Rodney McLeod, vastly underrated as an NFL veteran at the safety position, understands full well that Sunday's opponent, the New York Giants, isn't a typical 2-7 team. They're a team with a new head coach, Joe Judge, that has been on the upswing the last several weeks, losing a series of close games by narrow margins (including the 22-21 loss to the Eagles on October 22) before winning 23-20 on Sunday at Washington.
The word is, then: Be on high alert Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
"The Giants are coming off a great win and they battled us very well," McLeod said. "We were forced to come back. We were fortunate to win that game. We have to realize that in the first three quarters of that game, they were winning. We have to take a close look at that."
Even without star running back Saquon Barkley, the Giants have gained over 100 rushing yards in four straight games, including accumulating 166 ground yards Sunday at Washington. Quarterback Daniel Jones has had encouraging results with his strong arm and athleticism, and he was a two-point conversion away from taking Tampa Bay into overtime last Monday. New York's defense has been stout against the run and the Giants are certainly playing hard.
The offense, though, is what caught the attention of Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, who knows his Eagles will have their hands full on Sunday (1 PM kickoff, FOX).
"They have a lot of playmakers. They had just got (wide receiver) Sterling Shepard back and he's become obviously a bigger part of their game plan over the last couple weeks and even gotten some snaps in the slot which is sort of his homeland in there," Schwartz said on Monday. "Their tight end (Evan Engram) is a good player, makes a lot of plays on jet sweeps and trying to scheme ways to get the ball to him, and their run game has become – lose a guy like Saquon Barkley, it's hard to replace him with just one person. So they have introduced a whole lot more zone read concepts. I think all of those are challenges for us.
"(Giants WR Darius) Slayton is a guy that can break the game open. He's a guy that can make big plays. We did a good job against him last time, keeping him from having a big impact in the game. We have to do the same thing. It's an experienced offensive line. I think that there's a lot of things that have our attention this week."
The Eagles are hopeful to have tackle Malik Jackson back after he was slowed the last two games with a quad injury, and the defense is fresh after its bye week. Coming back on such short notice against a team is always difficult to do, and the fact that it's the Giants – whom the Eagles have beaten eight straight times – makes it even more challenging.
And for Schwartz and his group to do it in just a few weeks' time is extremely tough. New York is not the same team the Eagles played just a couple of weeks ago.
"I do think it's evolving. They struggled early in the season mainly because of turnovers," Schwartz said. "They have done a little better job of taking care of the ball the last few weeks. And those, I mean, turnovers are such a huge thing in the game, so they have done a little better job of taking care of the ball. They have changed their run game a little bit. It's easy to just hand the ball to Saquon Barkley deep and let him pick his hole, but you have to manufacture some runs and they have done a good job of manufacturing some runs, and got some guys back from injury.
"There's a news flash – get some good players back on the field and you'll be a little bit more effective. I think a lot of it, also, they did miss (Giants G Will) Hernandez the last week because of COVID, but they got a rookie playing left tackle (Andrew Thomas) who is a high draft pick and they have some experience, a guy like (Giants G Kevin) Zeitler. They have a good, solid offensive line. It's going to be a great challenge.
"NFC East games always are. Throw the records out, all those clichés. We're an eight-game season right now and even though we have a slight edge in the NFC East, it's not a huge edge. How the season goes will be dependent on how these last eight games go, particularly the division games."