I re-watched the Giants' win over the Cowboys yesterday and have posted 10 observations below, as they relate to Sunday night's matchup.
If you want a refresher on the first matchup between the Birds and Giants, you can check out our Man Up on the offense and Man Up on the defense from that week.
And below is a YouTube video with highlights from that game, quite possibly the Eagles' most balanced effort all season.
Now on to the observations:
1. Tony Romo absolutely picked the Giants' defense apart in the middle of the field. Fourteen catches for 156 yards for Jason Witten and 10 receptions for 104 to Miles Austin. If Brent Celek is healthy, he should have a monster game. Jason Avant should have a significant impact as well. And we've seen Jeremy Maclin make some really nice yards after the catch plays in recent weeks. He should get more opportunities Sunday night.
2. I was pretty stunned to see how much time Romo had in the pocket. He was comfortable all game. The Giants picked up a couple sacks, but there was no consistent pressure. I thought Romo really played a great game, actually, despite the loss. Donovan McNabb probably played his best game of the season when the teams met the first time. Let's see if he can turn in a repeat performance.
3. The Giants are clearly trying to find new ways to get pressure on the quarterback. They have 25 sacks on the season. Only five NFC teams have fewer. Mike Garafolo of NJ.com does a good job of breaking down what he terms a "floating front blitz." All that means is that the Giants set up with only one or two down linemen. We've seen the Eagles do the same thing at times this season. It allows the pass rushers to gain momentum as they attack the line. It also can create confusion for the offense, not knowing who's coming after the passer and who's dropping back into coverage. That means communication along the offensive line will be huge Sunday.
4. The Giants' defensive game plan against the Cowboys was clearly to stop the run, and they accomplished that, limiting Dallas to 45 yards and 2.0 yards per carry. But keep in mind, that's obviously not going to be the focus against the Eagles. Keep an eye on No. 26, Aaron Rouse. The Giants' safety was great in run support last week, finishing with a game-high 12 tackles. Ironically, Rouse missed a tackle in the teams' first matchup as LeSean McCoy went 66 yards. Video of that run is below.
5. Speaking of McCoy, he has to protect the ball in this one. The Cowboys put the ball on the carpet twice, although one of the fumbles was overturned. The Marion Barber fumble at the end of the first half really changed the game. I'm still not comfortable with how McCoy carries the football. As is the case every week, avoiding turnovers is imperative.
6. It's fascinating to me to see how often Eli Manning throws to wide receivers who are covered. It's not only important for the Birds' defensive backs to stick with Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks, but they really need to be able to make plays on the ball, or the Giants will be able to hit on some big plays.
7. Steve Smith has a tremendous knack for getting wide open in the middle of the field. He had six catches for 110 yards against Dallas and had a nice game against the Birds the first time around with eight receptions for 68 yards. Ironically, it was Joselio Hanson who was matched up with Smith quite a bit that game. He'll return as the nickel back this weekend after serving a four-game suspension. Smith leads all receivers with 24 third-down catches for first downs this season. He did have a couple drops Sunday, including one in the fourth quarter on what should have been a touchdown.
8. Manning did not have a good game Sunday. He had opportunities for some big plays, but made poor throws, completing just 11 of 25 pass attempts. The Giants' first play in Cowboys' territory did not come until the 2:21 mark in the first quarter. Manning has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions in his last two games against the Eagles, both losses.
9. Brandon Jacobs and the Giants' ground game is struggling. Jacobs has carried 36 times for 105 yards in the last three games, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. In the first half of the season, he had 20-plus carries four times. In the last four games, he's averaging less than 12 carries. Ahmad Bradshaw had seven carries for 47 yards last week, including a 29-yarder. But in his previous four games, he averaged less than 2.7 yards per carry.
10. Tight end Kevin Boss had a terrible game as a blocker last week, getting beat by Anthony Spencer on several occasions. Spencer's pressure contributed to a Manning INT. Spencer also stuffed a couple run plays when matched up against Boss. And DeMarcus Ware beat him for a sack. I haven't seen the Giants consistently enough to know if Boss just had a bad game, or if the coaching staff was at fault for putting him in bad positions. But if the Eagles can get d-linemen lined up one-on-one against Boss, they should be able to make some big plays.
Hey, it's a big game. I don't want to leave anything out.
** Ellis Hobbs had a big kickoff return the first time around. DeSean Jackson will be back returning punts. For the Giants, Domenik Hixon had a big 79-yard punt return for a touchdown last week. As always, special teams could be a deciding factor.