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Fan-Demonium: Big Plays Key In Streak

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Sunday's game against the Giants gives us our first chance to see the team play a home game. It also gives us a chance to see the team play outside for the first time. I don't know about you, but I'd be fine if I never had to watch another game in a dome again. The game is also the NFC East opener for the 2011 season. More importantly, it's the Eagles and the Giants.

Both teams come in with a 1-1 record, but seem very different. The Eagles beat the Rams by 18 points on the road and then blew a late lead against Atlanta. The Giants played poorly and lost to the Skins in the opener. The Giants were able to beat the Rams on Monday night, but were out-gained and needed some lucky breaks to come up with that win. The other huge difference is that the Giants are struggling with injuries. They have a slew of players already on injured reserve. They're also missing guys with short term injuries. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora and wide receiver Mario Manningham aren't expected to play Sunday. Each guy would be a huge boost to the Giants if he were able to go.

The Eagles have beaten the Giants six times in a row. One of the main reasons is big plays. Here are a few of them from the last two years:

2009: 41-yard TD run by Leonard Weaver
2009: 54-yard TD catch by DeSean Jackson
2009: 66-yard TD run by LeSean McCoy
2009: 60-yard fumble return for TD by Sheldon Brown
2009: 72-yard punt return for TD by DeSean Jackson
2009: 60-yard TD catch by DeSean Jackson
2010: 50-yard TD run by LeSean McCoy
2010: 65-yard TD catch by Brent Celek
2010: 35-yard run by Michael Vick, but no TD on the play
2010: 65-yard punt return for TD by DeSean Jackson

Think about how many big plays that is in just four games. It is hard to believe really. What this shows is just how much speed the Eagles have acquired in recent years. The Eagles also know how to come up with big plays. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg do a masterful job of drawing up plays that expose holes in the Giants defense and create favorable match-ups.

Big plays are great, but you can't have them without blocking. Pass protection is going to be crucial on Sunday. When Mike Vick has time to throw, good things happen. The gameplan will be based on protecting him. Vick suffered a concussion on Sunday night and the Eagles know they have to be careful with him. Ever since the 2007 Winston Justice debacle the Eagles have done a good job of handling the Giants pressure. In the last four meetings the Giants have come up with nine total sacks. When you think about how much the Eagles pass, how much the Giants blitz, and how good their defensive line is, that stat is pretty impressive.

I'm sure the Giants will move Justin Tuck around. He is their one impact defensive lineman. Their ideal match-up is Tuck going against right tackle Todd Herremans. That's no insult to Herremans. Tuck is a special player and he'll want to test the new right tackle. The other guy up front to keep an eye on is defensive tackle Rocky Bernard. He caught my eye when watching the Rams/Giants game. Bernard is quick off the ball and plays with good power. Jason Kelce and Kyle DeVan will have their hands full with trying to control him.

The Giants back seven is a mess due to injuries. The Eagles will have favorable match-ups in terms of receivers and cover guys. The key is that Vick must have time to throw. The Giants have a couple of ways to look at this. They could keep their safeties back and try to help out the corners. The other option is to turn the safeties loose and have them blitz like crazy. I'm guessing the Giants go with option B. If you have to go down, go down swinging.

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Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award.

Vick must make careful pre-snap reads and identify where the safeties are. This has been an point of emphasis for him this year. Vick was up and down in the Rams game with his reads. The Falcons didn't attack all that much so he wasn't really tested last week. The Giants will be a huge chance for Vick to show how much progress he's made since last year. They are creative and aggressive. The safeties are also very good at playing around the line of scrimmage. Three of the top four tacklers for the Giants are safeties.

I expect the Eagles to score points. Red zone execution will be important, as always. Not everything is likely to be a 50-yard touchdown, although I wouldn't complain if it turned out that way. The Eagles blew some chances in the first game last year and that kept the Giants closer than they should have been.

Trying to get a handle on the Giants offense is tough. They have totaled 35 points so far this year. The Eagles have scored 55 on offense. The Giants made changes to their offensive line and the blocking hasn't been ideal. Eli Manning has been sacked seven times so far (16 for all of 2010). The running backs aren't finding a lot of room to run. Neither Ahmad Bradshaw nor Brandon Jacobs is averaging more than 3.7 yards per carry. The longest run so far is just 15 yards.

The Giants will run the ball, even if it isn't putting up great numbers. That's just what they do. The big story on this side of things is how the Eagles revamped linebacker corps will do against the Giants running game. Jamar Chaney is back to middle linebacker. He had 16 tackles last year in the December miracle win over the Giants. Moise Fokou is back to SAM. He also played well against the Giants, totaling seven tackles and a sack. Rookie Casey Matthews slides out to the weak side spot.

The changes don't necessarily fix anything. The players must play better, no matter what spot they're in. I'm sure part of the thinking is to get players to spots they are most comfortable with. That should help the players to play at a higher level. You want guys to play and not think as much. Matthews was the one who seemed to struggle the most in that regard. Put on Oregon tape from 2010 and Matthews is flying around and attacking the ball. He wasn't doing that in the first couple of games. I'm looking forward to seeing if the move does spark the linebackers and they do play better.

The one-on-one battle I'm most interested in is Nnamdi Asomugha and receiver Hakeem Nicks. With Manningham out you can bet Eli Manning will throw the ball to Nicks a lot, no matter who is covering him. Nicks is a big, strong receiver with great hands. As good as Asomugha is, he'll have his hands full in dealing with Nicks. Last year Nicks gave Dimitri Patterson fits and was clearly the superior talent in that match-up. Asomugha is a slight upgrade on Patterson, sort of like the Grand Canyon is a slight hole in the ground. Even if Asomugha gives up some catches, I still expect him to win his share of plays in the game. This is the reason you go get a cornerback like him and pay him big money.  He can keep Nicks under control.

Will the kicking game impact the outcome? Neither team has been great on special teams. The Giants have a new punter in Steve Weatherford. He beat out Matt Dodge, who had the nightmare kick to Jackson last year. That brings up the most fun question for Eagles fans - will the Giants kick to Jackson this year?

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