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Defense Must Set Tone Against Giants

The loudest ovations will be for Michael Vick and the offense as they are introduced to the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. The early statement, though, must come from the Eagles' defense. Playing a potent New York offense, one that is capable of playing keep-away with the football, the Eagles must be at their very best and most physical against Eli Manning and Co.

New York comes into this game shorthanded offensively. The Giants are missing wide receiver Steve Smith, one of the game's best route runners and a third-down pass-catching machine. They are down two, and maybe three (Shawn Andrews' back will tell the tale) offensive linemen.

But the Giants still have an excellent scheme, a standout quarterback in Eli Manning (19 touchdowns), a punishing running game and a Pro Bowl-bound receiver in Hakeem Nicks.

It won't be easy for Sean McDermott's group.

So what is the best approach for the Eagles' defense? McDermott needs to be aggressive from the very start and get in Manning's face and force some turnovers. I expect New York to come out and try to pound the football, establish the line of scrimmage, and use the clock with the running game early on. Philadelphia's front seven has to win the battle early and get Manning into a throw-ball situation.

And the defense in the red zone, where the Eagles rank last in the NFL, has to be better. Hold the Giants to a couple of field goals, snag a takeaway, and this game might not be close. Otherwise, though ...

The injuries are a factor, no question about it. But I'm one of those guys who think injuries are overrated in the NFL, unless they come at the quarterback position. Manning is fine, playing fine football, and he has plenty of weapons, even without Smith.

No doubt the Giants are going to come flying into this game, filled with emotion, looking for some redemption after losing to Dallas on Sunday. First place in the NFC East is on the line.

And tonight is a night for the defense.

With the national television audience looking on and anticipating Vick's every move, the Eagles need to win on the other side of the ball to vault into sole position atop the NFC East. For whatever reason, this may not be a game of scoring and fireworks.

It is the NFC East and the Giants, after all, and that combination means the best defense wins. The Eagles have beaten New York and Manning four straight times. They have done a good job against Manning in three of those games -- the shootout in the Meadowlands last year is the exception -- and the formula is one to follow: Bottle up the running game and pressure Manning. Confuse him with coverages. Make him hesitate. Force mistakes.

Do all of that and it is a win for the Eagles. The defense may not get the loudest cheers tonight, but the tone on that side of the ball is what the Eagles must establish right away to win this game.

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