The Philadelphia Eagles welcome the New York Giants this Sunday in a game that, contrary to beliefs heading into the 2018 season, will have a significant impact on the race for the NFC East. Despite previously beating the Giants 34-13 at the Meadowlands, this game is no sure-win for the Birds. Both teams look vastly different in the span of mere weeks, and are riding their respective waves of momentum in opposite directions. The Giants will look to make it three straight wins and play villain to the Eagles’ chances at defending their title. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back from a dreadful loss in New Orleans in which they looked like the inferior football team in all facets of the game. While on paper, the Eagles look like the better team, they have suffered through injury after injury and haven’t been able to get their feet underneath them. Many fans are hoping that an easy win at home against a division rival will right the ship, but here’s why they shouldn’t put a tally in the win column just yet.
The Giants’ Offense versus the Eagles’ Defense
The pedestrian New York offense got a shot in the leg when they drafted the electric Saquon Barkley. The young man has been nothing short of spectacular and has done more than his fair share to carry the Giants’ to victory on multiple occasions. A sloppy, inconsistent offensive line has done their best to derail the Barkley hype train, but the kid just keeps on chugging. In the first meeting between the two teams, Barkley tallied 229 yards of total offense and averaged 10.4 yards per touch. He will likely be Jim Schwartz’ primary concern. The return of Timmy Jernigan, and the impact he will make on the defensive line cannot be overstated. However, as you can see by the figures below, it might be superficial to assume that the Giants’ best asset is their rushing attack.
|Yards per game||Pass yds/game||Rush yds/game||Points per game|
|Giants’ Offence||346.2 (23rd)||257.9 (13th)||88.3 (29th)||21.5 (22nd)|
|Eagles’ Defence||377.9(23rd)||276.5 (27th)||101.4 (12th)||23.1 (12th)|
Instead what should be concerning Schwartz is the prospect of Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York passing game facing what is essentially a practice squad secondary. Moreover, Eli Manning, as well as the entire Giants’ offence, has been firing on all cylinders over the last two weeks. Granted, they faced the 32nd ranked Tampa Bay defence and a 27th ranked San Francisco defence (in terms of points allowed per game). Nevertheless, Eli finished with an impressive 17/18 for 231 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers and threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers. Five touchdowns and zero interceptions in two weeks is nothing to scoff at. What he has been doing is not rocket science — get the ball into the hands of your play makers. Boy, do the Giants have some of those.
As disappointing as their record has been, the boys in blue have no shortage of explosive athletes on the offensive side of the ball. It does not bode well for an Eagles secondary comprised of Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby and Cre’Von LeBlanc. This secondary is absolutely liable to allow the game to slip away. They were torched by the Saints, and that was with Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox taking meaningful snaps. There should also be some questions about this groups ability to come up and make a tackle against the run. Barkley can make even the shiftiest defender miss and will likely make some big runs out of nothing. The Giants have scored at least 13 points in every game this season, and that trend will likely continue. The Eagles will have to score at least 20-25 points to win this game. This brings us to — crafty segue:
The Eagles’ Offense versus the Giants’ Defense
Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense really need to get on track this game. Flashback to the win against the Giants a few weeks ago when 34 points was supposed to signal the end of the offensive woes. Yet, here we are. Wentz had unarguably his worst game as a pro against the Saints last week, which called into question his decision making so far this season. While he hasn’t been perfect, the pieces around him — be it payers or coaches — have done little to take the pressure of his shoulders. The good news is that the Giants defense is ripe to be picked apart.
Overall, the Eagles’ receivers are individually more talented than the men covering them. However, this was also the case against New Orleans. The passing game will need some clever coordinating in order to scheme receivers into open positions. Namely, they will need to find a way to get Golden Tate involved, and take more shots downfield. Tate saw his fair share of targets against the Saints, but by all accounts they were below-average looks. The coaching staff hasn’t done enough to find ways to promote Tate’s ability after the catch. This includes: limited crossing routes, obvious screen plays, throws into traffic, etcetera, etcetera. One hopes that the display against the Saints was a spurious one-off, and perhaps not indicative of the coming weeks. The new recruit is still learning the offence, but the offensive scheme has done little to integrate what made him so deadly on the Detroit Lions.
The team has also seen a sharp decline in splash plays through the air. The Eagles’ primary deep threat last season, Nelson Agholor, has seen a drop in air yards per target from 4.9 yards in 2017 to 1.8 this season. His average target distance has also dropped from 10.2 in 2017 to 8.8 in 2018. He scored 8 touchdowns last season, and has only one this year. Admittedly, this is a product of a shoddy offensive line, but Carson has not found a way to get Nelson — or any receivers for that matter — involved downfield in the way he was last season. The counter-point to this argument is that Carson has been unnecessarily forcing the ball downfield. Unfortunately, this trend may have to continue in hopes of getting the deep passing game going. The Eagles cannot afford to have too many wasted plays or take undue gambles — which was never an option against a stellar Saints offence. It should be a more reasonable proposition against the Giants, so long as they are able to complete short passes early. Nevertheless, looking at the statistics below, it’s hard to put all the blame on the passing attack.
|Yards per game||Pass yds/game||Rush yds/game||Points per game|
|Eagles’ Offence||355.2 (18th)||257.0 (14th)||98.2 (25th)||20.5 (25th)|
|Giants’ Defence||381.5 (25th)||256.1 (22nd)||125.4 (25th)||26.3 (25th)|
After placing top 5 in all rushing categories in 2017, the Eagles run game has been nothing short of a disappointment this season. Fortunately for the Eagles, the lone bright spot from the Saints game — Josh Adams — will have a chance to further embed himself in the offensive game plan against a less-than-stellar defensive line who shipped away their best run-stopper. Liam Jenkins outlined Adams’ window of opportunity in his latest article.
If the Eagles beat the Giants, but are unable to get the run game humming, it will be a bittersweet victory. As I have outlined in a previous article, there are very few NFL teams still kicking around in January that are unable to run the ball effectively. This is more than a just-win game for the Birds, they must also win in convincing fashion. All signs point to Adams being capable of making a splash. In the last two games he has averaged an incredible 7.1 yards per carry. Almost shockingly, he was only handed the ball seven times in each of those games. Making reference to the Eagles’ porous secondary, the offence will have to score points early and often, and that is something they have struggled to do in 2018. This must start with feeding the ball to Adams.
In the tenure of Doug Pederson, the Eagles have enjoyed a significant boost at home. A combination of raucous fans and a seeming calm for the players has made Lincoln Financial Field a difficult place to visit for the last three years. A perfect home record last season was only blemished in week 17 by a Cowboys team that barely beat the Philadelphia backups. Since taking over, Pederson is 15-6 at home during the regular season. Three of those losses have come this season — all were by one possession. The Eagles no longer enjoy the sweet home cooking of a boisterous crowd, and have let some games get away from them: particularly in a comeback loss to the Panthers, in which they led by 17. The team will have to re-instil fear into the hearts of opponents visiting Philly. This fear was at the core of a nasty red-zone defence showcased by the Birds early in the season. The coaching staff should have no issue getting the team riled up for what is most likely their last shot at a playoff spot. If the team comes out flat, do not expect sympathy from a Giants’ team that still has a glimmer of hope in race for the NFC East.
Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports