Phillies ace Roy Halladay said it would only get “funner.” We expected that the Phillies would indeed get “funner.” As it was, no such thing really happened. But maybe Mr. Halladay wasn’t referring to the Phillies. Was he referring to the Eagles? Okay, obviously not. But in all honesty, this season has been about as fun a season as I can remember, and Eagles fans, I’m here to tell you just why it will only get “funner:” This Sunday night, we face the rival New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field in a game that will award the victor with sole possession of the lead in the NFC East.
The Giants are an interesting team. Just a week ago, everyone had them crowned as the top team in the NFC, but yours truly never bought them. When I watched the Giants I saw pretty statistics and flashy plays, but I also saw some serious flaws. I saw a team that was getting away with mistakes because they were facing vastly inferior teams. This past weekend they got smoked at home by the Dallas Cowboys and those same mistakes that they had been making proved very costly. Let’s take a look at their team. You know how it goes.
The Giants’ offensive line is keeping Eli Manning alive in impressive fashion. They have allowed a league low 12 sacks and the seventh least amount of quarterback hits with 34. However, the line has taken some huge hits on the injury front. As of now, all signs point to them being without left tackle David Diehl and center Shaun O’Hara. Those men are among the true anchors of that offensive line and without them they will struggle in keeping the Eagles ravenous defense out of the backfield. The Eagles’ defensive front brought havoc to the Redskins backfield on Monday night. Now, they won’t be getting quite the same penetration as they got in Washington, but they will get after Manning. From a historical standpoint, the Eagles defense has always been able to get through the Giants offensive line. Trent Cole will lead the attack, as he always does. If the Giants were at full health they’d have the advantage, but right now it goes to the Eagles hands down.
Behind the Giants’ offensive line, a very potent rushing attack is headed by running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw is third in the NFL with 838 rushing yards and he is deceptively powerful for a quicker type of back. Keeping him in check will be the key to the Eagles’ success. Last week, they allowed unknown, rookie free agent Keiland Williams to rush for 89 yards on 16 carries. He also scored two TDs as a rusher and one as a receiver. The Giants will be not only looking to Bradshaw, but also to Brandon Jacobs to do the same thing to the Eagles defense. The Giants have had success running the ball on the Eagles defense over the past few seasons and I’d expect that trend to continue. I’d also expect Brandon Jacobs to be used quite a lot, as physical runners seem to be able to handle our quicker defense.
At tight end, the Giants have Kevin Boss as a starter, who is having a pedestrian season overall. So far this year he has hauled in 19 passes for 296 yards and 2 TDs. As always though, the Eagles have a true weakness in coverage at tight end. Given that the Eagles love to pressure the quarterback, I’m expecting Eli Manning to feel a lot of that heat. I imagine he’ll be looking to Boss early and often. The Eagles gave up 94 yards to the tight end against the Redskins, although 71 of those yards came on one play. The Eagles kept the position in check for the rest of the game, but they also had the entire Redskins offense in check for most of the game.
The Eagles are catching another break from a health standpoint when facing the Giants’ wide receivers. The Giants will be without second receiver Steve Smith, who recently suffered a torn pectoral muscle. This will allow the Eagles to roll double coverage over to Manning’s favorite target, Hakeem Nicks. Nicks leads the Giants with receptions (56), receiving yards (735), and TD catches (9). Last week he had a rough game, only hauling in 5 catches for 82 yards and no TDs. Most of that lack of the production was because the Cowboys were able to double team him all day. The Eagles secondary played very well against the Redskins last weekend even with starting free safety Nate Allen sitting out due to injury. In Allen’s place, Kurt Coleman played a solid, albeit not spectacular game. However, the unquestioned star of the secondary was cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who had a truly great game in both run support and pass coverage. Asante Samuel continues to have a relatively quiet season from a statistical standpoint, but he is still keeping receivers completely shut down and I can only assume he will be charged with being the primary man to cover Hakeem Nicks.
Getting the Giants the ball will be quarterback Eli Manning. I’ve heard some people claim that Eli has to be in the running for the league MVP and to that I simply ask: Why? Eli is a good player, but he is by no means a great player. So far this season he has thrown for 19 TDs, which is tied for first in the league. However, he has also tossed thirteen INTs, which is the second worst in the league behind only Father Time (Favre). The Eagles defense has the most INTs in the league with 16. Last week against the Redskins, they picked McNabb off 3 times and returned one to the house for a TD. Eli Manning was faced with many confusing schemes against the Cowboys, and as a result he made several very poor throws- and the worst of those was returned 101 yards for a TD. The Eagles defense has already succeeded in confusing some of the best quarterbacks in the league (Eli’s older brother, Peyton for one), and I expect them to have similar success against the more inferior Eli Manning. Please note, that was not me saying he is a bad quarterback. He’s just not that great of one.
