Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 7, 2001: Throw out the two previous blowouts by the Giants against the Eagles. When quality division opponents meet, the outcome is usually close and final victory is quite often decided by a key play or two. These two teams know each other very well. While there may be a new wrinkle here or there from both coaching staffs, the team that will win will be the one that executes better, makes fewer mistakes, and makes more big plays.

A big key for the Giants will be not to play too uptight. Relax fellas – you know these guys so just go out there and play your game.

Giants on Offense: The Eagles feel that if they can control HB Tiki Barber, they can control the Giants’ offense. “We got to stop Tiki,” says MLB Jeremiah Trotter. “That’s one of our main goals going into the game, to stop Tiki. I wouldn’t say we overlooked him the last two games, but we may not have paid enough attention to him.” Where Tiki has hurt the Eagles in the past has been with his cutback runs as well as a pass receiver out of the backfield. Philadelphia will surely attempt to tighten up on defense and not allow him a cutback lane. They also may double-team Tiki when he goes out for the pass. The Eagles are also well aware of Barber’s injury situation (foot sprain/forearm fracture) – so they will also look to punish him. The big question is whether or not Tiki can still be decisively effective given all this additional attention? Or should the Giants’ coaches try to trick the Eagles by using Barber as a decoy? We’ll probably see some of the latter, but I imagine Head Coach Jim Fassel and Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton will ride the horse that brought them to the dance in the first place.

But Barber won’t be able to carry the ball 30 times. He and his team need HB Ron Dayne (or possibly HB Joe Montgomery) to not only share the load, but be productive in doing so. Dayne has slumped recently, but he was a big factor in the Giants’ last win over the Eagles at Giants Stadium. The Eagles are quick up front, but they are not particularly big and an effective inside running game would do wonders for the entire offense. Ron doesn’t have to break big runs – but the Giants need him to pick up 3-5 yards per clip. Another key performer could be FB Greg Comella. Every now and then, the Giants pick a game for Greg to have a major role in as a receiver out of the backfield. Could this be one of those games? It might be if too much attention is paid to Barber by Philly.

A real key to watch for? Blitz pick-ups by the backs and tight ends will be HUGE.

As in any game, so much will ultimately depend on the battle in the trenches. The two key guys on the spot will be LT Lomas Brown (who will be facing off against Pro Bowl DE Hugh Douglas) and RG Ron Stone (who will match-up against impressive rookie DT Corey Simon). A large part of the Giants’ success against the Eagles this year has been the play of these two players against Douglas and Simon. Let’s hope that continues. If Stone can handle Simon in the ground game, then OC Dusty Zeigler will be free to engage others – particularly the linebackers. Zeigler and his compatriots up front must do a better job against the inside blitz than they did two weeks ago against Jacksonville. Don’t think that the Eagles didn’t pick up on that. The Giants also need LG Glenn Parker and RT Luke Petitgout to hold their own against DT Hollis Thomas and DE Brandon Whiting, respectively. In pass rush situations, Mike Mamula comes in for Whiting. A guy who New York must do a better job on is MLB Jeremiah Trotter – one of the best linebackers in the league (he has an incredible 171 tackles on the year). He needs to be engaged more effectively by one of the offensive linemen or Comella at fullback. TE Howard Cross must play well as a blocker too. On right side running plays, he may be called upon to take on Whiting, while a lineman or Comella engages SLB Carlos Emmons (116 tackles).

The Eagles’ defense is an aggressive unit. In the past, the Giants have been able to take advantage of that aggressiveness with draws, shovel passes, screens, reverses, etc. Will the Eagles play a more disciplined game this time? Will New York go to the well once too often? Fassel and Payton must do a good job of getting a feel for the flow of the game and when to take some shots with misdirection.

