Saturday, December 12, 2009

Game 13 Scouting Report


THE TEAMS: The Giants come off a huge 31-24 win over Dallas that was accomplished in the main by the team's two biggest plays of the season, a 74-yard touchdown catch by Brandon Jacobs and a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown by Domenik Hixon. They can't rely on that happening again, however. The Giants have lost five of their last seven games, a stretch that includes their first meeting with the Eagles, a 40-17 wallopping at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles come off a 34-7 win over Atlanta and have three straight and four of their last six. The teams are very close statistically, though it is obvious the Eagles are surging at this point. Philadelphia is ranked sixth in the league in points scored per game at 27.3, and the Giants are ranked eighth at 25.3. The Giants are ranked eighth in total offense, the Eagles 11th. And the Giants are ranked sixth in total defense, the Eagles seventh.

THE HISTORY: In the 11 seasons under Andy Reid, the Eagles hold the league's second-best December record of 29-13 (.690 winning percentage). The Giants under Coughlin are 11-14 in the same month. But Coughlin has the regular-season edge on Reid at 8-5. This is a series of streaks. The Eagles won the last three meetings, but the Giants had won the three meetings before that. The Giants had won nine straight between the 1997 and 2000 seasons. Sunday nights have not been good to either team, as the Giants are 3-6 and the Eagles are 1-7 since NBC took over that primetime slot in 2006.

INJURIES: Giants -- S Michael Johnson (groin) and G Chris Snee (knee) are questionable. TE Travis Beckum (groin), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (ankles and foot), QB Eli Manning (foot), DE Justin Tuck (neck), and RB DJ Ware (concussion) are probable.

Eagles -- RB Brian Westbrook (concussion) is out. WR Kevin Curtis (knee) and WR Jeremy Maclin (foot) are questionable. DE Victor Abiamiri (knee), WR Jason Avant (hamstring), TE Brent Celek (thumb), G Nick Cole (knee), G Todd Herremans (shoulder), WR DeSean Jackson (concussion), LB Akeem Jordan (knee), DT Trevor Laws (hip), DT Mike Patterson (wrist), T Jason Peters (shoulder, head), and LB Tracy White (shoulder) are probable.

WATCH THIS: Keep away from the big play on defense, make the big play on offense. Sounds simple enough, but those are two things the Giants were incapable of doing in their first go-around with the Eagles. Remember seldom-run fullback Leonard Weaver racing through the defense for a 41-yard run in the first quarter, a play from which the Giants never recovered? How about DeSean Jackson's uncontested 54-yard touchdown catch?

While Eli Manning has produced a big play here and there, the Giants really haven't changed that much in the four games since the teams last met. They still give up too much in the passing game, be it the secondary giving up easy touchdowns or the safeties and linebackers allowing tight ends like Jason Witten to 12-yard them down the field.
This week, the challenge will be to hold down a receiving duo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They're both fast and elusive, and Maclin has stepped forward the past four games as a prime receiver with 21 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown. Jackson is just returning after sitting out last week with a concussion. "They're obviously a big-play team," safety Aaron Rouse said. "But it's not about them. It's about what we do, covering for one another."

The defensive backs, especially Terrell Thomas, say that the communication problems of the early season are improving, so that may help in defending an offense that makes teams cover the whole field. Triple-threat Westbrook won't be there, but Weaver and Shady McCoy have proved they can pick up the rushing load. Weaver, in fact, has seen more touches of late, and his 6.0 yards per carry average is the highest on the team for players with 10 or more carries. McCoy leads the Eagles with 129 carries for 530 yards and three touchdowns. And that doesn't even account for tight end Brent Celek, another quality pass-catcher with a team-high 56 grabs for 617 yards and six touchdowns. "They've got weapons everywhere," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Tight end, fullback, tailback. They make you defend the whole field, and that just makes it harder."

