This is not going to come as a surprise to anyone who has ever watched a football game: The Eagles have to win the line of scrimmage to beat New York in this NFC East showdown, and the offensive and defensive lines know it. Strange, though, as kickoff approaches for this game: Do we really know what the Giants are all about up front these days?
Not too long ago, the Giants were dominating at the line of scrimmage. They had a deep group of pass rushers that made it virtually impossible for an offense to handle for 65 snaps a game. How could you account for two, three, four great pass rushers? Same along the offensive line. The Giants may not have been the most talented group, but they sure played great together.
Through a 7-5 season, both the offensive and defensive lines for New York have been as up and down as the record. At times, New York has looked great. The Giants have run the ball effectively and have put an enormous amount of pressure on the quarterback. At other times, well, New York hasn't been as good.
So which Giants group shows up tonight? I'm expecting a great performance from New York, so the onus of this game for the Eagles is at the line of scrimmage. No question about it. I look at the Giants and I still see Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka. I see Chris Snee and his toughness with Shaun O'Hara and his intelligence. I see two groups at the line of scrimmage capable of controlling a football game.
Nothing revolutionary here. It all starts at the line of scrimmage, anyway. But this is another great test for A) The Eagles run defense, because on a night that is expected to be wet and cold (it is raining all day at Giants Stadium, with the rain expected to subside as kickoff approaches), the Giants are expected to try to establish the ground game; and, B) I'm still focusing in on Winston Justice against Tuck and Jason Peters against the rotation the Giants use at right defensive end.
It's all about the line of scrimmage.
* NEWS AND NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- I know Brian Westbrook isn't playing tonight, but the fact that he went through a week of practice without any problems is a very, very positive sign. Keep your fingers crossed that he will play against San Francisco.
- Anyone who thinks the Giants "need" this game more than the Eagles is kidding himself. What have the Eagles clinched? Somebody help me here. I have felt the desperation all week in the Eagles' locker room. This team hasn't accomplished a thing this season. This is, yes, another must-win game. The goal is here to win the division and to do that the Eagles must win every week.
- During an interview this week with head coach Andy Reid, he talked about Donovan McNabb's "big hands" and how important those mitts are in games like this. It's true, and I remember Reid talking about McNabb's hand size after the 1999 draft. Hey, tonight will be cold and wet at Giants Stadium. Getting a grip on the football is maybe the biggest key of all for McNabb.
- Will the Eagles blitz against quarterback Eli Manning? Of course. But defensive coordinator Sean McDermott isn't going to sacrifice the big plays down the field. The Eagles have to win with their four pass rushers up front, too. Victor Abiamiri is going to make two big plays tonight. Just my feeling.
- Rainy, wet surface ... yep, I'm using Michael Vick in the shotgun whenever possible tonight. This is a good spot to spread the field and run the football.
- No worries about Jeremy Maclin starting this game. The Eagles took good care of him during the week to rest his foot and then he practiced on Friday and had no problems.
- New York is expected to use Aaron Ross at safety, which is interesting. I'm not sure what it means scheme-wise, but I imagine the Giants are holding their breath hoping they don't have a mental bust. Ross will aid the coverage from the safety spot, in theory. But I look for the Eagles to try something to get him confused. I also want to see how Ross plays because, as you know, people have conjectured for years that Sheldon Brown will eventually become a safety. I am not buying that -- Brown is a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback right now -- but I want to see how one player makes that transition in his first game.
- Still really don't know what the Eagles plan to do with their linebackers. Akeem Jordan is playing. Where and how much, I don't know. Sounds to me like McDermott has a lot of different personnel groupings planned. Jeremiah Trotter, amazingly, should see a lot of time helping against New York's power running game. I give Trotter so much credit. He has gone from a player who couldn't get a job to someone playing a key role for a team playing important games in December.
- Best play I ever saw at Giants Stadium: Westbrook's 84-yard punt return to beat the Giants in 2003. Wow, what a moment! I still get shivers thinking about that return.
- Looking to see what LeSean McCoy does in this spot. Tough game last week. Has he hit a wall? McCoy will certainly play with a sense of purpose in this game.
- Big spot for Sav Rocca: Bad weather, big game and an excellent return man for the Giants hoping to break one.