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Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow vs. Giants

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

A win (or a tie, goodness gracious) and the Eagles clinch a playoff appearance. That's how much Sunday's game at the New York Giants means for the Eagles who, of course, have higher goals in mind than simply reaching the postseason. The ultimate goal in this regular season is to finish No. 1 in the NFC, gain a bye week, and have the conference playoffs come through Lincoln Financial Field.

But Sunday has its immediate implications, so there you go. With that, there are some statistical items that relate to storylines to watch as the Eagles and Giants resume a rivalry that dates back to 1933 (the Eagles lead the overall series 90-88-2) …

1. Will Eagles attack with the running game?

We've certainly seen in these last two seasons that it doesn't matter what a defense's run-game numbers say, the Eagles are still going to run the football. In this matchup, the Giants enter allowing 5.1 yards per carry and 141 yards rushing per game. The Eagles have been outstanding running the football, as we all know, ranking fifth in the NFL with 154 ground yards per game and the Eagles lead the NFL with 23 rushing touchdowns.

Is it logical to think the Eagles will tilt toward the ground game, given everything including a weather forecast that includes the dreaded term "wintry mix"? The great thing about this Eagles' offense is that nobody really knows going in, because the Eagles can adjust quickly to what the defense is giving.

One note to consider through all of this: New York has recovered 11 fumbles this season, tied for most in the NFL this season and the Giants have allowed a 35 percent conversion rate on third down, sixth-best in the NFL. Ball security is huge and moving the sticks is very important against a defense that hangs in every week.

2. Prepare for the blitz game from New York

Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale has done a terrific job in his first season with the Giants creating pressure with his scheme. New York blitzes 41 percent of the time on passing plays, most in the NFL. The Giants have some excellent edge rushers – second-year man Azeez Ojulari and rookie first-round draft pick (No. 5 overall in 2022) Kayvon Thibodeaux; and they have beef inside with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams (although Williams is doubtful with a neck injury) – and Martindale brings it because, well, he's had to do it that way. New York has only 25 quarterback sacks, ranking 20th in the NFL.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has a lot on his plate, making good decisions based on what he sees, because Martindale will throw a lot of exotic looks at the Eagles and try to get the offense out of its rhythm. Philadelphia must substantially reduce the pre-snap penalties (eight) they had in Sunday's win over Tennessee to have the same kind of success against a tough, physical Giants defense on Sunday.

3. WR Darius Slayton is a weapon for New York in the passing game

A non-factor and, actually, out of the Giants' wide receiver rotation to begin this season, Darius Slayton has come on to become the focal point of the passing game for New York. He's had 58 or more receiving yards in six straight games, including 6 receptions for 90 yards on 8 targets in last Sunday's 20-20 tie against Washington. Slayton has had a couple of big games against the Eagles – 5 catches, 154 yards, 2 touchdowns in 2019, and then 5 catches and 93 yards in a 2020 game – so there is a lot of respect here. Slayton and quarterback Daniel Jones are clearly on the same page.

Slayton's former teammate, Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, has familiarity with Slayton, and he's also having a pretty good season. That's an understatement, you understand. Bradberry has 14 passes defensed this season, second-most in the league. Quarterbacks have a 46.0 passer rating, second-lowest in the NFL, and Bradberry ranks third in the league, allowing a paltry 45.5 completion percentage on passes thrown his way.

4. The Eagles have 7 opening-drive touchdowns, most in NFL

You want to start fast, right? Well, the Eagles are doing that and it makes all the difference. Getting out to an early lead allows the Eagles to dictate to their opponents, so that early success really has helped in this 11-1 start. Early-season slowish starts – the Eagles were a bit sluggish in the first quarter of early games and then on fire in the second quarter – were something Head Coach Nick Sirianni and the offense worked on, and it has paid off.

When you have a lead, the defense can get after it just a bit more. When you have a lead, the offense is in command. Yes, jumping out early is a huge help and the Eagles are taking advantage thanks to a terrific first-possession script and great execution on the field.

5. Eagles run defense, yes, has improved steadily

Adding Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh has certainly made a difference, and with Jordan Davis working his way back into the rotation, the Eagles are in great shape up front defensively. Since the two veteran defensive tackles arrived, the Eagles have held good running backs to low yardage numbers – in Indianapolis, Jonathan Taylor gained 84 yards; against Green Bay, Aaron Jones ran for just 43 yards; and last Sunday, the Eagles limited Derrick Henry to 38 rushing yards, with a long gain of 6 yards.

The Eagles are deeper, more experienced, and extremely talented across the front line, and they've been able to keep everyone fresh and move some pieces around and change their looks. Against a run-heavy offense, including quarterback Daniel Jones, the run defense is again front and center.

6. RB Saquon Barkley means so much to the Giants

The presumption, from this perspective anyway, is that Saquon Barkley will play for the Giants despite battling a neck injury that has him listed as questionable for Sunday's game. An uber-talented player, Barkley's comeback from multiple injuries is a great story and a testament to his work ethic and talent. With 1,055 rushing yards, Barkley ranks fifth in the NFL on the ground. With 40 receptions, Barkley leads the Giants in that department and is one of only two players to lead his team in both categories (along with Chargers running back Austin Ekeler).

Everything in this offense revolves around Saquon Barkley.

The sledding has been much more difficult for Barkley of late – he's had 22, 39, and 63 yards, respectively, in New York's most recent three games – as defenses are keying on him and taking advantage of New York's injuries up front. The Eagles will certainly key on Barkley and when he's not on the field, it's a big loss for the Giants.

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