The twists and turns of the Eagles' 2013 season continued last week when Nick Foles, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, and the Eagles offense struggled before Foles left after three quarters with a concussion. With Foles a stretch to play this week, the attention has turned to Michael Vick, who has been sidelined for with a hamstring injury since … he injured the hamstring against the New York Giants three weeks ago. With Vick working with the first-team offense in practice thus far, enter the Giants on the horizon Sunday, fresh off their first win of the season on Monday night. If Vick can play, he'll be charged with revitalizing an offense that played its worst game of the season in the three-point effort against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Priority No. 1 for the Eagles on the offensive side of the ball will be getting back to basics on the ground, where LeSean McCoy figures to once again be a major factor.
For the Giants, the season has gotten late quite early. At 1-6, they're looking at a run-the-table scenario to salvage a season with playoff expectations. Offensively, the Giants have struggled to get anything going on the ground with a constantly revolving door of running backs. Meanwhile, a league-worst turnover rate has hampered the usually steady passing game. On defense, the Giants' biggest problem has been getting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback as they rank dead last in the league with only six sacks on the season. Still, there will be no lack of motivation for the Giants in a rivalry game at Lincoln Financial Field, where they know the Eagles have struggled over the last calendar year. The final variable on Sunday will be the familiarity with two teams who lined up on opposite sides only three weeks ago.
Last Time They Met:
October 6, 2013 – Eagles 36, Giants 21
To steal a phrase from Chip Kelly, allows us to hearken back to three weeks ago when the Eagles went on the road to defeat the New York Giants. Much of what has happened since was set in motion that afternoon when Michael Vick pulled up lame while scrambling left, injuring what has become the most popular hamstring in the league since. Nick Foles came on in relief and led the Eagles to victory, thanks in part to a big day from Desean Jackson, who had seven catches for 132 yards and a touchdown.
When Eagles Have The Ball:
After becoming the first offense in NFL history to register at least 425 total yards in each of its first six games, the Eagles offense encountered its first real struggle of the season against the Dallas Cowboys in terms of effectively moving the ball. For an offense that entered the game averaging 6.6 yards per play (second in the NFL), the number is now down to 6.2 yards per play (third in the NFL) after the Eagles averaged a paltry 3.7 yards over 75 plays against the Cowboys. For context, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense ranks last in the NFL with 4.5 yards per play. The Eagles are still averaging 425.3 yards per game (third in the NFL) and will look to get back on track against the New York Giants, whose defense is giving up 391.3 yards (26th in the NFL) and 34.8 points per game (last in the NFL).
Quarterback Nick Foles had his worst performance as a pro against the Cowboys, going 11-of-29 for a mere 80 yards (2.8 average), with no touchdowns or interceptions. The 37.9 percent completion rate was the worst mark of his career, and the 46.2 quarterback rating was the second-lowest of his career, ahead of only the 40.5 he registered in his first ever start, against the Washington Redskins in 2012. To make matters worse, Foles suffered a concussion early in the fourth quarter when he took a hard hit along the sidelines while being sacked. His status for Sunday's game against the Giants is uncertain. Matt Barkley replaced Foles and compiled 129 yards on 11-of-20 passing, but with three interceptions. Michael Vick continues to recover from his hamstring injury and, given the current situation at quarterback, this week of rehab and practice is now even more critical. If Vick is can return to health, he is likely to be the guy come Sunday afternoon.
The Eagles passing attack now ranks 11th in the NFL and is averaging 260.3 yards per game, though it is tied for sixth in yards per attempt at 7.0. The Giants pass defense is allowing 254.9 yards per game (20th in the NFL), and the secondary has been plagued by injuries. That said, Corey Webster is returning from a groin injury and will join Prince Amukamara (who leads the team in tackles with 35) as the other starting cornerback, with Terrell Thomas in the slot. Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy hold down the starting safety spots, with Will Hill as the primary backup.
Eagles receivers had trouble getting consistent separation against the Cowboys defenders, and when they did, Foles was unable to deliver throws on target. From the quarterback to the offensive line to the receivers, the entire offense seemed out of sync. Riley Cooper stepped up and led the team in receiving for the second straight game, finishing with six catches for 88 yards. Zach Ertz was second with three catches for 33 yards. DeSean Jackson, however, was kept in check and only registered 21 yards on three catches. Four weeks ago, however, Jackson torched the Giants to the tune of seven catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles hope he can duplicate that performance on Sunday.
