Several weeks ago, the Eagles and Giants kicked off an unique day/night, football/baseball doubleheader in Philadelphia. It might be more apt to say that the Eagles kicked the Giants all over the field in the opener, striking early and often in rolling to a 40-17 victory and move ahead of them into a tie for first place in the NFC East. The final score actually understated the Birds total domination of their division rival.
Fast forward to today and the two teams are preparing for another game with significant playoff implications. A key for the young Eagles team will be to engage in a little selective amnesia as they get ready and then take the field tomorrow in the Meadowlands. The memories of the easy, decisive just weeks ago can sometimes cloud thinking and delude players into thinking this game will be more of the same. In all likelihood, it will not.
Just two weeks prior to the first Giants game, the Eagles suffered an embarrassing loss in Oakland to a Raiders team that was reeling and in disarray. The same team that rung up 40 points in Week 8 could not push the ball across the goal line even once and settled for 3 field goals in Week 6. By all appearances, the Eagles went into the game flat and not fully prepared, seemingly being caught looking past a struggling team.
Surely, the Giants are much more familiar to them and will have more of their attention. Also, they are coming off a big win against the division-leading Cowboys and lurk just one game behind the Eagles. But, human nature is what it is, so as much as logic suggests that the team will not take them for granted, sometimes the sense of urgency and challenge at hand can be dulled in the minds of players after a recent lopsided win. This is especially true considering the relative inexperience of many players on this Eagles team as well as the transition of leadership that has had to occur with the departure of several influential veterans.
On the opposing sideline, the Giants players seem to enter the contest with renewed hope after a dismal stretch whereby they lost 5 of 6 games. They had started the season 5-0, primarily through the soft portion of their schedule. Nonetheless, football pundits were singing their praises and mentioning them in discussions about the best team in the league and Super Bowl predictions. Fans and experts became increasingly enamored with Eli Manning, loved their running game and marveled over their defense. Then the opponents got tougher and their fortunes took a dramatic turn downward.
After a quick start, Manning has battled a foot injury that has hindered his performance. He went through a particularly rough patch in the middle of the season, completing less than 50% of his passes and tossing 6 interceptions over 3 weeks. He has been playing considerably better of late, and will be looking to redeem himself after two poor games in a row against the Birds.
Brandon Jacobs has been a large disappointment for the Giants this season, both literally and figuratively. After rushing for more than 1,000 yards and a 5.0 yards per carry clip each of the past 2 years, the 264 pound running back is running more with worse results. This year he is averaging less than 4 yards per carry, including only 2.9 yards over the past 3 weeks when he accumulated just over 100 yards in total.
Meanwhile, the once vaunted Giants defense has been giving up points in bunches. Opponents have averaged more than 30 points per game against them over the last 7 seven games. Surprisingly, they are currently 5th best in the league in terms of yards surrendered, yet 25th in points allowed. This is somewhat of a conundrum, but ultimately leads to losses.
Andy Reid's challenge gets a little bit easier with the return of several players. On offense, the team will have wide receiver DeSean Jackson back from a mild concussion along with tackle Jason Peters, who has battled an ankle injury all season. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will have both talented linebacker Akeem Jordan and nickel back Joselio Hanson back on the field, and improved health for Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel.
This should be the tough NFC East type game everyone expected in Week 8 and will likely go down to the wire. Playing at home with a scent of the post season, the Giants will be pumped up and looking for revenge. If the Eagles can ward off any level of complacency, they will be a stronger version of the team that has strung together 3 consecutive wins.
Both teams will attempt to lean on their more reliable passing games, especially since they have struggled at times on the ground. As usual, Donovan McNabb will look to stretch the field with Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, work underneath with Brent Celek and Jason Avant, and run screens with LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver. Manning will primarily look to his trio of three young receivers, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks, who have impressively filled the void left by Plaxico Burress. He will also look to his large target Kevin Boss down the middle, particularly since the Eagles defense is one of the worst in the league in defending tight ends.
The difference in the game should come down to McNabb being a little better than Manning and the Eagles bolstered pass defense. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will continue to use a proven formula by keeping pressure on Manning and testing his arm strength and mobility with a series of stunts and blitzes. This should allow the secondary to jump some routes and pick off a couple passes that are lacking in velocity. The Giants rugged front line will also put pressure on McNabb, but he is one of the NFL's best at ball protection.
In their first meeting, the Eagles hit on several big plays, but will likely be limited in opportunities due to adjustments made by Giants' coach Tom Coughlin and staff. Jackson should still be able to slip free for a long score; otherwise, McNabb will do a better job of grinding out more methodical drives. The Eagles hope to force Manning to do the same and look for turnover opportunities along the way. Expect a close, hard hitting game punctuated by three McNabb TD passes and a big game by Celek, with the Eagles running their winning streak to 4 games.