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What To Watch In Tonight's NFC East Opener

Is tonight the night the Eagles play a complete, 60-minute football game and find their identity and play with confidence and do all the things we expect them to do? It’s not going to be easy against a desperate Giants team in weather conditions that could be challenging and with a roster that continues to be tested by injury.

Welcome to the start of the NFC East schedule.

The Eagles can ill afford another slow start, and they certainly need to ramp up the pressure on defense and they must eliminate all of the penalties and dropped passes and missed tackles that are killing this football team. With that in mind, here are some tidbits to chew on between now and kickoff at MetLife Stadium …

  • Don’t buy into the idea that the Giants are a “dead” team. They were about to beat Carolina on the road last week before Graham Gano’s remarkable 63-yard field goal. New York’s offense struggled for four weeks – just three passing plays of 25 yards or more – and then had five of those plays last week while scoring 31 points and rolling up 432 total yards against a good Carolina defense. The Eagles' defense faces a significant challenge tonight. Manning passed for 434 yards against the Eagles last December. He passed for 800 yards and completed 72 passes in two games against the Eagles in 2017. That’s ridiculous. The Eagles sacked Manning just one time in those two games.

“We know we have to get to Eli,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We know he wants to get the ball out fast so we have to be disruptive. That’s an offense that has a lot of firepower. We have to stop them before they get started.”

  • Rookie running back Saquon Barkley has gained at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first five games of his NFL career. He’s a big-play back who is as dangerous in the passing game as he is running the football. Barkley lines up in multiple spots around the formation. The Eagles must account for him with quickness and power. Who is the best matchup against Barkley? It could be safety Malcolm Jenkins, who is going to have to run sideline to sideline to slow Barkley.
  • Lane Johnson was added to the injury list as “questionable” with an ankle injury, and that is a serious concern. The Giants welcome edge rusher Olivier Vernon back to the lineup as he makes his 2018 debut and he will team with former Eagle Connor Barwin as the edge pass rushers, so the Eagles need all hands on deck tonight. If Johnson can’t go, look for Halapoulivaati Vaitai to play right tackle. The Eagles could also consider Isaac Seumalo at right tackle and re-insert Stefen Wisniewski at left guard, but that would likely happen only in an emergency situation. Rookie Jordan Mailata is also available. Of course, Johnson will try to give it a go in the pregame warmups and see how his ankle feels. Let’s hope he’s having a healthy day.
  • Starting fast is the goal for an offense that has scored only seven first-quarter points this season after scoring 105 last season. So how do the Eagles get into an early rhythm? Maybe they show some no-huddle offense early. Maybe they play power football and try to control the clock and the line of scrimmage with the running game. Maybe they get wide receiver Alshon Jeffery going against a vulnerable New York secondary. Whatever the Eagles try, they need to be a whole lot better with the little things – penalties, pass-blocking assignments, consistency catching the football, etc. – to sustain drives and score points.
  • New York won’t have tight end Evan Engram or wide receiver Russell Shepard, which is a loss to the Giants’ passing game. Still, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, the Giants are lethal. As Hicks said, getting to Manning is vital. The Eagles cannot let Manning set up and throw in the pocket. Will Jim Schwartz take some chances here and create more pressure in the pocket? Manning went up and down the field last December and, if you remember, engineered a big-play comeback to take a second-half lead against the Eagles in Week 3 at Lincoln Financial Field. Fortunately, Jake Elliott kicked that 61-yard field goal to win the game for the Eagles.
  • Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood will see a stout New York run defense in this game. The Giants are big inside and they do a good job against the run. Ball security, especially if the rain is falling as expected, is absolutely critical. If the storms are intense, which could very well happen, then all of this goes out the window. Then it’s a game of chance in so many ways.
  • Both teams are good in the red zone defensively. The Giants are third in the NFL in red zone defensive efficiency and the Eagles are fifth. Touchdowns are going to win this game, not field goals.
  • And finally, the Eagles need to win the turnover battle. They are minus-4 for the season. They are 2-3 in the win/loss column. That’s no coincidence. Tonight, the Eagles need to be on the plus side of that statistic to reach 3-3 on the season.

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