The reality, as we all understand, is that the Eagles have to play as perfect a game as possible to defeat the 11-1 Giants on Sunday. Every player, every coach, every situation, has to be right. The 48-20 pasting of the Cardinals was a glimpse into how good this team can be, but the mark of a truly outstanding team is the ability to play at that level on a week-in, week-out basis.
And so the Eagles have the opportunity to keep their playoff hopes alive with a win over the mighty Giants. Here are some players who have a particularly-needy spotlight on them heading into this game ...
TRENT COLE, DEFENSIVE END
Cole doesn't have the sack numbers of one season ago -- he has seven -- but Cole has played very well in every phase of the game. He'll need to get after Eli Manning and make Manning move off his spot. The first priority of the defense is to stop the run, but the Giants are just as capable at beating teams with their passing game. Manning is still prone to turning the ball over and losing ball security in the pocket when he is pressured. Cole is going to see double teams, chipping, and a lot of nasty stuff thrown his way. Doesn't matter. A premier end, which Cole is, makes a difference in games like this.
BRODRICK BUNKLEY, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
In his second season as a starter, Bunkley seems to be ready to take that next step in his development. He is a good player on the way to becoming a very, very good player. This is the kind of game that can help Bunkley move forward. The Giants are excellent inside with their blocking scheme, they are very physical and they have a devastating blend at running back. Bunkley has to be big. He made 11 tackles in the first meeting against the Giants, despite an overall defensive performance that struggled.
NICK COLE, RIGHT GUARDIt would surprise no one if the Giants lined up Justin Tuck over Cole and challenged Cole with his physical play and athletic ability. The Eagles are on their third right guard of the season, and before the season one of the areas of question on this team was the depth along the offensive line. With injuries to Shawn Andrews and Max Jean-Gilles, Cole has a chance to make his reputation against one of the best defensive lines in the league. Cole is a shorter guard, but he is very powerful and has good feet.
TRA THOMAS, LEFT TACKLE
Big one for Thomas and the edges of the line. The Eagles face the prospect of some nasty weather in Giants Stadium -- snow is in the forecast -- and they may have to shorten up their game plan. Thomas has is going to see some pressure on blitzes and from the Giants' defensive scheme. He needs to give Donovan McNabb time to throw. The last time the Eagles wre in Giants Stadium was not a pretty sight for the offense. The Eagles have to win the line of scrimmage.
L.J. SMITH, TIGHT END
Smith has 22 catches and 3 touchdowns, not exactly the kind of production the Eagles need from the tight end position. In this game, Smith has to be a weapon. The short- and intermediate-range passing game has to be there for McNabb to offset the New York pressure defense and, potentially, the weather conditions. Smith had 32 yards worth of receptions against Arizona, his third-highest yardage total of the season. He had 3 catches and 32 yards in the previous game against the Giants after missing a game with a concussion. Without production from the tight ends, the Eagles will have a hard time getting the ball outside to the receivers. Smith must force the Giants to respect the area between the hash marks.
STEWART BRADLEY, LINEBACKERNew York's rushing success from one month ago doesn't fall directly on Bradley's shoulders, but he is the middle linebacker and Bradley takes great pride in having success against the run. Bradley recorded 16 total tackles in that game, but the Giants still controlled the line of scrimmage and the second level of the defense on the way to 219 yards on the ground. Bradley must be around the ball all game. He has to get off blocks and get to Brandon Jacobs and Co. before they have a chance to run downhill. It is a tall task, and it is going to be a telling one for Bradley. Is he ready to be a top-flight middle linebacker? He is making strides. This is a big game for Bradley and the defense.
*QUINTIN MIKELL, SAFETY *
Mikell leads the Eagles with 133 total tackles, has 3 interceptions and 2 quarterback sacks. He has had a fine season. In this game, Mikell has to do it all. He has to support against the run and he has to help in coverage, particularly against tight end Kevin Boss. Mikell also has to be over-the-top help against the Giants down the field. Now, New York doesn't have Plaxico Burress. That is a headache the Eagles don't need to worry about in this game. But the Giants are still threats with Domenick Hixon, the ageless Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss. It is a good group. The Eagles can't get lulled into a false sense of security here.
*SAV ROCCA, PUNTER *
Rocca averaged 45.6 gross yards punting against the Giants the first time around, but New York returned two punts for 45 yards. Not good. That isn't necessarily on Rocca, but in these conditions, this late in the season, Rocca may be called upon to directional kick and limit any New York returns. Rocca's only poor game of the year came in Cincinnati when, in swirlling conditions, he had trouble with everything from the drop to kicking into an across-the-field wind. He may face the same situation here. It is going to be quite a late-season test for the second-year punter.
**DONOVAN McNABB, QUARTERBACK
This goes without saying, of course. McNabb is the driver of the offensive engine. He has to show the same poise, pace and confidence he did against Arizona. That was McNabb in one of his best games of the season. In the earlier game against the Giants, McNabb was 17 of 37, but he also threw 3 touchdown passes and ran for 35 yards. Mixed in was a costly interception. He knows the deal. The Giants have a pressure-oriented defense. McNabb has to be quick with his reads, accurate and very decisive.
Of course, the list could go on and on. Everyone needs to play an "A" game to beat New York and get a little something going in this home stretch of the season.