The biggest game of the year is finally here. The Eagles have walked a tightrope of status games (Colts), playoff-seed games (Bears), and rivalry games (Cowboys, Skins), but this week is absolutely the real deal. The winner of the Eagles-Giants showdown is almost certain to win the NFC East.
The Eagles faced a similar situation in 2008 and beat the Cowboys to secure a playoff spot. Last year, the Eagles played for the division title in the season finale. For some odd reason I can't seem to remember what happened (selective amnesia they call it). Now, the young Eagles of 2010 get their chance to play in such a situation.
I haven't gotten the feeling that this team was tight all year long. Maybe they are too young to know better. Maybe Mike Vick's presence and personality gives everyone a relaxed vibe. Whatever the reason, I hope this trend continues this weekend.
This is the classic matchup of the explosive offense (Eagles are first in the league in yards gained) against the stifling defense (Giants are second in yards allowed). Last time out, our offense scored 27 points and racked up 392 yards. We started slow, punting on two of the first three series. The Giants had an interesting defensive twist that gave us problems. They blitzed safety Antrell Rolle off the left side. He was fast enough to chase Vick and not let him get free. Also, the blitz forced Vick to go to his right, which is tough since he's a left-handed quarterback. Marty Mornhinweg adjusted the game plan to deal with the blitz and Vick adjusted his game, knowing that he had a defensive back coming after him instead of a linebacker or defensive lineman.
I'm sure the Giants will make some adjustments to try and confuse Vick and the offense, but I'm not sure they'll come up with a wrinkle as good as last time. We saw how that turned out. The Giants also kept a pair of defensive backs really deep, trying to limit big pass plays. DeSean Jackson had only 50 yards receiving in the whole game. Jeremy Maclin caught nine passes for 120 yards. LeSean McCoy finished with 140 total yards. The Giants limited Jackson, but had no answers for the other players. The Eagles scored 27 points, but that number is actually low. There were a couple of dropped touchdown passes and a blocked field goal. The Eagles should have scored more than 30 points.
Andy Reid and Mornhinweg didn't have a wild game plan in the first meeting. They did try to burn the Giants with some wide receiver screens, but we just don't execute those very well and we had only minimal success. I'm sure the coaching staff will have some interesting wrinkles to use this week. I'd like to see touches for McCoy, Jerome Harrison and even Owen Schmitt. Hand them the ball and throw them short passes. If the Giants keep a pair of safeties deep that opens a lot of room beyond the line of scrimmage. Get McCoy in space and let him work his magic. I'd also like to see Brent Celek get more involved with the passing game. He'll be asked to block quite a bit, but I think you need to mix him in somewhat. I like him going up against their linebackers.
I'm curious to see how we open the game. We've gone deep in several games on the first play. If the Giants have guys playing way back, that will make it tough to throw downfield. Maybe we send Jackson deep and then throw underneath to Maclin or Celek and try to get 20 to 30 yards instead of 50 to 60. You can bet that Reid and Mornhinweg will try to get big chunks of yards somehow.
None of the skill players will do much if the offensive line doesn't control the line of scrimmage. Left tackle Jason Peters is playing at a very high level. I expect him to keep Osi Umenyiora under control. Winston Justice wants to get back on the field at right tackle, but we have to make sure he's healthy. You don't want to face Justin Tuck if you are physically limited. King Dunlap did a pretty good job last week in Dallas so the team has confidence in him. The guy I'm most focused on is center Mike McGlynn. He struggled in the first game with defensive tackle Barry Cofield. McGlynn must control him. Cofield used the swim move very effectively and was disruptive.
The Eagles defense has a pretty big challenge of its own. The Giants come into the game with a red-hot rushing attack. Brandon Jacobs is averaging 8.5 yards per carry in the last three weeks. He is breaking off long runs (39, 73) as well as pounding the ball on short carries. In the first meeting, we held him to 10 yards on five carries.
Stopping Jacobs will be tougher this time with rookie Jamar Chaney making his first career start at middle linebacker. Chaney played well last week for almost three full quarters. Dallas has a good rushing attack, but they don't have anyone quite like Jacobs. Tackling normal running backs is one thing, but a monster like Jacobs is tough. Stewart Bradley had the size to handle him. Chaney isn't as big and will have to be technically sound when he goes to tackle Jacobs.
The good news is that we play good run defense as a whole unit. Chaney won't be expected to come up with 10 tackles and some big plays. He simply needs to do his job. Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou will help stuff blockers and make tackles. Both guys are very physical players.
The Giants will certainly test Chaney in pass coverage. In the first meeting, Bradley covered tight end Kevin Boss quite a bit. Chaney is faster and more athletic than Bradley, but like most young linebackers is raw in terms of coverage skills. Sean McDermott and linebackers coach Bill Shuey will get the young player as ready as he can, but also may tweak the scheme to help Chaney out.
The defense played well in the first meeting, giving up just 17 points and 208 yards. Cornerback Asante Samuel had a pair of interceptions and recovered a fumble. He was huge in that game. Samuel has dealt with an MCL sprain and missed some recent games. He's hoping to be on the field. Samuel is a nemesis for Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Samuel has picked off Manning in each of the last three years. His return would be a big boost to the defense.
One player I've gotten a few questions about is Derrick Burgess, the player added this week to take the roster spot opened by the injury to Brandon Graham. Burgess is a good addition. He's coming here to be a role player. There isn't much time left in the season so rather than going with a young player the Eagles wanted immediate help. Burgess knows the scheme from his previous time here. He might be a bit rusty, not having played football for the last several months, but a veteran like him will get up to speed quickly. Juqua Parker is the starter at left end. Burgess is just here to play 10 to15 snaps a game and help out. He might not play this week, but could do a nice job in the coming weeks and into the postseason should the Eagles secure a spot.
We'll find out a lot about the 2010 Eagles in Sunday's game. Can this team win critical games? How does Vick play in a cold weather game against a big-time defense? Can the Eagles execute in the red zone, on offense and defense? Can the Eagles defense make some big plays and come up with stops at critical junctures in the game?
I'm optimistic because of how well the offense has played this year, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. Big games should make you feel that way. Things aren't supposed to be easy when the NFC East title is on the line. Mike Vick has had a terrific season in 2010, but a win on Sunday would make it even more special.