I'd love to tell you I'm confident about the team's chances against the Giants. Actually, I am confident. If the Eagles who beat the Rams, Steelers, or Cardinals show up, they'll win. If the Eagles from the Ravens or Bengals game show up, we'll get to see Eli Manning's backup play most of the fourth quarter as the Giants enjoy their 12th win of the year.
I've read some fans' comments about the game. They act as if the Eagles need a miracle to win this game. No way. The Eagles didn't play great in the first meeting and lost by five points. They had the ball near midfield at the end of the game when their drive stalled. The Eagles can beat the Giants. They don't need luck or miracles or any of that kind of stuff.
The Eagles need to play sound football and make plays when they have a chance. It might help to slow down the running attack. Stopping their running game would be ideal, but at least be a speed bump. Even that didn't happen last time and the Giants won in large part because of it.
There is a big difference this time out. No Plaxico Burress. Jim Johnson did a lot to control and contain Burress in the first meeting. That part of the plan worked pretty well. He only caught one pass (although it was a touchdown). The problem is that Johnson figured that the front seven would control the line of scrimmage and handle the run. That part of the plan didn't work out as planned. You could also say the same about New Coke.
Johnson has to focus on the run this time around. If a receiving corps of Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon beats you, so be it. You have to trust the secondary to cover those guys and make some plays. The key to this game is stacking the box and forcing the Giants to throw. Eli Manning has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the league, so it isn't as if getting him to throw the ball is terrible for New York. The point is that the Giants are built to run. Make them throw the ball and they are somewhat out of their comfort zone. It gives you a better chance to handle their offense. That doesn't mean they won't move the ball and score points.
The Eagles secondary is coming off their best game of the season. They had a very good showing in the win over Arizona. Johnson knew the Cardinals wanted to throw the ball so he came up with a gameplan that challenged his defensive backs. They responded with outstanding coverage and some big plays.
One of the key reasons the Eagles played so well last week was that Quintin Mikell and Brian Dawkins controlled the middle of the field. They didn't allow receivers to get behind them. The times when receivers caught or attempted to catch passes in front of them resulted in plenty of punishing hits. That caused a sure-handed receiving corps to drop several passes.
Kurt Warner has a habit of putting the ball up high for his receivers because of their size and ability to go up and pluck the ball. That didn't work so well on Thanksgiving night. Eagles defensive backs got in shot after shot when receivers would go up for the ball. Having Dawkins hit you in the small of the back at full speed will discourage you from extending for the ball the next time around. If you do reach for it, your concentration will be split between making the catch and what kind of pain pills will help you get to sleep that night.
The good safety play also created three turnovers. Dawkins forced a fumble with a big hit on Anquan Boldin. Both Dawkins and Mikell came away with interceptions. A defense that can create those kinds of turnovers is going to win most of the time.
The safeties won't be able to play the same way this week. Johnson will need to bring them down into the box to show the Giants an eight-man front. That makes running the ball tougher and tempts the offense to throw the ball. It puts pressure on the cornerbacks to cover receivers tightly. It also forces the one safety that does stay deep to be precise in his reads. A mistake by him leaves the middle of the field wide open and that can lead to a huge play or long touchdown.
I think the Eagles secondary can do a good job on the Giants receivers. There is talent on both teams, but I trust the Eagles players to hold their own. Getting Asante Samuel back on the field certainly helps. The real pressure is on the defensive line. They must get to Manning, in the form of hits, sacks, or at least pressures. If you allow Manning to comfortably stand in the pocket and throw the ball he will be successful.
In the first meeting, the Giants blockers won the battle up front. Trent Cole had a sack, but the rest of the pass rushers were kept under control. That cannot happen again. Darren Howard has to get free up the middle. Juqua Parker has to do more. He really struggled. Chris Clemons barely played in the game. He's looked much better since then.
Victor Abiamiri is one guy up front who could help out a great deal in this game. He has the size and strength to handle the left defensive end spot and hold up better against the Giants running game than Parker. He also has the size and strength to push the pocket when he plays left defensive tackle in the nickel package. Abiamiri needs to come up big this week.
Omar Gaither was reportedly benched in large part due to his struggles in the first Giants game. Akeem Jordan has played well at weakside linebacker in his place. A strong showing from him would really help. Gaither got blocked by the fullback too much. Jordan needs to win that battle to help throw off the running attack. His speed helps in coverage. He's able to cover more ground in the flats as well as the middle of the field.
I guess the real question a lot of people have is what to expect of the offense. Will we see a balanced attack this week or will the team go back to throwing the ball? I think a lot of that depends on whether the run game is successful early on. If Brian Westbrook and his blockers can create a couple of positive plays, the coaches are more likely to stick with it. If they struggle, the coaches will find it easier to dial up more pass plays.
Scoring wasn't a problem in the first game, but maintaining drives was. The Eagles were only three-of-11 on third down conversions. They only had one drive go more than 65 yards. That can't happen again. The Giants offense constantly had the ball and they wore down the defense.
The Eagles must score touchdowns, but also need to be efficient on offense. They must keep the chains moving and make Eli Manning a spectator. McNabb and company did a fantastic job of that on Thanksgiving night. Warner and his teammates watched the Eagles offense go up and down the field methodically. That is a helpless feeling.
Brian Westbrook had a great game last week. We need to see a repeat performance. The Giants kept him out of the end zone and only allowed him 59 total yards last time. That can't happen on Sunday. The coaches need to get the ball to Westbrook and he must make good things happen. He looked really good against the Cardinals. He's had a few extra days of rest because that was a mid-week game. There better be plenty of pep in his step in New York. The Eagles need him to perform like a Pro Bowl player.
Big-time players step up in big-time games. Lots of pressure will be on McNabb, Westbrook, Cole, Samuel and Dawkins. These guys all have good track records. Let's hope they come through on Sunday.