Three weeks after meeting up at the Meadowlands, the Eagles and Giants conclude their season series Sunday at the Linc, where the Birds have lost nine straight dating back to last September’s victory over New York. The Eagles are 5-1/2-point favorites, but the Giants have some momentum coming off their first win of the season – a 23-7 pasting of the lowly Vikings.
The Eagles are in a bit of a spin after the Cowboys cooked them, 17-3, on Sunday. Nick Foles was dreadful and Chip Kelly’s entire offense wasn’t clicking like it had through the first six games. But, lo and behold, here comes Michael Vick, back after missing the previous 2-1/2 games from the hamstring strain he suffered in the first Giants game. It’s unclear how much Vick will be able to do in terms of running the ball, though. The most effective part of his performance three weeks ago was on the ground as Kelly unveiled a quarterback sweep and Vick picked up chunks of yards in the read option.
The Giants did a solid job of neutralizing Eagles receivers for most of the first half. They used the scheme most defenses have used to slow Kelly’s air attack – man-to-man with a single high safety. But Foles was able to find some holes in the secondary in the second half and after the Eagles forced two turnovers. He connected with Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson (seven catches for 132 yards) for touchdowns that clinched the Birds’ 36-21 win.
Vick must remain patient in the pocket. Not having his legs at full strength could help. It’s not like the Giants pass rush has been fierce. It ranks last in the NFL with six sacks. Jackson caught only three passes for 21 yards against the Cowboys, but he was open several times. Foles, who suffered a concussion late in the third quarter, either didn’t see him or was off target. Jackson is likely to see a lot of cornerback Prince Amukamara again. Giants cornerback Corey Webster is returning from injury and will shadow Riley Cooper, who has caught 10 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown the last two weeks. He and Vick haven’t been on the same page, though.
The Eagles will likely need more production out of LeSean McCoy than they got in the first meeting when the NFL’s leading rusher was held to 46 yards on 20 carries. McCoy hasn’t been as explosive since his torrid three-game start when he ran for 395 yards and averaged 6.4 yards a carry. Since then he’s been held to 290 yards over four games and a 3.7 average. The Giants shut down McCoy in the second half of the first game when they took away the Eagles’ bread-and-butter play – the inside zone read. Center Jason Kelce has been solid most of the season, but he had trouble blocking the Giants’ slanting inside linemen against the run.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense delivered its best game of the season against the Cowboys. If Foles had played average it likely would have been enough based on the performance of Bill Davis’ unit. It wasn’t perfect. And no one is going to say the group will answer the bell week-in and out. But the game plan was solid as was the execution – at least until the defense couldn’t sustain the offense’s ineffectiveness in the second half.
The turnaround – as marginal as it was – actually began against the Giants. The effort was up and down, but the Eagles forced Eli Manning into three fourth-quarter interceptions to seal the game. Manning has tossed 15 picks on the season, but he didn’t turn the ball over for the first time on Monday night. The Giants offense is, well, a sleeping giant. Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle remain threats in the passing game.
Nicks gave cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher fits in the first game. Fletcher had four pass breakups, but he also got beat, especially against slant routes. Brandon Boykin kept Cruz in check for most of the day. Can he do it again against one of the best slot receivers in the game?
The Eagles will need to pressure Manning to get it done. They only sacked him once earlier this month, but Manning also took a number of intentional grounding penalties to avoid sacks. Defensive end Fletcher Cox has been getting into the backfield more frequently, but outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin haven’t been helping as much on the edges.
The Giants have virtually no semblance of a run game. It is ranked 31st in the league. Running backs David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs have been injured and the Giants recently signed bruiser Peyton Hillis. He caught five passes for 45 yards against the Vikings, but Hillis was held to 36 yards on 18 carries on the ground.
As for the outcome, I see a close contest through three quarters, but the Giants winning on a Manning-led game-winning drive.
Prediction: Giants 28, Eagles 27
What goes right: McCoy bounces back and churns out 100-plus yards on the ground.
What goes wrong: The middle of the Eagles pass defense – Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and safeties Nate Allen and Earl Wolff – struggles.
When you look at the rosters and the matchups – and even the first Eagles-Giants meeting – you see a close game and one that might even favor the Giants. Then when you look at the records and the film and the way the Giants have played in those games, it’s hard to pick against the Eagles.
The Giants looked like they were going to beat the Eagles three weeks ago before Eli Manning’s barrage of fourth-quarter interceptions. One of the keys in that game was that David Wilson left the game with an injury, and the Giants’ running game could not recover. The Giants still don’t have Wilson, but Peyton Hillis will be in the lineup for the second consecutive week and Brandon Jacobs rushed well in the Bears game. Both of those rushers are physical, downhill rushers. Hillis helps in the passing game. An improved rushing attack will help the Giants’ offense. (It remains unknown whether Jacobs will play. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.)
The Eagles’ defensive focus will remain on the deep ball. The Giants are dangerous throwing over the top to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Reuben Randle. The Eagles defended those passes well in the first meeting, but one or two of those plays can alter a close game. Bradley Fletcher will be in the lineup, which helps. And of course, getting to Manning before he can throw those balls is another key. The Trent Cole sack watch could come to an end.
On offense, Michael Vick will be in the game and should be able to move around well enough to be a factor. But LeSean McCoy is the player to watch. He struggled in the second half of the last game without Vick on the field because the zone play was ineffective. With Vick, it might be more effective. Either way, McCoy must be productive. He is the best player on the Eagles’ offense and his effectiveness changes the entire offense. The addition of Jon Beason at linebacker and the return of Linval Joseph on the defensive line will make their run defense even more difficult than the last meeting, but I see a strong performance from the Eagles’ offensive line. That’s a prideful group with the talent to match.
DeSean Jackson should have another strong performance, but who else will emerge in the receiving corps? I seem to write that each week, and I wait for the tight ends each week. This is the time of year when productive rookies start to establish themselves. Zach Ertz can do that.
Look for a close game that, like the last one, this will come down to the fourth quarter. But the Giants have been too mistake prone this season to trust them to win. The Eagles even their record after eight games.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Giants 24
What goes right: McCoy is back over 100 yards. Vick looks sharp and gives Eagles fans confidence entering the back stretch of the schedule.
What goes wrong: The Giants connect on a deep touchdown pass to Nicks. The Eagles defense does not look as strong as last week.