As wretched as the Eagles played last week against the Arizona Cardinals - especially on offense - they're still a predictable2-1 heading into Sunday night's NFC East showdown with the 2-1 New York Giants.
It has been an ugly 2-1, but a victory over their chief NFC East rivals would nearly wipe away the residue of a sloppy start and position the Eagles atop the standings at the quarter pole.
A loss to the defending Super Bowl champs would not be a backbreaker, but coming off the drubbing in Arizona and with the Pittsburgh Steelers lying in wait next week, it would justify a 7 or 8 on the panic meter.
When the Eagles run
Yes, the Eagles will run the ball - more than they did against the Cardinals. But don't expect a significant increase with the Giants secondary ailing. LeSean McCoy carried 24 and 23 times in two games against New York last season, and he should get somewhere in that neighborhood Sunday. The big question, though, is how productive he'll be running behind a line that is in tatters. Center Dallas Reynolds and left tackle Demetress Bell had many breakdowns last Sunday, but their better moments were as run blockers. The Giants' run defense is ranked 10th in yards, but Cowboys tailback DeMarco Murray ran for 131 yards on 20 carries in the opener. Outside linebacker Michael Boley has three interceptions already, but he's a solid run defender. He dropped McCoy on a key fourth-and-1 carry last season at the Linc. The Giants haven't blitzed much this season, but if they do - and they should considering how the Eagles have fared against the blitz - offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg should have a few draws ready to go.
When the Eagles pass
As important as it is for the Eagles offense to establish some balance, the Giants pass defense is there for the picking. Opponents have averaged 6.51 yards per pass attempt - second worst in the league. Their vaunted front four hasn't been as dominant and the Giants could potentially be without two of their four starters in the secondary. Rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley is out with a hamstring injury and safety Antrel Rolle (knee sprain) is questionable. Cornerback Corey Webster, who is expected to play with a cast on his broken right hand, has struggled when targeted. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 11 of 15 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown throwing at Webster. The untested Prince Amukamara is likely to play in place of Hosley. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the latter back after missing a game, should have room to roam. It'll be up to Michael Vick to find them - provided he has time. That's a big if against the Giants' defensive front. Veterans Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have been quiet, but Jason Pierre-Paul is a beast. He'll line up anywhere and get into the backfield, but he's had his most success this season coming off the right edge. Rushing from the right, Pierre-Paul has seven hurries and 11/2 sacks in 45 snaps. Bell may need a lot of help from tight ends Brent Celek and Clay Harbor.
When the Giants run
Except for a few late runs, the Eagles defense held the Cardinals run game in check. Their run stoppers have been nasty for most of the season, allowing only 4 yards a carry. Take away a 35-yard end-around in the opener and a 43-yard gain by Ray Rice in Week 2 and the average-per-rush dips to 3.1 yards. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the difference, plain and simple. The Giants were last in rushing yards and yards per carry a year ago, but journeyman running back Andre Brown has given them a lift. He ran for 184 yards on 33 totes and scored three touchdowns filling in for Ahmad Bradshaw after Bradshaw went down in Week 2. Bradshaw is expected to be back Sunday, but the 6-foot, 227-pound Brown should be a complement to the shifty starter. One thing to watch for is how the Giants use their running backs as pass catchers. Bradshaw and former Giant Brandon Jacobs each caught touchdown passes last September against the Eagles.
When the Giants pass
Eli Manning has picked up from where the Super Bowl-winning quarterback left off in February. He's already thrown for 1,011 yards and led the Giants past the Buccaneers two weeks ago for the 22d fourth-quarter comeback of his career. (Vick has 10 comebacks in 27 fewer starts than Manning.) The Eagles aren't expected to blitz Manning much. That would be wise. He has a 114.8 passer rating against the blitz this year. Hakeem Nicks is doubtful, but the 6-6 Ramses Barden stepped up in his absence against Carolina (nine catches for 138 yards). The Giants run a lot of three-wide receiver sets with Victor Cruz working out of the slot. Rookie Brandon Boykin will often responsible forhave to guard the Salsa Sensation, who had his coming-out party last year against the Eagles when he caught two touchdown passes. The Giants have a new weapon in 6-6, 265-pound tight end Martellus Bennett (15 catches for 185 yards and three TDs). Linebacker Mychal Kendricks will see Bennett some, as could safety Nate Allen. The Giants offensive line is weaker on the edges than in the middle. With right tackle David Diehl sidelined, Eagles defensive end Jason Babin (21/2 sacks) should have a favorable matchup against Sean Locklear.
The Giants have the NFL's top punt cover unit, allowing only 3.2 yards a return. Eagles returner Damaris Johnson has an only slightly higher average (5.3). He's had greater problems, though, fumbling once last week and fielding punts inside his own 5-yard line twice already this season. The Giants are ranked ahead of the Eagles in all four special-teams units - punt cover (first to the Eagles' 22d), kickoff cover (12th to 24th), punt return (22d to 30th), and kick return (24th to 30th). Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes leads the NFL in points with 38 and has hit all 10 field goal attempts. The Eagles dumped the inconsistent Chas Henry and brought back veteran punter Mat McBriar last week. The Eagles could also be without longtime long-snapper Jon Dorenbos (ankle).
The Eagles have won seven of their last eight against the Giants, dating to December 2008. They'll have a decided home advantage on the night legendary safety Brian Dawkins will have his number retired. The Eagles didn't have much of a home advantage last season, losing five of their first six at the Linc. But the comeback win over the Ravens in Week 2 was a nice ice breaker.
Pick: Giants, 24-20.