The Eagles host the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Sunday night in a prime-time nationally televised showdown. The Eagles and the Giants are both ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. Could special teams be the difference-maker? We take a deeper look at the X's and O's in this week's Coach's Clipboard.
JOHNSON: GAME PLAN FOR PLAX
It's not Eli Manning or Brandon Jacobs or even that big offensive line that gets the Giants' offense moving.
According to defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, stopping the defending Super Bowl champs starts with stopping receiver Plaxico Burress.
That's clearly something that easier said than done.
"I think there are going to be times we're going to do different things," Johnson said. "Burress is a guy you have to pay attention to. I don't really want to get into too much strategy here. But we know he's a big factor."
Over the course of his career, Burress has almost singe-handedly eaten the Eagles alive. In his last five games against the Eagles, including a playoff game in 2006, Burress has a combined 28 catches for 513 yards and five touchdowns.
Johnson said Burress' size is what makes him so dangerous, especially near the end zone.
"Well, he's 6-foot-6," Johnson said. "We've had the guy doubled and he goes up and they throw the ball high. I remember one last year where we had him doubled in the end zone and they threw the ball up. We don't have that big a corner, so you got a guy 6-6 who goes up and gets the football. That's the hard thing.
"He's still coming up with big plays. He's still very dangerous in the red zone. There's no question about it. There's probably no better receiver in the red zone than Plaxico."
In their first meeting of the 2007 season, which was a 16-3 win for New York, the Eagles held Burress to just four catches for 54 yards. It's limiting Burress' number of big plays that really concerns Johnson.
"We've gone against the Giants and you talk about Burress," Johnson said. "We play tough. We play tough, then all of sudden you stop the run and you give up a big play to him," Johnson said. "That's the problem. You have to make sure we don't give up big plays to him, but we're still good against the run. I think any time you are balanced like that, it's a lot tougher.
"If you do single him, he's a good receiver and we know he's had a lot of big plays in this league. We've won some games against the Giants; we haven't won the last couple. When we have, we've done a good job on Burress. (We) take the big play away from him."
Burress has caused some distractions this season making some fans believe that Burress is disinterested. Johnson said he hasn't seen any evidence of that.
"People are taking him a way a little bit (using) double coverage," Johnson said. "Again, that's what you have to do. There's no question about it. Again, he's still such a factor in the red zone. He presents problems if you are playing a lot of man coverage."
* - STEVE LIENERT*
MORNHINWEG: BIG PLAYS A MUST
With the New York Giants, there are truly three levels of the defense to worry about for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
The Giants have the advantage, Mornhinweg said, of having an immensely talented front four that can generate pressure without bringing the house on a blitz. So, most of the time, quarterback Donovan McNabb needs to rely on his line to give him time to navigate the back two levels of the defense.
"(The Giants have) done an excellent job at preventing the explosive plays," Mornhinweg said. "This defense is unique because of their front four. They live on that pressure and then the secondary is very aggressive. We've got to get some big plays"
Big plays have always been a staple of Mornhinweg's assault – thus far this season, the Eagles have 36 offensive plays of 20 yards or longer. But the key isn't simply to run fly routes down the sidelines, but to exploit weaknesses in the defense and finding open space to run.
So Mornhinweg's plan, interestingly, is to get some big plays to force the Giants to play their game, and only rush four, keep things static. This way, McNabb and the line usually know what's coming
"We have a certain mentality against the blitz and this type of defense," Mornhinweg said. "The threat of (the big play) is important for them. Just the threat and then they're backed into a soft zone or a matchup zone."
If the Eagles get their way, it comes down to a chess game. The Giants love having the threat of a big blitz as their ace in the hole, while the Eagles want to prove they can trump the blitz by beating it deep.
So, Mornhinweg said, the Eagles have to capitalize on every opportunity given. Leaving points on the field will kill them.
"We want to score touchdowns rather than field goals. It's important to get there first and we've done a good job of getting there, but we haven't finished as well as we want to finish," he said. "This defense is third in the league now. This is a very, very good defense."
- JOE DOLAN
SEGREST: AKERS HITTING HIS STRIDE
He leads the league in points. He's only missed four field goals this season. But kicker David Akers has had to deal with criticism that he's not the elite kicker he once was when he was a perennial Pro Bowl selection earlier in the decade.
That may have changed.
Last Sunday, Akers hit all four of his field goal attempts in tricky conditions in the second half to help the Eagles pad the lead in their 26-7 win over Seattle. Not only did he hit them, but all of them were drilled down the middle with plenty of room to spare. Two of them were from 40 and 42 yards out.
"It was definitely great to see David have that kind of success," special teams coordinator Rory Segrest said. "I think the major thing there is that he has maintained his level of confidence and obviously we maintained our confidence in him. It was unfortunate that he missed some long field goals early in the season—three of them over 50 yards. We know he is a great kicker, he knows he can make those kicks. He's had the leg strength all season. He hasn't come up short on any of them; just kind of mis-aimed on a couple of them early. We feel confident about where he is right now and hopefully he can continue to have that kind of success for the remainder of the season."
One would think it would have been the leg strength that plagued Akers, but it's been well-documented that Akers' offseason workout program - P-90X - helped make his leg stronger than ever. Akers admitted earlier this season that he had not been 100 percent ever since the hamstring injury he suffered in 2005. But with the newly-founded strength, Akers needed to find control. It looks like he has that now.
The strength has been a blessing in one area where accuracy is not a necessity - kickoffs. Akers has eight touchbacks this season, which is already more than the six he had all of last season.
"It has definitely helped us out, in terms of average starting field position of our opponents," Segrest said. "If you look at our kick return average that we are giving up, obviously we gave up a couple big returns there. It is kind of a direct correlation. The deeper kicks you have, the more yardage you are going to give up. Ultimately, the main thing we look at is average starting position of our opponent. I think right now we are 12th in that and we are sitting in pretty good shape on things. A lot of that has to do with Dave getting the ball downfield and hanging it up there for us to get down and cover."
- CHRIS McPHERSON