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 out of action, the attention this week 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. After practicing all week with the first-team offense, Vick was listed as probable Friday and is set to welcome in the Giants, who are coming off their first win of the season. 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.
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.
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 Patrick Chung|
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|
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