Giants vs. Eagles Week 3: 10 Keys to Epic NFC East Clash

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IISeptember 21, 2011

Giants vs. Eagles Week 3: 10 Keys to Epic NFC East Clash

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    Don’t expect a by-the-book affair when the Giants and Eagles meet at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday.

    Last year the Giants held fourth quarter leads in both meetings before letting victory slip through their hands (or off their foot in one case). This year the rivals come in with identical 1-1 records and a twitter feud that only raises the stakes higher.

    Like I said, don’t expect by-the-book with these two.

    Expect mayhem, malice and the occasional miracle.

The Ghost of Losses Past

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    The Giants haven’t beaten the Eagles since midway through the ‘08 season, losing six straight contests over that time.

    I’m not a big believer in sports psychology, curses or even momentum, but after having lost last year against the Eagles in a game they led 31-10 in the fourth quarter, the Giants must have doubts.

    Can they beat this Eagles team? Can they beat Michael Vick?

    They’ll have to prove that to themselves this Sunday. Another loss and the growing skepticism will only sink further into this team’s collective psyche.

Michael Vick's Health

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    Michael Vick still hasn’t been ruled out for Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion in Atlanta, and the complexion of this game hinges on his availability.

    Right now the Giants have to plan for three very different quarterbacks—Michael Vick, Vince Young and Mike Kafka—just as the Eagles must construct three different offensive strategies.

    Obviously the Eagles want their superstar quarterback under center, but the uncertainty around the situation does play to their advantage a bit. Philadelphia will know the likely starter well before the Giants do because they’ll see Vick’s progress up close. The Giants will have to react, potentially at the last minute.

    One more thing to watch:  Andy Reid said he regretted playing so conservatively with Mike Kafka at the helm during the waning minutes of his team’s loss to Atlanta.

    Don’t assume the Birds pound the ball just because Vick can’t play. The Eagles won’t want to lose the talent advantage they have on the edges, and I think they trust Kafka to let loose.

Giants Secondary Versus Eagles Wide Receivers

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    No unit matchup looks more lopsided on paper than the Eagles’ wide receiver corps versus New York’s depleted pass coverage.

    DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Steve Smith usually have their way with opposing corner backs. This week they don’t just get any corners, they get the tepid duo of Corey Webster and Aaron Ross.

    So far the Giants’ back four have allowed each of their first two quarterbacks they faced to top 300 yards passing. Consider that neither Rex Grossman nor Sam Bradford had the boon of Philadelphia's wide receiving talent, and you can see this mismatch a-comin’.

Giants' Pass Rush

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    No Osi, no problem.

    A recent report says that Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora likely won’t play this Sunday. So far this season the Giants haven’t really missed him.

    Young Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck have combined for four sacks so far this season and the front four look just as strong as in recent years. The Eagles’ offensive line struggled in each of the first two weeks and won’t find the going any easier against this New York bunch.

    A less mobile Mike Kafka could be a sitting target for Tuck’s gang. And the more elusive Michael Vick? His already-rattled brain won’t appreciate the prospect of further punishment.

Giants’ Ground Game

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    The New York Giants are built to run the football and the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense is built to do pretty much everything but stop it.

    I’m smelling a subplot here.

    Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw still look like one of the better running tandems in the NFL through two weeks. Neither has had a breakout game thus far, but both show enough spring to keep defenses off-balance.

    Then there’s the Philadelphia Eagles and their wide nine.

    Quickly replacing “exotic blitz package” as the catchphrase du jour for broadcasters trying to analyze the Eagles’ defense, the wide nine alignment instituted by defensive line coach Jim Washburn places defensive linemen in prime pass-rushing position by spreading them wide. By virtue of that same alignment, the wide nine also exposes Eagles’ linebackers to bigger blockers in the run game.

    The Eagles are already undersized and lacking talent in their linebacking corps. With the wide nine hardly helping matters, opposing running backs seem to have their way with the Eagles’ bunch.

    Most troubling for Eagles’ fans, opponents have reeled off runs of 45+ yards in each of the first two games.

    Jacobs or Bradshaw could benefit from this generous scheme come Sunday.

    If things go the Giants’ way, maybe both will.

Coming Home

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    The Eagles haven’t enjoyed the comforts of a home game yet this season, and I’m curious to see how their performance benefits from the advantages therein.

    Two road games in domed stadiums left Philadelphia’s offensive line confused and probably suffering from temporary hearing loss. The Atlanta game represented an improvement in o-line communication, but the Eagles’ front five still needs to gel.

    Will a quiet crowd give the hogs up front a boost?

    And on the other side of the ball, will the decibel-busting fan frenzy of a home opener against a division rival make the Philadelphia pass rush that much stronger?

Trent Cole, Manimal

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    The football world can’t ignore Trent Cole any longer.

    Long forgotten behind Michael Strahan, DeMarcus Ware, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and the other great pass rushers in his division, Cole blitzed onto the national scene Sunday Night with an eye-popping performance.

    Cole’s line:  Six tackles, four for loss and a lifelong spot in (Falcons’ left tackle) Sam Baker's head.

    The Giants allowed four sacks against the Redskins in Week 1 and another three last week against the Rams. Eli Manning’s lead legs won’t keep Cole honest (I’m recalling his completely unforced trip and fumble to end an Eagles-Giants game in ‘09), and the defensive end should get another shot at a monster game.

Jason Peters, Mountain of Manimal

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    Even if his linemates aren’t playing along, Eagles left tackle Jason Peters looks like a man possessed this year. He dominates on the interior and maneuvers lithely in the open field thanks in-part to new offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s movement-oriented schemes.

    The latter could be important come Sunday.

    If Mike Kafka starts in place of Michael Vick (Mike and Mike—anybody seeing a t-shirt possibility?), the Eagles may use screens to offset the Giants’ pass rush and give their young quarterback some easier throws.

    In those cases the Giants will see all 340 pounds of the All-Pro left tackle barreling downfield with pace.

    Faced with that prospect, I’d consider faking another injury.

Hakeem Nicks, Myth-Buster?

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    Danny Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker, Roddy White, Julio Jones...

    The list of wide receivers muffled by the Eagles’ All-Star secondary grows by the twos each week.

    So far no wideout has more than 50 yards receiving against Philadelphia’s vaunted duo of Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel.

    Giants pass catcher Hakeem Nicks looks to break that trend, and who better to do it?

    The UNC product racked up 122 yards in Week 1 and added a touchdown catch to his haul in Week 2. Following up a breakout campaign in 2010, Nicks should be one of the top wide-outs in the NFC East this year.

    So far the Eagles haven’t blinked. It’s Nicks’ turn to stare them down.

Jake Ballard, Opportunity Calls

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    Good as the Philadelphia defenders have been against wide-outs, they’ve been just as bad against opposing tight ends.

    St. Louis tight end Lance Kendricks would have burned them the first week if not for a couple of bad drops, and Falcons’ All-Pro Tony Gonzalez showed Kendricks just what he was missing by shredding Philadelphia in Week 2.

    After losing Kevin Boss in the offseason, receiving tight ends haven’t figured much in the Giants offensive attack early this year. This would be the week to change that, and New York starter Jake Ballard would be at the center of such a change.

    The Eagles lack the quality at safety and linebacker to adequately cover the middle of the field, and New York would be wise to exploit that weakness. We’ll see if they have the talent to do so.