New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 19, 2015
I’ve talked about it before. If you want to look at the reasons why the Giants missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons, look no farther than the division losses. From 2012-2014, the Giants were 1-5 against the Cowboys and 2-4 against the Eagles. You want to win the NFC East? You have to be able to beat these two teams in addition to the Washington Redskins.
Now within the span of a six days, a once-again banged-up, injury-depleted New York squad will play arguably their two most-important back-to-back games of the season. The Giants were in the same position in 2014. With an overall record of 3-2 with back-to-back games against the Eagles and Cowboys, the Giants fell 27-0 and 31-21 in those two games and didn’t win another contest until December.
Want to continue to remain relevant? Beat the Eagles. Be the more physical football team on offense, defense, and special teams. Win the turnover battle. Make plays against a very beatable opponent.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Odell Beckham (hamstring – questionable)
- WR Rueben Randle (hamstring – probable)
- WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
- LG Justin Pugh (ankle – probable)
- OT Will Beatty (pectoral – out)
- DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – questionable)
- DE George Selvie (calf – probable)
- LB Jon Beason (concussion – questionable)
- LB Devon Kennard (hamstring – out)
- LB Jonathan Casillas (calf – questionable)
- CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)
- CB Trumaine McBride (groin/illness – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Eagles are 23rd in the NFL on defense (26th against the pass, 10th against the run). Statistically, the Eagles are tied with the Giants in run defense in terms of yards-per-carry average (3.5). On the flip side, the Giants are 9th in the NFL on offense (7th passing, 26th running). And the Giants are 28th in yards-per-carry (3.8). Provided Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle play and can play effectively, the way the Giants should attack the Eagles is pretty obvious.
And there is another reason why the Giants should pass, pass, pass. New York will probably have to score a lot of points given the injury situation on defense combined with Giants’ inability to rush the passer. The Eagles’ passing offense may be struggling, but there could be some serious match-up problems for the Giants on that side of the ball. The Giants probably are going to have to score somewhere around 30 points to win. That means touchdowns rather than settling for field goals.
The Eagles can rush the passer. Though technically a 3-4 defense, the Eagles will mix up their fronts and use a variety of pass-rush packages. The best of the bunch is left defensive end Fletcher Cox, who is coming off of a 3-sack, defensive-player-of-the-week performance. Combine him with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who gave the Giants fits in Philadelphia last year, those two are going to be an issue for Marshall Newhouse and Geoff Schwartz. Nose tackle Bennie Logan and right defensive end Cedric Thorton can be tough against the run. The other outside linebacker, Brandon Graham (a guy who the Giants made a play for in free agency), can also get after the quarterback as can reserve defensive end Vinny Curry. The Eagles will be missing inside linebackers Kiko Alonso (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring). But veteran DeMeco Ryans still mans the middle. Given that the outside linebackers are basically ex-defensive ends, it’s a big, physical group up front.
The Eagles have had issues in the secondary. High-priced free agent acquisition cornerback Byron Maxwell has disappointed. The other corner, Nolan Carroll, is an ex-Dolphin who played mainly in a situational role in 2014 for the Eagles. Ex-Giant corner Walter Thurmond was moved to safety by the Eagles and now teams with Malcom Jenkins, who is solid. In a nutshell, the corners are bigger but not great in coverage, and the safeties are somewhat smaller ‘tweeners. Thurmond leads the team with three interceptions in just five games.
You have to figure the Eagles defensive coordinator expects a pass-first game plan, keeps the safeties back, and trusts his front seven to stop any remote threat of a running game. Still, given the fact that the Giants will need to score quite a few points, the Giants will have to accept this challenge and play into this game plan by passing the football. The Eagles will be very wary of Shane Vereen in the passing game, but I’m not sure they have the ability to adequately match-up with him. Those outside linebackers really are ex-ends who can struggle in coverage. The Giants might want to throw the Eagles for a loop too by playing both Vereen and Rashad Jennings – who can also catch the ball – in the backfield at the same time. This could confuse the linebackers and safeties. I wouldn’t use a lot of Andre Williams in this game.
The right-side of the offensive line will have issues with Cox and Barwin, and Flowers could have issues with the likes of Graham and Curry. The Giants should employ the same style of offense – quick, short passing attack. The Eagles have already pretty much said they will play aggressive bump-and-run coverage to disrupt the timing between Eli Manning and his receivers. This is where passes to the backs and tight ends can help. I would also put Beckham in motion quite a bit and play him out of the slot to help prevent the Eagles from getting a hand on him.
