It’s certainly possible, as the Eagles have had their share of struggles as they adapt to Chip Kelly, their new head coach.
One thing in particular that has been driving the Giants' motivation this week is their understanding of the scenario in the division. Specifically, if Dallas loses to Denver and the Giants beat the Eagles, the Giants, at 1-3, will be one game behind Dallas for the division lead.
If that does happen, suddenly a 1-4 record won't look as bad; rather, it will look like a stepping stone to better times.
Do the Giants have a realistic chance to get on track? It won’t be easy—it never is against a division foe. However, it’s NFC East football, and for however weak the division might be as compared to the rest of the NFL, when two NFC East teams line up across from each other, it usually makes for an intense game.
The Giants lead the regular-season series with the Eagles, 81-73-2. New York is 45-33-1 against the Eagles at home. The two teams last met in Week 17 of the 2012 NFL season, on Dec. 30, 2012, a 42-7 Giants win at MetLife Stadium.
Both Eli Manning and Michael Vick have had their share of struggles behind porous offensive lines, each of which has yielded 14 sacks in four games.
Where Manning has the edge is that he’s more patient in the pocket in letting things develop if the protection is there, whereas Vick tends to take off if he spots a crease.
LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s leading rusher and is dangerous out of the backfield. Meanwhile, David Wilson of the Giants has many of the same qualities McCoy has—the speed, the quickness, the vision.
What Wilson hasn’t had are the chances. McCoy has run the ball 78 times to Wilson’s 38, an odd discrepancy, considering the Giants haven’t really been out of their games, and hence, have not necessarily had to abandon the run, until the late third quarter or fourth quarter of their games.
Brandon Myers might be a decent receiver, but that’s about all the Giants tight ends have going for them right now. Brent Celek can block and catch, so that alone gives the Eagles the edge at this position.
There’s a lot of talent in each team’s receiving trio, but I like the Giants in this area because Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle have not only been more productive—they have combined for 780 yards on 53 receptions—and they have a quarterback who has the patience to let plays develop down the field.
Both offensive lines have been shaky in pass protection, with each having given up 14 sacks. The difference between the two units is that the Eagles have the league’s rushing-yardage leader running behind them, whereas the Giants short-yardage game has been ineffective.
The Giants' front four is banged up, but that might not be a bad thing, as it gives promising and eager youngsters Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins a chance to catch the Eagles by surprise with their talents.
Meanwhile, the Eagles players still seem to be feeling their way around in the new 3-4 scheme, as the linebackers have carried their front seven so far this season.
Trent Cole’s pass-rushing prowess has been hurt, thanks to his move from defensive end to outside linebacker. However, the two inside linebackers, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are one and two, respectively, in their team in tackles, while Ryans and Connor Barwin have combined for three of the Eagles’ 4.5 sacks this season.
The Giants linebackers can only hope to one day be that effective.
The Eagles’ defensive secondary has given up 14 big pass plays, their longest a 52-yard strike by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to receiver Eric Decker last week. I like the Giants defensive backfield better as opponents have had success throwing against the Eagles.
Regardless of what they say, the Giants' kicking game is in a slump. How else could one explain kicker Josh Brown’s missed field goals or punter Steve Weatherford’s inconsistency?
The Eagles not only have the consistency that the Giants are missing, their return specialist, Damaris Johnson, has given his team decent starting field position.
The Giants? Seems every time they get decent field position, it's wiped away by a little yellow flag.
Say whatever you want about Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, but he’s nowhere close to running out of ways to motivate his team. Whether all of the players are actually listening to him is another story, but give the man credit for keeping his locker room together during these tough times.
Kelly, on the other hand, still seems to be feeling his way around in this, his first year as an NFL head coach. His offense hasn’t quite taken off as anticipated, and his defense is still unsettled. That's why I'm giving the Giants the edge here.
