Some key matchups and storylines to watch in Sunday’s Eagles-Giants matchup at MetLife Stadium:
When the Eagles run the ball
It became clear Sunday against the Rams that there’s a new No. 1 running back in town, and his name is Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi played 43 of 85 snaps and rushed for 78 yards on 15 carries. He had four of the Eagles’ five rushing first downs and three double-digit-yard runs. Nine of his 44 carries have gained 10 yards or more.
LeGarrette Blount, who failed to pick up first downs on three early short-yardage carries, will be the main guy impacted by Ajayi’s increased workload.
Rookie Corey Clement is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and, along with Kenjon Barner, is the Eagles’ best third-down option at RB, since neither Blount nor Ajayi catch the ball very well.
The Eagles’ run percentage in the last three games has been just 38.7. It had been 52.7 in the previous eight games.
The run game will be impacted by the loss of Wentz. He had 26 rushing first downs, which is the second most on the team.
The Giants are 24th in opponent rush average (4.0 per carry). The Eagles averaged 4.9 against them in Week 3 on 39 carries.
When the Eagles throw the ball
The Eagles have managed to overcome a number of season-ending injuries to significant players this year, but the loss of Carson Wentz will be their greatest challenge. With 36 career starts, Nick Foles is better equipped than most backups to step in and succeed. But he’s replacing a guy who probably was the league’s top MVP candidate before he got hurt.
Foles’ biggest challenge will be getting on the same page with a receiving corps that has a league-high 33 touchdown catches. Alshon Jeffery has six TD catches in the last six games, and has 20 receiving first downs in the last five — but it took Wentz half the season to really get in sync with Jeffery.
Slot receiver Nelson Agholor has 15 catches in the last two games, nine for first downs.
The good news for Foles is his first start will be against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. The Giants are 30th in opponent passer rating (99.0), 29th in yards allowed per attempt (7.9), tied for last in touchdown passes allowed (26), tied for 29th in sacks (21) and tied for 24th in interceptions (8).
When the Giants run the ball
The Giants are 28th in rushing (90.1 yards per game) and 24th in in rush average (3.8). They are 28th in rush attempts per game (23.6), mainly because they usually are playing from behind. They’ve been outscored in the first half this season, 142-99. When they have been able to stay in games, they’ve run the ball more. They ran it 29 times last week against the Cowboys, and ran it 32 times in a 12-9 Week 11 win over the Chiefs.
Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman have been sharing the ball-carrying workload. Both are 6-0, 210-ish-pound backs with decent burst and power. Gallman had 59 yards on a season-high 12 carries last week against Dallas.
The Eagles are first against the run (71.2 yards per game), but also have been run on the fewest number of times (19.2 per game). They had their problems last week against Todd Gurley and the Rams. Gurley rushed for 96 yards against them on just 13 carries. The good news is neither Darkwa nor Gallman are Gurley.
When the Giants throw the ball
Back as the starter last week after the firing of head coach Ben McAdoo, Eli Manning completed 67.4 percent of his attempts against Dallas, but averaged a puny 4.98 yards per attempt. Manning has had to resort to dinking and dunking with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall out, and his line unable to protect him. He is 34th in the league in yards per attempt (5.98) and 25th in touchdown percentage (just 15 in 441 attempts).
Sterling Shepard had seven catches for 133 yards and a TD against the Eagles in Week 3. He’s a lot easier to defend without OBJ on the field.
Rookie TE Evan Engram has been Manning’s primary third-down target. He has 13 third-down receptions.
The Eagles have given up seven red-zone TDs in seven attempts against them over the last two weeks, after giving up just 12 in the first 11 games. Russell Wilson and Jared Goff combined for five red-zone TD passes, which is five fewer than the Eagles gave up in their first 11 games. Manning has a league-best 70.4 red-zone completion percentage, but the Giants have had the league’s fourth fewest red-zone opportunities (30)
Jake Elliott missed two of his first four field goal attempts after replacing injured Caleb Sturgis in Week 2. Since then, he has made 20 of 22, including nine of 10 from 45-plus yards.
The Eagles’ coverage teams have had several uncharacteristic breakdowns, including a blocked punt against the Rams on Sunday. That no doubt played a part in Tuesday’s signing of special teams standout Bryan Braman.
The Eagles have a league-low 13 kickoff returns, choosing to give their high-scoring offense the ball at the 25. Twenty-four of the Eagles’ 42 offensive touchdowns have come on drives of 75 yards or more, including 13 following touchbacks. Kenjon Barner is eighth in punt return average (10.0), but just one of his last 10 returns has been longer than eight yards.
Giants punter Brad Wing is last in the league in net average (37.4). The Giants are 24th in punt coverage (10.1). Khalif Raymond, who has replaced injured Dwayne Harris as the Giants’ punt returner, is averaging just 3.3 yards per return.
Eagles 27, Giants 13
Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins vs. Giants TE Evan Engram
Engram has been the Giants’ most effective third-down receiver. He had five catches for 45 yards v. Eagles in Week 3.
Eagles RB Jay Ajayi vs. Giants MLB Calvin Munson
With Wentz out, the Eagles’ run game becomes more vital than ever. Munson is replacing injured B.J. Goodson.
Eagles DEs Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett vs. Giants LT Erick Flowers
Flowers has been the weakest link in the Giants’ o-line this season. Eli gets the ball out quickly, but Curry and Barnett should be able to get pressure on him.
Hot and Not
Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery: Has six touchdown catches in the last six games.
Giants TE Evan Engram: Leads the team in receptions (55) and touchdown catches (6).
Eagles RB LeGarrette Blount: Has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry the last two games.
Giants DE Olivier Vernon: Has just 3 1/2 sacks this season, 1 1/2 in the last six games.