One year ago, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the New York Giants introduced the Eagles—and the world—to wide receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz took his first step toward becoming the star he now is with a 110-yard, two-touchdown performance at the Linc.
But with Cruz now a well-known commodity and Ramses Barden and Andre Brown wasting their breakout performances last week in Carolina, there won't be much Big Blue can spring on the Eagles when the two get together Sunday night in the City of Brotherly Love.
Still, I've brainstormed some ideas for how the red-hot Giants might want to consider attacking Philly in a game that will—at least for 24 hours—see one of these rivals take sole possession of the top spot in the NFC East.
On Defense: Keep the Safeties Home, but Send the Linebackers
Michael Vick has made some real bad decisions and struggled to execute this season, but he's done so against three of the league's strongest defenses in Arizona, Baltimore and Cleveland. The Giants might be just as equipped as those teams upfront to create pressure, but Vick will have opportunities to exploit their weak secondary.
New York has to avoid that by presenting a wide array of looks for struggling offensive linemen Demetress Bell and Dallas Reynolds to deal with.
The Eagles have seen New York's standard yet talented defensive front and know what to expect. The pass protection was much better against Philly in their second meeting last year, as Vince Young—in for an injured Vick—was sacked just once.
With Chris Canty still out and Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in respective ruts, the Eagles can use Stanley Havili, Brent Celek and Clay Harbor to give Bell and/or Todd Herremans (or anyone, really) help against Jason Pierre-Paul.
But Vick has been terrible against heavy rushes this season. Under pressure, he's completed just 18-of-51 passes and has thrown zero touchdowns to four interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. On blitzes specifically, he's completed just 39 percent of his passes—but it was a lot worse than that against Arizona last week.
It was a safety blitz that screwed the Eagles on the game's most crucial play last week, but with Jayron Hosley and Michael Coe both up in the air with injuries, and the cornerback position being as shallow as it is, the Giants won't likely be able to afford to send Antrel Rolle or Kenny Phillips at Vick often.
Instead, they'll have to overload against Bell whenever possible by sending Mathias Kiwanuka and/or Jacquian Williams from the strong and/or weak side, while not being afraid to send Chase Blackburn. Blackburn has blitzed only five times this season, according to PFF, but he has a sack.
There's a chance the Eagles counter this by actually utilizing LeSean McCoy properly, as they did in Week 2 against Baltimore, but New York's defense has to exploit Andy Reid's tendency to either panic or get greedy with his play-calling.
On Offense: See if the Eagles Can do Anything to Stop Victor Cruz
If there's a way to exploit Philadelphia's very talented defense, it's in the slot. Brandon Boykin struggled against the Cardinals, as Arizona moved Larry Fitzgerald all over the field in order to take advantage of the rookie cornerback.
It'll be even easier for the Giants to exploit that weakness, because a) Hakeem Nicks looks ready to return and Ramses Barden has emerged, giving them a strong three-receiver look, and b) their best receiver is already a natural in the slot.
The only Philly corner who had any success with Cruz last year was Asante Samuel, who's now gone. Cruz was able to abuse Joselio Hanson, and the Eagles are at least trying to keep Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside this season.
That means Cruz will likely gain a lot of one-on-one opportunities against Boykin, who might not always have enough help.
With Nicks still not 100 percent and Barden likely to have trouble with Asomugha or DRC, Cruz has to be Eli Manning's first read all night.