The Eagles defense is allowing opposing passing games an average of 325 yards per game. Theoretically, the Giants should be itching to throw against that pass defense.
One problem. The Giants' pass protection has not been good. Quarterback Eli Manning has been sacked 14 times, so far this season, just five sacks shy of the 19 sacks he absorbed in 16 games last year.
If Manning’s offensive line is not giving him the time he needs to throw the deep ball, that’s a problem. So don’t be surprised if the coaches shuffle the line again and get David Diehl back into the mix, potentially at right guard in place of James Brewer.
Diehl's potential return would not only beef up the offensive line's interior, it would put a veteran presence next to rookie right tackle Justin Pugh.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the Eagles have switched to a 3-4 defensive front. As a result, outside linebacker Trent Cole, once the Eagles' best pass-rusher, has yet to record a sack.
Because with him being off the line, that first quick burst he has is no longer an advantage because tackles can adjust to it. This should make for an easier time for Giants left tackle Will Beatty if Cole lines up on his side.
Up until now, Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks and Manning have not been on the same page. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Nicks has caught just 48 percent of the balls thrown his way for 230 yards, 19.2 yards per reception. He has yet to catch a touchdown pass.
With Victor Cruz having a solid showing so far, logic would dictate that the Eagles might double-cover Cruz, which would leave Nicks against single man coverage. If that scenario plays out, look for the Manning-Nicks connection to be a key.
If I were designing this week’s Giants' offensive game plan, I would start with a few short, quick throws to give the offensive line a little confidence and let them settle into the flow of the game before I attempted the home run balls.
I would also feed the ball to running back David Wilson a lot more than his season-high 13 carries from last week. The Giants are at their best when they can use the run to set up the pass.
They should take note of the fact that the Eagles defense has had trouble stopping the run this year, allowing opponents an average of 121.8 rushing yards per game.
The problem with Wilson running the ball right now is that he’s only been effective between the tackles. Per Pro Football Focus, Wilson is averaging 1.5 yards per carry outside the tackles and 4.3 yards per carry in between the tackles.
This huge discrepancy in Wilson’s average is largely due to the poor blocking by the tight ends. Because of this, I would look to do two things to open up the edge, where I think Wilson’s speed could be a tremendous advantage.
The first thing I’d do is deploy new fullback John Conner, who didn’t take any snaps on offense last week, to handle some of those blocks previously assigned to the tight ends.
The other thing I’d do for short-yardage runs is deploy a jumbo package consisting of an extra offensive lineman instead of the three tight ends that the Giants used last week.
Remember, this three-tight end set is the same personnel group that failed miserably on that 3rd-and-1 rush attempt by Wilson that was stuffed for no gain.
Of Diehl and Brewer, one of those men will be the starter at right guard. Whoever doesn’t get the start would be the obvious choice for the jumbo tight end, as both have the size, the strength and the blocking expertise to do a far better job than what the tight ends have produced so far in short yardage.
The Eagles run an uptempo offense under new head coach Chip Kelly that is designed to create chaos and prevent the defense from making substitutions.
While the Giants have done some preparation for that kind of defense in the offseason, the key to designing an effective game plan is to keep things simple on defense, a strategy that would certainly behoove the Giants this week if they do have to call upon youngsters Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins to contribute to the defensive line's play.
Communication will be key as well, according to defensive end Justin Tuck.
“I think the teams that have been at the line of scrimmage ready to go when they’re ready to go have had better success against them,” he said. “When you’re looking to the sideline for a call and you’re looking to get lined up and are scrambling, that’s when you see them hit huge plays.”
It sounds easy enough, but when is anything ever easy with the Giants and their defense?
The Eagles are going to move the ball, and they’re going to get yards—that can’t be avoided. However, the Giants can do a couple of things to make sure that they’re not on the field for lengthy drives, as has been the case so far in each of their first four games.
The first thing that the Giants have to pay attention to is contain. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, whose 228 rushing yards are second on the team, can and will burn an opponent with his legs.
