Let’s take a look at the Giants' offense and what kind of challenges it will present the Eagles on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. This unit has begun to hit its stride, scoring 38 points last week and 27 the week before. And since the last time these two teams faced off, I noticed something noteworthy with their star players – Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham. Jr.
Going back to his days at Penn State, Barkley was an extremely physically gifted back with a rare combination of natural power and explosive speed. He made plays others simply couldn’t, both in the run game and in the passing game based purely off that raw ability. The biggest knock on Barkley, however, was his vision inside traffic. Barkley was tabbed as a "run from color" running back, meaning that when he saw the opposing team’s jersey "color" inside the tackles that he would look to bounce the run outside. This resulted in a bunch of negative plays each game. After the San Francisco game two weeks ago, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said in a press conference that he wanted to see less of that from Barkley, calling for his first-round pick to be a more willing hammer downhill in the run game.
Well, against the Bucs, Barkley came through.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
These runs may not look all that attractive at first glance. There is a 5-yard run in there, a 14-yard scamper, and a 10-yard jaunt as well. These aren’t the 40-yard jaw-droppers that we’re used to seeing from the No. 2 overall pick. But you know what? This was Barkley’s most impressive (a.k.a. SCARY) game that I’ve ever seen. Because of his sheer power and explosiveness, he makes these simple 8-yard runs look easy. He picks up the yardage in a hurry. Since there’s no wasted movement at all, he’s able to just plunge forward and pick up huge chunks. And at 233 pounds, he’s not easy to bring down. This is what the Giants were hoping for when they took him and if Sunday’s game was a sign of things to come, then it’s a frightening omen for NFL defenses.
Looking at this from an Eagles perspective, it will be imperative for the defensive line to win their one-on-one battles up front. Great run defense requires play from all 11 defenders, and the issues the Eagles have had over the last couple of weeks I would place more on the back seven than on the front four. In this game, however, a dominant performance from the D-Line would go a long, long way. That’s where the return of Tim Jernigan really becomes important. If he looks as good as I think he will in this game, and the Eagles can keep Barkley from reaching that second level, that will do wonders for the defense. Again, good run defense means quality discipline and toughness from the secondary as well, but stopping Barkley has to start up front.
The Giants still love to use Barkley out in space as a pass catcher as well. The Giants did all kinds of things with him in the passing game in the first half of the year, and I expect that to continue throughout his career. He is a very tough matchup because of that size/speed combo but also because of his hands. He’s a tough matchup for anyone in the open field.
Now let’s get to Beckham. The last time these two teams played, the Eagles limited OBJ to the worst regular-season game of his career, statistically. In the four games since that night, the Pro Bowl wideout has averaged six catches for 106.5 yards and a touchdown per game. Part of why is because of Beckham’s raw ability. He’s one of the best route runners in the league and his hands are out of this world. He wins with speed and quickness early in the down then finishes plays with competitiveness and ball skills. He’s unquestionably one of the toughest players to cover in football.
They’re not just relying on Odell’s physical tools alone. They’re doing some different kinds of things with him than what we’ve seen in the past under the old staff. The Giants are doing much more these days off of play-action where the receivers line up tight to the formation (in what are called "tight" splits). The run look pre-snap along with the play-fake helps keeps those second- and third-level defenders guessing, but more importantly it also causes the defense to immediately check into a single-high look, pulling an eighth defender into the box to defend the run. The Giants then attack those single-high coverages with route concepts in the deep part of the field, allowing Beckham to work over the top. This has created some big plays in the passing game, and the addition this offseason of a guy like Barkley helps play to that strength.
As you can see on those snaps, the complementary receivers work with the run fake to help open things up for Odell downfield. Manning dropped back off play-action and lofted beautiful passes over the top for explosive plays downfield. Manning was 10-for-10 off play-action last week for 155 yards and a touchdown. That’s something to watch for sure in this game.
Lastly, let’s wrap this all up with the two complementary pieces in this passing game, Evan Engram at tight end and Sterling Shepard in the slot at receiver.
Engram doesn’t play as much these days, as the Giants work in their other tight ends in heavy personnel packages to better impact the run game as blockers. Shurmur still finds opportunities to get Engram going as a pass catcher both in the quick game and in the vertical game. Shepard is simply one of the most slippery receivers in football, showing off the quickness and savvy route running to create separation and make people miss in space.
In closing, this is a tough Giants offense to defend, both schematically and from a personnel standpoint. They can run the ball hard. They can beat you outside the numbers and between the hashes in the passing game. The Eagles' defense will have to come ready to play on Sunday afternoon. They had one of their best outings of the year back in Week 6 against this team in prime time, and they’ll need a repeat performance at the Linc.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.