The Giants were not the same in the final quarter of 2008 as they finished their season without Plaxico Burress, but in fairness, his sudden long term departure left Tom Coughlin little opportunity to adjust his game plan.
While the Eagles now match up better against the Giants without Plaxico, the remainder of the team is in tact, improved and still a major force to be reckoned with. Coughlin has also had plenty of time to derive a new strategy to compensate for a Plaxico-less 2009 season.
Defending the Giants Running Attack
Despite my passion for the Eagles, I felt it was an undeniable truth, in that we had no answer for the Giants offensive machine when trying to cover Burress and stop Brandon Jacobs. It was a painful realization.
When Plaxico went down, I immediately smelled the vulnerability of the division rivals from the great City of New York who call New Jersey home. That was an unfortunate turn of events for the Giants that justifiably gave many Eagles' fans new hope.
One of our keys to stopping the Giants ground game was our defensive hero, Brian Dawkins. When he crowded the box he was very effective in playing smash-mouth football with the bruising Brandon Jacobs throughout his career.
Even in Dawkins absence, I expect the safeties to do a solid job against Jacobs. Both Sean Jones and Quintin Mikell are players that are proven run stoppers from the safety position. Although no player can replace Dawkins, these guys can step up in the box and lay a hit on a player of Brandon Jacobs stature.
They will need to fill that role for the Eagles to consistently stop the big man when it matters most.
The young defensive line and linebacking group should also be expected to step up with another seasons worth of experience and maturity under their belts. They will be even stingier against the run and in coverage than they were in the second half of the 2008 season. That should take some pressure off of the safeties need to step up in run stop situations.
The Eagles do have the tools to stop Brandon Jacobs. That statement remains easier said than done. The Giants dominant offensive line and aggressive fullback, Madison Hedgecock, will do their best to clear the way for Jacobs, but the Eagles were very effective in controlling the line of scrimmage against the G-men in their last two contests of 2008.
Defending the Giants Passing Attack
Eli Manning may not be an elite NFL quarterback, but he can clearly get the job done and has a history of rising to the ocassion. Even without his best weapon, the Giants remain an aerial threat with the addition of some nice NFL ready talent at wide receiver.
By way of the 2009 draft, the Giants acquired receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramsees Barden.
Nicks may not have the same skill set as Plaxico, but nonetheless, he is a viable weapon for Eli Manning in 2009. He's a hard runner with good size, hands and quickness and is just an overall impressive receiver.
Ramsees Barden is a very tall receiver that could replace Burress in the dreaded jump ball scenario that Eli Manning and the Giants used to burn the Eagles in several clutch moments over the years.
Aside from the rookies, returning veteran receivers, Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon also deserve respect. Both of these players made solid 2008 contributions.
Smith is a very nice possession receiver and Hixon showed great vision and speed getting behind the elite defensive backs of the Eagles on several occasions. Fortunately for the Eagles, he let a big opportunity slip through his fingers in the very close playoff contest at a clutch moment.
The Eagles can't afford to depend on that.
The Giants offense may no longer seem indefensible, but the Eagles can ill-afford to take the loss of Plaxico Burress as a compensatory indictment of ineptitude regarding the New York passing attack.
Eli still has weapons.
In the end, the Eagles should be able to effectively defend the Giants attack and give the offense the opportunity to win the game. Nothing will come easy, but the Eagles defense will be impressive and more effective against what appears to be a slightly diminshed Giants' offensive unit in 2009.
Putting Up Points Against an Elite Giants' Defense.
The only way to have consistent offensive success against the Giants is to get them off balance and exploit their only perceivable weakness which is their secondary and arguably the linebackers.
Corey Webster is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL yielding one of the lowest average-per-catch statistics. Still, the secondary is suspect, sustaining some key losses including R.W. McQuarters.
If Donovan McNabb can work his way into the game slowly with some run support and high percentage passing, he should be able to find success in connecting with his talented receivers, tight ends and running backs.
McNabb will need time to get the ball to his targets and that is no easy task against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL.
With the acclaimed enhancements to the offensive line and blocking back positions, the Eagles are expected to do a better job in pass protection and in opening up running room for a presumably rehabilitated Brian Westbrook who figures to be in elite game shape by the start of the season.
Jason Peters and Shawn Andrews should match-up well against the best defensive end tandem in the NFL in Jason Tuck and returning superstar, Osi Umenyiora. The Giants ends will make their plays, but the stout offensive line of the Eagles should do a better job than most in containing the aforementioned stand out players.
The addition of Chris Canty to the interior line will once again make the Giants the most imposing front four in the NFL.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they have five pro-bowl prospects on their offensive line and great depth to go along with the starters. Nobody will have a field day running against the Giants, but if Westbrook can stay healthy, he will be running behind fullback Leonard Weaver as opposed to Dan Klecko--expect much better production from the running game even against the mighty Giants.
The Eagles have the right mix of weapons to have success against the Giants and moreover fill the duties and prerequisites of running a complete Andy Reid playbook more than ever before.
Game, Division, Conference and Season Predictions
The games will be too close to call from analyzing the rosters on paper alone, but based on the 2008 contests, the Eagles finally have an answer for the Giants on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
I think it's fair to give the edge to the Eagles at this point. That conclusion remains less than scientific, but the Eagles addressed their shortcomings from 2008 in a very big way after squeaking out two close wins in crunch time games against the favored rivals.
The games will be exciting and worthy of the rivalry in 2009 with a finality that can't unequivocally be rendered. The Giants and Eagles look to challenge each other for the division and conference on the road to a superbowl run.
I invite all appropriate discussion and disagreement with an eager ear and open mind.
More Analysis from Leo Pizzini at: http://eagles.sportsscribes.net.
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