The Giants’ defensive tackles have done a good job with collapsing the pocket, but the ends have to make certain that they don’t abandon their lanes too soon because Vick will exploit the open space for yardage.
If they contain, those pesky third downs that they can't seem to stop shouldn't be a problem.
The Giants' defensive secondary has done a good job in limiting the big pass plays down the field—they’re allowing an average of three plays of 20 or more yards per game, with only two of those big pass plays going for touchdowns.
Because Vick has the arm to throw deep, and has the receivers who can catch and gain yards after the catch, look for the Giants to play ta great deal of center field in this game.
Speaking of the Eagles receivers, the Giants' defensive backs haven’t really gotten their hands on opposing receivers this year. That needs to change—the Giants' defensive backs need to set the tone early, and the way to do that is to show the Eagles that they will not be bullied down the field by the passing game.
Last but not least, the Giants' red-zone defense has to be sharp. So far, New York’s opponents have converted nine of their 12 trips inside of the red zone into touchdowns, something that Tuck said cannot happen against the Eagles.
“They’re going to get yards, but you have to play great red-zone defense and hopefully keep them from getting touchdowns,” he said. “Give up the field goals because in between the 20s, they’re going to make plays. You have to bull up in the red zone and hopefully limit them to field goals.”
The key to good red-zone play, again, is contain, especially by the linebackers, who have shown a tendency to overreact to what they see, thereby vacating their assigned contain which, in turn, leaves the field wide-open for an opposing tight end or back out of the backfield to exploit the space underneath and to move the chains.
What They’re Saying
“I guess I’m just getting open. That’s all I can do, to do what’s expected of me, get myself open and be an outlet for Eli to hit.”
—Giants Receiver Victor Cruz on why he has been the one constant in the offense this season
“I think they’ve done a really good job. They have a good understanding of what we’re doing. ... We’re young from being around each other, but our guys have been fantastic in terms of picking things up and really being students of the game. I’m really pleased with how they picked things up.”
—Eagles head coach Chip Kelly on how his team has taken to his system
“Yeah, I’m getting a few more grey hairs and scratching my head more often at night because of that.”
—Giants defensive end Justin Tuck on the Giants being outscored, 47-21, in four games this season.
“They’re not really figuring out what we’re doing. They’re just keeping it simple, putting a man on a man, and playing simple football. That’s pretty much what has been the story the last three weeks.“
—Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, when asked if opposing teams have figured out how to slow down the Eagles offense.
Giants Injury Analysis
The Giants are unlikely to have Baas, Snee, Hosley or Robinson this week.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he hasn’t made any decisions regarding how the offensive line will be configured now that Diehl apparently has the green light to take his full-practice workload.
As mentioned previously, it would not be surprising if Diehl lands in the starting lineup, perhaps at right guard in place of Brewer, last week’s starter.
If that move is made, that would likely mean that Brewer will be called upon as the blocking tight end in the jumbo package.
Webster was optimistic that his groin injury is behind him after two weeks of treatment. He told reporters on Wednesday that he was on track to play Sunday. That’s good news for the Giants, especially if Hosley’s hamstring and Ross' back keep them out of action.
With safety Will Hill expected to be added to the 53-man roster following his four-game, league-imposed suspension, Taylor is not a lock to be in the lineup on Sunday regardless of his health status.
On the defensive line, fans that have been clamoring to see defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, and defensive end Damontre Moore might just get their wish this week, thanks to the injuries to Joseph, Jenkins and Rogers.
On Monday, Coughlin told reporters that Moore was “close” to becoming part of the team’s pass-rush rotation. Two days later, Moore could barely contain his excitement over the likelihood of playing with the defense this weekend.
“I’m going in there with open eyes and just running in there as fast and as hard as I can,” he said. “Hopefully something happens.”
