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Stage Perfect To Get On Track

The longest-tenured rivalry in franchise history continues at 1 p.m. when the Eagles and Giants play for the 164th time and the second time in three weeks. It's a game that has major implications for the final half of the 2013 season.

Michael Vick returns to the starting quarterback position, even if he is not quite 100 percent. How that impacs his performance, and thus impacts the direction in which the plays are called, is anybody's guess. Vick has practiced for most of these three weeks, to varying extents. He's upped his conditioning and his performance in the last week with Nick Foles sidelined because of a concussion suffered in Sunday's loss to Dallas.

Now Vick takes his turn with the Eagles in need of a strong performance. New York figures to go after Vick and the LeSean McCoy-led running game, even with a defense depleted by injuries -- tackle Shaun Rogers and cornerback Jayron Hosley were downgraded to "out" on Saturday's injury report -- and one that has largely been ineffective this season.

Can Vick be Vick? That's the first question of the day, but it is far from the only one. The Eagles have to get the central piece of their offense going again, and that means they have to find a way to get McCoy the football and allow him to be productive.

Missing Rogers is really going to hurt New York, because his huge, 350-pound body caused some problems at the line of scrimmage in the meeting at MetLife Stadium. Linval Joseph plays in this game, and he's no small guy, either. Joseph is 323 pounds and Mike Patterson is 300 pounds, so the Giants still have some bulk inside.

But without Rogers, the Giants lack a true anchor. The Eagles must take advantage and establish something in the trenches.

They also have to feed Vick some easy, high-percentage throws and get the offense moving early. Dropping back and planting and throwing the football shouldn't be a problem for Vick and his hamstring, but is he able to throw on the move? Can Vick run the read option and dash to the edge and gain yards with his legs? How can the Eagles take advantage of New York's injury-riddled secondary?

So, yeah, the offense has plenty of questions. So does the defense, playing against a New York offense that lacks explosiveness in the running game. Eli Manning is going to throw the football and throw the football and keep throwing the football against the Eagles. He's going to test the deep secondary. He's going to get the ball to his receivers in the screen game. Manning is going to try to avoid the problems he had three weeks ago when the Eagles intercepted him three times in the fourth quarter and forced three intentional grounding penalties in the game.

Is this the week when the Eagles break one in the punt return game? Damaris Johnson hasn't had much success this season, but here comes a Giants coverage group that has allowed three punt returns for touchdowns this year. A big play for Dave Fipp's group would be much appreciated to flip the field and help the Eagles generate some positive momentum at home.

Oh, and the home thing. The Eagles have lost nine straight games at Lincoln Financial Field. The fans deserve a win. This is the right setting to end the first half of the season on a positive note and set the table for the final eight games. A win here basically KO's the Giants from any thoughts of winning the division, and keeps the Eagles right there at the top of the NFC East and it sends the Eagles off to Oakland and Green Bay at 4-4 and feeling like a team on the rise.

So much depends on Vick, to circle back to the biggest of the stories today. If he is unable to be explosive, and if that hamstring bothers him, how does head coach Chip Kelly adjust? What concessions would be made with the quarterback spot not as healthy -- or experienced, if Matt Barkley plays -- as needed?

The time is right for the Eagles to play a great game, to pick up for Vick if needed, to smother an offense that appears one dimensional. The time is right for the special teams to take over a game and provide an early edge.

Four and four sounds about right after eight games. It would put the Eagles in a solid spot within the division heading into the final eight games of 2013, and it would say a lot about the direction the rest of this year is going to take.

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