for the skill positions, they will not be playing the terrible Vikings’ defense this week. The Vikings can rush the passer, but they were 31st in the NFL in defending the pass. The Eagles are #1. I will say that again, the Eagles have the #1 pass defense in the entire NFL. Folks say the 49ers are tough, but they are 20th against the pass. In other words, Isaiah Hodgins, Richie James, and Darius Slayton are not going to be running as free as they did a week ago. Philly’s corners are good and aggressive, and safety Gardner-Johnson is back in the mix. The Eagles are tied 4th overall with 17 interceptions and have generated 27 overall turnovers (4th in the NFL). And the tremendous pass rush is helping everyone in coverage.
Even if the OL plays great, Daniel Jones will be under duress much of the game. There are four guys on the Eagles who have more sacks (49) than the Giants do as a team (41). There is a psychological component at work here too. When guys like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham see Giants uniforms, think how Lawrence Taylor and Leonard Marshall used to salivate when playing the Eagles in the 1980s. They just knew they were going to feast. Daniel Jones is going to return in 2023. He has gotten markedly better. But we’re about to find out what he is really made of on Saturday night. If he pulls this off, Jones deserves to be showered with praise.
As for the game plan, the Giants must employ the quick passing attack to get the ball out of Jones’ hands quickly. Saquon Barkley, who was battling a neck injury in the first game, must be a difference-maker. He’ll need help up front of course. The 10 tackles for losses was far too much in the original contest. Jones will have to run the ball and he’s going to take a lot of shots after carrying the ball an astounding 17 times against the Vikings. If Daboll and Kafka have any tricks up their sleeves, this would be the time to use them. The New York tight ends, both as blockers and receivers, will be on the spot. Daniel Bellinger missed much of the first game with a rib injury that he suffered during the contest.
I’ve seen posts this week where fans say, “we need to keep the tight ends in to help Neal in pass protection.” Perhaps this is the smart way to go, but I don’t think the Giants can play scared and win this game. They will have to take some chances to pull off the upset. I constantly preach not making mistakes and turning the football over, but sometimes you just have to play the game straight up and take your chances. Be aggressive. Be the hammer, not the anvil.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
On December 11th, the Giants gave up 27 first downs, 437 total yards, and 253 rushing yards to the Eagles. Philadelphia was 6-of-11 (55 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-1 (100 percent) on 4th down. The defense only had two pass defenses and did not create a turnover. Jalen Hurt had a 109.2 quarterback rating, threw two touchdowns, and rushed for 77 yards and another touchdown. Wink Martindale’s defense gave up six touchdowns, two field goals, and 48 points. It was the low point of the season for his unit.
However, some important cogs were missing that day, including Leonard Williams, Adoree’ Jackson, and Xavier McKinney. Those three were sorely missed and change the entire defense by their mere presence. Newcomers Landon Collins and Jarrad Davis weren’t yet in the picture. However, Azeez Ojulari, who may have played his best game of the season against the Eagles on December 11th, is nursing a quad injury. Fabian Moreau is also not 100 percent.
Let’s address the scary parts first. Eagles are #3 in offense in both yards and points. They are dominantly balanced on offense with top-10 rankings both running (5th) and passing (9th) the football. You constantly hear coaches around the league preach about balance; the Eagles are as balanced a team as there is. In addition, the Eagles are 4th in red-zone efficiency and 2nd in big plays (20+ yards). Before he got hurt, Jalen Hurts was playing at an MVP level at quarterback. He has two dynamic, game-breaking wideouts in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. And just to add to the fun, Dallas Goedert is one of those tight ends who gives the Giants problems. Hurts has thrown 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions (101.6 QBR). But he can kill you with his feet too, 760 rushing yards and an incredible 13 rushing touchdowns for a quarterback. Throw in running backs Miles Sanders (1,269 yards, 11 touchdowns) and you have yourself a two-headed monster on the ground. Back-up Boston Scott has 10 career touchdowns against the Giants.
