5 players to watch when the Eagles battle the Giants on Christmas Day

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Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles’ DeVonta Smith catches a touchdown pass with Dallas Cowboys’ DaRon Bland defending during the second half of an NFL football game Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

It’s time to get back on the right side of the win column. Luckily, the Eagles have been gift-wrapped the perfect present in the form of a weak divisional foe with a less than 1% chance of making the playoffs.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Philadelphia can’t seem to get out of its own way these days. The Eagles are riding a three-game losing streak as the team grapples with unexpected coaching changes and some serious soul-searching. Can they turn things around? Head coach Nick Sirianni sure thinks so and provided a blueprint for doing it.

“It goes back to you continuing to double-down on the things you know to be true,” Sirianni told reporters. “You continue to grow under the surface, even when you’re not growing out in public. You hold the guys accountable, and they hold themselves accountable the exact same way because this is your habits, your daily habits, and that’s your core values.”

Difference-Makers: 5 Key Players to Watch vs. Giants

CB Kelee Ringo

Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III runs with the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The fourth-round pick out of Georgia finally got a chance to strut his stuff and flashed great promise on 32 defensive snaps, locking up Tyler Lockett a few times when left on an island. He finished with a 79.7 coverage grade versus Seattle (via Pro Football Focus). Ringo, in tandem with undrafted rookie Eli Ricks, filled in admirably for injured starter Darius Slay and he’ll be counted on to do it again against a bad Giants receiving corps. Yes, the Eagles are going to need someone to step up as struggling cornerback James Bradberry continues to get picked on.

G Sua Opeta

Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 22: Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Sua Opeta (78) warms up during the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on October 22, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The turnstile at guard revolves to the other side this week after starter Landon Dickerson underwent thumb surgery. He’s expected to sit out the Week 16 matchup, meaning that Sua Opeta will likely jump in at left guard while a healthy Cam Jurgens returns to right guard. Opeta wasn’t perfect last week but he got the job done after allowing only two pressures and committing no penalties. Tyler Steen would be a dark-horse candidate to start, although Opeta’s veteran presence seems the more logical move.

WR DeVonta Smith

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) catches the ball and runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Will he play or won’t he play? That might be the biggest question facing the Eagles heading into their Christmas Day battle. The star receiver hurt his leg after banging knees with a Seahawks defender which has caused him to miss two straight practices. Outside of the injury, Smith has been quietly enjoying a monster year: 74 catches for 957 yards (102 targets) along with six touchdowns. If he can’t go, it’ll be up to the combination of Julio Jones, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins, and Britain Covey to carry the load. Not ideal.

LB Shaq Leonard

Eagles
New England Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) pulls in a pass reception as Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53) covers in the first half of an NFL football game in Frankfurt, Germany Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Everyone thought the three-time Pro Bowler was going to bust out in his Eagles’ debut, and maybe put an end to all that talk about the team not valuing linebackers, but de facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia didn’t unleash him. Leonard saw only 28 snaps. Something has to change, right? Especially when you consider how effortlessly Kenneth Walker and the Seahawks ran it down Philly’s throats late in the game. Let’s add injury to insult, too. The Eagles may be down two starters — Nicholas Morrow (abdomen) and Zach Cunningham (knee) — in a position group that is already weak and suspect.

QB Jalen Hurts

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts runs with the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Look, the knee injury is real and needs to be acknowledged. It is way more serious than anyone is letting on. Hurts was visibly hobbling at times in Seattle and looked stressed every time an RPO was called. Still, his legs are what set him apart from the so-called statue quarterbacks. Perhaps it’s a matter of less-designed runs in favor of a more tactical approach, like waiting to take off only when no other option exists.

Hurts tends to leave clean pockets too early, not giving his playmakers the chance to spring open. Use the run to set up the pass. For the record: Hurts has thrown for 774 yards and four touchdowns while compiling a 57% completion percentage in six games against New York. He also has 30 rushes for 175 yards in those contests. Leaders lead despite injury. They also step up when the world is on fire all around them.

AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth