After three straight losses, the Eagles find themselves at 1-3 through the first quarter of the season. Certainly, that record is a disappointment thus far, but there's a silver lining for the Eagls in the big picture. Despite those losses, the Eagles remain 1-0 in the division and 1-0 in the NFC while only trailing the Dallas Cowboys by one game in the NFC East. So the Eagles have an opportunity to turn things around quickly on Sunday with a divisional tilt against the surprising 0-4 New York Giants. All three phases for the Eagles will need to improve this week for the team to come home with a victory. The offense must convert yards into touchdowns, the defense must get off the field on third down and special teams cannot afford to surrender any more big plays.
The Giants, meanwhile, find themselves in a similar situation to the Eagles. At 0-4, their season is on the line this weekend, especially since they're the home team. What has happened to the usually consistent Giants in 2013? The lack of a running game on offense and the offensive line's inability to consistently protect Eli Manning has led to a bevy of turnovers while the once stout defense has had trouble stopping opponents consistently. Either way, come late Sunday afternoon, one team's fortunes will have changed significantly within the NFC East.
Last Time They Met At MetLife Stadium:
December 30, 2012 -- Eagles 7, Giants 42
In the final regular season game of the 2012 season, the Eagles fell in a lopsided game on the road that would serve as Andy Reid's final game as head coach of the Eagles. Michael Vick returned to the starting lineup after an injury to Nick Foles the previous week but was knocked out of action in the game himself. Eli Manning threw five touchdown passes on the day, including two to Rueben Randle.
When The Eagles Have The Ball:
The poor play of the Eagles defense last Sunday overshadowed a decent offensive performance against the Broncos. The Eagles were able to play balanced football in the first half, but then relied heavily on the pass when playing catch-up in the second half. The Eagles racked up 450 yards of total offense, 166 of which came on the ground. On the season, the Eagles rank second in the NFL in average total yards per game at 458.8, trailing only Denver. LeSean McCoy continues to lead the NFL rushing with 468 yards, and the Eagles did not commit a turnover against the Broncos. That was the good.
Then there's the bad. The biggest issue with the Eagles offense in the last two games has been the inability to convert all of those yards into points. The abundance of yards gained have meant little over the last two games as the Eagles have combined for only 36 points during that time. This will be the key against the Giants in what is sure to be a closely contested divisional game. Excluding the possession when the Eagles received the ball with 10 seconds left in the first half and took a knee, the Eagles had 10 possessions against the Broncos, and came up empty-handed in six of them (five punts and a missed field goal). In a game where the Eagles seemingly fixed their turnover problems, penalties and drops came back to haunt the team. The most important thing to watch against the Giants will be the Eagles' ability to finish their drives with touchdowns instead of field goal attempts or punts. At 44.2 percent, the Eagles have been fairly efficient on third-down conversions, and they will have to fare well in that statistic on Sunday.
On the ground against the Broncos, the Eagles were able to mix in all three of their running backs in the most effective way to date this season. Granted that some of that rotation was caused by the thin air draining the backs, but Bryce Brown and Chris Polk were very effective in their playing time, with Polk scoring on his first career offensive touch. The Giants rank 28th in rushing defense, so McCoy, Brown and Polk could be in for big days.
If the Eagles want to move the ball through the air, the secondary targets will need to prove themselves. DeSean Jackson has done his part with 21 catches on the season, but opposing defenses are now game-planning around him, making the other Eagles targets beat them, which hasn't been happening. Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and Brent Celek have combined for just 27 receptions in four games and have struggled recently in getting separation from defenders. Whether it's a member of that trio, or someone like Zach Ertz, James Casey or even Jeff Maehl, who flashed late in the Denver game, someone must step up to become a consistent No. 2 option for Michael Vick.
The other glaring issue for the Eagles offense that will be a key factor in Sunday's game against New York will be the play of the entire offensive line. Highly touted coming into the season, the five-man unit up front has had a few miscues over the past few weeks in both protection and penalties. All five starters can play better then they have been recently, and the Giants will put them to the test. New York is tied for last in the NFL with just four sacks on the season, but they will be desperately looking to improve those numbers against a divisional foe. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka are dangerous lineman with affinities for getting to the quarterback.