A huge factor in the Giants’ two previous victories against the Eagles has been the G-Men’s ability to convert on third down. “The thing is, I honestly feel we played all right both games on first and second downs,” DT Corey Simon says. “And then we would get them into a third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-12, we thought we had them pinned and then, boom, they run a draw or something and move the chains. It wears on you after awhile.” The key figures in these situations are QB Kerry Collins, the wide receivers, and Barber. It is absolutely essential that Kerry play a composed, efficient game for the Giants to win. He doesn’t have to put on an All-Star performance. But it will be necessary for him to keep mistakes to a minimum, not get rattled, and keep some drives alive with his right arm. Kerry has shown a tendency to come out too hyper and throw high. Hopefully, he will calm down quickly. I’d try to get him into a rhythm early by throwing short passes on first and second down. Collins loves the slant to the receivers and some quick throws to Comella out of the backfield might be smart. Pete Mitchell is always an option if he is in the game too. But the Eagles will be coming with the blitz, so throw quickly (3-step drops – this is what Collins is best at anyway). Kerry must stay composed. The Eagles believe they can make him jumpy. “We haven’t gotten to Collins at all,” MLB Jeremiah Trotter says. “It starts there. We believe there isn’t a quarterback in the league that we can’t get to, and so we have to get after him. We have to pressure him. If we do, he’ll start thinking. He won’t have much confidence back there. They protect him well, but we have to get beyond that.”

Collins needs help too. The Eagles have a very strong secondary. CB Troy Vincent is a Pro Bowler and CB Bobby Taylor is a Pro Bowl alternate. FS Brian Hawkins is a big time hitter in the Shaun William-mold. Nickel back Al Harris is a solid player as well. “They like to use a lot of zone blitz and keep their cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage,” says Ike Hilliard, who will be matched up on Vincent much of the time. “They do present a lot of matchup problems for teams because of the size and speed they have in the secondary.” If the Eagles do come out an play an aggressive game, I’d put Ike in motion quite a bit in order to make it harder for Philly to jam him at the line of scrimmage (Hilliard is normally better against zone coverage than man). Amani Toomer is one of the guys on the spot – he and Collins need to connect on a few big plays. Taylor will attempt to play an aggressive game against Toomer and take him out of his game. It is questionable whether WR Joe Jurevicius (knee) will play and/or be effective. If he can’t go, Ron Dixon needs to make his presence known in a positive fashion. It’s been a long time since he got deep for a touchdown in week three.

Giants on Defense: Obviously, the focus is to limit the amount of damage QB Donovan McNabb can do with his arm and legs. But to make the Eagles completely one-dimensional, the defense must ensure that running game does not get untracked. I don’t think the Eagles will come out running; I suspect they will use the short-passing game that is their bread and butter. After all, they do run a West Coast Offense. But the Eagles will sneak a run in here and there – especially if they get a lead. Picking up HB Chris Warren off of waivers from Dallas was a major coup. He is a productive vet who ran for 85 yards last week against Tampa Bay. He also is a big factor in the passing game as a receiver. In fact, all of the Eagle backs are. Strong safety and linebacker coverage on Warren, HB/3rd down back Brian Mitchell, and FB Cecil Martin is a crucial aspect of the game. SLB Ryan Phillips, WLB Jessie Armstead, and MLB Mike Barrow will be on the spot in particular. The Eagles like to dink and dunk the opposition to death until the defensive backs start creeping up – then they take their shots deep.

Perhaps the biggest match-up on this side of the ball will be Pro Bowl TE Chad Lewis versus the Giants’ undercoverage. I would guess that SS Sam Garnes will be called upon to cover him much of the time. But anyone of the other linebackers could as well. It all depends on what kind of coverage schemes the Giants employ. After all, the linebackers also have to keep an eye on the backs out of the backfield and the potential for a McNabb scramble. Lewis is McNabb’s favorite target with 69 regular season receptions. The Eagles also like to throw to TE Jeff Thomason down on the goal line (5 regular season touchdowns).

