Here come the New York Giants, fresh off Sunday's 31-24 win at the Minnesota Vikings, a team that believes in first-year Head Coach Brian Daboll and what he's selling. New York is physical, attacking, and confident.
And so are the Eagles, who meet New York for a third time this season – and 13 days after their Week 18 game – and understand very well what the Giants do. With the Eagles back at work at the NovaCare Complex preparing for Saturday's 8:15 PM kickoff for the NFC Divisional Round Playoff Game at Lincoln Financial Field, here are some thoughts on areas the Eagles are focusing on with an NFC East rival coming to town.
1. Getting off to a fast start
The hype machine is in overdrive because, as we all feel it, this is a great matchup. Two teams that are in the same division and that have a heated history. Two fan bases that simply don't like each other as New York and Philadelphia rivalries tend to be. It's going to be an amazing atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field, so the best way to kick it into an even higher frenzy is for the Eagles to get off to a fast start. And by doing that, the Eagles force the Giants to play catch-up football and Philadelphia is a tough team to catch.
In the Week 14 win, a 48-22 show of dominance at MetLife Stadium, the Eagles scored on their first three possessions, and it was over. That's a perfect formula for this game as the Giants, feeling great after their win at Minnesota, believe they can follow that game plan on Saturday. New York gave up a first-drive touchdown to Minnesota but then came right back with three long scoring drives – two touchdowns and a field goal on drives of 85, 81, and 90 yards – to take a 17-14 lead into the half. It's important that the Eagles set the tone in this one.
2. Win against the Wink Martindale blitz package
This is what the Giants do on defense: They blitz. And they blitz. And they blitz some more. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale brings pressure more than any team in the NFL, at about 48 percent of pass plays, per Pro Football Focus. The Eagles know this, of course, and they handled it extremely well in the Week 14 win, rolling up 27 first downs and 437 yards, 253 of them on the ground. New York sacked quarterback Jalen Hurts four times, but that comes with the territory at times. Hurts was outstanding, completing 21 of 31 passes for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he took advantage of some rushing lanes with 77 yards on 7 carries. It is imperative to have answers against the blitz game, and that is a large part of what the Eagles are going to work on this week.
3. Be ready for a varied running attack
Give credit to the Giants for playing to their strengths: They have a star running back in Saquon Barkley and they have a quarterback in Daniel Jones with a rare multiple-skills talent package and they used both of those players to the maximum in Sunday's win at Minnesota. Barkley had 9 carries for 53 yards and 2 touchdowns and was a weapon as a receiver with 5 catches for 56 yards. The Eagles, obviously, will make sure he is accounted for on every snap.
Jones had one of the best games of his career in Minnesota, throwing for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns and adding 78 huge yards on the ground. He is big and strong and the Giants call a lot of designed runs and bootlegs and misdirection around his running ability. Again, this is something the Eagles are well aware of and have seen, but there are going to be wrinkles in this game. Discipline and trusting what you've seen on film all week studying the Giants will be extremely important.
Here is a look at some of the greatest moments from the Eagles-Giants all-time series. Check out the photos from their 2008 playoff matchup and more!
4. Score touchdowns in the red zone
Until the Week 18 struggles against the Giants, the Eagles led the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, a key part of their offensive success this season. And the two games against New York illustrate how important scoring touchdowns inside the opposing 20-yard line is: In the Week 14 win, the Eagles scored 3 touchdowns on 4 trips inside the 20, including one to open the game and cap a 14-play, 84-yard drive that started things off in the runaway victory. In Week 18, with Hurts not a running threat, the Eagles were 1 for 5 with a giveaway in the red zone and New York hung around in a 22-16 Eagles win. The Giants ranked seventh in the NFL defensively in the red zone, so they do a lot of good things – they're extremely physical and they win up front. The Eagles must be better.
5. Win the physical battle
Something that wide receiver A.J. Brown said after the Week 18 victory resonates: "The most physical team is going to win. You've got to put your blue-collar hat on and go to work. That's how I want to play, and the refs will let you play, so I know we'll be ready. That's the kind of team we are."
New York wins by being physical, particularly with the interior of its defensive line – tackle Dexter Lawrence was a force against Minnesota with 8 pressures, including 5 as a zero-technique, so center Jason Kelce knows he has his hands full. Winning at the line of scrimmage, as we know, is critical for every game, but it goes deeper than that. Brown and DeVonta Smith are star wide receivers and they make great catches and provide so many highlights, but they are also in the "special" category because they are extremely physical.
Tight end Dallas Goedert no doubt noticed that Minnesota's tight ends combined for 12 receptions, 144 yards, and a touchdown with starter T.J. Hockenson catching 10 passes for 129 yards by running great routes and winning one-on-one battles. It's going to be an extremely physical game, so that "blue-collar hat" mentality is exactly the right one to carry into this game.
6. The injury factor is worth monitoring
In case you missed it, right tackle Lane Johnson returned to practice on Friday and expressed confidence in having a "normal" week ahead of Saturday's game. There is no update with cornerback Avonte Maddox, who has been out with a toe injury. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is continuing to work his way back from the shoulder injury and is making great progress.
On New York's side, edge pass rusher Azeez Ojulari left Sunday's game with a quad injury after nursing an ankle injury during the previous week. Safety Jason Pinnock suffered an abdominal injury against Minnesota and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital before returning to New York with the team. Those are two important pieces to New York's defense – Ojulari has struggled to stay healthy, but he is a talented pass rusher off the edge, and Pinnock is a big part of the Giants' three-safety rotation – so if they can't go on Saturday that would hurt the Giants.
It's playoff week, and It's A Philly Thing, so is there any more perfect way to start it off than by playing a New York team, a rival for decades, and doing it at home? Everything matters this week, so let the grind begin.