On Sunday afternoon, the Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants in Round Three, also one of the NFC Divisional Games and the most important of the three rounds. This Eagles-Giants clash is reminiscent to the game show Family Feud, which has a few token rounds until the big final round where the eventual winner is always crowned.
The weather is expected to be terrible, with wind gusts up to 25 MPH and a wind-chill factor of single digits. While wind has always been the downfall of Giants signal caller Eli Manning, he did perform well in even worse conditions in the NFC Championship Game last season in Green Bay.
In that game, though, Manning had his 6’6” security blanket in Plaxico Burress, who caught 11 passes for 154 yards. Four of those 11 receptions converted big third downs.
Now that Burress is out of Round Three, many people expect that the Giants will run, run, run with the three headed monster of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Without Burress to occupy double coverage, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will likely bring a safety up to help in the run defense and leave the Giants wide receivers Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, and Amani Toomer single covered.
Smart move by Johnson, who, unlike his former cohort Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay, has improved his defense over the course of the season.
The Giants WILL run the ball, but they must do something else first.
The Giant must come out PASSING in Sunday’s game, especially on first down.
Most teams run the ball to set up the pass, but the Giants on Sunday must pass the ball to set up their run.
In Thursday night’s BCS Championship game between Florida and Oklahoma, the Sooner defense had nine men “in the box” on the first downs early in the game. They were intent on stopping the Gator running game, and they did...For a while.
Then Florida adjusted to this and began to THROW more on first down, which pushed the Oklahoma safeties back into their standard positions. This adjustment to the first down pass allowed Florida to then run the ball more effectively later in the game.
The Giants should employ this same principle right from the outset. Using play action, throw the ball to the single-covered receivers early and often. Mostly mid-range passes (10 -15 yards) to Toomer and Smith with a few deep balls to Hixon.
The Giants need to make Jim Johnson change his game plan by pushing the safeties back.
Another benefit from passing early on first downs (normally running downs) is that the defensive linemen will tire out. Pass rushing a QB is much more tiring than defending the run, and if the Giants can mix in a couple of swing passes to Ward or Bradshaw, it forces the defensive linemen to rush the passer, then turn and try and run down a speedy back.
That is very tiring for the D-linemen, especially this late in the season.
By middle of the second quarter, begin to pound Jacobs relentlessly into the already tiring defense, and to keep those safeties honest, mix in a deep pass on first down.
The Giants tried to pound the ball against the Eagles five weeks ago, early in the game running almost exclusively on first down. The result was a 20-14 pasting by Philadelphia, a game that was not nearly close as the score indicated.
The Giants had their worst game offensively, generating 14 first downs and 211 total yards, both season lows. They had one offensive scoring drive, a fourth-quarter drive culminating in a token TD with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
Eli has shown that he can carry the offense by throwing the ball. Last year's Super Bowl is the perfect example, but Eli did win the game (and home field advantage) with his arm in Week 16 against Carolina.
Even though the Giants ran for 301 yards in that game, during a decisive third quarter scoring drive, Manning was 6-6 for 53 yards and the four-yard TD pass to Kevin Boss.
During the tying fourth quarter touchdown drive, Eli was 3-3 for 40 yards plus the two-point conversion. Eli completed the three passes on that drive to a different receiver.
Running early with Jacobs and Ward did not work the last game against Philadelphia, and the Eagles ended up easily winning. Granted Plaxico was out with his gunshot wound and Brandon Jacobs was out for the final 21 minutes, but at that point the game has already been dictated by Jim Johnson and the Eagle defense.
The Giants need to reverse that result by reversing their game plan away from the early rush and towards passing early in the game.