All the questions have been asked in the long days since the Eagles beat up on Arizona and turned their sights on the Giants. Answers come on Sunday in a must-win game for Philadelphia at Giants Stadium. To recount: The 6-5-1 Eagles need a win over New York to keep playoff hopes alive and start December off the right way.
The Eagles know full well the task ahead. They have to play a great football game on Sunday afternoon. They have to be more physical, they have to want it more, they have to be mentally tough and they have to execute as they know they can execute.
Clearly, though, there are several key areas in which the Eagles must defeat the Giants. Some to consider ...
*SHORT-YARDAGE OFFENSE *
There is a reason Eagles fans gave Kyle Eckel and the offense a standing ovation when the Eagles converted a third-and-1 run in the first drive of the Thanksgiving game. The Eagles are just 10 of 22 (45.5 percent) on third-and-1 plays this season, and they are 3 of 8 on fourth downs during the year -- including making one fourth-down conversion against New York (touchdown pass to Kevin Curtis) and missing the fourth-and-1 run on the last offensive drive.
The Eagles have to win the battle up front. Eckel could very well continue on as an option on the active roster after his strong performance against the Cardinals, but it should also help that Brian Westbrook, although listed as questionable for this game, should be as healthy has he has been for quite a while.
Having Nick Cole at right guard instead of Max Jean-Gilles means the Eagles lack some experience at right guard, but the coaching staff has professed nothing but confidence in Cole since he made the team as a non-drafted rookie a few years ago.
Against Arizona, the Eagles were great on short-yardage plays: They were 2 of 2 on third and 1, 3 of 3 on third and 2 and 2 of 2 on third and 4. Outstanding! The weird part of the statistical analysis is that, while the Eagles are a poor 10 of 22 on third-and-1 plays, they are 15 of 18 on third-and-2 calls this season.
POINT OF ATTACK PERFORMANCE
As Jim Johnson discussed, briefly, what he didn't like about the Eagles defense one month ago in the game against the Giants, he mentioned that the "point of attack" was a problem area. The Eagles, it seems, didn't win the battle at the line of scrimmage, and the New York running backs had gaping holes through which to run and offensive guards were able to get out on the Eagles linebackers and push the openings into the second level of the defense.
So the guys up front have to be better.
What the Eagles intend to do about that remains to be seen. But the truth is that, prior to the November 9 game, the Eagles defense had played the New York offense very well in recent meetings. What happened at Lincoln Financial Field was a surprise to most, and now the Eagles defense has to prove a point on Sunday.
It's going to come down to the line of scrimmage. The Eagles can't allow the Giants to run effectively, either between the tackles or at the edges. They have to be quicker, stronger and execute their fundamentals to a tee to win up front.
**STRONG PLAY FROM WIDE RECEIVERS
Unless the winds are overwhelming, the Eagles want to throw the ball enough to keep the Giants off the line of scrimmage. Philadelphia has to make some big plays down the field to score big points against an outstanding defense. The Giants have a good secondary that is clearly made better by a front seven that applies so much pressure on the opposing quarterback. Corey Webster is listed as questionable, but the Giants have enough depth to compensate should Webster not play.
The Eagles have to get DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis and Co. free. They have to be consistent catching the football and they have to play fast on a cold, blustery day. It is important that the Eagles have some balance in their offense both ways, and that they get into a flow as they did against Arizona. See how fun it was when the Eagles came out with a touchdown drive to open the game, and then extended their lead on the next drive? A good start, and a good rhythm offensively, is essential.
These teams are so familiar with each other that it will be interesting to see how the Eagles game plan to show some new looks. Getting the ball to their speed receivers is vital early on. The Eagles can't rely on Westbrook to carry the offense.
**SLOWING THE GIANTS' DEFENSIVE FRONT
Do draws and screens and stuff like that work against the Giants? What can the Eagles do to keep the Giants from pinning back their ears and coming after quarterback Donovan McNabb? They can run the ball, something they need and something they hope continues from the win over Arizona.
The offensive line played with such a tremendous confidence in that game. It must continue. The Eagles have to be physical against New York and they have to win a decisive battle. Where is Justin Tuck going to be? The Eagles have to be ready to see him at either end spot, over a guard or lined up as a linebacker. That is how versatile Tuck is and how devastating he can be.
**WIN THE FIELD POSITION NUMBERS
Critical part of the game, no question about it. Giants Stadium is a loud and hostile place. Memories of Ron Dixon returning the opening kickoff in the 2000 playoff game there remain, and plays like that send the Giants crowd into high-voltage delirium. The Eagles don't want to operate with their offensive backs to their end zone, obviously. The crowd can be a real problem.
New York is solid in the special teams, but the Eagles have to believe they can do some damage in the kick-return game. Both Quintin Demps and Jackson have been close in just about every game to breaking a big return and both have the explosiveness to get through a seam and bust one.
Key game for Sav Rocca and for David Akers. Big challenge if the weather conditions that are predicted -- temperatures in the high 30's with some pretty heavy winds -- actually come true.
**COVERAGE HAS TO BE TIGHT
This is a good game for the Eagles secondary, one that the team has invested in so much over the years, to step up and dominate. The Eagles don't have Plaxico Burress to worry about, but the Giants have a bunch of other, good options and tight end Kevin Boss had 6 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown in the November game.
Hey, Asante Samuel needs to be outstanding. Sheldon Brown must be terrific. Joselio Hanson and Lito Sheppard need to make plays when they are there. The safeties are going to be tested in every phase.
The Giants aren't going to back off throwing the football. Eli Manning is extremely accurate and generally makes good decisions when he has time to set up and throw. The Eagles have to repeat the kind of game the secondary had against Arizona to win this game.
**ANDY REID NEEDS AN "A" GAME
The coaching staffs are extremely aware of the tendencies and all of the statistical data that gets used in games like this. Throw it out the window and coach a great game. Win it from the sidelines. Anticipate and create. Be a step ahead of the other sideline.
Everybody knows how important this game is for the Eagles. It is certainly much more important for them than it is for the Giants. This is about survival for the Eagles. Reid's focus this week has been unwavering and his team has responded with lively work on the practice field.
New York has won the last three games of this series. The Eagles, however, are 22-11 against division foes since 1999 in the months of November and December, and 12-4 in December alone. Do the records mean anything?
No, the focus is on three hours on Sunday as the Eagles set out to win a game and keep their playoff hopes alive.