Philadelphia was completely incapable of generating any offense whatsoever in a disturbing 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, and to make matters worse, the Birds’ top two quarterbacks are less than 100 percent. Meanwhile, the Giants don’t look like such pushovers all of a sudden after picking up their first win of 2013.
Last time around, New York was a “get-right game” for the Eagles. This meeting could be a letdown waiting to happen.
Much of the concern stems from Michael Vick’s questionable status for Week 8. Reports suggest Vick likely will be under center for the first time since injuring his hamstring against the Giants, but head coach Chip Kelly was unwilling to confirm according to a CSNPhilly.com report. Nick Foles has not been cleared to return from the concussion he suffered versus the Cowboys either, which would leave rookie Matt Barkley to start in the event of Vick’s absence.
Even if Vick can go, it doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of confidence in his full recovery between now and kickoff. How effective is the four-time Pro Bowler if he can’t run?
Well, I’m glad you asked. The offensive portion of our weekly game plan will be built with a potentially limited offense in mind. Up first, though, let’s dissect what the Eagles defense is tasked with in avoiding an upset.
New York Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense
Replicate the Previous Meeting’s Game Plan
You can’t ask the Philly defense to do much more than it did versus the Giants in Week 5. Eli Manning managed to lead New York on three touchdown drives in Week 5, but he also turned the ball over three times, which proved to be the Eagles' NFC East rival’s undoing.
The Eagles didn’t do anything exceedingly tricky. For starters, they essentially ignored a Giants running game that ranks 31st in the NFL and currently relies on the likes of one-hit wonder Peyton Hillis and seventh-round rookie Michael Cox out of UMass.
|New York Giants Rushing Stats|
|Yards Per Game||Yards Per Carry||Runs of 20+||Touchdowns|
|67.3 (31st)||3.2 (29th)||0 (32nd)||5 (t-11th)|
Second, the defense made a concentrated effort to take away the deep pass. Manning hooked up with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks on a 49-yard bomb on the Giants' first series, but other than that, everything the Birds conceded was underneath. New York has committed the most turnovers in the NFL this season with 24—3.4 per game—so the thinking is to make the offense prove it can drive the field on long drives rather than score on quick strikes.
Finally, the Eagles had really struggled to defend slot receivers, so the defense really had to key on Victor Cruz, who is the Giants’ biggest threat these days. Nicks and Rueben Randle combined to haul in 15 receptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns, but they saw plenty of one-on-one coverage, as defensive coordinator Bill Davis often used bracket coverage on Cruz. The 2012 Pro Bowler was held to five catches for 48 yards thanks to looks like these.
Those were the coverages on all three of Manning’s picks, on the second of which the slot was targeted. Cruz broke to the inside with a post, but nickel corner Brandon Boykin was using an inside technique. The quarterback was flushed out of the pocket, but Boykin had good enough position to make an excellent diving grab on the play.
Take Cruz away, and it’s only a matter of time until Manning starts forcing passes.
New York Defense vs. Philadelphia Offense
Back the Defense Off with Shots Downfield
Whether Mike Vick is able to play or fourth-round pick Matt Barkley makes his first NFL start, the Eagles figure to face a similar dilemma on offense. If Vick’s hamstring is anything less than 100 percent, the Giants defense doesn’t have to worry about No. 7 running all over them—he racked up 79 yards on the ground in one half of football in Week 5. Likewise, Barkley isn’t much of a threat to run either.
Assuming Vick is at the helm, he hasn’t been very accurate of late either. The 11-year veteran was completing a Tim Tebow-esque 46.5 percent of his passes over his last three games.
|Michael Vick's Passing Stats (Last 3 Games)|
So how does Philadelphia get the defense to back off when it knows the quarterback can’t get away and probably can’t dissect the coverage with quick, accurate passes? The Eagles quarterback is going to have to make the defense pay.
The Giants are susceptible to the deep ball, and if they want to send extra rushers to make the walls feel like they are closing on in Vick or to rattle a rookie passer, the best way to get them to think twice is by connecting on a few big-gainers. Only four teams have allowed more 20-yard passing plays than New York this season, which continues to battle injuries in its secondary to cornerbacks Corey Webster (groin), Jayron Hosley (hamstring), and Terrell Thomas (knee).
These might not be high-percentage plays, but then no Vick pass has been of late. Normally when that’s the case, he supplants that production with his legs, as he’s averaging over 60 rushing yards per game this season, but it remains to be seen whether that will be an option this week.
Run, Shady, Run
The other reason the Eagles would benefit from some big gains downfield is they might help create room for LeSean McCoy, who’s been stifled a bit of late. Here’s how the All-Pro back has fared over the past four games compared to the first three this season:
|LeSean McCoy's 2013 Rushing Stats|
|Weeks 1-3||395 YDS||6.4 AVG||41 LNG||2 TD|
|Weeks 4-7||290 YDS||3.7 AVG||19 LNG||1 TD|
The problems vary, as we learned from this week’s film study, but with a limited quarterback under center, there is going to be added pressure on Shady to perform this week—25-30 carries is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Giants have been increasingly stout against the run, holding Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings to a meager 30 yards on the ground on Monday. They kept McCoy in check as well in Week 5, limiting him to 46 yards on 20 carries for a lowly 2.3-yard average.
Philadelphia must find some way to get the NFL’s leading rusher going this week, especially if the passing game continues to have issues with efficiency. That could be easier said than done, but if Vick or Barkley can hit a few deep passes early, maybe that will at least force New York to take a safety out of the box.
As always, look for DeSean Jackson to be the catalyst here. The Eagles are 3-1 when their biggest deep threat catches a touchdown pass, 0-3 in all other contests.