Whatever the Philadelphia Eagles have been doing since right around the 32-minute mark of their first game of the season, it isn’t working. Since pulling ahead of Washington 33-7 back in Week 1, the Birds are getting outscored 131-66.
Time to make some changes, don’t you think?
Luckily, the scheduling gods present this offering of the 0-4 New York Giants, a franchise that despite having two Super Bowl wins over the previous six seasons somehow seems to have less going for it than the Eagles at the moment. I mean, by contrast the G-men have been outscored 69-7 in their last two games. They’ve not been very competitive to phrase it mildly.
That’s not to say this is a gimme matchup for the Eagles—it may be far from it. At the very least though, these are two clubs that seem to be on even footing at worst, which is a welcome change of pace after stumbling across back-to-back opponents with unblemished records.
So if the Eagles can just plug a few holes and perhaps add a wrinkle or two, they can quickly rebound from three straight losses into first place in the NFC East this Sunday. Here’s how.
Philadelphia Offense vs. New York Defense
At this point, it goes without saying the Eagles should hand the football to LeSean McCoy early and often. That said, it’s worth pointing out Philadelphia continues to lead the league in rushing (198.2 YPG), while New York is ranked 28th in the NFL in run defense.
Look for Shady to get back on track with a big day against the Giants’ defense, but let’s turn our attention toward how the Birds can get the passing game back on track.
Move DeSean Jackson Around the Formation More
On Wednesday, we detailed how the Kansas City and Denver defenses were able to contain DeSean Jackson in part by employing more press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Jackson led the NFL with 297 yards receiving after two games, but he’s been held to just 96 yards on five receptions the past two weeks.
Whether the Giants have the personnel to effectively press Jackson at the line of scrimmage is debatable, but once they watch the film that won’t stop them from trying. Unless the game plan calls for Riley Cooper to suddenly start getting some separation, head coach Chip Kelly has to come up with more ways to give Jackson a clean first step.
Even when Jackson is lining up in the slot, which he is already doing on 29.5% of snaps according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), defenses have demonstrated they are increasingly willing to go for the jam within five yards. That’s leading to disruptions in timing or DeSean being re-routed entirely.
The simplest solution is to bring Jackson in motion before the snap—it’s much easier for defenders to get their hands on a stationary object as opposed to a moving target. Another possibility would be to use a receiver to “cover up” No. 10 in the formation, almost like setting a pick. Either option is a concept that can be found in any offense, including this one.
Regardless of how exactly they go about accomplishing it, the Eagles must force the coverage to back off of Jackson some of the time. Without Jeremy Maclin to share the load, the Eagles’ passing attack is only as good as how many times it can hit the Jaccpot.
More Running Backs in the Passing Game
Last week, we examined Michael Vick’s struggles in the passing game against Kansas City, and while the offensive line hasn’t been blameless and the receivers aren’t winning enough battles, the quarterback isn’t exhausting all of his options either.
Yet another way to keep the defense honest is by getting backs involved in the passing game, especially when it’s LeSean McCoy. Here’s an example from Week 3 where Vick took a sack rather than check the ball down to Shady.
Now here’s virtually the same play in Denver. This is third down, and if Vick gets the rock to McCoy there, he has a chance to get to the sticks. LeSean is supposed to be the hardest back to tackle in the the open field in the NFL, so why not get the ball to him more in the flat when it’s one-on-one like that?
This is partly due to Vick’s own aversion to dumping the ball down, but maybe Chip Kelly needs to step in and instruct the passer to make McCoy the second or even the primary option on certain plays. The yards are there every single week, and I guarantee if defenses were more leery of McCoy as a receiver, it would open things up for the rest of the offense.
Philadelphia Defense vs. New York Offense
Bracket Victor Cruz
First, let’s quickly recap the damage slot receivers have done to Philadelphia’s defense thus far.
Now let’s look at what Victor Cruz has done compared to the rest of the Giants’ wide receivers and tight ends.
Also note New York’s ground attack is ranked 30th with a paltry 57.8 yards per game, 28th with 3.3 yards per carry.
Based on the numbers, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis has one task going into this Sunday: stop Victor Cruz at all costs. The Giants have not shown the ability to run the football consistently, and even wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been a relative non-factor up to this point. Cruz is the one player who can’t be allowed to beat the defense.
That could be problematic with nickel corner Brandon Boykin a surprise entry on the injury report. Per reports like these by Zach Berman for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boykin was limited in practice on Wednesday with a shoulder injury.
Davis should consider using double or bracket coverage on Cruz anyway, but if Boykin can’t go it’s a no-brainer. Use one defender to trail Cruz wherever he goes, plus additional coverage over the top, and force quarterback Eli Manning to go somewhere else to beat your defense.
It comes up virtually every week in this column, but pressuring the quarterback is such an obvious key to the game. The problem is the Eagles are not currently exhausting all of their resources in the pass rush.
Defensive end Vinny Curry has only been active the past two weeks, with just 25 snaps to speak of mind you, yet only four players on Philly’s roster have more QB hurries according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only). One of those players is Brandon Graham, and while the outside linebacker has dressed every week, he has yet to see more than 21 snaps in a game.
For a team that ranks just 18th in sacks this season, that seems unacceptable.
As we discussed in What You Need To Know on Tuesday, the Giants have multiple injuries along their offensive line. Only two quarterbacks have been sacked more than Eli Manning in 2013. Still, no matter how stagnant New York’s offense has been, if the Eagles give him time to sit in the pocket on Sunday, Eli will dissect their secondary.
Free Vinny Curry, get after the quarterback, and win on Sunday.