Meanwhile, Hankins has a golden opportunity to make his official NFL debut. The rookie out of Ohio State University has been inactive the first four games, but the injuries at his position might be the break he's been waiting for.
Hankins is ready for whatever might happen.
“I would say I feel a little more comfortable with the scheme, the plays and just going out there and making plays,” he said.
“I’m not worrying about messing up because this is a game, and you’re going to have those types of mistakes. But just having a clear mind and just going out there and having fun.”
Coughlin expressed confidence in the two defensive rookies’ respective abilities and noted that he was pleased with how they have been developing.
“I liked Hankins’ work a week ago. I thought he was a really difficult guy for us to block from an offensive standpoint,” he said. “I really felt like John was ready to contribute and I feel the same way right now, so I’m looking forward to watching him play.
“Moore, obviously if you’re talking in that direction, will get an opportunity to contribute as well. He’s done a nice job on special teams. He has good energy, and hopefully, we can build on that.”
Rounding out the rest of the Giants who didn’t practice on Wednesday, Thomas is expected to play on Sunday as is Herzlich, who was seen without the protective boot that he had worn as recently as Monday.
Ross’ status is not yet known.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted)
Per the Giants Communications Office, New York has committed three turnovers in each of four consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 12-Oct. 3, 2010.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has won 10 of his last 12 games against NFC East opponents.
The Giants have allowed an NFL-high 146 points, eight more than Philadelphia. Their opponents have scored at least 31 points in each of the first four games; according to the Giants Communications Office, this is the first time in franchise history that the Giants have allowed at least 31 points in four straight games in a single season.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who is the NFL leader in rushing yards (468), has rushed for 100 or more yards in three of his last four games against the Giants.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Giants’ rushing totals of 50, 23, 60 and 98 yards in their first four games is the first time they’ve played four consecutive games without rushing for at least 100 yards since Oct. 14-Nov. 4, 2001, when they ran for 97, 96, 42 and 93 yards vs. St. Louis, Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas, respectively.
Eagles tight end Brent Celek is averaging 18.7 yards per catch, the highest by a tight end with at least seven receptions.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning has completed 81 of 133 (60.9 percent) pass attempts for 1,152 yards, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions for a 115.2 rating in his last four home games against the Eagles.
Eagles cornerback Cary Williams is one of three defensive backs in the NFL with both an interception and a sack this year.
Giants defensive end Justin Tuck has 5.5 sacks in his past six games against the Eagles.
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has 3.5 sacks in his past five games against the Eagles. Pierre-Paul also has 14.5 sacks in past 16 games against division opponents.
Since the start of the 2013 season, the Giants have been doing a lot of talking.
The problem is that their actions have dwarfed when compared to their words.
So why do I think they’ll get their first win of the 2013 season? Because based on what I saw last week against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, I truly believe that New York is getting that much closer to putting together a full 60 minutes of winning football.
Obviously, the result last week wasn’t what the Giants wanted, and it was not a good thing to see them completely fall apart at the seams when Dexter McCluster returned that punt 89 yards for the score that broke open the game.
However, if the Giants are looking for a positive from that game, for nearly three quarters of that game, they stood toe-to-toe with an undefeated team that happened to be coached by a man, Andy Reid, who, for years, had the Giants’ number.
Whatever problems they had getting the offense going—and make no mistake, they did have their problems—the 10-7 score went a long way toward giving that team hope that they could still compete.
In some ways, the Giants’ loss to the Chiefs reminded me of the one in 2007 against the New England Patriots and the one in 2011 against the Green Bay Packers. The Giants came up short in both of those contests, but they gained some confidence that helped them go on to do bigger and better things.
While I still have concerns about certain areas of the 2013 Giants team, I think their confidence is now at a level to where they realize that they can stand toe-to-toe with anyone.
If they are able to defeat a division rival who, like them, is struggling, that would be a big opportunity toward the Giants being competitive again in the NFC East.