The Giants come to town for the biggest game of the year on Sunday night. First place in the NFC East is on the line. Both teams are tied for first now with a record of 6-3. Winning the game doesn't guarantee anything, but it helps quite a bit on the road to the division title. You only play six division games and each one is critical. Plus, being in first place is always a good thing. The view is always better when you're not the one who has to play catch-up.
The Giants are coming off a bad loss. Dallas upset them last week, 33-20. New York had won five games in a row prior to that. They were red hot and thought of by many as the best team in the NFC. We can't make too much of the Giants loss. They were overconfident against Dallas and played a sloppy game. They won't be caught off-guard this week. Losing to Dallas should have them highly motivated to play well.
The Giants can be a tough team to read. They've been good for several years in a row. The general rule of thumb is that good teams follow a loss with a win. The Giants are streakier than most good teams. Last season, they lost four games in a row. In 2008, they lost three out of four in one stretch. In the Super Bowl season of 2007, the Giants lost two of three - twice. When they are hot, watch out. When they are not, you've got a good chance to beat them. I'm curious to see how this group will respond.
The Eagles are coming off a game where they scored 59 points. I'd love to see Michael Vick and the offense go wild again, but I find it hard to believe that will happen against the Giants. The Eagles did score 40 or more points on them in both matchups last season, but the Giants defense is much improved. I do think we can move the ball and score on them. The key to winning for us is protection.
Ever since the 2007 sack debacle, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have based the Giants game plans on pass protection. We've won four of those five meetings so that strategy is working. We have already used similar game plans this season. When King Dunlap took over at left tackle against Atlanta and Tennessee, we had to adjust what we did. We helped him with extra blockers, formations and play designs. You can bet we'll do those same things to keep the Giants under control. New York's defense has 24 sacks on the year and has knocked out several quarterbacks, most notably Tony Romo in the Monday night game in Dallas.
Jason Peters was outstanding last week and we'll need another strong game from him. He'll go up against Osi Umenyiora much of the time. That is a tough matchup. Umenyiora is a pure speed rusher and is playing really well. He leads the team with 8.0 sacks and an amazing seven forced fumbles. Peters can handle the challenge, but we'll err on the side of caution and help him out at times. We'll have the backs chip block Umenyiora on some plays. Speed rushers like to take a wide angle. We can change that by having tight ends line up to that side. Umenyiora then has to go too wide if he wants to stay on the edge or he lines up closer to the left tackle and doesn't have as good a rush angle.
One of the other things we do to affect the Giants rush is feed the ball to our running backs. We'll try to beat their blitz by running the ball. If we catch the Giants in the right look, we can burn them for a big play. Last year in the first meeting, LeSean McCoy had a 66-yard touchdown run and Leonard Weaver had a 41-yard score of his own. We'll also mix in some screen and swing passes. Those are safe, short throws.
We will throw the ball downfield. Last year, DeSean Jackson had 256 receiving yards against the Giants. He burned them for several big plays. The Giants have an improved defense, but they still don't have the fastest secondary in the world. Last week, Dallas burned them with some deep balls. If you can protect up front, receivers can get open down the field. Brent Celek had nine catches against New York in 2009. He was a key threat in the middle of the field. We've been waiting for a breakout game for him this year, but it hasn't happened yet. Sunday night would be a good time for him to come alive.
Obviously, the man the Giants will focus on is Vick. They saw him play an amazing game on Monday night. You can bet the defense will try some interesting wrinkles to slow him down. The Giants are the most athletic front seven that Vick has had to go up against. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure. Vick leads the NFL in passer rating and rushing yards by a quarterback. We've never really seen anything quite like this. Each week defenses will try some new angle, but nothing has worked so far.
The Eagles defense also has quite a challenge. The Giants are very balanced. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is third in the NFL in rushing. You can't sell out to stop him because Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks are a deadly duo in the passing game. Sean McDermott has to create a game plan that deals with both Bradshaw and Manning. I think we'll focus on Bradshaw. Manning isn't as effective when throwing from known passing situations. You can attack him with the rush and get him out of his comfort zone. Dallas got pressure off Manning's left side, in part because there were a couple of backup linemen on the field.
The Giants offensive line has been outstanding in recent years, but the group we'll face on Sunday will look different. Starters David Diehl and Shaun O'Hara will be out. Backup Shawn Andrews is questionable. The backups are solid players, but a step down from the usual outstanding blockers. Antonio Dixon should win his matchup with Kevin Boothe. Dixon has the size/strength/quickness combination to be very disruptive. Trent Cole should have a favorable matchup at left tackle no matter who plays.
I think this is a game where we'll need the linebackers to step up. Stewart Bradley has been very up and down this season. He knows the Giant offense very well. Back in 2008 he faced them three times and had some success. A big game from Bradley helps our run defense immensely and makes the entire defense that much more effective. Moise Fokou and Ernie Sims need to be very active. They must win the battle against blockers in the run game and then cover a lot of ground on pass plays. The secondary will have their hands full with Nicks. He'll have his catches. We must tackle him well to limit his RAC yards. We do catch a break with Steve Smith being out of the game. He is normally a big-time weapon for Manning on third downs.
The Eagles have won two tough games in a row. Now comes the biggest showdown of the season. Since this is a battle for first place, I can't imagine our guys will have any problems getting up for the game. Monday night's blowout of Washington should be a distant memory to the coaches and players. The problem is that you can lose your edge in the second half of a blowout win. That doesn't always come right back the next week. The Giants game will be a good test for us. Will we be focused and ready for them? How will we handle their balance, on offense and defense? How do we stack up with one of the best teams in the NFL? Good answers on Sunday night will bode well for the rest of the season.