The Giants also need to be wary of trick plays. Their coach has no problem calling them. Brian Mitchell can throw the ball and the Giants need to watch out for that as well as flea flickers.

With so much focus being on the backs and tight ends in the passing game as well as keeping McNabb in the pocket, it is absolutely essential that the Giants’ defensive backs, particularly the corners play well. WR Charles Johnson (ankle) is questionable, but he probably will play. He is the Eagles’ best receiver and Jason Sehorn will most likely be called upon to cover him most of the day. Dave Thomas must come up big against Torrance Small. Rookie WR Todd Pinkston could see more playing time if Johnson is limited. He is a tall, thin guy with fast wheels. CB Emmanuel McDaniel could be key player. So will FS Shaun Williams who may be called upon in a variety of roles: provide deep help to the corners, provide short help against the backs and tight ends, a blitzer, and a possible spy on McNabb.

That is a big question – whether to spy on McNabb or not? My guess is that there will be times when the Giants do so, but on many plays, they will rely on the defensive guys to play disciplined football. The more you spy, the more you are taking a man out of coverage or the pass rush. If the Giants do spy, Armstead or Barrow are the obvious choices. “You look at it (that) he’s the type of guy you should spy, but he’ll kill you if you spy the whole game, because now he’s got all day to throw the ball,” Barrow says. “It’s a chance, like dialing up a blitz, you got to disguise what you’re doing and calculate your strategy. If you’re too aggressive on it, thinking ‘I got to get to him,’ now you’re out of control. If you go slower he throws the ball away. It’s a tough job to do. With him he can pump fake, you’re jumping up, he’s running by you. You really got to make the right guess.”

Keeping McNabb in the pocket and under control depends on the down four maintaining disciplined rush lanes. This hurts the pass rush, but it is essential when playing against the Eagles. Don’t look for the Giants to pick up many sacks. But when the defenders are in position to do so, they must bring themselves under control and make strong, sure tackles on McNabb. Focus on his mid-section and wrap up. McNabb is strong and elusive and can make a big play if a defender whiffs on him. Not flying around out of control is a big key – especially the blitzing defensive backs and linebackers.

But the defensive line can’t allow McNabb all day to throw or he will kill the Giants with his arm. That’s why I think we’ll see more blitzing this time. But the less the Giants have to blitz, the better. The two huge match-ups up front are DE Michael Strahan versus RT Jon Runyan and DT Keith Hamilton versus LG John Welbourn. Runyan is one of the best tackles in the league and a tough guy. He and Strahan don’t like each other. Welbourn handled All-Pro Warren Sapp pretty damn well last week. He is bound to receive some double-team support from OC Bubba Miller too. The Giants need Hamilton and Strahan to play inspired, physical football. The Giants also need big games out of Armstead and Barrow. DE Cedric Jones faces the imposing LT Tra Thomas – a huge player with quick feet. DT Christian Peter will split time with DT Cornelius Griffin against RG Jermane Mayberry. Griffin will also spell Jones some at end. Griffin has the ability to make a key play or two.

Giants on Special Teams: Two huge keys. HUGE. First is to control Brian Mitchell on kick and punt returns. The second is to watch out for trick plays: an onsides kick, a fake field goal or punt, or some kind of misdirection on a return. This is a big game for the Eagles and as an underdog they will pull out all of the stops. As for controlling Mitchell, the Giants need Brad Daluiso and Brad Maynard to help the coverage teams with good kicks. Then it is up to the coverage guys to maintain their lanes and bring Mitchell down with sure tackles. The field position battle will be a major factor in this game and special teams play will have a decisive role in that.

