It has answered every challenge in this 2022 regular season, and now as the stretch run arrives, the Eagles' defense has more to come: Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Giants offer a unique approach with a combination of physical offensive line play and a creative run scheme that features quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.
This is what Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon is focused on – a multi-pronged run game that hits a defense in every which way.
"Brian Daboll (Giants head coach) and Mike Kafka (Giants offensive coordinator) know what they're doing," Gannon said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "Bobby Johnson is the O-line coach; I was with Bobby for a little bit, and he knows what he's doing. They know how to use, to maximize their quarterback skill set in a way that makes it very challenging for the defense because it challenges your rules and your structures, and they find their matchups, their one-on-one matchups, because of the quarterback skill set. So, we've got a big-time challenge ahead of us, and we've got to be on it. It's a game where you can't just line up and play your stuff, or you will get gashed. We've got a big-time challenge ahead of us."
The Eagles are familiar with Jones, having seen him through the years, and they are well aware of his running skills – both improvisational and designed. Four times this season, Jones has carried the ball 10 times or more, and in Sunday's 20-20 tie with Washington, he ran 12 times for 71 yards.
In four games against the Eagles dating back to 2019, Jones has 215 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts, an average of 8.5 yards a carry. He is big and strong and fast, and the Giants are going to use him in tandem with Barkley, a standout back who is in prime form again after two seasons riddled with injury.
Barkley has 1,055 yards this season – his third with 1,000-plus yards – and has scored 8 touchdowns. He is the featured back here and, as Gannon notes, Barkley can do it all.
"Unique player, Saquon. Obviously, he got picked that high (drafted No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft) for a reason," Gannon said. "He can run it; he can catch it; they split him out wide; they throw it to him; they hand it off to him, jet sweeps, tosses, inside runs; he lines up as a receiver; he lines up as the quarterback. He has a very unique skill set. He's explosive. He's big. He's strong. He can hit home runs. He can break tackles. We're going to have to be on it. He looks like the premier back that he is right now on tape this year."
Preparing for Jones and Barkley this week is a double-edged challenge for a defense that has been among the best in the league this season. The Eagles rank second in the NFL in total defense and first against the pass. They are second in the league in quarterback sacks and first in takeaways. They give up very few big plays.
A defense that limited teams on the scoreboard last year continues to do that – the Eagles are tied for seventh in the NFL allowing just 18.8 points per game – but the Eagles have clearly taken it up a notch in overall dominance on defense.
"I think we just have to keep the mindset that we have a lot to work on, a lot to improve on," linebacker Haason Reddick said after Sunday's win over Tennessee. "I've said this all year: We're a hungry defense and we're going to stay hungry. There is a lot of football left. We have to take it one game at a time and keep getting better as a unit."