Okay, enough of the Giants’ offense. Time to take a look at how the Eagles’ offense matches up against the Giants defense. The Eagles’ offensive line is finally starting to get their act together. They kept Vick upright for the whole game against a solid pass rush last week. Luckily for them, they’re blocking for a quarterback who has the ability to elude pressure like no one we’ve ever seen. Jason Peters in particular had a very good game last week and to my surprise (and delight) Nick Cole did as well. Now the team will likely be getting guard Max Jean-Gilles to play right guard. As of writing this, it appears that he will possibly be rotating playing time with Nick Cole. The Giants defensive front seven is nothing short of ferocious, however they have tapered off the past few weeks. For instance, Osi Umenyiora leads the team with 9 sacks. He had fantastic games for a few weeks, but over the past three weeks he’s managed just 3 sacks and minimal tackling. I don’t expect the Giants front seven to have great success this game.
Now, shutting down the run is a different story. The Giants are giving up only 83.3 yards per game on the ground, which is third in the NFL. The Eagles racked up a total of 260 rushing yards against the Redskins. Let that sink in for a moment. 260 is a decent amount for passing yardage. That’s off the charts for rushing yardage in a game. Oddly enough, it was the backup running back, Jerome Harrison, who led the team in rushing with 109 yards. LeSean McCoy was a little banged up, and given the absurdity of the Eagles lead, they opted to hold him out of most of the game. Prior to going down, he was having himself a solid day as well and all signs point to him starting this weekend. The Giants defense let up 103 rushing yards to the Cowboys, an average that isn’t too shabby given the Giants stand against the run for the season. Statistically speaking, the Giants have an edge, but with Vick in the lineup the Eagles are becoming a force when running the ball. A gut feeling tells me that the Eagles will find some running room on Sunday. Not much, but some.
This next part of the preview is almost becoming tedious to write. Brent Celek is the starter, as we all know. We all know that he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his statistics or quality of play as a receiver. In one of his few shots he had during the game against the Redskins, he took a brutal hit and dropped the ball. Had he held on it would’ve been a long completion. As it was, he ended the day with 2 catches for 8 yards. However, he is adding to the team as a chip blocker and he remains a huge reason why Vick is getting time in the pocket. He is also responsible for blocking on run plays. As it is, I expect Celek to continue as he is going this season. He’s not being targeted and New York has been shutting down tight ends all season.
What more can one say about our wide receivers? In all honesty, I don’t know that there’s a core of wideouts that I’d take over the Eagles. Obviously there are some individual receivers that I’d take but as a total core I can’t think of anyone else I’d want. DeSean Jackson got things started off alright last week with an 88 yard TD right off the bat. Jeremy Maclin made one of the top catches of the season. Jason Avant continues to be the go-to guy on third down. I love this group. The Giants defense, stout all around, is tough to pass on. However, they have yet to face a receiving core with the talent that the Eagles have. When I look at the teams they’ve faced so far this season, I see very few solid groups of receiving talent. They’ve faced some stud individuals but they’ve yet to face an entire core of top talent. That is what the Eagles have. The Giants’ secondary has put up a nice season overall, but against true talent they have struggled mightily. That is what will happen this weekend.
And of course there’s Michael Vick, who has become something scary. As any of you who read my articles and listen to the podcast know, I was not a believer in Vick at the beginning of the season. I wasn’t a believer even after a few games. I’m a full believer now. Right now, there is only one quarterback playing the game better than him and that’s Philip Rivers. What’s possibly most impressive about Vick this season is the fact that he’s yet to turn the ball over. What’s more encouraging to that end is that the Giants have only picked off 10 passes this season. Opposing quarterbacks against the Giants have a 78.1 rating throughout the season, so this is certainly Vick’s biggest test. Vick will not have a day near to what he had against Washington but I expect him to find success. The Giants have struggled against this receiving core and I expect the weapons Vick has to find will create separation and he will find them.
Moving to the special teams, the Eagles have a return unit that is scaring me tremendously. Right now, it appears that Jorrick Calvin will continue to be the return man on kicks and punts and that worries me. Throughout the season, and this past Monday was no exception, he has been having trouble holding onto the ball. As a whole, the Eagles special teams are mediocre though the coverage has looked better in the past few weeks. The return game is still nothing special. However, The Giants have a very poor average on kick returns (26.2 YPG, second worst in the league) and on punt returns (6.4 yards, fourth worst in the league). Neither team is particularly good when it comes to special teams. Based on production alone the Eagles have a very slight advantage, but it’s nothing to write home about.
From a coaching standpoint I think it’s a toss up. I have a ton of respect for Tom Coughlin, the head coach of the Giants. He has put together a solid team and has led them to an improbable Super Bowl victory. Since taking over the Giants in 2004, the series record between these two teams is 7-6 with the Eagles having the advantage. More importantly they’ve won the previous 4 match-ups. Andy Reid has come out with two solid game plans over the past two weeks while the Giants went from embarrassing the Seahawks to getting embarrassed by the Cowboys. Coughlin is without question a very good coach but at this point in the season Andy Reid truly begins to craft excellent game plans. Both are great coaches so from that standpoint I’ll give it a tie. However, Coughlin does know how to manage the clock.
HOW I SEE IT:
Given the fact that the Giants are banged up where it truly counts (offensive line), without one of their better receiving weapons, and are on the road, I like the Eagles to win at home. Last week, I said it’d end up being a convincing win and it was just that. This week, I expect a true slugfest with the Giants running the ball with success but the Eagles forcing the turnovers at the end of the day which will ultimately win the game. This will be a great game and I’m picking the Eagles to win it.