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.