Manning needs to take what the defense gives him and not force the issue. Be aggressive, but don’t be stupid with the football.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Chip Kelly loves to run the football, but the Eagles are not doing it as well this year. They’ve fallen from 9th in the NFL in rushing in 2014 to 22nd. They run it better than the Giants, but not by much. Obviously, with the Giants 2nd in the NFL in run defense, one would expect most of the Eagles success to be in the passing game. That said, the Giants cannot afford to fall asleep in defending the run. They must be the more physical team up front against an offensive line that has had issues at the guard position. Like the Giants, the Eagles employ a three-headed rotation at running back with ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray, ex-Charger Ryan Matthews, and ex-Saint Darren Sproles. Murray has struggled in Philadelphia, but the Giants are well aware of the damage he can do. Matthews has almost as many carries, is playing better, and is averaging 5 yards per carry. However, he has a groin issue and is questionable for the game. The Eagles will run the ball with Sproles too and he’s a threat to score every time he touches the football. The Giants need their defensive tackles to dominate inside and for the outside defenders – ends and backers – to continue to stalemate offensive tackles and tight ends.
Linebacker Devon Kennard will be missed for his ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer. The worry here is the match-up problems when Mark Herzlich is on the field. Look for Kelly to exploit that with passes to the backs (42 pass receptions by Eagles backs already this year) and tight ends (only 20 receptions but capable of much more). Sproles is basically Philly’s Vereen and I’m not sure the Giants have anyone who can cover him. I would be tempted to keep Jonathan Casillas in the game more over Herzlich, but also keep in mind that Casillas has been hampered by a troubling calf injury. Steve Spagnuolo may decide to go with a three-safety package of Landon Collins, Brandon Meriweather, and Craig Dahl. The Giants also need solid coverage from J.T. Thomas, Jon Beason, and Uani ‘Unga. Eagles tight ends have killed the Giants over the years and both Brent Celek and Zach Ertz can do a lot of damage.
To date, Spagnuolo’s strategy has been basically to load up against the run and not get beat deep in the passing game. He’s been willing to give up the short completions and force the other team to drive the field without making mistakes. At times, it has worked very well. At other times, it has failed miserably. A big problem is the Giants still can’t rush the passer. Hopefully, youngsters Kerry Wynn and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will improve in that department while the return of some veterans such as Robert Ayers (hamstring) and George Selvie (calf) will help – or at the very least keep guys fresher. This might be a good opponent to give Damontre Moore more snaps. If he does, let’s hope he keeps the mental mistakes to a minimum. The good news is that quarterback Sam Bradford is fairly immobile so the Giants can take greater chances with blitzes. Left tackle Jason Peters is still a very good player for the Eagles however.
I expect Chip Kelly and Bradford to attempt to dink-and-dunk their way down the field, in a very fast, no-huddle fashion, with passes to the backs and tight ends. The Eagles have probably noticed the problems the Giants have had covering WR screens. They will likely take an occasional deep shot in the direction of Jayron Hosley and Trevin Wade with Prince Amukamara and possibly Trumaine McBride out. The Eagles’ receivers are a bigger group. Jordan Matthews is probably the most reliable. Rookie Nelson Agholor is the most explosive but he is out with an ankle injury. Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Miles Austin, and Seyi Ajirotutu round out the receiving corps.
So does Spagnuolo keep with the same strategy and hope that quarterback Sam Bradford makes a mistake somewhere on each drive? My guess is yes. Short at cornerback, the Giants don’t want to give up cheap touchdowns like the Redskins did against the Eagles. Spagnuolo also doesn’t want that Eagles’ ground game to get untracked. So I would expect a frustrating evening with short passing game unless the Giants pass rush miraculously appears, the linebackers and safeties have a monster game in coverage, or Bradford really struggles.
Can the Giants hold the Eagles to under 20 points? 24 points? Turnovers could be decisive. And keep in mind that no lead is safe given the Giants’ fourth-quarter defensive woes plus Bradford has been completing over 70 percent of his passes in the second half of football games this year.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Eagles special teams practically carried the team in 2014. And in last year’s regular-season finale, a blocked punt by the Eagles against the Giants was critical in their victory. They are very good at blocking kicks. Darren Sproles is an exceptionally dangerous punt returner who already has returned one punt for a touchdown this year. Josh Huff has averaged 30 yards per kick return the past two seasons.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo on the Eagles’ Defense: “They’re very good upfront, they have a lot of different guys who can cover in man-to-man, and they’re creative schematically. Good defense. Underrated defense.”
THE FINAL WORD:
The advantage the Giants have is Eli Manning. The advantage the Eagles have is their ability to rush the passer. Much depends on how many of the injured Giants play and how effectively they can play. But I really think this game will come down to which team plays the most physically and turnovers. This game may be the Eagles season. They lose and they will be 0-3 in the NFC East. But it’s almost as big for the Giants, who are currently 1-1 in the division and facing an almost must-win game the following weekend against the Cowboys. Regardless, the Giants need to prepare for the best the Eagles have to offer.
“It’s a one-week season,” said Eagles’ nose tackle Bernie Logan. “We just have to go out here and dominate this game.”
“We’re going to show up and see who can punch harder,” said Eagles’ safety Malcom Jenkins.