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Five Matchups To Watch Vs. Giants

Posted Sep 23, 2017

Let’s get this straight: It’s going to take a lot for the Eagles to beat a Giants team coming to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday that has its backs against an 0-2 wall. And there are many more nuances to the game than an off-to-a-great-start Eagles defensive line against a trying-to-find-its-comfort-zone Giants offensive line. With that, here are some matchups to watch in the Eagles’ home opener ...

Let’s get this straight: It’s going to take a lot for the Eagles to beat a Giants team coming to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday that has its backs against an 0-2 wall. And there are many more nuances to the game than an off-to-a-great-start Eagles defensive line against a trying-to-find-its-comfort-zone Giants offensive line.

With that, here are some matchups to watch in the Eagles’ home opener.

RT Lane Johnson vs. DE Jason Pierre-Paul

This is another tough matchup for Lane Johnson, who had Ryan Kerrigan in Week 1 and Justin Houston in Week 2. Pierre-Paul is part of a savage Giants defensive front that also includes Olivier Vernon at end and Damon “Snacks” Harrison at tackle. Harrison is a 350-pound load who is terrific against the run.

The Eagles didn’t win in the trenches last Sunday in Kansas City. They must do so here, because the Giants' defense – run by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and born from the late Jim Johnson coaching tree – is designed to apply pressure, or at the very least force offenses to think there is pressure coming. That means linemen drop out in zone blitzes and Spagnuolo will bring extra pass rushers.

Neutralizing Pierre-Paul is critical. He’s fast and he’s powerful and he’s done a remarkable job of coming back from that fireworks injury that damaged his hand so badly. This is a big, big test for Johnson and the offensive line.

S Malcolm Jenkins vs. TE Evan Engram

The Giants used a first-round draft pick on Engram, who coordinator Jim Schwartz said this week could be a talent someday along the lines of Jordan Reed, Washington’s standout. Engram is not known as a big blocker; instead, he’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. Quarterback Eli Manning trusts Engram and goes to him frequently.

Travis Kelce did major damage to the Eagles last week in Kansas City. The Eagles must contain Engram and not give Manning that safety valve or the downfield threat in the middle of the field. The Giants move Engram around quite a bit, so Jenkins and the defense will be well aware of his whereabouts.

Adding to the challenge is the unknown of who is playing safety along with Jenkins. Will Rodney McLeod have a chance to come back from a hamstring injury so quickly? Or will Chris Maragos get his first start since 2015?

WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Eli Apple

With Pro Bowl cornerback Janoris Jenkins listed as questionable after missing Monday night’s game with an ankle injury and having very limited practice time the last couple of weeks, second-year man Eli Apple becomes the Giants’ top cornerback. He was beaten by Detroit’s Marvin Jones for a touchdown on Monday night, and he could see a lot of Jeffery. Whether it’s Jeffery or Torrey Smith, the Eagles need to get something going in the passing game and they need to stretch the defense.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Giants play this defense without middle linebacker B.J. Goodson, who also missed the Detroit game. Rookie Calvin Munson replaced Goodson and had eight total tackles and a quarterback sack, and played very well against the Lions.

Some “chunk” plays would be so beneficial for the up-and-down Eagles offense. Apple is a key figure for the Giants' defense.

DE Vinny Curry vs. LT Ereck Flowers

OK, so now we’re in the trenches. Flowers is a young left tackle who has had his struggles, giving up three sacks against the Lions. He’s gotten heat all year in New York. But Sunday is a new day and a fresh start and Flowers is certainly motivated to play well. Curry has to win here. He has to beat Flowers. The Eagles will rotate their linemen on a hot afternoon – temperatures are expected to be in the high 80s – so wilting Flowers is critical.

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The Eagles, on paper, have an advantage with their defensive line against a struggling New York offensive unit. But you can expect Manning to get rid of the ball quickly and try to establish a rhythm. The last time Manning played at Lincoln Financial Field, Manning threw a franchise-record 63 passes. The Eagles nabbed three interceptions in the victory.

Derek Barnett will see time here and the Eagles could also flip Brandon Graham to this side. New York won’t have starting right tackle Bobby Hart, forcing left guard Justin Pugh to play right tackle. It’s been a really tough two weeks for the New York offensive line. The Eagles have to keep it that way and bring the pressure from the very start of the game.

The Eagles vs. Prosperity

What a day this is going to be: The home opener, beautiful weather, a great crowd, and an NFC East rival coming in off a short week and with some injury question marks. How do the Eagles handle being a “favored” team? How do they win the emotional war against a Giants team that certainly knows what an 0-3 start would mean for them?

In other words, let’s see if the Eagles play with the same kind of desperation and urgency that the Giants bring to the table.

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