The New York Giants team that comes to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday for a rematch with the Eagles is not the same one that took the field when the two met earlier this month. Though still riddled with injuries, they have added some new pieces that are making an impact – most notably middle linebacker Jon Beason, who has led the defense in tackles in each game since he was inserted into the starting lineup, and running back Peyton Hillis, who racked up 81 total yards and a touchdown on 23 touches in a 23-7 victory against the Minnesota Vikings. Overall, the Giants are simply playing better and more confidently on both sides of the ball, and the Eagles know it.
"They look good," said tight end Brent Celek. "They've improved and they got some people back. They're going to be ready. You guys know that every time we play them that it's a fight to the end. It will be a good game."
"They're a better team than they were a couple weeks ago when we played them," said defensive lineman Fletcher Cox. "They've got a win under their belt, and I know with Eli (Manning), they're going to try to get a lot of things going. We want to try to stop their momentum early and play like we did last time – hit (Manning) early, hit him often."
In the October 6 meeting between the two teams, the Eagles were able to generate pressure up front and force Manning into three intentional grounding penalties and critical interceptions on three consecutive drives in the fourth quarter. The defense was also able to limit star wide receiver Victor Cruz to 48 yards on five catches (12 targets), thanks to suffocating coverage by a variety of players – namely cornerback Brandon Boykin, who personally held the Pro Bowler to zero receptions and recorded a spectacular interception in which he ripped the ball out of Cruz's grasp. Now he and his teammates are looking to repeat that performance.
"I think we were prepared very well by our coaches," Boykin said. "We knew that they were going to throw the deep ball and were going to try us deep a lot. Victor Cruz is primarily the main target, especially on third downs. It turned out to be exactly what we thought, so I guess moving forward it's just honing in on (their scheme), knowing how they're going to attack us again. And the mistakes that we made early on, like the deep ball down the field, we just have to put ourselves in better position."
Cruz will surely make adjustments, but Boykin is confident in his approach.
"I just kind of knew his tendencies, I felt," Boykin said. "I jammed him at the line of scrimmage and disrupted his route, getting that timing off between him and Eli helped a lot. If Eli didn't see him right away, then he wasn't going to go there. In certain situations, we knew (Cruz) was going to be the primary target, so we wanted to eliminate him and that's what we did."
While Cruz did not do any damage against the Eagles, it was fellow wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle who gave the secondary fits. Nicks caught nine passes – on 12 targets – for 142 yards and Randle caught six passes – on 13 targets – for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Manning looks to them often, and both figure to see a lot of throws come their way again.
"I think they have a great receiving corps," said cornerback Cary Williams. "I think they're very talented outside and they have a lot of great guys that can run great routes. They have great hands and the ability to run with the ball in their hands. I think all of them pose a deep threat, especially when Eli's on his game. He can throw the deep ball as good as anybody out there. It's kind of a pick your poison type situation, but I think that we have full confidence in the guys out there with our communication, our technique, and with our fundamentals. I think we can get the job done on Sunday."
The Giants defense, though it ranks 29th in the NFL in offensive points allowed per game (25.0), pitched a shutout against the Vikings – the only touchdown came on a punt return. They now rank 19th in yards allowed per game, at 364.9, and 20th in passing yards allowed per game, at 254.9. The pass rush has started to find its mojo, as it pressured Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman relentlessly Monday night en route to hitting him 13 times and sacking him once. While the sack total of six still ranks last in the league, there is no question the pass rush is rounding into form.
The run defense has also improved, as the front seven swarmed Adrian Peterson and held him to a mere 28 yards on 13 carries – this after limiting Bears running back Matt Forte to 67 yards on 19 carries and LeSean McCoy to 46 yards on 20 carries. So, over the last three games, the Giants run defense has been among the NFL's stingiest, allowing just 141 yards on 52 carries, a 2.7 yards-per-carry average. The unit is now 21st in the league, giving up 110.0 yards per game on the ground, whereas it ranked 28th three weeks ago.
"Their defense, in general, has some great players on it," said center Jason Kelce. "So even before they were playing us, they were playing pretty good defense, so it's not a surprise that they've played well the last couple games. We know in this game we're in for a pretty good matchup."
The Giants may be 1-6, but they are coming off their first win of the season, looking to ride that wave of momentum and perhaps get back in the hunt in a weak NFC East. With that in mind, the Eagles are well aware that if they want to sweep the season series and end their nine-game home losing streak, they will have to play an even better game on Sunday than they did in their 36-21 victory at MetLife Stadium.
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