Giants vs. Eagles: Top Impact Players to Watch in NFC East Showdown
So far, so good for both the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. But after tonight's divisional showdown between the two, we should have a much better idea about which one of these teams is more likely to still be a serious player by season's end.
Ever since the Giants' opening-week disaster against the Dallas Cowboys, New York's offense has been one of the most resurgent in the league, reeling off two straight wins in which it's averaged 38.5 points per game.
The Eagles, meanwhile, were unlikely victors in their first two games of the season, but suffered a tough road loss at the hands of Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.
Which team will notch a crucial victory, and which will suffer a division loss on Sunday? Here are the players who will be the keys to determining the answer.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants
Bradshaw is going to be one of the most intriguing players to watch on Sunday, assuming he gets in the game. He suffered a neck injury that knocked him out of the Giants' Week 2 win over Tampa Bay, and in his place, former third-stringer Andre Brown has been stellar.
Now that Bradshaw is back and should be able to go on Sunday, what does that mean for Brown? How effective can Bradshaw be expected to be? And if he struggles at the outset, how many carries does he get in relation to Brown?
This week is going to be a challenge for Tom Coughlin. In a perfect world, Bradshaw will be fine out of the gate and will pick up right where he left off against Philly's 17th-ranked rush defense. But if he struggles, this offense is going to have to look to Brown to pick up the slack and hope that his most recent two games weren't just flukes.
One thing is for sure: The backfield is really going to have to carry this Giants offense against the Eagles. Philadelphia boasts the league's third-best pass defense, but its rush defense pales in comparison. First and foremost, it should be up to Bradshaw to get the job done. And if he fails, it's on to Plan B.
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
Despite the fact that he got a win, Michael Vick's introduction to the 2012 season was a rude one. The quarterback threw four picks and two touchdowns in the Eagles' slim 17-16 win over Cleveland in the season opener. But ever since then, he's been a bit more careful.
In a win over Baltimore in Week 2, he threw for 371 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed for 34 and another touchdown—but he still threw two interceptions. The good news in Week 3 was that it was Vick's first week without a pick; the bad news was it was also his first week without a touchdown, either in the air or on the ground.
Week 4 will be about establishing some middle ground. Vick has to find some way to be effective offensively without being foolhardy, and he has a decent chance of bouncing back against a Giants defense that is mediocre against the pass (23rd in the league) and against the run (10th in the league).
Overall, the Eagles offense has been impressive in 2012, ranking fifth in passing yardage (285.7 per game) and eighth on the run (130.7 yards per game). If Vick leans on his receivers this week and just focuses on taking care of the ball, he should be able to have a big game.
Ramses Barden, WR, Giants
Who will be the most significant factor in Sunday's game?
Now that Hakeem Nicks has been ruled out for yet another week (via CBSSports.com), the pressure will be on Barden once again. If he responds to that pressure the same way he did in Week 3, it will be very good news for the Giants. But it's not going to be easy against the Eagles' third-ranked pass defense.
In his first start of the year in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers, Barden led all Giants wideouts with 10 targets and finished with 138 yards, but he still has yet to reel in a touchdown. In Week 4, Barden is going to have to step up as Eli Manning's prime target once again in Nicks' absence.
What will happen when the league's second-ranked passing attack meets the league's third-ranked passing defense? We'll soon find out. If the Giants choose to go the conservative route, they'll heavily utilize Bradshaw and Brown. But if they decide to challenge what has been a solid Eagles secondary, expect Barden to be a key component.
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