The disappointing performance of the Eagles offense against the Cowboys was not limited to the passing game, as the league's top-ranked rushing offense appeared toothless last Sunday. LeSean McCoy totaled just 55 yards on 18 carries, with a long of 10, and the 91 total yards on 24 touches was his lowest of the season. The 3.1 yards per carry average was the second-lowest, ahead of only the 2.3 yards per carry he averaged against the Giants in the Eagles' 36-21 win at MetLife Stadium. Though it still ranks first in the NFL at 165.0 yards per game, the Eagles rushing attack has been in a funk in general lately after getting off to a blistering start. Specifically, through the first three games, McCoy gained 395 yards on 62 carries, a 6.4 average; in the last four games, however, he has been held to 290 yards on 79 carries, a 3.7 average. The offensive line, meanwhile, is still searching for consistency. While the running game does serve as the backbone of the Eagles offense, it was held in check by the Giants' 21st-ranked run defense in the teams' last meeting. In that game, the Giants' success came in large part because of its incorporation of "nut stunts" that gave the interior of the offensive line fits and enabled penetration into the backfield.
The Giants' lack of production up front this season has been well documented, but, as it showed against the Eagles, the front four still has a lot of pride and can make plays. Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck at the defensive end spots are always a tough matchup, and Jason Peters and Lane Johnson will have their hands full. Mathias Kiwanuka is the backup defensive end and is tied with Tuck for the team lead with 1.5 sacks – though the Giants only have six all season, the lowest total in the NFL. Defensive tackles Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, Shaun Rogers and Johnathan Hankins all had strong games against the Eagles last time around and will be key again in stuffing the run game and collapsing the pocket. Behind the defensive line, the linebackers are led by the recently-acquired Jon Beason, a former All-Pro who played 93 percent of the defense's snaps against the Chicago Bears last week and registered a team-high 12 tackles. He is flanked by Keith Rivers and Spencer Paysinger, who is second on the team in tackles
|Eagles Projected Starting Lineup|
|QB Michael Vick||DE Cedric Thornton|
|RB LeSean McCoy||NT Isaac Sopoaga|
|WR Riley Cooper||DE Fletcher Cox|
|WR Jason Avant||ROLB Trent Cole|
|LT Jason Peters||MLB Mychal Kendricks|
|LG Evan Mathis||MLB DeMeco Ryans|
|C Jason Kelce||LOLB Connor Barwin|
|RG Todd Herremans||LCB Bradley Fletcher|
|RT Lane Johnson||RCB Cary Williams|
|TE Brent Celek||S Nate Allen|
|WR DeSean Jackson||S Earl Wolff|
When The Giants Have The Ball:
The Giants offense has been such an anomaly this season. In 2012, the Giants finished sixth in the NFL with an average of 26.8 points per game. Eli Manning threw 26 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. This season, Manning has already matched that total with 15 picks in seven games. The weapons are still there -- Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle -- but the productivity is not. New York ranks 27th in the NFL in points per game at just 18.0 and 29th in third-down efficiency. Despite those poor numbers, the Giants rank 17th in NFL in average yards per play (5.3), meaning that they're moving the ball at a reasonable pace without score points – a testament to how bad the turnover problem has become. The Giants' 24 turnovers are a whopping seven more than the league's second most turnover-prone team and have been a major detriment to the Giants all season long. The Eagles defense ranks 14th in the NFL in takeaways and took the ball away from the Giants four times in Week 5. Winning the turnover battle will once again play a huge role in Sunday's game.
Aside from the turnovers, another problem with the Giants offense is that they've become completely one-dimensional. Running back David Wilson hasn't played since the Giants' last matchup with the Eagles, and Brandon Jacobs has missed some time since re-signing with the Giants in early September. Veteran bruiser Peyton Hillis was signed on October 16 to help provide some depth to a backfield that had rookie Michael Cox and his zero-career carries as its only completely healthy member. The Giants ground game produced more of the same in their win over the Vikings, as Hillis rushed for 36 yards on 18 carries (2.0 yards per carry) and Cox totaled 23 yards on 11 carries (2.1 yards per carry). So the expectation is that the Giants' production offensively will have to come through the air. Manning tossed 52 passes in the Week 5 matchup between the two sides.
The Giants' most explosive offensive playmakers can be found at the wide receiver position. In early October, the Eagles secondary, namely Brandon Boykin, locked down on Cruz, holding him to five catches for 48 yards. Though they played Cruz well, the defense had trouble with both Nicks (nine catches, 142 yards) and Randle (six catches, 96 yards and two touchdowns). The Giants often used crossing routes to gain separation in Week 3, and we could be seeing a lot of that again on Sunday. Still, Cruz remains a very real threat, especially when he's lined up in the slot. Whenever Cruz and Boykin are lined up against one another, expect a great battle to ensue.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense is coming off one of its best performances of the season, when they held the dangerous Cowboys offense to just 17 points. DeMeco Ryans had arguably his best game in an Eagles uniform with eight total tackles and a key interception that brought some life back to Lincoln Financial Field. In his 23 games played in midnight green, Ryans has emerged as the quarterback of the defense and looks to be a big factor on Sunday. Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin have both played well this season alongside Ryans, but Trent Cole has yet to become a consistent factor. Cole's move to outside linebacker from defensive end was well publicized before the regular season started. While Cole has done a serviceable job dropping back in coverage, he has yet to make a significant impact as a pass rusher. Seven games into the season, Cole has not yet registered a sack. Granted, the switch to linebacker has limited the number of times that Cole has rushed, but prior to this season, the longest that it took Cole to record a sack was three games in 2008.