I doubt Ron Dixon or Tiki Barber will be much of a factor in the return game – they haven’t been all year.


by David Oliver

It doesn’t get any better than this. For those among you who wanted the Rams – breathe deeply cuz the G-Men, and everyone else dodged a big one thanks to the Big Easy. Now, if they just do the Vikes, it could get real interesting. And anyone who thinks that cold weather doesn’t affect football play, go back and look at the tape of the Eagle-Buc debacle. Warren Sapp was part right when he said no one likes to play in a cold – if you were raised in an igloo, you don’t like playing in the cold. Sapp obviously doesn’t like playing in the cold because he was nowhere to be found. But the Eagles don’t mind it – after all, Philly has always been the poor mirror image of the Apple down the Pike. So Philly thinks Delaware River cold is like Meadowlands cold – fat chance! Those of you who have done the Meadowlands in January know of the cold, the wind swirling through the parking lot, blowing wrappers, papers, cans and seagulls every which way, creeping into the Stadium, up the Hirschorn funnels of the ramps, through the corridors and into the bathrooms in search of human bodies to torture. You won’t see anyone taking off a shirt and baring a chest in the Meadowlands – the crazy escape artist who went into his block of ice downtown had a better chance of survival.

The Giants aren’t in love with it; but it is theirs; it is their cold, their wind, their tundra, their turf. And if the fans show up in force, the darkness will descend on the Eagles and mercifully put them out of their misery before their wives and mothers have taken down the Christmas tree. Coach Reid said it in a wonderful way, this is another game which will be decided by who wants to win more than they want to stay warm. I used to run a lot in winter. I did the Baltimore Marathon three times, even lining up once for the only major Marathon ever snowed out. I’ve run in Beltsville in February and Charlotte in January. Cold does things to the mind. Three hours doesn’t sound like much, but when your bones hurt and your lips are chapped into cracking and your nose won’t stop running, and that’s in the first 10 minutes, the mind becomes the only human element left to combat the weariness, the despair.

So here are 2 big keys to victory: preparation and support. The team which is the most mentally prepared will finish ahead. The team which has the support platform, the fans, will forget the cold and the hurt, will put aside the mistakes and will take the victory. They are the intangibles and the intangibles favor the Giants in this battle.

Go in expecting something real close: 10 to 3 or 13 to 3, or 16 to 13. But don’t be surprised to see something like 20 – 0. Why? Because this is a defensive game. Forget who rushes the ball or throws the ball – on the field the outcome will be decided by who controls the blitz. The Eagles will blitz ceaselessly. The Giants will play contain, as in the past two games, to stop McNabb, but it will be Michael Barrow who hold s the key to victory. Let’s look at the units.

DEFENSE: The Eagles look awesome across the front seven with Douglas, Trotter and Emmons providing the push and Caldwell patrolling the short zone. You can’t discount Corey Simon or Mike Mamula, but they shine when the other guys are going crazy. This is a tough bunch, but control Douglas and they stay just tough.

The Giants answer with Hamilton and Peter clogging the middle. If they are on their game no one from the Eagles will expose the line. Strahan and Runyon are going to cancel each other out except that Strahan only needs to shake him off on the McNabb scramble. CJ will not rush unless the Eagles roll out the red carpet for him. That will force McNabb to the middle. Jessie and Phillips will patrol the short zone which leaves Barrow to become the beast. He must contain McNabb in the middle and at the same time be prepared for at least 10 dogs during the course of the game to force McNabb to alter his pattern. The safeties will help Barrow. Which leaves a lot up to the corners and the nickel. Keep this in mind – the Giants goal is not to allow a completion over 30 yards and McNabb seldom throws over 30 yards. He throws best on the move, Thomas covers worst on the move, which again leads to Barrow’s importance. The Eagles like to move the ball in short chunks, the Giants don’t mind giving up short chunks. If there are alterations to be made to the game planning of the first two games, it is John Fox who must make the alterations. In the cold, the Giants D cannot allow rhythm or momentum. In addition to Barrow coming up the middle look for Shaun Williams to come early. Chad Lewis could be a factor here as Charles Johnson will last until the first time Shaun Williams pops him and takes away his desire. Chad Lewis belongs to Jessie. The only other threat the Eagles have is Brian “motor mouth” Mitchell. He should have angered the Giants enough by now that he will become the poster boy for the Cold Pop.

