3TFO: Giants @ Eagles, Week 8
In an NFC East game between the Giants and Eagles, John Castellane writes about three of the most important matchups that could decide the victor.
3TFO: Giants @ Eagles, Week 8
A lot has changed in the three weeks since the Giants and Eagles last met. For starters, New York is no longer winless and will be attempting to win their second straight game this week against the Eagles. The Giants got the victory on Monday night over the Vikings in what was a borderline unwatchable performance by Minnesota, but a win is a win and New York will take them anyway they can. Philadelphia lost quarterback Michael Vick in the game against New York in Week 5 and has since had two very different outings. Backup quarterback Nick Foles replaced Vick and led the Eagles to a second half comeback against the Giants and followed that up with a brilliant game in a Week 6 victory over Tampa Bay. However, he was dreadful last week against Dallas and was forced to leave the game early with a concussion. The injury to Foles brings the Eagles back to a less-than-100% Vick and his level of play along with these three key matchups will be the difference in this NFC East battle.
Eli Manning vs. Eagles Secondary
A lack of a running game has made the Giants even more dependent on the right arm of Eli Manning than they have been in years past. In the first game against Philadelphia, Manning was having a decent game and the Giants trailed just 22-21 before the wheels fell off and Manning threw three interceptions helping to seal the win for the Eagles. Philadelphia blitzed Manning on 24 of his 53 drop-backs in that game and he struggled to execute on those plays, finishing with a 39.8 QB rating. The Giants can expect the Eagles to try to pressure Manning again this week and try to induce more interceptions. For the season, Manning has faced pressure on 123 plays, more than any passer in the NFL, so his decision making will most likely be tested again. The constant pressure on Manning has taken away their ability to throw the deep ball, something that was a staple of the offense in recent years. Through seven weeks, the Giants have completed just eight passes targeted 20 or more yards down the field, a statistic that Manning led the league in with 43 back in 2011. Philadelphia is ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards allowed and starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher rank 24th and 34th respectively in yards allowed per coverage snap. All of this adds up to the Giants having a chance to complete a few big plays in the passing game this week, whether or not they take advantage of these opportunities will be a deciding factor in the game.
Jason Kelce vs. Giants Defensive Tackles
Eagles’ center Jason Kelce has emerged as one of the best young centers in the game, but three weeks ago the Giants’ defensive tackles whooped him badly. Before the game against New York, Kelce had never tallied a run blocking grade lower than -2.5 for a game, but he earned an amazing -8.9 for his struggles blocking the Giants’ tackles. It is Kelce’s only negatively graded game in 2013 and even with that performance is still the sixth-highest graded run blocking center in the league. Knowing of Kelce’s struggles, it is no surprise that running back LeSean McCoy had his worst rushing performance of the year in that game, finishing with just 2.3 yards per carry. With a hobbled Vick, Philadelphia will be leaning on McCoy and Kelce to have drastically improved performances.
The men responsible for Kelce’s struggles in Week 5 will be looking for a repeat performance this week. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph, Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, and Shaun Rogers will all need to play a role in slowing down the Philadelphia running game. Joseph missed the Week 5 contest, so this will be his first crack at McCoy this year. Patterson ranks third in the NFL in Run Stop Percentage among defensive tackles and had his largest workload of the season in the last game versus his previous employer. If New York can get similar results from this matchup to what they did in Week 5, the Eagles will struggle to sustain a running game and be in trouble on offense.
Victor Cruz vs. Brandon Boykin
While the Giants have numerous players capable of making plays on offense, none of them are as important to the success of the team as wide receiver Victor Cruz. Despite being a starter, Cruz has run 73.8% of his routes from the slot this season, meaning he will often draw Philadelphia nickel back Brandon Boykin this week. Cruz is still Manning’s security blanket and for good reason, on passes thrown to Cruz this year Manning has a QB rating of 100.5, but in the first game Cruz struggled when covered by Boykin. The Eagles’ slot defender pitched a shutout in the first meeting between the two, causing an incompletion on all four passes targeted for Cruz with Boykin defending. On the season, quarterbacks throwing at Boykin when he is lined up as a slot defender have a QB rating of 48.9, third-best among slot cornerbacks. There will most certainly be a pivotal third down in this game where Manning will need Cruz to make a play from the slot and Boykin will be defending. The winner of that play and this battle will be instrumental in which team comes out victorious.
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