When the Eagles are on Offense:
One of the major keys to the game is going to be the Eagles ability to control the ball on offense. A commitment to the ground game, despite the philosophical barrier head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg need to overcome in order to commit to the ground will do wonders for the Eagles offense. First and foremost, the Eagles feature an All-Pro running back in LeSean McCoy in the backfield. He is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Secondly, a commitment to the run will open up the play-action pass and the deep ball that the Eagles love so much. Third, running the ball will help to alleviate some of the hits that Vick is taking when dropping back to pass. Finally, if the Eagles run the ball more, it takes the ball out of Vick’s hands which is positive because he has been a turnover machine through the first three weeks. Shockingly, McCoy is tied for sixth in the NFL with 58 rushing attempts through three weeks and 10th in the league in rushing yards. The Eagles win when McCoy gets his touches so a commitment from the beginning of the game to McCoy will pay dividends for the offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants defensive has been average as far as yardage goes. They are 18th in total yards allowed, 23rd against the pass (267.1 yards per game), and 10th against the run (94 yards per game). They stymied the Panthers offense on Thursday holding them to just seven points but in their previous two weeks their opponents had been averaging 29 points per game against them. Overall through three weeks, they are 11th in the league in points allowed. They are facing an Eagles team that is tied with the Cowboys for last place in the NFL in points scored with just 47 points through three games.
The heart of the Giants defense is the defensive line. Jason Pierre-Paul leads the Giants with 1.5 of the team’s six sacks. He is also tied for second on the team in tackles with 15 (eight solo) and has two passes defended and two tackles for loss. Needless to say, he causes havoc in the running and passing game. The two defensive tackles up the middle, Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph, both put pressure on the offensive line. Combined, Bernard and Joseph are responsible for 1/3 of the team’s sacks. Linebacker Michael Boley, who you might remember, has three interceptions on the year so expect him to be spying on Vick looking for that fourth pick. The Giants leading tackler, safety Antrel Rolle, is questionable with a knee injury. With a secondary already hampered by injuries (CBs Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara are both probable), losing Rolle would be a blow to the New York defensive backfield.
While most eyes will be on Vick when the Eagles have the ball, keep a close watch on the offensive line. Guards Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins have been underwhelming, center Jason Kelce is out of the year along with All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters. Fill-in left tackle Demetress Bell and replacement center Dallas Reynolds, in addition to right tackle Todd Herremanns, are going to have their hands full with Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Bernard, and Joseph. If the offensive line cannot give Vick the time he needs in the pocket, expect the turnovers to pile up quickly.
When the Giants are on Offense:
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been dealing with a neck injury which held him out last week against the Panthers. The injury is basically an inflamed disc resting on his spinal cord that has caused swelling and pain. According to Bradshaw, the swelling has gone down and the pain has gone away but it could return at any point. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that Bradshaw will start on Sunday. Having Bradshaw behind Manning will be incredibly beneficial to the Giants offense. The Giants pass the ball a lot which can make them predictable at times but, with a healthy Bradshaw, they have a good running back that keeps defenses honest. It is expected that Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will have a healthy mix of run and pass to keep the Eagles honest.
The Giants prolific passing game creates a tough matchup this weekend but the Eagles come into the game with the league’s third best pass defense despite Larry Fitzgerald having a field day against them last Sunday. The good news for the Eagles is that the Giants receivers are not as good as Fitzgerald but the bad news is the duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz is still very good and extremely explosive. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who had a dreadful game on Sunday, will need to step up on Nicks (who is listed as doubtful with a foot injury) while the faster Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will likely matchup against Cruz on the outside.
The key to the Eagles defense will be the pressure they get on Eli Manning and if they are able to force him to make mistakes. Last week against the Panthers, Manning had all the time in the world in the pocket and could easily work through his progressions which allowed him to destroy the Carolina secondary. If given that kind of time, he can make you pay. Manning is a pocket passer and can make plays when flushed from the pocket but not as often. The Eagles can certainly get to the quarterback seeing as they lead the league last year with 50 sacks and are tied for 10th with seven sacks already this year. The Eagles pressure, lead by ends Jason Babin (2.5 sacks) and Trent Cole (1.5 sacks) and tackles Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, and Derek Landri, will look to force Manning out of the pocket and make Manning beat them on the run.
If DeMeco Ryans and the linebackers can contain the Giants run game, it will force Manning to the air which will make their game plan more predictable. Weak-side linebacker Akeem Jordan injured his hamstring in last week’s loss so Jamar Chaney will get the start on the outside. Kurt Coleman, who leads the Eagles with 21 tackles, is going to have to step up his coverage this week because Cruz and Nicks (if he plays), combined with tight end Martellus Bennett, are not going to be an easy trio to slow down with Manning delivering the ball.
Special Teams and Prediction:
As far as the return game goes, according to Pro-Football-Reference, the Eagles have a slight edge ranking 15th in the NFL in overall special teams returns and the Giants check in at 20th. As far as opponents return yards, the Giants come in at 14th in the NFL with the Eagles right on their back at 15th.
This game is going to be a knockdown, drag out fight with the offenses running the show. I think Eli Manning has a decent game for the Giants with a lot of passing yards and their receivers holding their own but stalling in the red zone twice. On the other side, I think the Giants pass rushers cause havoc in the beginning but a few adjustments and the use of short screens and dump off throws to get the ball out of Vick’s hands pays dividends for the Eagles. I think the Eagles get to Eli Manning with most of the pressure coming from defensive tackles Jenkins, Cox, and Landri. I think the Eagles will take much more care of the ball and Vick will cut back on his turnovers (for no other reason than I can’t believe he can be this consistently bad).
The ESPN experts are split with Eric Allen, Merrill Hoge, Mark Schlereth, and Seth Wickerstam picking the Giants. Ron Jaworski (shocker), Mike Golic, Chris Mortensen, and Adam Schefter are picking the Eagles.
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