The Eagles are preparing for Thursday Night Football against the New York Giants, another divisional showdown. Check out some of the key players to watch.
It's obvious that division games mean a little bit more than all the other games on the schedule. There's the fact that teams know divisional foes better, and generally have more anguish toward them than anyone else. But the main reason, of course, is how important they are to the playoff hunt. If a team wants to win their division, they have to play well in those six key games. It's as simple as that.
The Eagles have played two divisional games this season, falling to Washington and Dallas by a combined 13 points. Both games ended up being close, though Washington outplayed the Eagles for most of that matchup, while the Eagles outperformed Dallas for most of that game. But there are no moral victories in the NFC East, and the Eagles need to improve on their 0-2 divisional record.
They'll have their first chance to do so on Sunday with a trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to play the Giants.
Since 2004, the Eagles have won 11 of their 13 games played at the Meadowlands, including a playoff win in the 2008 season. The Eagles have won three straight at MetLife Stadium, and they've scored, 36, 34 and 35 points, respectively, in those three wins. There's been plenty of talk recently about what the Eagles' offense needs to do to get back on track and put up more points, so perhaps Sunday's game is the perfect time to get things going.
Like the Eagles, the Giants' season has been a series of ups and downs. A 2-0 start was followed by three straight losses. But since then, the Giants have won two straight. The Eagles, on the other hand, have dropped three of four after a 3-0 start, and most of the struggles have been caused by poor execution late in close games, and this game is almost certain to be close. There have been five head-to-head NFC East games this season in the NFL. No game has been decided by more than seven points.
The Eagles are focused on finding ways to dig deep and close games, even with a very young group of skill-position players on offense. The Giants will put the Eagles to the test. Here's the preview ...
- Alex Smith
Last Time They Met
Eagles 35, Giants 30
January 3, 2016 – MetLife Stadium
The last game between these two teams served as a turning point for both organizations. It was the first time the Eagles played after the dismissal of their head coach and it was the final time the Giants would play before the resignation of their head coach.
In that Week 17 game, Philadelphia was able to come together as a team and walk away from MetLife Stadium with a win to finish at 7-9 on the season. The Eagles were ahead for the majority of the matchup, but in the third quarter New York took a six-point lead, its first and only of the game. Quarterback Eli Manning found wide receiver Rueben Randle for a 45-yard touchdown to go up, 27-21, one play after a DeMarco Murray fumble.
Shortly thereafter, the Eagles' defense was able to force a turnover of its own. Connor Barwin sacked Manning, forcing the ball out of the quarterback's hands in the process. Safety Walter Thurmond picked up the fumble and returned it 83 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:34 left in the third. Jordan Matthews later added on another Eagles touchdown in the fourth quarter, while the defense held New York to only three more points.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles, Zach Ertz set a career high that afternoon with 152 receiving yards on nine receptions. The tight end was an integral part of the outcome of the matchup, which helped end the Eagles' season on a positive note after a disappointing few weeks.
- Julie Bacanskas
When The Eagles Have The Ball**
Will the Eagles challenge the New York Giants vertically this week to help open up the offense?
Quarterback Carson Wentz threw the ball 43 times Sunday night against the Cowboys, a career high, and completed over 74 percent of his pass attempts. The Eagles finished the night, however, with only 202 passing yards. To the Eagles' credit, they had five drives of eight plays or more. The approach worked for three-plus quarters as the Eagles led by 10 points, but unfortunately they were unable to put the game away.
This week, the Eagles head up the New Jersey Turnpike for their final road NFC East showdown of the 2016 season against the Giants. New York revamped its defense in the offseason and ranks 17th in terms of yards allowed, but 10th in points per game and second in red zone defense. Those "bend-but-don't-break" numbers are in line with a Steve Spagnuolo-led unit, as the Giants' defensive coordinator honed his craft under the legendary Jim Johnson in Philadelphia.
Up front, the Giants added pass rusher Olivier Vernon from the Miami Dolphins. He has only one sack on the season, despite playing 91 percent of the team's snaps. In fact, the Giants have struggled to get to the quarterback all season with only nine sacks to their credit, good for 31st in the NFL. The team leader in sacks is safety Landon Collins. Former first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul is the starter and three-down end opposite of Vernon. He has not been able to regain the Pro Bowl form from his 2011 and 2012 campaigns.
In the middle of the defense, Damon Harrison was pried away from the other team that plays at MetLife Stadium in the New York Jets. The former undrafted player has 35 tackles and three tackles for loss on the season. Between Harrison and former second-round pick Johnathan Hankins, the interior of the Giants' defensive line is stout and tough to run against. New York ranks 10th in terms of rushing yards allowed this season.
Weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas is the captain of the Giants' defense. In his second year with the team, Casillas is second on the Giants with 54 tackles. He has two double-digit tackle performances to his credit in 2016. He is on the field, however, for fewer than 75 percent of the team's snaps. Why? He's been beat the most in coverage this season among all Giants defenders, allowing 22 receptions, according to STATS LLC. Keenan Robinson has started at both middle and strongside linebacker this season, and is third on the team in tackles.
