7 Keys to Victory in Philadelphia Eagles' Week 3 Matchup
The season began on a high note, as the Eagles ended a five-game losing streak to the Washington Redskins, but they came back down to earth after a frustrating trip to Arrowhead Stadium. Philly fought hard against the Kansas City Chiefs to stay in the game but were ultimately outclassed and a 27-20 loss.
It's safe to say the Eagles have plenty of issues to address going into their second divisional matchup in three weeks, but being in a three-way NFC East tie at 1-1 is a far cry from where their Week 3 opponents stand. The Giants are in a world of trouble following a disastrous 0-2 start, with each game featuring a two-score disparity.
While the G-Men haven't put much on film for the Eagles to be worried about, head coach Ben McAdoo still has a supremely talented defense and a prideful bunch who will play desperate football to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole. Philadelphia will need to be sharp at home and put in a comprehensive performance to come out on top.
Let's define the seven biggest keys for an Eagles win on Sunday.
Wreak Havoc on a Porous Giants O-Line
The Giants offensive line has been extremely subpar for years, but it's never been quite the laughing stock that it's been through two weeks of the 2017 season.
Quarterback Eli Manning has been tormented, with New York conceding eight sacks—good for the joint-third-most in the league. He's on pace to get sacked 64 times, which is a far cry from the 21 sacks the same five offensive lineman gave up in 2016.
The going isn't getting any easier for Manning, as the Eagles pass rush was fairly dominant against the Redskins and Chiefs. They've racked up eight sacks in their own right, which ranks joint-third in the NFL.
Conventional wisdom would guarantee both of those trends continuing, but defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz can't just assume his guys are going to get home with regularity. Keeping the pocket clean for Manning will be the primary focus of New York's game plan, and he'll need to scheme accordingly by sending extra rushers and mixing up coverage.
This has the potential to be a game-changing mismatch on Sunday, and the Eagles need to be ready to take full advantage of it.
Prevent Quick-Hitting Pass Plays
The Giants have no running game to speak of thus far in 2017. They come into Week 3 ranked dead last in rushing, as the only team with under 100 rush yards through two games.
Instead of negating the Eagles pass rush with runs down the middle, New York is likely to rely on its talented receiving core to shake coverage at the line of scrimmage and pick up small gains to prolong drives. Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall are more than capable of getting going with short slant routes and catching contested balls, while Odell Beckham Jr.'s return from an ankle injury can't be ignored despite a quiet debut in Week 2.
McAdoo made no secret of the fact he's expecting an improvement in the offensive line to benefit the receivers, per the New York Post's Paul Schwartz: "Well, I think we need to block better up front and we need to get some rhythm going in our pass game. I just don't think we have confidence and rhythm right now, and I think once we have a little bit of success, that will take care of itself."
Philly's cornerback unit is badly hampered, with Ronald Darby out and Jaylen Watkins missing practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury that took him out of the Chiefs loss, per David George of the team site. Jalen Mills and rookie Rasul Douglas fared well in Kansas City, but they'll face a more complete receiving unit Sunday.
If the Giants receivers are getting open in the short passing game, Manning won't need much time to throw and the Eagles pass-rushers won't have time to get to him.
Get Something, Anything, Going on the Ground
It's never an encouraging sign for a team's run game when the quarterback is the leading rusher after two games. Alas, Carson Wentz's 61 yards rushing leads a team that employed five running backs on its initial 53-man roster.
A lack of a run game made the Eagles one-dimensional against the Chiefs, a game in which top back LeGarrette Blount didn't see a single carry. As a result, Philadelphia dropped back to pass 56 times in total, with a 38-5 disparity of pass plays to run plays in the second half of the loss in Kansas City.
Eagles tackle Lane Johnson didn't shy away from his feelings on that development, per Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com: "In order to win games in this league, you have to able to run the ball. Unless you got Tom Brady, guys like that. But we have to run the ball. We have to take pressure off Carson."
With Wentz turning into a star quarterback and a deep group of receivers around him, the Eagles are going to be a pass-first team. But there isn't going to be a whole lot to work with through the air if there's no threat whatsoever from the run game to keep defenses honest.
Between Blount, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, Philly has to find some semblance of a run game at home to keep the offense potent.
