By Curt Macysyn
Most of the NFL experts fully expected the Philadelphia Eagles to challenge the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East crown. After all, the Birds head coach, Chip Kelly, has led the team to back-to-back 10-win seasons. But the 2015 campaign got off to a rocky start for the Iggles, as they stumbled out of the gate with an 0-2 mark with losses to the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys (sound familiar?).
Even with 10 wins, the Eagles missed the NFL playoffs last year, and Chip Kelly won a tug of war with general manager Howie Roseman to take over the personnel acquisition side of the football operations. Kelly then installed Ed Marynowitz as vice president of player personnel in January 2015.
Kelly went to work on changing the face of the franchise through a couple of high profile trades, and an interesting free agent acquisition. Incumbent starters, quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy, were dealt to St. Louis and Buffalo respectively, fetching Same Bradford and linebacker Kiko Alonso in return. To fill the running back position, Kelly inked former Dallas Cowboys workhorse back DeMarco Murray to five-year, $40 million contract in the off season.
Both the New York Giants (3-2) and the Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) started the 2015 campaign with identical 0-2 records with losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. In fact, the only game separating the two teams at this point is the Eagles' 23-20 loss to the Washington Redskins on Oct. 4 in Landover, Maryland. The Giants defeated the Redskins 32-21 on Sept. 24 to break their two game losing streak.
On Sunday, the Birds dispatched the woeful New Orleans Saints 39-17 to set up the Monday night affair with first place on the line.
Many folks questioned Chip Kelly's sanity when he dealt incumbent quarterback Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for oft-injured Sam Bradford. Bradford was the top selection in the 2010 NFL draft, but missed all of 2014 and most of 2013 battling knee injuries. Against the Saints, Bradford shook off two interceptions to complete 71 percent of his passes, as his 32 completions went to nine different receivers.
After facing two mobile quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor, New York's front four will be able to pin their ears back and go after Bradford, but the defense has to be concerned with new running back DeMarco Murray. Murray rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, and also caught seven passes from the backfield. The rushing attack is a two-headed monster for Philadelphia with ex-Charger Ryan Mathews having a very productive season. Mathews rushed for 73 yards on just eight carries against the Saints, and he had the only 100-yard rushing day for the Eagles (108 yards) this season that came against the New York Jets.
Second-year man Jordan Matthews leads the receiving corps with 30 catches on the season for 325 yards and a touchdown. Matthews has taken over for the back-to-back losses of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin for the Birds, and he does have help with young turks, tight end Zach Ertz (15 catches) and wideout Nelson Agholor.
Controversial Riley Cooper has found a home in Philadelphia, and he averages 16.1 yards per catch on eight grabs so far this season. Cooper has one touchdown catch on the campaign. The Giants need to be aware of scat back Darren Sproles, especially on third down. Sproles is a dual-threat with 107 rushing yards and 128 receiving yards (16 catches) in five games.
Veterans Brent Celek and Miles Austin round out the pass catchers for Bradford. Celek has been known to be a Giant-killer in his career and has two touchdown grabs of his five catches this season.
Newly signed defensive back Walter Thurmond has become in Philadelphia what the Giants thought they would have in 2014. Thurmond, as you may recall, played in only a couple of games with Big Blue in 2014, after tearing his pectoral muscle. He already has three interceptions for the Birds this season and has solidified a normally weak safety position in Philadelphia.
Thurmond's partner Malcolm Jenkins has also started the season on a strong note, as he leads the team with 37 total tackles, and he has a couple of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery to his stat line.
Defensive end Fletcher Cox is coming off of a three-sack performance against the Saints, and he already has as many sacks this season (four) as he did all of last year. Mychal Kendricks missed last week's game with a hamstring problem, so the Giants may miss the uber-talented linebacker.
Last time we saw linebacker Connor Barwin, he was abusing then-right tackle Justin Pugh to the tune of three sacks of Eli Manning in the Eagles' 27-0 shutout of Big Blue in the City of Brotherly Love. Barwin has started this season with two sacks in five games.
Players to Watch
Luckily for New York, Sam Bradford is a sitting duck in the pocket, so his decision-making will determine the outcome of the game. If the Giants can somehow take away the dump off passes to the running backs, they will make Bradford throw downfield to their young receiving corps. The only consistent outside threat that the Eagles have is Jordan Matthews, and the Giants should give him special attention.
Eli Manning got a hot hand at the end of the San Francisco game, but he will be facing a stronger tandem at safety in the Eagles' pairing. Ex-Giant Walter Thrumond has been a ball hawk so far this season with three interceptions in five games, and he probably has a pretty good knowledge of Manning's tendencies, having spent all of training camp with him last year. Utilizing tight end Larry Donnell on seam routes can neutralize Thurmond and open up the outside.
If the Giants were anything close to 100 percent healthy, they would be the favorite in this game. But without knowing the health status of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Rueben Randle, as well as Jon Beason, Robert Ayers and Devon Kennard, there may be too many injuries for the team to overcome for a relatively healthy Eagles squad.
To combat the injuries, the Giants will need to utilize their three-headed running back monster of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams effectively in order to keep the defense off the field. Thankfully, the Eagles vertical passing game is not too scary, but the Giants also have difficulty controlling running backs out of the backfield, so look for a heavy dosage of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles in classic West Coast offensive strategy.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University - New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.
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