The Philadelphia Eagles fell flat on their faces Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns before bouncing back at home against the Baltimore Ravens. Then the Eagles again fell flat in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals, so the next logical step in the pattern is a strong rebound at home.
But for that to happen, the Eagles will have to find a way to defend the red-hot New York Giants offense while keeping the ball out of Eli Manning's hands by somehow avoiding the turnovers that have become their trademark three weeks into the 2012 campaign.
Earlier, we sketched up a game plan for the how the Giants should attack Philly on both sides of the ball. In the interest of fairness, here's how the Eagles should counter.
It'll be Tempting to Blitz. Don't Do It.
Like, at all. I believe the Giants' offensive line is exploitable despite their strong effort against the Panthers in Week 2. One good game doesn't mean they won't be susceptible to mistakes against a much stronger Philly defensive front.
But with that said, it's become obvious that Kevin Gilbride and Eli Manning are asking for blitzes, daring defense to bring heat. They know that Manning gets the ball out faster than any quarterback in the league, and the expected return of Hakeem Nicks will only make that easier. They didn't help Will Beatty or Sean Locklear much at all in Week 3, and they excelled.
In Week 2 against Tampa Bay, the Giants struggled a bit offensively in the first half as the Bucs kept rushing four while dropping multiple linebackers into underneath coverage. That gave Manning more opportunities to go deep, but he's sometimes a bit awkward when he has time. He threw three interceptions in that half.
But in the second half, the Bucs over-adjusted on defense and started bringing five- and six-man rushes. The result? Manning picked them apart.
The Eagles have been the league's top-rated team in pass coverage this season, according to Pro Football Focus. They don't have to stress about getting beat deep, and they have the talent in the front four to get enough pressure to keep Manning on his toes.
The key will be allowing DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks to do their thing, either as sneaky zone pass defenders or as the men in charge of stopping the red-hot Andre Brown and his partner in crime, Ahmad Bradshaw.
Double-Cover Victor Cruz, Forcing Eli to Look to His Second and Third Reads
How should the Eagles cover Victor Cruz?
The only major concern for the Eagles defensively will be stopping Victor Cruz. They have the personnel outside to defend Nicks and Ramses Barden and have fared OK against tight ends this season. But can they really trust rookie Brandon Boykin against Cruz in the slot, especially after Boykin struggled so much against Larry Fitzgerald in Week 3?
A good zone defense is ideal against Cruz, but that's not really how the Eagles roll this year. It's also a shame the team doesn't seem to have any confidence in Curtis Marsh, because he has the size and strength to jam the smallish Cruz in order to disrupt his routes.
Instead, Philly will likely ride with Boykin and Brandon Hughes inside, while letting Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie take care of their business out wide. I think that's a good plan, but I I believe that also means that a safety has to be helping to bracket Cruz all night. That'll likely give Manning a chance to exploit single coverage against Barden or Nicks, but I don't think Juan Castillo has much of a choice when picking his poison here.
More Safe Plays on Offense
It's amazing how difficult it is to "game-plan" for the Eagles' offense with Michael Vick running the show. So much of what they do within plays is organic, and Andy Reid can't force his quarterback to do much.
This matchup is particularly dangerous because it's going to be tempting for Vick to take shots against a depleted secondary. But his line's a disaster and the Giants' pass rush could be on the verge of exploding. The Eagles can't turn it over 3-5 times for the fourth straight week, or they'll most definitely lose.
The solution is so simple and is mentioned so often that it's become a cliché, but that doesn't make it any less crucial: Philadelphia has to run more. Early, late, first down, third down. You name it. If Vick is going to continue to think big on every other play and overlook underneath routes and checkdowns, then the game plan simply has to incorporate more runs and no-other-option screens.
Vick isn't a smart football player. Stop asking him to rely on his brains, especially against one of the smartest and most lethal defenses in the league—one that is familiar with Vick's act.