Loaded at the skill positions. But worse, loaded on the offensive line. And they get their stud right tackle, Lane Johnson, back. The man doesn’t give up sacks. But more than him, the Eagles have one of the best and deepest offensive lines in the game. They are the engine that allows for top-10 rushing and passing. The Giants are going to need the best from Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, and Jihad Ward up front. They have to play well, and play a lot of snaps. Guys like Ojulari are going to have to tough it out. Many eyes will be on the battle between Lawrence and Jason Kelce, who is an outstanding center.
Having Adoree’ Jackson and Xavier McKinney back is big and should help with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. If Moreau isn’t near 100 percent, we may see more of Cor’Dale Flott. He could possibly be a bigger asset in coverage against Smith. However, the thin-framed Flott is also likely to get abused in run defense. As much as damage as the Eagles can do throwing the football, their ground game is what makes that offense hum.
The potential fly in the ointment for the Eagles is Hurts. He’s no longer on the Philadelphia injury report and he may be close to 100 percent. But he will have to prove that both mentally and physically. If Hurts is as dominant running the ball as he was pre-injury, the Eagles are very difficult to defend. But if his shoulder prevents him and play-callers from being as aggressive, that will impact the offense. The pass rush can bother Hurts too, although he is extremely elusive and difficult to tackle. In a nutshell, the pressure is on Hurts to perform. The city expects him to lead this team to glory. They are not a very forgiving fan base.
As has been widely discussed, Martindale went against his tendencies in Minnesota and did not attack as much. I don’t think he can do that in Philadelphia. He’s got to take chances and live with the outcome. The key will be to mix things up to confuse Hurts and the Eagles as much as possible. After the last game these two teams played on January 8th, Hurts said, “(Martindale) does a great job. No doubt in my mind we will learn from that and if we see them again.” Wink has to anticipate what the Eagles will do to counter what he did on January 8th. Move and counter-move. Punch and counter-punch. I would not be surprised to see Adoree’ follow Brown. If he can keep him somewhat under control (a big if), then the questions are who can limit Smith and Goedert? And defending the all-important ground attack. Easier said than done.
Attack, attack, attack. Be aggressive. Gang tackle. Knock the ball loose. Intercept the pass. Win the turnover battle.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
If there was ever a time for the Giants special teams to make a statement, here it is. The Giants simply cannot afford to lose the special teams battle. Every player on the roster, including the guys who just play special teams, can make or break this game. Be smart, stick to your assignments, but make a play. A block, tackle, downed punt, return, or kick can make all of the difference in the world.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale on Jalen Hurts: “Everybody’s saying he’s having an MVP season, and I agree because he can beat you with his legs. He can beat you with just being a drop-back quarterback. He can beat you with a sore shoulder. He can beat you a lot of different ways, and that’s a great challenge because there’s just a few quarterbacks that can do it that way. And you can have him dead to rights back there in the pocket, and he’s a magician. He’ll get out of it… It’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”
THE FINAL WORD:
On paper, the Eagles should win this game. They are the better team. They are at home. They are healthy and well-rested. The last team they played was the Giants so they didn’t even have to study up too much for this contest. They view playing the Giants as Giants fans used to view playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980s, an automatic win. The last time the Giants won in Philadelphia was 2013, nearly a decade ago. If these two teams, as they are presently constituted, play each other 10 times in a row, the Giants may win one of those games.
However, I can’t get over the notion that this may be that one game in ten. There is such a thing as over-confidence. There is such a thing as rustiness. There is such a thing as momentum. There is such a thing as karma. It doesn’t make sense, but I give the Giants a shot on Saturday night. They won’t be perfect. They don’t have to be. As I said before the Giants played the Patriots before Super Bowl XLII, the Giants simply need to play their game. Or as this coaching staff preaches, be smart, tough, dependable. The longer this game stays close, the more the pressure will mount on Philly’s coaches and players. What does Wink say? Pressure breaks pipes.
Be careful for what you wish for, Eagles fans.