I think Chip Kelly strikes back on Sunday. After two weeks of kicking itself with turnovers and mistakes against man-to-man defenses, the Eagles offense should get back in the swing of things in North Jersey. The Giants just don’t have the pass rush to sustain man defense against Eagles receivers and tight ends. The Giants’ once-acclaimed front four has generated only three of the defense’s league-worst four sacks this season. The Eagles offensive line has had issues consistently protecting Michael Vick, especially right tackle Lane Johnson, but it should hold up and give its quarterback enough time to run Kelly’s up-tempo offense.
The Giants secondary isn’t great, but cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Antrell Rolle are above average defenders. The Eagles should be able to exploit New York’s linebackers – Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger, in particular – in the passing game. though. Brent Celek should have space and it is time that rookie tight end Zach Ertz sees more than a few targets a game. LeSean McCoy could have a field day, both on the ground against the NFL’s 28th-ranked run defense and, again, in the passing game against suspect linebackers.
Kelly was chipper during Thursday’s press conference. I think he knows something, well, something that we all know – that the Giants defense is suspect – but also that he has a game plan that will butcher them. If the Giants go zone, he’ll just run his read option, package plays that teams have yet to stop. And if they go man, he’ll install more bunch/rub/pick routes to open up his receivers, in particular DeSean Jackson.
If the Eagles are going to lose in East Rutherford it will likely be because of Bill Davis’ defense. I don’t have much trust in the unit, but the Giants offer a one-week reprieve. Eli Manning’s protection has been terrible. His offensive line is in tatters. He’s been sacked 14 times and generally hasn’t had enough time to throw downfield – the Giants’ bread and butter. Victor Cruz is, as usual, a legitimate threat out of the slot. Cornerback Brandon Boykin will once again face a stiff test a week after going up against Wes Welker.
Davis will probably stick with the umbrella zone he used last week in Denver and make Manning dink and dunk. It didn’t work so well against the elder Manning, but younger brother doesn’t have as quick a release or the same protection. Davis shouldn’t blitz too much. Manning is historically one of the better quarterbacks against the blitz and there really shouldn’t be much use to send more than four.
Scheme is one thing. Now the Eagles have to execute -- a scary proposition. It looks like Earl Wolff may get his second straight start at safety. He does some things well, but has been a liability in coverage. Mychal Kendricks has looked lost since his impressive start in the opener. I still can’t tell if the missed tackles and blown coverages are emblematic of his instincts or that the second-year linebacker has been royally screwed up by Davis’ scheme.
The defense will continue to make mistakes. Manning will find ways to exploit cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. It won’t be pretty overall. But I think the Eagles survive an ugly duckling.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Giants 24
What goes right: Jackson gets back on track and hits a home run with a long touchdown.
What goes wrong: Alex Henery misses another 40-something field goal.
Don’t fall into the trap of saying the Giants are better than their record. As Bill Parcells famously said – and Chip Kelly quoted this week – “You are what your record says you are.”
However, the same can be said about the Eagles.
That’s why this game is not a lay-up for either side.
Like many Eagles games this season, it will come down to which offense can be more prolific. And the answer, at least this Sunday, will be the Giants.
The Giants have two of the NFL’s upper-echelon wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and Eli Manning throws one of the better deep balls in the NFL. The Eagles’ issues in pass defense are well documented, although most of the damage is done underneath and not over the top.
The key for the Eagles will be generating a pass rush. The Giants have a depleted offensive line, and Manning’s been hurt by other teams pressuring him. The Eagles have not had an intimidating pass rush this season, and the only way they’ll beat the Giants is by pressuring Manning. They can – but who’s it coming from? If Trent Cole and Connor Barwin have big games, this could turn.
One other point on the Giants offense: running back David Wilson has had a poor second season, but he’s the type of rusher who could hurt the Eagles because of his speed around the edge. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson has his finest game of 2013.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles should be able to score against the Giants. New York has not been able to generate a pass rush – they have a league-low four sacks – and their back seven isn’t fearsome. LeSean McCoy will continue what will prove to be his finest season yet, and Michael Vick is also in store for a big afternoon. I’m still waiting to see who his secondary target is going to be, though. Each week in this spot, I write about Zach Ertz. Until he does it on a consistent basis, it’s hard to rely on him in this offense.
The other issue that’s been alarming all season is the Eagles setting for three points instead of seven. It was an issue before last week, and was more pronounced in defeat. If the Eagles don’t need to settle for field goals, they’ll win this game. But they must avoid third-and-long situations and generate more production on third downs.
I can see this game going either way, but the Eagles are going to need to prove they can stop a strong passing attack and they can optimize their points. So far, they haven’t done either.
That said, don’t give up on the season after Sunday. The Eagles can still get to 4 or 5 wins by the bye week if they avoid injuries.
Prediction: Giants 31, Eagles 30
What goes right: McCoy goes over 100 yards rushing, Vick eclipses 300 yards passing. The defense sacks Manning three times.
What goes wrong: Nicks and Cruz both have big games. The Eagles settle for field goals too often again, and it’s the difference between 1-4 and 2-3.