Rested Giants Ready For Eagles Challenge
By Curt Macysyn
Is it too early to call the New York Giants (4-3) streaky? Big Blue has won two games in a row, after breaking a three-game losing streak against the Baltimore Ravens three weeks ago. Ironically, the Giants made up some ground in the ultra-competitive NFC East division by not even playing a game. The Washington Redskins squandered a golden opportunity against the Cincinnati Bengals in London on Sunday, and the teams played to a 27-27 tie. Meanwhile, down in Texas, the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) outplayed the Dallas Cowboys for 50 minutes, but conservative play-calling doomed the Birds in a 29-23 overtime loss. Rookie head coach Doug Pederson and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz will try to get back on NFC East division track at the New Jersey Meadowlands on Sunday.
Season Record (4-3)
It has been one step forward and two steps back lately for the Philadelphia Eagles. Team owner Jeffrey Lurie was hailed as a genius for moving up in the NFL draft to select Wentz with the second overall draft pick this spring. Philadelphia's quarterback of the future became the team's signal-caller of the present, when Philadelphia was able to ship incumbent starter Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Viking for a bevy of draft picks after training camp. In early September, Carson Wentz and the Birds looked like world beaters, as the team shot out to a 3-0 start. A couple of depressing losses to the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions had Eagles' rooters worried, until a signature win over the then-undefeated Minnesota Vikings got the fan base smiling again. But some coaching blunders turned another potential signature win into an ugly loss at Dallas on Sunday night, and now the Eagles are fighting for their playoff lives once again.
Eagles on Offense
Carson Wentz is human after all, as the rookie from North Dakota State has been very average of late. To be fair, the loss to the Dallas Cowboys should perhaps be laid at the feet of head coach Doug Pederson, whose erratic personnel usage and play-calling caused a late game and overtime meltdown. Wentz is a big bodied quarterback with a big arm, but lately he has been more Johnny Unitas than Joe Namath. For example, Birds' leading receiver Jordan Matthews had 11 catches against the Cowboys but just 65 receiving yards. Can you say dink and dunk?
Former first-round draft pick Nelson Agholor is starting to look like a bust. In seven games this season the former Southern Cal Trojan has just 21 catches for 216 receiving yards, or six yards less than Odell Beckham had by himself against the Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles need tight end Zach Ertz and wideout Doriel Green-Beckham to step up their production. the pair has just one touchdown catch this season. Darren Sproles has taken over the starting halfback position for the Eagles, although Ryan Mathews, Kenjon Barner and rookie Wendell Smallwood gets carries in this offense. Smallwood had a big fumble against the Cowboys, while Mathews coughed the ball up against Detroit, as the Eagles were trying to milk the clock.
Eagles on Defense
The Eagles have perhaps the best defense in the division, as their front four has produced 22 quarterback sacks, good for third in the NFL. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham each have four sacks, while veteran Connor Barwin has three. Safety Rodney McCloud was a terrific free agent pick-up from the Los Angeles Rams, and he leads the team with three interceptions. Linebacker Jordan Hicks flies under the radar, as he may be the team's most complete defensive player. Hicks has 37 tackles on the year with an interception and a quarterback sack on his ledger.
Can New York's anemic rushing attack get well against the 20th ranked rushing defense? Big Blue averages a paltry 70.3 yards per game on the ground, while the Eagles defense gives up 114.7 yards per game. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks seems to save his best effort for the New York Giants.
Players to Watch
The Giants' secondary should be able to handle a very ordinary Eagles' receiving corps. In addition, Big Blue can hopefully get pressure on quarterback Carson Wentz and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The Birds will have to be carried offensively by veteran scatback Darren Sproles. Typically, the G-Men have struggled with keeping up with diminutive running backs in space, and Sproles certainly fits that description. If New York allows Sproles to run free, then it will open up the passing attack for Wentz.
Defensively, the Eagles defense may be the best one the Giants have faced this season, but there are some areas to exploit. New York's wide receivers have a slight edge over the Eagles' secondary, so keeping quarterback Eli Manning upright is critical. Defensive end Brandon Graham will be a handful for left tackle Ereck Flowers to handle. If Flowers can hold his own, the Giants can put up some points. If, on the other hand, Flowers has another meltdown, the offense will go down in flames.
These are two evenly matched teams, so it should be a tight game at MetLife Stadium. Hopefully, the G-Men can get the home crowd behind them early and make some noise to rattle the rookie QB. Also, the offensive line needs to hold its own against a stout Philadelphia front four. If those two things happens, New York wins a close contest and ends up with sole possession of second place in the division.
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