The Eagles host the 0-2 New York Giants on Sunday. This will be the home opener for the Eagles and it is a big early-season game. A win would move the Eagles to 2-1 and drop the Giants to 0-3. A win would make the Eagles 2-0 in division games. It would also help the confidence of the team after a tough loss in Kansas City.
On paper, the Eagles should win. The Giants' offensive line has struggled mightily all year and will be missing a starter in right tackle Bobby Hart. The Giants might be without their best cover corner and elite receiver Odell Beckham Jr. still isn't 100 percent. The Eagles' defensive line is among the best in the league and gives them a huge advantage in this game. The Giants have scored 13 points all year long. The Eagles average 25 points a game.
On paper, things look good.
The NFL is a great league in part because what should happen doesn't play out as expected. Some might see the Giants' 0-2 record and think of them as a bad team. I see a desperate team. Sunday's game is huge for them. A win gives them the same record as the Eagles. A loss gives them a significant uphill climb to make the playoffs. It is crazy how different those situations are. The Giants know this and they will be ready on Sunday. The most dangerous team is one that is desperate. We're talking about top-flight athletes who have a lot of pride. They won't care about statistics or trends or rankings. The Giants are going to come into Philly and will do everything they can to turn their season around.
The good news is that the Eagles aren't likely to be overconfident. They lost a tough game last week and they'll be excited to be playing their first home game. I would expect them to come out and play with a lot of energy and emotion. Playing against that team in the blue helmets will also have them fired up. The Eagles have won five of the last six games against the Giants. There's just something about this team that seems to bring out the best in the Eagles. This is a rivalry game to be sure.
The Eagles' defense is going to have some interesting matchups. The defensive line will need to come up big. Eli Manning has been sacked eight times this year. He's only thrown 70 passes and many of them are short throws. He isn't getting a lot of time in the pocket. Justin Pugh will move to right tackle in this game and that should give Brandon Graham a favorable situation. Pugh started at guard in the first two games before moving to tackle in the middle of Monday night's loss in Detroit. Having to deal with Graham's combination of speed and power will be tough for him.
Manning is a pocket passer so pressure up the middle really affects him. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan were excellent last week at bringing pressure up the middle. They will need to do that again on Sunday. With Pugh moving to right tackle, Brett Jones will take over at left guard. Jernigan will be a tough test for a guy making his second ever NFL start. If Cox and Jernigan can push the pocket, Vinny Curry and Graham will be all the more effective when flying off the edge.
It is critical that the Eagles get regular pressure because the secondary is going to be short-handed. Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins will be out on Sunday. Rodney McLeod will probably be a game-time decision. The Eagles will be thin at safety and cornerback. That's challenging when you face Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Beckham, an athletic trio of pass-catchers. Those guys are going to make some receptions. The key is not to let them become playmakers. Eagles defensive backs will need to tackle well to limit yards after the catch.
I don't think defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will blitz much this week. He will rely on his front four to bring pressure. Schwartz will have his back seven focus on coverage and tackling. Giants receivers only average 9 yards per catch. They play a lot of small ball. You want a lot of defenders to be able to rally to the ball and tackle. Force the Giants to put together long drives to march down the field. They've only been able to do that once all year.
The Eagles' offense has moved the ball well, but this is a better defense than the first two the Eagles faced. The Giants on defense are stout up front and have playmakers on the back end. The Giants are one of the best blitzing teams in the league. They will be aggressive and challenge you to burn them. That is going to put pressure on Carson Wentz to play smart and his blockers to make sure they know who is coming. Communication will be critical to making sure everyone is on the same page.
There is a lot of speculation about whether Doug Pederson will make a change at left guard. He said both Chance Warmack and Isaac Seumalo will be ready to play. Seumalo is the better athlete and has started both games so far this year. Warmack is bigger, stronger, and more physical. He would be an upgrade as a run blocker. He hasn't been on the field since the preseason but is a veteran player who should be fine if given the chance to play.
The Eagles are still trying to get the run game going. Warmack would give a boost with his ability to get movement at the line of scrimmage. The Giants were third against the run in 2016, but are 28th so far this year. Part of the problem is that their offense has struggled and the opposing team has been able to focus on running the ball. The Giants have not had a lead at all this year. When the other team is winning, it can be patient on offense and run the ball, even without great success.
It will be interesting if Pederson runs the ball early and often, or if he tries to throw early to get the lead. I do think Pederson will run more this game than he did in the first two weeks. He knows his running backs have to become a bigger part of the offense. They need more touches.
Wentz has thrown costly interceptions the first two weeks and was picked off three times against the Giants last year. The Giants are struggling on offense. Don't help them out. It is crucial to protect the football and force them to drive the ball to score.
Wentz has thrown the ball to tight end Zach Ertz a lot this year and should do that again on Sunday. The Giants gave up touchdowns to opposing tight ends in each of the first two games. They don't have any player who is a great fit for covering tight ends.
There have been some classic Giants-Eagles games over the years. Sunday might not fall into that category with both teams dealing with injuries and relying on backups to play key roles. Style points don't matter this week. Just go beat the Giants. An ugly win over Big Blue would still be a beautiful thing.