It's Prime Time. Bright lights. The entire league is watching. What kind of statement are the 5-7 Eagles going to make tonight against the 2-10 New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field? With a tie for first place in the NFC East on the line, the Eagles are looking to end a three-game losing streak and start the fourth quarter of the regular season the right way. Here are some things to watch …
1. Beating Eli Manning
This has been a theme all week: With rookie quarterback Daniel Jones on the sidelines with a high-ankle sprain, the Giants turn to veteran Eli Manning, who was 0-2 this season before Jones replaced him. Manning is a quarterback the Eagles know very well – they've won the last five games and nine of the last 10 outings against Manning and the Giants. Manning is a throw-on-rhythm quarterback and he's going to get the ball out quickly. The Eagles will give him different looks, but they'll primarily be ready for quick throws. You'll see the cornerbacks close to the line of scrimmage. Great tackling is imperative. Manning isn't going to hold the ball and allow the Eagles to get to him with the pass rush.
"We are going to play our game and mix things up," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "We can't let them get big plays down the field. We gave up too many last week. That's not our defense. We're better than that."
2. An Injury Update
Manning won't have the services of tight end Evan Engram, a significant loss for New York. Another tight end, Rhett Ellison, is out. Rookie tight end Kaden Smith had six receptions for 70 yards against Green Bay, so don't sleep on him. Wide receiver Golden Tate returns after missing the game against Green Bay last week with a concussion and we know Tate – he's crafty, he's quick and he's very good with the football in his hands.
For the Eagles, there are some game-time decisions here. Defensive end Derek Barnett and wide receiver Nelson Agholor are listed as questionable with ankle injuries. Same with running back Jordan Howard, who has missed three games with a shoulder injury. He appears to be making progress, but is that enough to play tonight? Linebacker Kamu-Grugier Hill is out with a concussion, a significant loss for a defense that has to contend with running back Saquon Barkley in the running game and in the passing game. Nathan Geary will have a huge role tonight.
3. Making Big Plays In Passing Game
New York is ranked 24th in the NFL in defending the pass and won't have standout safety Jabrill Peppers, who is on Injured Reserve with a back injury. The Giants are young in the secondary and they have given up a lot of big plays this year. Julian Love, a rookie, has done a nice job stepping in for Peppers the last two weeks, forcing turnovers each time out. The Eagles have had trouble making big plays in the passing game, but they're going to need to do so tonight. New York's run defense since acquiring lineman Leonard Williams at the trade deadline has improved greatly, allowing only 220 yards on 81 carries against running backs Le'Veon Bell, David Montgomery and Aaron Jones. Gaining traction on the ground may be tough, so the Eagles need to get something going with Carson Wentz throwing the football.
4. College Teammates Go Against Each Other In The Running Game
Barkley for the Giants and Miles Sanders for the Eagles played together at Penn State. When Barkley went to the NFL as the second overall draft pick by the Giants in 2018, Sanders had a big season for Penn State and arrived in Philadelphia as a second-round draft pick in the spring. He's played very well as a dual threat in this offense. Barkley has battled an ankle injury this season but he's coming on in the health department and the production department. The Eagles are well aware of Barkley, who rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 8.9 yards per carry last season in two games against Philadelphia and added 16 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
5. The Weather Is Going To Be A Factor
The forecast calls for rain, and it could be heavy, throughout the night at Lincoln Financial Field. How much will that impact the crowd? What is the mood of the crowd going to be? The Eagles need to make something good happen early in this game and sustain it. There is no other choice. A win and the Eagles are tied for the lead in the NFC East, as everyone knows. How can the Eagles keep the weather from evening the playing field tonight?
6. The Game Of Emotions
New York is playing for pride and, maybe, gaining a boost with Manning making his Giants farewell tour. The Eagles have a lot on the line. They felt the sting from last week's loss in Miami and they know how the fan base is still reeling. The Eagles have to play with urgency, confidence and a killer instinct. This game is so very important for the Eagles as they eye a four-game NFC East schedule that determines their playoff possibilities. It's right there for the Eagles against the 2-10 Giants (twice), 3-10 Redskins and the 6-7 Cowboys on December 22.
Which Eagles team do we see tonight? Are the Eagles prepared to play a complete game and start the final stretch run the right way?
Questions, questions. We all have them. Some of the answers are coming tonight as Prime Time visits South Philadelphia.