The secondary is the strength of this defensive unit. Janoris Jenkins was signed in free agency from the St. Louis Rams, and has two interceptions and 10 passes defensed on the year. First-round pick Eli Apple and former Eagle Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have given Spagnuolo plenty of flexibility when all three are healthy. Apple and Rodgers-Cromartie have battled through injuries this season. All three are expected to be good to go coming out of the bye week, however. Jenkins will play on either side, shadowing the opponent's best receiver. Apple works on the outside, while Rodgers-Cromartie is in the slot the majority of the time.
The breakout player for this Giants defense has been Collins. He will play the deep middle. Spagnuolo will place him near the line of scrimmage, which was considered his strength coming out of Alabama in the 2015 NFL Draft. He leads the team in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead in interceptions.
Even with all of the talent, the Giants are 22nd against the pass this season. Wentz and the Eagles should have their opportunities to attack down the field. The question is how many chances will head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich want to take.
- Chris McPherson
When The Giants Have The Ball
Unable to stop the Cowboys' overtime drive last weekend, the Eagles' defense enters this matchup with a chip on its shoulder. The group wants to ensure it has a better performance with a more positive result on Sunday against this New York offense, which has a number of standout players who will need to be stopped.
Heading into Week 9, the Giants are ranked 19th in the league with 345.3 yards of offense per contest, the majority of which come from their passing game. Currently they average 275 yards in the air, sixth most among all NFL teams. The emphasis on the pass game isn't a surprise when looking at the team's wide receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. The three have 630, 334 and 331 receiving yards, respectively. Beckham is sixth among receivers in the league with his impressive yardage total and leads the Giants with three receiving touchdowns.
Nevertheless, the Eagles' defense has excelled when it comes to that area of the game and is the No. 5 team allowing only 214.1 passing yards each outing. The run game on the other hand, has been more of a struggle. Although the team fared well against the NFL's leading rusher last Sunday in Ezekiel Elliott, the Eagles have let teams rack up 114.6 rushing yards each week. But, the Giants' offense has also had issues with picking up yards on the ground. The team is currently ranked last in the league with only 70.3 rushing yards on average.
At the end of the day though, the final score is all that matters. Philadelphia is still one of the stingiest defenses when it comes to scoring, holding teams to 16.7 points. Only the Vikings, Seahawks and Patriots allow fewer. In terms of the Giants, they rank 26th in the NFL, averaging only 19 points per game.
The Eagles will certainly be prepared for familiar foe Eli Manning as well. So far this season, the quarterback has posted an 87.3 rating with eight touchdowns against six interceptions. He has also taken 10 sacks through seven games, a number this Philadelphia defense will work to increase. The Eagles have had much success disrupting the quarterback in 2016 and currently rank tied for third with 22 sacks. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox have been especially productive among the team's defensive linemen. Graham has consistently been graded as one of the best edge defenders this season by Pro Football Focus, while Cox leads all defensive tackles in sack yardage (32).
- Julie Bacanskas
1. CB Nolan Carroll vs. WR Odell Beckham, Jr. - Carroll goes from facing Dez Bryant to Beckham. Fans will recall the late touchdown by Bryant last Sunday, but overall Carroll battled well. Beckham isn't 100 percent as he's recovering from a hip injury. But he has 32 straight games with at least three catches and 18 consecutive contests with a catch of 10 yards or more. In Week 6 against Baltimore, Beckham sparked the Giants with eight catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
2. DE Brandon Graham vs. T Bobby Hart - It could be argued that Brandon Graham has been the best player on defense for the Eagles this season. Graham leads the team in tackles for loss (7), QB hurries (20) and forced fumbles (2), and is tied for the team lead with four sacks. Hart was put in the lineup during the Week 2 contest after Marshall Newhouse suffered a calf injury. Newhouse is practicing on a limited basis, but it remains to be seen whether or not he will play Sunday.
3. WR Dorial Green-Beckham vs. CB Janoris Jenkins - Jenkins was part of the Giants' big spending spree in free agency to shore up the defensive side of the ball. With a limited pass rush, the Giants have relied on the secondary to hold up and for the most part it has. Jenkins has eight passes defensed in the past three games. The Eagles have to find a way to stretch the field and the 6-5, 237-pound Green-Beckham provides the size and ability to test defenses in the vertical game. At the very least, DGB can use that big frame to help draw pass interference penalties.
4. G Stefen Wisniewski vs. DT Johnathan Hankins - With Allen Barbre likely sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Wisniewski is in line to make his first start as an Eagle at left guard. Hankins is a disruptive force in the run game as he has registered at least one tackle for loss in each of the past two contests. The Eagles will need to establish the run to help make things easier for quarterback Carson Wentz in the pass game. The 6-2, 320-pound Hankins also has a blocked punt on his résumé in 2016.*
- Chris McPherson*
Trends To Watch
52: The Eagles have sacked Eli Manning 52 times in 24 games. That's the most sacks Manning has endured from any single opponent in his 13-year career. Manning's 15 losses to the Eagles are also his most against any opponent.
159: In two games played at MetLife Stadium, wide receiver Jordan Matthews has racked up 15 catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns.
-7: While New York's defense has improved since last season, they've only created seven takeaways (tied for the third fewest in the league). Meanwhile, the Giants' offense has given the ball away 14 times. New York's -7 turnover differential is tied for 28th out of 32 teams.
70.3: The Giants have been as one-dimensional as can be on offense in 2016. New York has a total of just 492 rushing yards on the year, and its average of 70.3 rushing yards per game ranks last in the league.
*- Alex Smith