ADVANTAGE: the Giants are playing inspired defense right now, John Fox wants to be a Head Coach, the Meadowlands favor the D. Keys to success: Barrow and Shaun Williams hitting McNabb, Dave Thomas keeping the flame on the Spicy Chicken.

OFFENSE: For the Eagles, the offense is two – McNabb and Mitchell. Stop McNabb and the Eagles have no offense except Mitchell running back kicks. Allow McNabb to run right and left and you start looking like Warren Sapp as a Snowman. Their running game is Warren, who ought to be good for two or three fumbles when the helmets start hitting him. With a limited Charles Johnson, their wideouts should not even make Dave Thomas look bad.

The Giants have more options on offense, although Tiki has been an Eagle killer. If he is limited look for Greg Comella, yes, Comella to pick up the flare outlet pass. There is no way the Giants offensive line will shut down the blitz of the Eagles, so it must be controlled. This is where McNally’s theory really must come into its own. The O-Line will chip and direct the rushers and Comella must pick up the blitz in the middle – this is the most danger. Lomas will get beaten once or twice, but he can taste that ring so look for him to win the battle most of the day. Parker has been here. He knows tough and he knows weather – he will rally the troops. Stone is the Big Dog and he’s not going to get beaten.

KC has got to be prepared to take a few hits because he will be hit. Everyone is talking about the running game and Dayne. Right now, Dayne is not quick enough to beat the Eagles to the point, but if the Giants take control of the game, look for Dayne to pound them senseless. Just as the Giants, the Eagles corners face a difficult job, but for a different reason. KC doesn’t scramble but Toomer and Hilliard are better than anything the Eagles have, and they are as good as anything the Eagles have had to defend this year I don’t look for Ike to be a factor early because the Eagle blitz will not give KC time to search the middle. But Amani should go deep, often and early and it will pay big dividends Tiki will be more serviceable than the Eagles think because he is tougher than the Eagles believe. The X factor on offense for the Giants is Comella and Pete Mitchell.

Thus, on offense it comes down to which QB has the better day, McNabb the Scrambler or Kerry the Dentist. If either gets hot, they will dictate defensive deployments and you can get out the blow dryer.

SPECIALS: The return game favors the Eagles because of Brian Mitchell. But he hasn’t faced Shaun Williams. The most critical element in the Giants’ recent success on specials has been Shaun. The other new addition Damon Washington. He is getting up field fast enough to force the flow. Jack Golden is improving by watching Shaun and he will contribute. BUT the Giants must stop Brian Mitchell. Punting, flat out favors the Eagles. Landeta has not forgotten the Meadowlands. Maynard is handicapped by the Giants fascination with the kick within the 20 – he shanks one or two a game and in a playoff game that could cost big time.

Kickoffs should be a wash. Neither kicker will reach the end zone unless there is a gale on the field. Only Daluiso should be activated as Holmes has not established that he is a better kicker. But Daluiso is critical for field goals. Field position, the Giants game will win this one. Look for two or three Daluiso field goals, at least one longer than 40. Look for Ryan Hale to block an Akers attempt – the Eagles will be forced to kick long and Akers can be had.

FINAL COMMENTS: Like the Thrilla, this one will be body blows and gizzard. The team that wants it more will win. The Eagles have gone further than any team on defense and one offensive threat. The Giants are more balanced, but not overwhelming on offense.

KEYS: McNabb for both teams. Contain him and the Giants win. Let him find rhythm and it gets tight and ugly.

KC – can he take the early hits, and like a prize fighter, come back and connect with Amani and Ike?

Douglas – does he get in KC’s face? Break the blitz and the Eagles get frustrated.

Barrow – Now is Barrow time. The middle is his, both on contain and with the blitz.

One man on each side of the ball – Advantage Giants.

Next week, New Orleans.