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Giants: What To Watch

The Eagles' 2012 season comes to a close Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium against a Giants team that is clinging to playoff life. New York needs a victory over the Eagles and losses from the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys in order to claim the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. Standing in their way, though, will be Michael Vick, who has provided his fair share of special moments against the Giants over the past few seasons. What matchups will determine the outcome? We take a look ...

When The Eagles Have The Ball

Look no further than the starting personnel on the Eagles offense to discover just how hard-hit the team has been by injuries this season. Depending on whether Stanley Havili returns from to the lineup, between five and six players who started against the Cleveland Browns back in Week 1 will start for the Eagles on Sunday, though only one offensive player, Mathis, will complete the season with 16 starts.

As for the Giants defense, a unit that usually plays better toward the end of the season has faltered of late, allowing 27, 34 and 33 points over the last three games. The Giants have actually been a below average defense all season. They rank 30th in total defense, allowing 387.8 yards per game, and 31st in yards allowed per play (6.1). They've been sub-par against both the run and the pass, ranking 28th in yards allowed per rush (4.6) and 30th in yards allowed per pass (7.8). The one saving grace, though, has been their ability to create turnovers, as their 34 takeaways rank third in the league. That figures to put an added emphasis on ball security for an Eagles offense that shouldn't need it after ranking 31st with 36 giveaways on the season. The Giants' interception rate ranks third in the league, but in their last five losses, they've only intercepted one pass, so special onus on protection will fall on the Eagles' quarterback.

But despite the long odds facing the Giants' playoff hopes, the Eagles would be wise not to count out their opponent's motivation. After all, it was only four years ago that the Eagles found out just how crazy things can get on the final day of the season. The strength of the Giants defense remains on the defensive line, though the front-four pass rush has been a relative disappointment all season long. Jason Pierre-Paul, who exploded onto the scene last season with 16.5 sacks, only has 6.5 to his credit this year (one more than Brandon Graham, to whom Pierre-Paul is so often compared, despite Pierre-Paul's major season-long advantage in reps). But some of Pierre-Paul's dip in production can be attributed to an increased emphasis of opposing offenses to double or triple team the All-Pro. Justin Tuck, once a feared pass rusher in his own right, has not taken advantage of the one-on-one opportunities. He has a paltry 3.0 sacks on the year and was a healthy scratch for Sunday's loss to Baltimore.

With Vick back in the saddle for the Eagles, the Giants secondary figures to be tested down the field. Free agent acquisition Stevie Brown has been a pleasant surprise, playing reliably in coverage while also snagging seven interceptions. The weak spot of the secondary is probably Corey Webster, the 30-year-old cornerback who has been picked on at times this season.

Coming off the first stretch of his career in which he's topped 70 receiving yards in three consecutive games, Jeremy Maclin could be primed to close out the season strongly. If he's matched up man-to-man with Webster, the Eagles may take a shot down the field. But LeSean McCoy figures to be the key once again, as the Pro Bowl running back showed he was back in form in his first game back from a concussion last week when he topped 120 yards from scrimmage against the Redskins. Back in September, McCoy was the Eagles' workhorse in the two-point victory over the Giants, carrying the ball 23 times for 123 yards. With a long offseason ahead, don't be surprised if the Eagles ride Shady, and his counterpart Bryce Brown, once again.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Michael Vick LDE Brandon Graham
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Stanley Havili RDT Derek Landri
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT King Dunlap WILL LB Akeem Jordan
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Jamar Chaney
RG Jake Scott LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Dennis Kelly RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Colt Anderson
WR Jason Avant FS Kurt Coleman

When The Giants Have The Ball

What has happened to the Giants' offense?

In their last two games, games that they needed to win to solidify their playoff standing, the Giants have scored a grand total of 14 points. The two touchdowns came Sunday against Baltimore and one of them was scored when the game was already well out of hand.

Nonetheless, the previous week, the Giants were shut out by the Atlanta Falcons in a 34-0 rout. It was the first time that the Giants were shut out since Week 2 of the 1996 season.

Let's start at the quarterback position. Eli Manning has gone 27-of-53 for 311 yards with one touchdown against two interceptions in the past two contests. Earlier this season, Manning had 510 passing yards in a single game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the first meeting with the Eagles, Manning threw for 309 yards - his third-highest single-game total this season.

