Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 17, 2006: I don’t see this game as a “must-win” but it is pretty damn close. Everyone lost in the NFC East last weekend except the Eagles and the Giants obviously don’t want to fall two games behind the Eagles just two games into the season. Yes, the Giants will be a fired up bunch to redeem themselves from last weekend’s disappointing game. But this is a huge statement game for the Eagles as well. After all, Philadelphia went 0-6 in the division last year and will want to prove that they – and not the Giants – are the rightful division champions. This is going to be a tight game and a slugfest.

And keep in mind this one startling fact – the Giants have not beaten the Eagles with Donovan McNabb at quarterback since the playoff game back in the 2000 season.

Giants on Offense: The Eagles bring it. They blitz all the time and from a variety of positions and angles. The purpose is to confuse and rattle the opponent and Philadelphia is very good at doing both. For the Giants to win this game, this must smart, play tough, and most importantly, play with poise. If I’m defensive coordinator Jim Johnson of the Eagles, my entire gameplan is to stuff the run and dare Eli Manning to beat me – and that’s exactly what I expect the Eagles to do on Sunday. Look for the Eagles to stack the line of scrimmage and come with quite a few run blitzes.

For the Giants’ offensive line, this will be a far different opponent. The Colts don’t blitz a lot so there was never a lot of potential confusion. That will change on Sunday. It is not only a question of not getting physically beat, but also letting someone come free because of a mental mistake. At times, it will happen regardless. The Eagles will overload one side and they will bring defensive backs. Not only the offensive line, but the backs and tight ends must play exceptionally well in pass protection. And Manning has to recognize where the blitz is coming from and hit the weakness that the blitz leaves in the secondary.

The big match-ups up front include RT Kareem McKenzie versus LDE Jevon Kearse and LT Luke Petitgout against RDE Darren Howard. Both can get after the passer. Inside, the Eagles are slightly undersized with LDT Matt Peterson facing RG Rich Seubert or RG Chris Snee (ankle) and RDT Darwin Walker facing LG David Diehl. Ironically, Seubert will likely get the start against the team that almost ended his career. Like against the Colts, the Giants should try to pound the football between the tackles. The Eagles are too fast on defense to do a lot of outside running. Getting a hat on MLB Jeremiah Trotter will be key. I’m not a big fan of the Eagles’ outside linebackers – Dhani Jones and Matt McCoy – and I’d run right at them.

If the Eagles sell out against the run, Eli will be under the gun. He has to step it up and deliver. This game is far too important. He has to maintain his poise and not throw up and stupid interceptions like that one against the Colts late in the game. RCB Lito Sheppard will miss this game due to injury. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles keep Sheldon Brown at left corner or move him over to cover Plaxico Burress. Reserve CB Roderick Hood is a decent player – some think he is better than Sheppard. But the Eagles new nickel back, Joselio Hanson, is a weak spot. If I’m New York, this is the game where I really want Sinorice Moss to play so I can match him up on Hanson. Tim Carter is an option as well, but he came up small last week against the Colts once again.

The one guy I wish Manning would use even more than he does in the passing game is Barber. Barber almost seems like an automatic 10 yards when you throw the ball to him. If the Eagles come with a lot of pressure, look for quick dump-offs and screens to Barber, plus the occasional draw play. The Eagles usually focus pretty heavily on Barber. If he is receiving special attention, then someone like the gimpy Jeremy Shockey (ankle) needs to make an impact. And Eli and the coaching staff need to do a much better job of getting Shockey involved early in the game. When Shockey and Burress don’t see the ball early, it has an impact on their overall game. That said, I would not ignore Visanthe Shiancoe either – because the Colts did last week and the Giants didn’t take advantage of it.

Giants on Defense: To me, for the last few years, it hasn’t been any wide receiver on the Eagles who makes their offense go, but HB Brian Westbrook. He is their Tiki Barber. Stop him and you have a great chance of shutting down the Eagle offense. Don’t and you are in deep trouble.

The problem with defending Westbrook is mainly a problem of defending him in space as a receiver. And not just on screen passes and dump-offs, but as a receiver sent down the field both out of the backfield and at the line of scrimmage. Most linebackers can’t match up with him in space and I doubt LaVar Arrington and Carlos Emmons can do so either. Even Antonio Pierce will likely have problems staying with him. If I’m the Giants, I strong consider playing nickel defense much of the game and mirroring Westbrook with a defensive back – someone like R.W. McQuarters.

The other guy who keeps the chains moving is TE L.J. Smith. He’s a far better receiver than blocker and can also cause match-up problems. This is where Arrington and Emmons need to step it up. So do the safeties – who were all but invisible last weekend. The focal point of my defense would be the undercoverage on Westbrook and Smith.

The Giants have a lot of money and draft picks invested in their defensive line. It is time for this group to really take over a game. DE Michael Strahan will battle his old arch-rival RT Jon Runyan. Osi Umenyiora has to play better than he did last week. He faces William “Tra” Thomas. If the Eagles run the ball, they will likely test the weakside run defense of Umenyiora, Emmons, and CB Sam Madison with outside runs by Westbrook. They also may try to pound the ball some between the tackles with HB Correll Buckhalter. Inside, NT Barry Cofield will really be challenged by behemoth RG Shawn Andrews. The left guard, Todd Herremans, is an ordinary player. The Giants could use another strong game out of Fred Robbins here.

Antonio Pierce is talking a lot of smack. I hope he plays far better this week than he did last week. The Giants need a very good game out of him both against the run and the pass. The same with safeties Will Demps and Gibril Wilson. The linebackers must keep an eye on the fullback coming out of the backfield too (Thomas Tapeh).

Dante Stallworth was traded to Philadephia and had a big game for the Eagles last weekend. He will likely be matched up against Sam Madison for most of the game. Corey Webster will face Reggie Brown. The third receiver is Greg Lewis. Both Brown and Lewis have been somewhat disappointing for the Eagles. Stallworth is the true deep threat.

Where the Giants obviously need to improve is their third-down defense. Their zone defense against the Colts was terrible, allowing too many easy completions right at the sticks or beyond. Donovan McNabb was sharp in the preseason and in the season opener against the Texans last week. But if they can take away Westbrook and get after him with the pass rush, I think the Giants will be in good shape.

Giants on Special Teams: I hope to God that the Giants are not reverting back to their special teams problems. Last weekend was a disaster. PK Jay Feely needs to kickoff far better both in terms of height and distance. And the Giants can ill-afford anymore misses from him, especially from 40 yards on in. And the Giants need to cover kickoffs better. Another sore spot last game was the blocking for Chad Morton on kickoff returns.

David Tyree was invisible against the Colts. He should hand back his game check. Remember, he did block a punt against the Eagles in 2005.