1. How will the Eagles offense do?
Jeff McLane: The Eagles offense we saw the last three games is significantly different than the one from the first four games. Doug Pederson and Frank Reich had implemented a game plan that was heavy on quick, timing throws and a dose of run-pass option plays, but with the insertion of Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle and the increasing struggles of the receivers, they have dialed up even more pass plays that don’t require Carson Wentz to hold the ball in the pocket for very long. While this strategy has worked in various stretches, it has limited the offense. The Giants could offer the chance for Wentz to throw the ball consistently down the field. Their defense is much improved over last season’s historically poor unit. There was, really, only one direction to go, after all. But the pass rush hasn’t been as disruptive as coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would like.
Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul are the Giants’ high-priced defensive ends and they have been productive in terms of moving quarterbacks off their spots. But they play a high percentage of plays and have only 2-1/2 sacks combined. That being said, both are capable of wrecking plays. Vaitai will have to contend with Pierre-Paul most of Sunday. The Giants secondary looks much different than it did a year ago. Janoris Jenkins came via free agency and has been very good. Rookie Eli Apple has had his inconsistencies, but there is obvious talent there. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has moved into the slot and will see a lot of Jordan Matthews. Landon Collins is back as the Giants’ strong safety and could be charged with covering Zach Ertz in man situations. It is almost imperative that the Eagles get the tight end involved early and often if they want to move the ball through the air.
Zach Berman: Are the Eagles going to pass the ball more than 10 yards? The Giants have capable pass rushers, as you’ve said, but it hasn’t translated into sacks. The Eagles need to force opponents to at least worry about a pass going beyond the sticks. I’m curious to see what Doug Pederson dials up, and how Wentz responds. They need more from Nelson Agholor, who should provide more of a vertical element. I like the Giants cornerbacks, but the Eagles can try to take advantage of the safeties. That’s where Doug Pederson will need to scheme the Eagles into the right situations. When is Ertz going to step up? The answer is when Wentz starts going his way more. Ertz needs 7-10 passes thrown his way on Sunday. The Giants have done a solid job against the run this season, and I’m curious to see what the Eagles do with their running backs. Ryan Mathews barely played last week, and the playing time distribution suggests Darren Sproles is the lead back. Look for Sproles to continue to get the majority of the work, but with Mathews seeing an uptick in carries. Sproles won’t have more touches than last week. I see points coming this week, with a good week for both Wentz and Pederson.
2. How will the Eagles defense do?
McLane: The Giants’ offense just hasn’t hummed this season. Its biggest problem has been on the ground. They average just 3.3 yards a carry. The run blocking hasn’t been consistent. The Giants have thus been forced to use their pass offense as an extension of the run game. They run their fair share of run-pass options and quick-throw plays to get them into manageable second and third down situations. Odell Beckham, as Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Thursday, may run the best hitch route in the NFL. But that’s not all the Giants receiver can do. The Eagles did a solid job covering Beckham the previous two seasons, but the coordinator, scheme and personnel are different this year. Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin will have their hands full. Victor Cruz is back from the devastating injury he suffered in Philly two years ago, but he’s still struggling to find his old self. Sterling Shepard has lined up more in the slot than Cruz. The Eagles could cover him with Jalen Mills or they have the option to move safety Malcolm Jenkins there.
The key for the Eagles, as it often is, will be their pass rush. Schwartz blitzed a lot more the last two weeks than he typically does, mostly with success, but Eli Manning has been one of the best vs. the blitz during his career. My guess is that Schwartz will dial back the extra rushers and go heavy on his four-man rush. Two matchups I like for the Eagles: Brandon Graham vs. right tackle Bobby Hart and Fletcher Cox vs. right guard John Jerry.
Berman: This is a matchup the Eagles can win. Unlike last week, they don’t need to worry much about the running game. It’s an opportunity for their pass rushers to go after an immobile quarterback against an inconsistent offensive line. The challenge is Manning is talented, smart, and exceptionally quick at getting rid of the football. That can neutralize a good pass rush - the Rams didn't sack him. But there will still be opportunities. The Eagles will force the Giants to try to run the ball – I like fifth-round pick Paul Perkins, who could get more work – but the Giants like the quick passing game in place of runs. Look for Jim Schwartz to be prepared, and the safeties to be big helps. Where you worry this week is when the Giants move Beckham around and what he can do one-on-one against Mills, which is a matchup you might see on Sunday. Mills, who played against Beckham in practice at LSU, needs to show why the Eagles are so confident in him. The Eagles like to make teams one-dimensional, but the Giants will do that for them. This should be another strong outing for the Eagles’ defense.
3. Who’s a player to watch?
McLane: I’m not sure how much Bryce Treggs will play now that he’s likely to take Josh Huff’s spot on the active roster. It’s not like he has Huff’s skills or practices his set of screens of jet sweeps. But Wendell Smallwood will take over full time as the Eagles kick returner and I’d imagine the Eagles want to get the rookie back on offense after he fumbled last week against the Cowboys. My player to watch, though, is Ryan Mathews. He played very little in Dallas, in part, it seems, because of his fumbling problem, but also because Darren Sproles was having success on the ground. But the Eagles need Mathews’ between-the-tackles running ability the rest of the season. They can’t yet give up on the tailback. I think Pederson will get him involved early and then go from there.
Berman: You mentioned Fletcher Cox against Jerry – that’s what I’ll be watching. Cox had a scorching stretch to begin this season, and, at least statistically, he’s slowed down in recent weeks. Teams are game-planning around him, and it’s helping the other players on the line. But this is a week when Cox can rack up numbers. Look for him to record his first sack since Week 5.
4. What’s your prediction?
McLane: I don’t think I need to rehash how pathetic my predictions have been thus far this season. I’ve clearly had a difficult time putting my finger on this team as far as it relates to their week-to-week prospects. I think they have more talent than the Giants, though, particularly as it relates to their defense vs. the Giants’ offense. I think they will once again have trouble throwing downfield. But I do think they will be able to move the ball. I think the Huff release has the locker room on alert. I think the Cowboys loss will spur a rebound. I think Pederson will go back to being more aggressive. Eagles 24, Giants 20.
Berman: I like the Eagles bouncing back this week, even as underdogs. They’ve played the Giants well in recent years, and even though it’s a new coach and systems for the Eagles, I still think it’s a good matchup. The Eagles can get to the quarterback, as I mentioned above, and their secondary is playing better than I expected. If Wentz can play better than average, the Eagles will win. I think that happens. Give me Eagles 27, Giants 24.