Better Decision-Making on Key Drives
Any criticism of Wentz has to be taken with a grain of salt, as he's shown obvious improvement as a pocket passer in 2017. But the poor decisions he's made on a key drive in each of the Eagles' first two games will need to stop for Philly to grind out close matchups.
With Philly holding a commanding 13-0 early lead in Week 1, Wentz made an ill-advised throw to the flat that Redskins defender Ryan Kerrigan returned for a pick-six. If he doesn't force that play, the team likely wins comfortably instead of giving the Redskins a late chance to win it.
His lapse in the Chiefs game proved much more costly. The sides were tied at 13 in the second half before Wentz attempted a screen pass he never should have considered. The slew of Chiefs defenders between him and Sproles caused the ball to be tipped and intercepted, leading to a go-ahead Kansas City touchdown.
Pederson told Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com just how critical it is to avoid those mistakes: "Those situations there, just critical times of the game, can't make those mistakes."
For all the good Wentz has done as Philly's quarterback, he's struggled to keep the ball from the opposing team. He threw 14 interceptions as a rookie and is on a one-per-game pace this season.
The Giants defense will be motivated to make plays to bail out their offense after an 0-2 start, and Wentz will need to make sure they don't get any opportunities to do so in the critical moments.
Establish the Top Targets Against a Banged-Up Secondary
Alshon Jeffery became a rare bright spot in an otherwise dull day for Philadelphia in Kansas City, having his first big game as an Eagle. Jeffery caught seven balls for 92 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown.
Jeffery's good came in stark contrast of a bad outing from fellow starting receiver Torrey Smith, who did have four catches for 66 yards but dropped two passes. One in particular could have changed the game.
As for tight end Zach Ertz, he's becoming arguably the most reliable receiving target, with 13 catches for 190 yards through two games. All three could be in for big days against a hampered Giants defense.
New York's star cornerback could miss Sunday's game, with Janoris Jenkins sidelined from practice Wednesday, according to the team's injury report. Impact middle linebacker B.J. Goodson also missed practice after both players were absent from Monday's loss to the Detroit Lions.
If Jenkins can't go, expect Jeffery to feast on a potential mismatch against young New York cornerback Eli Apple. The Giants still have good depth at corner, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ross Cockrell likely to see extended time, but it's still a unit that the Eagles could exploit if the receivers are up to par.
Make Things Easy for the (Potential) New LG
No official depth-chart adjustments have been announced, but many Eagles fans got what they asked for when Chance Warmack took first-team reps ahead of struggling second-year lineman Isaac Seumalo at left guard in Wednesday's practice, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus.
The Philadelphia offensive line didn't perform up to par at any position at Kansas City, but Seumalo's performance stood out. He gave up three sacks and got beaten consistently by a fast Chiefs interior, forcing a change on the first-team lineup—at least in practice.
Philly's coaches likely saw Warmack making a move up the depth chart before the season when he received a one-year extension through 2018, but having it come so early in the season isn't promising for the unit. Warmack got benched and phased out with the Tennessee Titans for a reason, and he'll need to put those struggles behind him if he's going to last in the starting lineup.
Warmack is pegged to line up between two great veteran linemen in left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce, and they'll need to do a little extra to keep him from getting overwhelmed. The Giants defensive line can wreak havoc when its components all on the same page, and the Eagles will have their hands full up front with a potential new starter.
Use the Home Crowd to Negate Rival's Desperation
Any team making its home debut, especially when it comes three weeks into the season, can expect an extra jolt of energy from the crowd. But even that may not make the Eagles the most motivated group on the field come Sunday.
Considering how the opening two weeks have gone for the Giants, they are probably going to come out like their season is on the line. As if opening the season with a 19-3 drubbing at the hands of the rival Dallas Cowboys wasn't embarrassing enough, they got booed repeatedly by their home crowd during Monday's loss to Detroit.
Assumptions almost never play out the way they are expected to in the NFL. Teams that get humiliated often bounce back with some of their best performances. Morale may be low in the New York locker room, but there's a ton of pride in there, and a pivotal NFC East matchup will be more than enough reason to come out firing.
As such, adversity is probably going to hit for the Eagles at some point early in the game. They will need to rely on their fans to keep them energized and focused in order to execute and make the most of their advantages on the field.