The Giants secondary has come away with four interceptions this season, including two last week off of Alex Smith, who rarely turns the ball over. Prince Amukamara, Aaron Ross, Ryan Mundy and Antrel Rolle have each picked off one pass this season, so Vick will have to be wise in his decision-making. However, the Giants defense ranks 19th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, with opponents averaging 261.8 yards per game through the air. New York's defense appears to present a prime opportunity for Vick to improve his 55.1 completion percentage and get the Eagles offense back on track.
|Eagles Projected Starting Lineup|
|QB Mike Vick||DE Cedric Thornton|
|RB LeSean McCoy||NT Isaac Sopoaga|
|WR Riley Cooper||DE Fletcher Cox|
|WR Jason Avant||ROLB Trent Cole|
|LT Jason Peters||MLB Mychal Kendricks|
|LG Evan Mathis||MLB DeMeco Ryans|
|C Jason Kelce||LOLB Connor Barwin|
|RG Todd Herremans||LCB Bradley Fletcher|
|RT Lane Johnson||RCB Cary Williams|
|TE Brent Celek||S Nate Allen|
|WR DeSean Jackson||S Patrick Chung|
When The Giants Have The Ball:
After a 31-7 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the New York Giants sit at 0-4 for the first time since 1987. The offense has registered just one score (a touchdown) in its last 25 drives over two games and has struggled to find any sort of consistent effectiveness. It ranks second-to-last in the NFC and third-to-last in the NFL in points per game (15.3) and has turned the ball over an astounding 16 times (10 interceptions, six fumbles lost), most in the NFL.
Quarterback Eli Manning has been under siege behind an aging offensive line that has allowed 14 sacks and many more pressures.Though he has racked up 1,148 yards passing (eighth in the league), Manning has thrown for just 336 yards total and one touchdown in the past two games after 812 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games. Conversely, he has only thrown two interceptions in the past two games, after seven in the Giants' first two games. Manning's 69.1 quarterback rating ranks 28th in the NFL.
The Giants have not been able to get anything going on the ground, with a run game that ranks last in the NFC and 30th in the NFL (57.8 yards per game), though that is certainly affected by the team trailing throughout games thus far. Running back David Wilson was benched in the first game of the season against the Dallas Cowboys after two fumbles – his only two fumbles of the season – and played sparingly the next week against the Denver Broncos. He has since returned to being the lead back for the Giants over the past two games but has not been able to find much running room, with 11 carries for 39 yards against the Carolina Panthers and 13 carries for 55 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs. For the season thus far, Wilson has 38 carries for 130 yards (3.4-yard average), with a long ofjust 18 yards, and a mere two receptions for eight yards. Brandon Jacobs, in his second stint with the Giants, is the backup.
Wide receiver is where the Giants have the deepest collection of talent on offense. Victor Cruz remains Manning's favorite target and is third in the NFL with 425 receiving yards and tied for third with four touchdown catches. An explosive deep threat who averages 16.3 yards per catch, can take the top off the defense and has been good for a reception of at least 50 yards in three of the Giants' four games, Cruz already has touchdowns of 70 and 69 yards. He lines up in multiple spots, can change a game in the blink of an eye and demands safety help. Opposite Cruz is Hakeem Nicks, who has been battling a finger injury all season and has just 12 catches, though for 230 yards (19.2-yard average), and no touchdowns. Rounding out the trio is second-year pro Rueben Randle, who has just six catches for 61 yards in three games following his breakout, five-catch 101-yard performance against the Cowboys. The other receiving option is tight end Brandon Myers, a free agent signing from Oakland, who has 16 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown.
The Eagles defense is coming off a disappointing game against the Denver Broncos in which it played well early on but relented as the game progressed and quarterback Peyton Manning made the necessary post-halftime adjustments. The defense now switches gears from facing the NFL's very best offense to one that ranks in the bottom third in the division-rival Giants. However, the Eagles defense has had plenty of issues of its own and has not allowed fewer than 26 points in any game. The Eagles defense currently ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed (446.8 per game), 31st in passing yards allowed per game (325.0) and has not intercepted a pass since Cary Williams picked off Robert Griffin III early in the third quarter against the Redskins in the season opener or forced a single turnover in 10 quarters. The defense cannot go into this game thinking the struggling Giants will be an easy matchup because that offense could click at any moment.
The Eagles defensive line had trouble generating pressure against Manning,save for Cedric Thornton's sack at the end of the second quarter. Thornton has been one of the team's standouts so far and continues to improve with each game. He and Fletcher Cox are an excellent duo for the defense to build around at defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. Both will have to be on top of their games to help control the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket against the Giants.
The Eagles linebacker corps of Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin will have to help patrol the middle of the field and the flats in pass coverage, but they also have to be disciplined and make sure they fill the proper gaps against the run. Just because the Giants have had difficulty running the ball so far does not mean an explosive playmaker like David Wilson is incapable of breaking a long run if he gets a sliver of daylight and can escape a tackle attempt. Brandon Graham will be relied upon to supply pass rush off the edge.