Tuck admitted the Giants will be pulling out everything in the playbook, if only to keep a familiar opponent off-guard at a critical time of year. Undoubtedly, one of those tactics will be the "floating front" the Giants copied off Denver. Everybody is in an up position in the alignment, and their demeanor is more milling than girding. It fools the offensive line and gives each defensive lineman the ability to either pass rush or drop back. It's not foolproof, but it did produce a sack in its brief appearance against the Cowboys. "Your movement has to be precise and you have to do a good job of keeping the blocker's hands off you," Tuck said. "You don't have the element of being faster than them at that point."

Don't expect a steady diet of that, however, since the Cowboys did score their final touchdown off that front. More important will be how much pressure the front seven can exert on mobile quarterback Donovan McNabb or, in individual downs, on special weapon Michael Vick. Corey Webster and Thomas will probably share duties against Jackson, depending on where he lines up. It will be especially encumbent on Webster to pick up his game after a rough outing against Cowboys receiver Roy Williams.

The Eagles rank sixth in the league in points scored, but that's just as much a function of their plus-12 takeaway differential as it is their big-play offense. They've got 20 interceptions, led by CB Asante Samuel's seven and followed closely by CB Sheldon Brown's five. You may remember that the secondary tore Manning apart during the playoff game, and the same could happen here. They're a physical bunch, so Steve Smith will have to continue to run his pristine routes. And they'll need a big play or two from Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham for quick points.

Mostly, though, they'll want to execute the ground game much better than they have, and use tight end Kevin Boss against a linebacking corps that, similar to the Giants, can't cover pass-catching tight ends. Boss has virtually disappeared from the air game since his two-touchdown showing against Atlanta. But offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said it's a matter of him getting open. "What a lot of guys don’t realize is that the one that we threw deep down the field (last week) – that really was the primary guy was Boss on the ….route," Gilbride said. "He felt that he had a touchdown to Steve so he threw it there. The touchdown to Brandon Jacobs – that was designed to go to Kevin Boss. But they were so committed to knocking him, riding him in – that is what opened up, Brandon. His big thing is getting off the jams and stuff like that. And they made a commitment to bang on him a little bit. He has to do a better job of getting off being banged around."

The offensive line has to do a better job of protecting Manning and his aching right foot, too. The bulk of that will fall on left tackle David Diehl, who figures to see a lot of Trent Cole, among others. Cole leads the Eagles' pass rush with 9 1/2 sacks, third-most in the conference. But the Eagles will send people from anywhere. They've got 33 sacks so far, sixth most in the league, from 14 players. They'll blitz Samuel a lot, as his 3 1/2 sacks indicates.

Despite all the Eagles' seeming advantages, this might be a close one that comes down to the legs of David Akers or Lawrence Tynes. Akers continues as one of the most accurate kickers around, having missed only four of 30 field goals this year, and just one from inside 40 yards. Akers and Tynes are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in league scoring, but Akers gets his kickoffs into the end zone with more frequency than Tynes.

Jeff Feagles will make it a point to keep the ball away from Jackson, the league's leading punt returner (15-yard average). Domenik Hixon would love nothing better than to break a touchdown return like last week's 79-yarder, but the Eagles' coverage unit has allowed the league's third-fewest return yards.

Still, if Manning could use anything this week, it's a short field.

PREDICTION: There was much hope after the Dallas win, but a lot of the major issues of this team got swept aside in the euphoria. The secondary is still a mess, and now with the Eagles' double-pronged downfield threat of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin back intact, plus tight end Brent Celek, plus an established running game, the Eagles are going to be a tough matchup defensively. Don't think Eli Manning can win any shootouts against Philly's unpredictable defense, either, especially on a night that promises to be at least windy and cold, if not wet. They'll need help from others after this to keep playoff hopes alive. Eagles 28-17.


1 comment:

  1. EP, you're right. People quickly overlooked the fact that the difference vs. Dallas was Hixon's punt return and Dallas scored their final touchdown way too easily. Coughlin needs to get those t-shirts out again, about "play the game."
    The he needs to resign and take that "coaching" staff with him.
    The "we're better than this" stuff got old real fast, as the losses piled up.
    I've written this year off. Even if they get lucky, they'll be eliminated in the first round.
    Hope for 7-9 and a better draft pick.