First, the offensive line will have kept Eli Manning upright. The main reason “Big Blue” has only scored seven points, combined, in the last two games is because the passing game, which is predicated on vertical, deep throws, has not had time to develop due to consistent, heavy pressure on the Giants' franchise quarterback.
Based on the sudden frequency of hits that the 32-year-old is taking, it is not surprising that New York’s offense has been so anemic.
Also, the Giants will have slowed down an Eagles rushing attack that leads the NFL by a wide margin, with 198.3 yards per game on a staggering 6.1 yards per carry. Shutting down Philadelphia’s running game is unrealistic, given their efficient success through the season’s first four games, but making them earn every carry—and limiting numerous long gallops—will be key.
Let’s take a look at the matchups that will factor heavily into getting the Giants' deep passing game going and grinding LeSean McCoy and company to, at least, a trot.
LT Will Beatty vs. OLB Trent Cole
Where there’s a Will, there hasn’t been a pass-block—at least not this season.
The chart below clearly illustrates Beatty’s sudden ineptitude to protect Manning’s blind side after a breakout 2012 campaign that made him a $37.5 million man this offseason.
Beatty has had some tough matchups this year against the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware and the Chiefs’ Tamba Hali, among others, but that is precisely why he received a hefty raise last spring. He’s paid to anchor the Giants pass protection, usually against the other team’s best pass-rusher.
Beatty has an opportunity to start salvaging his season this week against the declining Cole.
The novice outside linebacker averaged 10.5 sacks per season from 2006-2011 but only had three in 2012. He has yet to tackle a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage this year.
Beatty should be able to neutralize Cole, who clearly is not the same player he once was and doesn’t figure to return to form at 31 years old (Cole’s birthday is actually the day before the game).
If Cole somehow spends most of Sunday afternoon in the Giants backfield, it could be a telling sign that Beatty’s performance last season was a fluke.
WR Hakeem Nicks vs. CB Cary Williams
If Beatty manages to keep Manning’s jersey clean, and the rest of his line mates follow suit, then the Giants should be able to move the ball through the air. Whether they have a good day passing or a great day, however, depends on whether Nicks can work Williams.
Victor Cruz has continued his storybook NFL career this season with 425 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Unfortunately for New York, he isn’t getting much help from his fellow starting wide receiver.
Nicks only has 225 yards receiving, including just 33 yards in his last two games. He also hasn’t hit pay dirt and has caught a mere 48 percent of the passes thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Williams' recent PFF ratings in coverage, minus-2.0 in 2012 and minus-2.3 last year, suggest he can be thrown against. Though, at 6’1”, he matches Nicks in height, and his aggressive style of play could slow down the physical wideout if the referees are not in the mood to cover the MetLife Stadium field with laundry on Sunday.
Nicks should have a productive day against Williams, but to expect it is not wise. He has been maddeningly inconsistent since the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl run. Until he proves otherwise, what the five-year veteran will provide in a particular game figures to vary wildly week to week.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul vs. RB LeSean McCoy
It’s a good thing he won’t be hindered, because McCoy will be heading in his direction a lot. Eagles running backs have run the ball off of left end on 21 percent of their 104 carries (McCoy has 78 of these totes), according to Football Outsiders. This is compared to only 15 percent off right end.
They’ve also had success running in this direction, with 4.55 Adjusted Line Yards (the link provides the full definition, but, in short, it takes into account game situations and level of opponent to provide a more accurate depiction of a rushing attack’s quality compared to the traditional yards per carry metric). Around right end, the Adjusted Line Yards drop significantly to 3.37.
Why is this important to note?
Because McCoy is deadly in space, so if Pierre-Paul struggles to set the edge, the five-year veteran will likely have several double-digit yard gains to the left outside.
McCoy is a good cutback runner, so he’ll likely flow back inside if JPP consistently seals off the outside. At least this will send the star running back into the teeth of the Giants defense.
Again, stopping McCoy and the Eagles' rushing attack as a whole is wishful thinking. However, keeping him, and Michael Vick for that matter, away from the sideline will minimize the damage.