Against the Falcons, Manning finished with a passer rating of 38.9. You have to go back to December 23, 2007 to find the last time Manning posted a worse passer rating (at Buffalo, 32.2).

If Manning is not posting big numbers, you know his receivers aren't either. The team's leading receiver, Victor Cruz, has just six catches for 36 yards in the last two games. Hakeem Nicks has battled injuries all season and was shut out in the loss Sunday to Baltimore. Back in Week 2, Nicks went wild with 10 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown, but suffered a knee injury. His best game since was a nine-catch, 75-yard performance on November 11 at Cincinnati.

The Eagles still have to account for Cruz who had nine catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Week 4 meeting this season.

With Manning struggling, the run game has not helped out either. Lead rusher Ahmad Bradshaw missed the Falcons game with an ankle injury. He returned to the lineup on Sunday, but had just 39 yards on nine carries. David Wilson, the team's first-round pick this season, appeared to have his breakout game on December 9 vs. New Orleans when he rushed for 100 yards on 13 carries. Well, he's had just 15 carries for 72 yards since although he had a 14-yard touchdown run against the Ravens.

Of course, the offense needs sound play from the line in order to succeed and injuries have hampered the Giants' front five. The Giants have allowed a league-low 19 sacks this season, but pressures have disrupted both the run and pass game. The Giants struggled Sunday to contain Baltimore nose tackle Haloti Ngata. The one issue for the Eagles is that defensive tackle Fletcher Cox's status is uncertain after he incurred a concussion Sunday against the Redskins.

If the Eagles, who have been much improved on defense, can help continue the Giants' struggles on offense, they will have a good chance to end the 2012 season on a high note with a win and eliminating the Giants from playoff contention in the process.

Giants Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Eli Manning LDE Osi Umenyiora
RB Ahmad Bradshaw LDT Linval Joseph
FB Henry Hynoski RDT Rocky Bernard
WR Victor Cruz RDE Jason Pierre-Paul
LT Will Beatty SLB Mathias Kiwanuka
LG Kevin Boothe MLB Chase Blackburn
C David Baas WLB Michael Boley
RG Chris Snee LCB Corey Webster
RT David Diehl RCB Justin Tryon
TE Martellus Bennett SS Stevie Brown
WR Hakeem Nicks FS Antrel Rolle

Key Matchups

Eagles Running Game vs. Giants Run Defense

With Nick Foles sidelined for Sunday's game and with Michael Vick likely starting for the first time since Week 10, the Eagles will need the running game to sustain drives and make big plays. Last week against the Redskins, the Eagles' ground game performed well in limited snaps, picking up 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The attack was headed up by running back LeSean McCoy, who made his first start since being concussed against the Redskins in Week 11. Though he saw only 13 carries, McCoy looked like his usual dynamic self. He had 45 yards on the ground, but led the team with nine receptions and was second with 77 receiving yards. Bryce Brown, who started four games while McCoy recovered from his concussion, also provided a nice change of pace in the backfield. And let's not forget Dion Lewis, who ran for a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles should have an edge over a Giants' run defense which is ranked 25th in the league, allowing just over 130 yards per game on the ground. They have also surrendered 4.64 yards per rush, which ranks 28th in the league. In last week's game against the Ravens, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce each netted over 100 yards rushing. With uncertainty at the quarterback position, the offense could certainly use a boost from the ground game. And against a suspect Giants defense, they might just get it.

Eagles Pass Defense vs. QB Eli Manning

Any conversation about the Giants offense begins and ends with quarterback Eli Manning. While Eagles fans may fondly remember the inefficiency of his early years, Manning's play over the past few seasons has made one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has thrown for 4,000 yards in each season since 2009, and is on pace to meet or exceed that mark again this year. Manning's 3,890 passing yards this season puts him at 12th in the league.

The last time these two teams met, Manning threw for 309 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But since then, the Eagles' secondary has improved. The Eagles are ranked 11th against the pass, giving up 217.2 yards per game through the air. A defensive performance like that would go a long way toward extinguishing the Giants' already dim playoff hopes.

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