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Giants vs. Eagles preview

10/9/2014

The New York Giants (3-2) are suddenly red hot, putting up 30-plus points a game, while the Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) have found ways to win without getting their offense going at full speed. The two NFC East rivals meet in a Sunday night game in Philadelphia. Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discussed the matchup.

Sheridan: Antrel Rolle said this week that the Eagles aren’t the team to beat in the NFC East because, basically, it was “a weak division” last year. Hard to argue with that, but do the Giants generally feel they have a bead on Chip Kelly’s Eagles? Their defense certainly did a good job in the second meeting last season of shutting down the Eagles’ running game and keeping them out of the end zone.

Graziano: They did, but that was the Matt Barkley game, right? Nick Foles had a concussion or something and Michael Vick started but couldn’t really play because he had a hamstring injury, so Barkley had to finish, and obviously that wasn’t the same Eagles team as it was the rest of the way. Rolle and a couple of their guys did say they think practicing against the Giants’ new up-tempo offense might help, but they also said there are significant differences -- specifically that the Eagles throw it deep a lot more. They won’t miss DeSean Jackson, whose speed really annoys their defensive backs and who was a huge part of their defensive game play two weeks ago in Washington. And there is a lot of talk about Darren Sproles, who wasn’t there last year and is a different kind of threat. So no, I don’t think the Giants would say they have a bead on Kelly’s Eagles. I think they’re going to study hard and hope they’re prepared for anything, but I think they’re going to go in expecting Kelly to show them a few things for which they didn’t prepare.

But you’re watching them every week, so you tell me: How different do these Eagles look to you from last year’s version? Doesn’t seem as though the offense is clicking just yet.

Sheridan: No, the offense hasn’t really looked right in any of their games yet. That’s why I was reminded of that game against the Giants last year. The Eagles have looked as out of sync in these games as they did in that game. And really, it all relates to the problems along the offensive line. The unit that started the same five guys in all 17 games in 2013 will start the same five guys twice in a row for the first time this season Sunday night. And that five will not include starting center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis, who will be out for another month or so. With the line in flux, LeSean McCoy has looked totally ordinary and Foles has not resembled his 2013 self. Sproles has been a great addition, but the Eagles have not used his speed to stretch defenses the way Jackson did. Still, with special teams and defensive touchdowns, the Eagles have been able to score 30-plus points in the four games they’ve won.

From afar, it was painful to watch Eli Manning early on as he played in Ben McAdoo’s offensive system. Now that he’s had some success in it, how high is the ceiling here? Can Eli finally be in a system that gives him the latitude his brother Peyton has had for years, and if so, is he capable of capitalizing on that?

Graziano: The system actually doesn’t give Manning all that much latitude. It’s designed to be much simpler than what he ran for years under Kevin Gilbride. The receivers don’t really run option routes anymore, and Manning’s drops are shorter with his progressions tied to his footwork. Basically, he’s not going beyond his second read very often, and in games like the one in Washington two weeks ago, he hasn’t had to get past his first. He’s getting rid of the ball more than a half-second faster this year than he has in years past -- third-fastest in the league (though still second in his own family). But you’re right that the new system seems to suit him, because pre-snap reads and quick decision-making are his strengths, and he’s shown a strong command of the offense once the line started demonstrating a trustworthy ability to protect him. The key for Manning will be the ability of his receivers to win their matchups and get open against the tougher competition they’re going to start facing over the next couple of months. My questions about this offense were always more personnel-focused than scheme-focused. There’s going to come a time when Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell and Odell Beckham are going to have to flat-out be better than the people covering them and the playmakers on the opposing team. I’m not sure how that group stacks up against the better teams in the league, though the early returns have been decent.

How about Foles? I see he’s already eclipsed last year’s interception total (which obviously wasn’t hard to do). Just a course correction for Foles, or is there some long-range cause for concern with him?

Sheridan: A little bit of both, I think. Sure, you could argue (and Foles does argue) that a few more picks and the occasional fumble are just the cost of doing business in the NFL. No reasonable person expected him to put up his 2013 numbers again, so a course correction seemed inevitable. At the same time, there are reasons to be concerned that this is the real Foles and that guy just might not be ready to take the team a step beyond last year’s 10-6 record. The line situation is mixed in here, but Foles just hasn’t looked right in the pocket. He seems to be throwing off his back foot a lot, and consequently his deep balls just have not been as accurate as they were in 2013. I’m guessing you’ve seen a quarterback overreact when his line isn’t completely reliable. That’s where Foles seems to be. Even when the protection is decent, he doesn’t seem to trust it enough to keep his eyes downfield and throw the ball with authority. He took a lot of hits in the Washington game and earned some praise for his toughness. But it does seem to have taken a toll on him physically, and that’s affecting him mentally.

Five games in, the Eagles’ not-especially-feared defense has 11 sacks while the Giants have 10. The Giants are also ranked 25th in the league against the pass, just four spots higher than the Eagles. What’s going on? Is it because the Giants have faced the likes of Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer and Matthew Stafford, or because they just haven’t faced the Eagles yet?

Graziano: The Giants got shredded by Stafford and the Lions in Week 1. They didn’t see Palmer, as that was actually the first Drew Stanton game. And they obviously smothered Kirk Cousins in that Thursday night game. Other than Week 1, I’m not sure you can credit the competition for those numbers. The Giants have been pressuring the passer well, though not finishing with sacks as much as they’d like to. The corners have generally covered well, but they’ve also shown a propensity for giving up the big play. They allowed a 67-yard touchdown catch to Calvin Johnson in Week 1, a 44-yard touchdown catch to your old friend Damaris Johnson in Week 3 and a 74-yard catch to the immortal Antone Smith in Week 5. So you can beat them deep and pile up yardage that way.

Or you can do it the way the Falcons did in the first half Sunday and throw it to the backs. Atlanta’s running backs combined for 169 yards on 14 catches Sunday. I have to believe Chip Kelly noticed that. Do you imagine a potentially big day for McCoy and Sproles as receivers?

Sheridan: That could very well be. There’s nothing Chip likes more than tailoring his offense to attack an opponent in a weak area. The Eagles were looking to throw to Sproles against the Rams on Sunday, then found he was double-covered when his number was called. So Foles went elsewhere with the ball, which was the right thing to do. It did leave Sproles oddly unused, at least in the passing game. So I’m sure Kelly will be looking for ways to get him involved again Sunday night. But if the Giants adjust and focus too much attention on Sproles, the Eagles will try to find the tight end or slot receiver they are leaving open. As for McCoy, he fumbled on a little screen pass Sunday. He just doesn’t look like himself, no matter how the Eagles get him the ball.