At the back end of the defense, the Eagles secondary has looked strong the last two weeks despite being without safety Patrick Chung against the Cowboys. Earl Wolff has filled in nicely, coming away with his first career interception against Dallas. At the cornerback positions, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have grown much more familiar with Bill Davis' scheme. Fletcher has been particularly good as of late, and he now leads all NFC players in passes defensed with 11. Fletcher played well against the Giants, using his speed to catch up to receivers while the ball was in the air and then using his hands to pop the ball out at the last moment.
|Giants Projected Starting Lineup|
|QB Eli Manning||LDE Justin Tuck|
|RB Peyton Hillis||LDT Linval Joseph|
|FB John Connor||RDT Cullen Jenkins|
|WR Hakeem Nicks||RDE Jason Pierre-Paul|
|LT Will Beatty||SLB Keith Rivers|
|LG Kevin Boothe||MLB Jon Beason|
|C Jim Cordle||WLB Spence Paysinger|
|RG David Diehl||LCB Corey Webster|
|RT Justin Pugh||RCB Prince Amukamara|
|TE Brandon Myers||FS Ryan Mundy|
|WR Victor Cruz||SS Antrel Rolle|
Eagles interior OL vs. Giants interior DL
The "nut stunts" that the Giants interior defensive linemen ran against the Eagles gave the interior offensive line, particularly Jason Kelce, fits and allowed defensive tackles – Patterson, Jenkins, Hankins and Rogers – to get into the backfield and disrupt the run with regularity. After the game, Kelce said it was a matter of making adjustments and, if necessary, calling in the backside guard to help block. The Giants figure to run similar stunts again, and Kelce, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis will have to be up to the task. If the line can hold up, the rest of the offense will follow.
WR DeSean Jackson vs. CB Prince Amukamara
In the Eagles' 36-21 victory over the Giants on October 6, Jackson caught seven passes for 132 touchdowns, including the final touchdown on a gorgeous double move against Amukamara. Amukamara has played in every game this season and, with Corey Webster just returning from injury, should get the call again to match up on Jackson. After a quiet performance against the Cowboys, the Eagles will be looking for any and every way to get Jackson involved.
CB Brandon Boykin vs. WR Victor Cruz
Cruz, a notorious Eagles killer to this point in his career, caught just five passes for 48 yards during the October 6 Eagles-Giants matchup. While Boykin was covering him, however, he caught zero passes. It was a magnificent showing by the second-year cornerback, who also registered a spectacular fourth-quarter interception when he ripped the ball out of Cruz's hands while on the ground. Sunday will mark the rematch between these two in what promises to be a fierce battle.
CB Bradley Fletcher vs. WR Hakeem Nicks
Nicks has been hampered by injuries but found his old form against the Eagles on October 6, leading the Giants with nine catches for 142 yards. Fletcher often drew the assignment of covering Nicks and, despite the wide receiver's totals, Fletcher stood up physically and knocked away a number of passes, including a few deep. In fact, Fletcher broke up five passes on the day and ranks second in the NFL with 11 pass breakups on the season. He figures to once again match up with Nicks, who built on his strong performance against the Eagles with four catches for 80 yards against the Bears and is averaging 17.4 yards per reception for the season.
Players To Watch
Wide Receiver Rueben Randle (No. 82)
With Cruz and Nicks occupying most of the secondary's attention in the first Eagles-Giants game, Randle fell through the cracks and became a big factor as the Giants moved closer to the Eagles end zone. Though he will still be priority No. 3 when it comes to shutting down New York's receivers, Randle will play a big factor in the game if the Eagles coverage drifts off of him.
Linebacker Jon Beason (No. 52)
Week 5's game against the Eagles was the first game that Beason played as a member of the Giants after he was acquired in a trade earlier that week. He played only seven snaps in the game, all of which came on special teams. Now that Beason has had more time to learn the Giants defense scheme, be sure to keep an eye out for the three-time Pro-Bowl selection.
Outside Linebacker Trent Cole (No. 58)
His relative struggles this season aside, Cole has always enjoyed playing against the Giants. Cole's 8.0 career sacks are the highest for any single opponent, and his only career interception came against, you guessed it, the Giants back in 2006. Look for Cole to reinvigorate his season with a commanding performance on Sunday.
Returner Damaris Johnson (No. 13)
Over the past few weeks, the Eagles special teams have had to deal with dynamic return men like Dwayne Harris and Trindon Holliday. All the while, Johnson has gone unnoticed as a return threat. If the diminutive Johnson can make a big play on Sunday, it would go a long way in relieving some of the pressure on the Eagles offense after last week's loss.