Philadelphia Eagles News

There's a lot to watch with so much at stake vs. Giants

This is, as quarterback Carson Wentz said earlier in the week, a "must-win" game for the Eagles. And while that isn't technically true – the Eagles can tie the Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium and still win the NFC East – it's the mindset the team is taking as it prepares for a trip north on the Jersey Turnpike for the 4:25 p.m. kickoff.

"We all know what we face," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We control what happens next. It's in our hands and it's our responsibility to play our best game."

The idea of a "letdown" game for the Eagles after their emotional and physically taxing performance last Sunday against Dallas is very much at the forefront of the daily messaging from head coach Doug Pederson. He's got, in many respects, a team that has been there, done that. The Eagles won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, and then roared down the stretch in 2018 to reach the postseason. They know how to get it done.

Still, Pederson is making sure the message is taken to heart.

"That's a real thing. For me, it's just about communication and just bringing it to kind of the forefront of my messaging to the team," Pederson said. "We poured a lot into that win on Sunday, and that's the thing that I think coming into the next week, is having that mental and emotional letdown. This to me is a bigger game, obviously, than last week. I know our guys are going to be ready. They've prepared this week that way. But for me as the coach, just keep reminding them the importance of this week and the importance of this game and staying focused and all that."

With all of that said, and all of the words of respect for a Giants team that is much better than its 4-11 record through 15 games, how do the Eagles win again at MetLife Stadium, where they are 7-2? They've beaten the Giants six consecutive times, including the 23-17 overtime victory at Lincoln Financial Field on December 9 and you get the sense that none of that means anything because, well, there is so much on the line here.

Here are some things to watch on Sunday …

Limiting Saquon Barkley

We know how great this second-year running back is with his explosiveness. The Eagles clamped down on Barkley four weeks ago – he gained 66 rushing yards on 17 carries – and they've been good all year against the run, ranking third in the NFL (88 yards per game). In the last two games, though, Barkley has gone off for 301 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries against Miami and Washington, adding eight receptions for 121 yards and another score. Barkley accounted for 279 total yards against Washington last Sunday, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

How do the Eagles deal with Barkley?

"We have to tackle well and we all have to get to the football," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "He likes to bounce it outside and make the big play. They have a lot of weapons, but he's one of the best backs in the league. He's so strong and explosive. We have to have a lot of hats on the ball with him."

Attack New York's offensive line

Quarterback Daniel Jones threw five touchdown passes against Washington last week, establishing himself in the pocket and getting the ball down the field. Washington sacked Jones once on 43 dropbacks. The Eagles need to get after Jones, and it helps that New York's starting right tackle Mike Remmers (concussion) is not playing. His backup is Eric Smith, a second-year player from Virginia who has played in two games this season. Brandon Graham, then, has to win this one-on-one battle. He has to get up in Jones' face and make life difficult for the rookie quarterback.

The Eagles have to win up front. If Jones has time in the pocket, he's going to be tough. We saw what wide receiver Darius Slayton (five receptions, 154 yards, two touchdowns) did against the Eagles on December 9. Golden Tate is healthy. Sterling Shepard is a weapon. The Eagles don't have cornerback Ronald Darby, so they're down a speedy cornerback who can turn and run with fleet receivers.

Pressure at the line of scrimmage is so key for this defense. Stop the run first. And then get after Jones, who is good and is talented and all of that, but he's still a rookie who holds the ball too long at times and has been turnover-prone for much of this season.

Starting fast is so important for the offense

The Eagles put up 10 points in their first two possessions against Dallas and played with a lead the entire game. That was huge. That changed the tone of the game. In this three-game winning streak – and, really, throughout the season when they've won games – the Eagles controlled time of possession and they've started fast.

So … how do the Eagles get the offense on track quickly without Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, officially out for his game with injured ribs? They do what they've done: They play efficient offense and they spread the ball around and they take creative approaches to favorable matchups. Tight end Dallas Goedert becomes the go-to receiver here – how many targets will he get on Sunday? How does 15 sound? – and Greg Ward is vital to keep the chains moving.

Even with Jordan Howard ready to go for this game after a six-game absence, the Eagles want to keep Miles Sanders hot in the running game and in the passing game. New York has a big, strong defensive interior, so the Eagles have to attack the edges with the running game and the screen game for some big plays. Sanders needs his touches. He will get them.

The Eagles know it's a longshot to think they can come back from a 17-3 hole as they did in South Philadelphia. Jump on the Giants and take it to them early.

QB Carson Wentz must continue to minimize mistakes

It is not one bit of a coincidence that Wentz has thrown nary an interception in this three-game winning streak, and that his mistakes have been few in the Eagles' eight victories. Wentz has 26 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, a darn fine first 15 games, especially given all of the injuries on offense.

Look for New York to try to blitz Wentz. He's got to have answers.

Win against New York's linebackers and young secondary

Veteran safety Antoine Bethea had a monster game at Lincoln Financial Field with 13 total tackles, 10 solo, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed. He was everywhere because, basically, he had to be. The Giants play with youth in the secondary, they've got some injuries to contend with, and the linebackers had trouble in the first meeting with the screen game. The Eagles have lived on the screen game, which they've expanded and executed so very well.

That's got to be part of the game plan. While the Eagles don't have pure speed at wide receiver, they've got some young, hungry receivers who are growing under the direction of Wentz. The newest receiver added from the practice squad to the 53-man roster is Deontay Burnett, who caught 10 passes last season for the Jets. He may very well have a role on Sunday.

The Eagles have to be on their game here. It's going to feel like a home game with all of the Eagles fans in attendance. Everything is on the line, and playing against a talented and explosive Giants team that has nothing to lose, it's going to be a very difficult game to win.

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