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Some Questions To Ponder As Giants Week Starts

Lotta days ahead of us, although for the coaching staffs that are working all hours of the day and night making game plans for Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff game, the time is going to fly. For us, Eagles-Giants just can't come quickly enough, and as the Eagles dig in and get the X's and O's ready, here are some questions floating around for this team ...

1. How Healthy Are The Eagles?

Hey, they are banged up, but that's the nature of the business at this time of the year. In fact, the Eagles came out of Sunday's physical contest in Minnesota in pretty good shape. Running back Brian Westbrook has a sore knee and offensive tackle Jon Runyan has a knee that has been giving him problems for weeks, but both will go through their normal week in the training room and will play against the Giants.

Fullback Dan Klecko has a shoulder strain that was actually not as bad as the Eagles initially feared, and wide receiver Greg Lewis, who was taken off the field prior to Sunday's game on a cart, has a foot strain and should be OK.

Tight end L.J. Smith missed the game against the Vikings, but it sounds like he has a really good chance of playing Sunday. I know Brent Celek was outstanding in the Wild Card game, but Smith is also a valuable piece of this offense. He is athletic enough to create matchup problems for New York, and his presence in the red zone would be welcomed.

One casualty is offensive guard Mike McGlynn, who has a torn hamstring. And while McGlynn isn't a regular along the offensive line, he has played well in field goal protection at right guard. He replaced Winston Justice, who was in for the previous Giants game when Justin Tuck blocked a David Akers field goal after beating Justice. Does Justice go back in at right guard should McGlynn not play, or will the Eagles use another option?

It's a long shot, I'm sure, but maybe, just maybe, Shawn Andrews could be an option. He is meeting with back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins in California and should Dr. Watkins give Andrews the OK to return to the field, well, maybe, possibly ... it's probably just wishful thinking.

Defensive lineman Victor Abiamiri is progressing from his Lisfranc injury, but would also seem to be a long shot to play against the Giants.

New York is rested and healthy after its bye week, and the Eagles are going to have to overcome that part of things, but given the nature of the game in Minnesota, the Eagles came out OK.

2. What Can The Eagles Do To Start Faster?

No doubt, the Eagles must be better than they were in Minnesota and, for that matter, the last time they played in the post-season at Giants Stadium. Back in 2000, New York opened the Divisional Playoff game with a kickoff return for a touchdown and the crowd went crazy and the Giants went on to record the victory.

When the Eagles beat New York in December, they came out and established the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and captured the momentum from the very start of the game. Other than a blocked field goal and return for a Giants touchdown, the Eagles dominated the first half. They rode that wave into the second half of a convincing victory.

You just know the Giants are going to come out flying on Sunday. The crowd will be amped. The Giants want to make a statement. They know that if they put the Eagles in a hole, it's going to be a distinct advantage for the home team.

So what can the Eagles do to get on top early? It is something the coaches are working on as we speak.

**3. Can The Eagles Run The Football Consistently?


They did so in December, so the answer is yes. And, in fact, it is something the Eagles must do to keep the Giants from pinning their ears back and going after Donovan McNabb with the aggressive scheme we know so well. Can Westbrook get his legs back and provide the usual thorn in the Giants' side? Can the Eagles incorporate Correll Buckhalter into the game plan on a more reliable basis? All he did on Sunday was rip off a 27-yard run and set up a scoring opportunity, one of the few big runs the Eagles had against Minnesota's fast and furious front seven.

Buckhalter has disappeared for long stretches of time too often this season. He provides a different style of running than Westbrook, and that change of pace has been successful. Plus, Buckhalter has the right stuff to make plays against the Giants. He runs well against them every time he has the chance.

**4. What Adjustments Will New York's Offense Make In Round 3?


When the Giants beat the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, they controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the ball down Philadelphia's throats. The Eagles turned the tables at Giants Stadium. Now what?

New York has a healthy Brandon Jacobs, so the Eagles must be prepared for his power. Jacobs gained 52 yards on 10 carries in the first of the most recent Eagles-Giants game before leaving early in the second half with an injury. The Eagles have been outstanding against the run, and they need to gird up for a blast of Giants downhill running on Sunday.

But New York has to make some plays in the passing game, too, and that is where the adjustment is going to come from the Giants. With no Plaxico Burress, what can the Giants do to free up their receivers against the Eagles' secondary? From the Eagles' standpoint, how can the defense pressure Eli Manning and force some turnovers?

This is a game of moves and counter moves. Seeing a division rival for the third time in a season is something special for the coaches, who are searching high and low for any advantage they can find.

5. What Are Other Factors To Consider?

Well, the weather is on track to be seasonal: The high temperature is anticipated to be in the range of 31 degrees with moderate winds. The 1 p.m. start is optimal for players who are used to their routine of a 1 p.m. start. The Eagles won't have any travel curveballs thrown their way, which is a good thing.

Both teams should be fairly healthy. There is unlikely to be any bulletin-board material, as both teams have a healthy respect for each other.

This game is likely to come down to what most playoff games do: Turnovers, big plays, penalties, red-zone efficiency. The big players need to have big games. Role players have to step up. Special teams are vital.

The Eagles have turned this season around because they are getting contributions from every corner of their roster. They need the same on Sunday in the biggest game of the year. This is what you want: Two division rivals, both teams playing well, set for the high-stakes game of the playoffs.

For us, the time is crawling. For the coaches, the hours are zipping by. They want to find any edge they can find. We want a great football game to get here quickly.

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