The secondary had some success at points in the first half against the Broncos but had a lot of trouble maintaining that level of play against Manning, particularly in the second half. Receivers were running free in the secondary and did not encounter much resistance in the 21-point third quarter that blew the game open. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin need to bounce back and blanket Cruz, Nicks and Randle. If Patrick Chung cannot play again due to his shoulder injury, the safety tandem of Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff will start against the Giants and be responsible for helping contain the Giants' talented wide receivers. Wolff showed some promise despite adverse circumstances and will continue to grow as he gets more playing time.
|Giants Projected Starting Lineup|
|QB Eli Manning||LDE Justin Tuck|
|RB David Wilson||LDT Linval Joseph|
|FB Bear Pascoe||RDT Mike Patterson|
|WR Hakeem Nicks||RDE Mathias Kiwanuka|
|LT Will Beatty||SLB Keith Rivers|
|LG Kevin Boothe||MLB Mark Herzlich|
|C Jim Cordle||WLB Spence Paysinger|
|RG James Brewer||LCB Aaron Ross|
|RT Justin Pugh||RCB Prince Amukamara|
|TE Brandon Myers||FS Ryan Mundy|
|WR Victor Cruz||SS Antrel Rolle|
Eagles Safeties vs. Victor Cruz
Cruz is the Giant's equivalent of DeSean Jackson. He is the deep threat who has proven the ability to strike at any time. When the Giants are looking down and out offensively, Eli Manning and Cruz have the ability to change the entire game with long pass and catch. This season, Cruz has had game-high catches of 70, 51, and 69 yards. Since 2011, Cruz has found the end zone 23 times, five of which have come against the Eagles, with the speedy receiver averaging 99.8 yards per game in four career contests. Though much of the burden of stopping Cruz will fall on either Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher, the Eagles safeties will need to make sure the Massachusetts product doesn't get behind them. Whether Nate Allen, Patrick Chung or Earl Wolff is playing over the top, keeping Cruz contained will be crucial to the Eagles success.
Eagles vs. Themselves
As mentioned earlier, the Eagles did a nice job of not turning the ball over against the Broncos, but they still committed what Chip Kelly refers to as "S.I.W"s, or self-inflicted wounds. Whether it was a holding penalty or a drive-stalling drop, the Eagles continued to stop themselves offensively. Meanwhile, the Giants have been prone to mistakes, turning the ball over 16 times this season (10 interceptions, six lost fumbles). If the Eagles can play a mistake-free game and force the Giants to continue their turnover-prone ways, they could be leaving Metlife Stadium victorious with most of their schedule still ahead of them.
Players To Watch
Linebacker Connor Barwin, No. 98
Don't be surprised to see linebacker Connor Barwin turned loose on Giants quarterback Eli Manning this Sunday. Barwin has 18 tackles, 2.0 sacks and two pass knockdowns this season. The Giants have allowed 14 sacks this season, which is tied for fourth most in the NFL. Like the Eagles, the Giants have their first-round pick starting at right tackle in Justin Pugh. According to Pro Football Focus, Pugh has allowed two sacks and 19 quarterback hurries in the first four games. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles rush the veteran linebacker and test the rookie right tackle.
Tight End Zach Ertz, No. 86
Is the second-round pick's role increasing in the offense? Zach Ertz made his first-career start on Sunday as the Eagles opened in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) and featured this package more often than in previous contests. Ertz logged a career-high 31 offensive snaps and hauled in a career-long 38-yard reception. Ertz has five catches for 112 yards, an average of 22.4 yards per reception. The Giants lost playmaking safety Stevie Brown in the preseason to a torn ACL. Two of the Giants' four interceptions this season have been by their safeties - one by former Steeler Ryan Mundy and one by Antrel Rolle. Ertz has the athleticism to stretch the field and eat up chunks of yardage at a time. With the Giants pass rush tied for the fewest sacks in the league, Ertz should have time to find the holes in the defense.
Quarterback Eli Manning, No. 10
Only one quarterback has been sacked more in the NFL this season than Eli Manning and that's Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. The constant pressure has forced Manning to throw a league-high nine interceptions. He has 1,148 passing yards with six touchdowns for a 69.1 passer rating. Add two more lost fumbles and Manning is tied with the Jets' Geno Smith for the most turnovers in the league. For his career against the Eagles, Manning has completed 59 percent of his passes for 4,149 yards with 34 touchdowns against 18 interceptions for an 88.4 passer rating in 18 regular season games.
LB Mark Herzlich, No. 58
Since the start of the season, opponents have employed a linebacker to spy quarterback Michael Vick. Last week, the Broncos used middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard. It would be unlikely to see the Giants put Herzlich in this role. The third-year middle linebacker has been credited with a career-high 19 tackles already in just the first four games of the season. Herzlich is a smart, downhill linebacker. With head coach Chip Kelly's desire to get his playmakers in space to win one-on-one matchups, the Eagles will look to get running back LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, against the 6-foot-4, 246-pound Herzlich.