Eagles-Giants Preview: Who Cares
The Philadelphia Eagles travel to the swamps of New Jersey to face the New York (?) Giants on Sunday in a meaningless matchup of two teams that will be watching the NFL playoffs on TV like the rest of us. The Eagles won the first matchup 27-0, but these are two completely different teams at this point of the season. The Giants have won three in a row, while the Eagles have lost three in a row. During that losing streak, the Eagles went from a team looking for a first round playoff bye to being eliminated from the playoffs altogether. The game means nothing for either team, but both claim they are trying to win....for some reason. Both coaches are playing their regulars, instead of seeing what they might have in some younger players, so fans are going to be treated to two of the most turnover-prone QBs in NFL history.
Eagles QB Mark Sanchez has 13 turnovers in his 7 1/2 games this season and had more career interceptions than TDs before this season. On the other sideline, Eli Manning has led the NFL in interceptions an astounding three times. This game may be unwatchable, but let's take a look at the matchups anyway.
Eagles Offense Versus Giants Defense
As I said, Eagles coach Chip Kelly has made the idiotic decision to start Mark Sanchez at QB in a meaningless game, but at least that increases the Eagles chances of losing the game and improving their draft position. At this point, that's the only thing Sanchez can give the fans of Philly, after literally throwing the season away with killer turnover after killer turnover. Even with a weak-armed QB like Sanchez, Kelly called 53 pass plays last week and almost guaranteed his team would lose on the inevitable INT.
Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin is having a career year (82 catches for 1,269 yards), but his stats have suffered since Sanchez took over. The long passing game has completely disappeared with Sanchez, since he literally can't throw the ball deep. Only 12.1% of his throws have been over 20 yards, compared to 23.4% for Foles before he got hurt. That makes it very easy for opposing defenses to defend the Eagles passing game. Maclin will line up opposite former Eagle Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC is known to quit at the first sign of trouble, so if the Eagles get a lead, bank on Maclin having a big day. In spite of a 2-TD performance last week, Riley Cooper has been a bitter disappointment this season and rookie Jordan Matthews has disappeared in recent weeks, with only 5 catches for 81 yards in the last 3 games. It doesn't even matter that the Giants are ranked only 17th (239.2 ypg) against the pass. I assume Kelly will go back to ignoring THE Zach Ertz, like he's done for the majority of the season, after Ertz set a franchise record with 15 catches last week. Kelly is a genius, remember?
The Giants are 4th in the NFL with 43 sacks, but the Eagles offensive line has only given up 28 sacks, which is 12th best in the league. Center Jason Kelce is going to his first Pro Bowl and he'll have to deal with DT Jonathan Hankins. But the marquee matchup along the line will be LT Jason Peters against DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Peters is generally considered to be the best LT in the NFL and JPP is having a bounce-back season with 10 1/2 sacks. Sanchez is certain to run right into at least one or two sacks though.
The Eagles best chance of winning this game (and any game, for that matter) is to run the damn football. Not only would that take the ball out of Sanchez's hands and keep his turnovers to a minimum (only 1 or 2 instead of 3 or 4), but it puts the ball into the hands of their best weapon. LeSean McCoy won't lead the league in rushing again, like he did last season, but he still has 1,220 yards rushing. That's the 5th highest total in the NFL. He gouged the Giants for 149 yards in the Week 6 game against the Giants, when the Giants decided to play their nickel defense all game against the Eagles 3-receiver sets. There is no way in hell the Giants do that with Sanchez at QB, so McCoy won't have a huge day again, but the Giants are still terrible against the run, ranking 30th (133.2 ypg) in the NFL. The Giants will also be without LB Devon Kennard.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Giants Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The Giants only managed 253 yards of total offense in the first game and Eli Manning was sacked 8 times. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that Manning and the Giants were still adjusting to their new West Coast offense, but most of it comes down to the fact that the best way to beat Manning is to put pressure on him. Eli will turn the ball over under pressure. It's what he does. Manning only threw for 151 yards in that first matchup, but the Giants offense is playing much better lately.
Odell Beckham's Amazing One-Handed Catch
The main reason the Giants offense has improved, and Eli has piled up 3,981 yards passing, is the emergence of rookie receiver Odell Beckham. Beckham has 79 receptions for 1,120 yards and 11 TDs. That is bad news for an Eagles defense that is ranked 25th (253.9 ypg) against the pass, but has looked far worse in the last three weeks than even that lowly ranking suggests. The Eagles CBs, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, are horrible yet defensive coordinator Billy Davis continually leaves them in single coverage on some of the best receivers in the game. The Eagles like to bring one safety down into the box and just leave one safety high and in the middle of the field, but that has to change this week. The Eagles need to double Bekham on every single play of the game. They should even sneak a couple of backups over to the Giants sideline and have them sit on either side of Beckham when he's sitting on the bench. One of them can be first round draft pick Marcus Smith, since he never gets on the field anyway. Beckham is that good and the Eagles defensive backs are that bad. The Giants don't have any other receiving threats as Rueben Randle has been inconsistent to say the least and THE Larry Donnell has just 8 catches for 81 yards in the last 3 games. Fletcher is questionable with an injury, but I'm hoping he plays to help insure that higher draft pick I spoke about earlier.
The other reason Eli is playing better is that the offensive line has improved. They have only allowed Manning to be sacked 30 times (15th fewest in the NFL). But the Eagles are 2nd in the NFL with 49 sacks. The Eagles treated RT Justin Pugh like a turnstile in Week 6 and he'll be matched up against OLB Connor Barwin, who has 14 1/2 sacks. Expect Barwin to get up close and personal with Eli quite often on Sunday.
The Giants have historically been a running football team, but that isn't the case this year. They are ranked only 22nd (101.8 ypg) in rushing this season. The Eagles held the Giants to 86 yards and 3.6 yards per carry in Week 6, when Rashad Jennings was out. Jennings (607 yards rushing) is back this week, but Andre Williams (678 yards rushing) is questionable. The Eagles are only 17th (113 ypg) against the run, but they have only allowed one runner (SF's Frank Gore) to gain over 90 yards rushing against them all season. The Giants won't be winning this game on the ground. That's for sure.
Who will turn the ball over more on Sunday?
The Eagles lead the NFL with 6 special teams TDs, but they have been slipping in recent weeks. Cody Parkey missed 2 field goals last week, after missing only 2 in the first 14 games of the season. He also isn't getting touchbacks as regularly as he was in the beginning of the season. Punter Donnie Jones doesn't have a great net average, but has had only 17 of his last 49 punts returned. The Eagles have 2 kick return touchdowns, but the Giants are 2nd in kickoff coverage. The one big advantage the Eagles have is Darren Sproles, who leads the NFL in punt return average (13.3) against a Giants coverage unit that is ranked 27th (10.7). New York punter Steve Weatherford has had half of his punts returned, so Sproles will have plenty of chances to make a big play. (Miracle in the Meadowlands, Part III?) Giants kicker Josh Brown is 20-for-22 on FG attempts and has a 57.7% touchback percentage. And while the Eagles are middle of the pack on covering punts and kicks, the Giants have no treats at returner.
Miracle at the Meadowlands
The "Chip Kelly is a genius who will revolutionize the offensive game in the NFL" bandwagon has hit a few potholes this season, as he has made quite a few mistakes in his play-calling. He is getting far too pass-happy with a backup QB, who is a turnover-machine. NFL defenses seem to have adjusted to the frenetic pace of his offense and Kelly hasn't shown that he has a counter move yet. It isn't all due to the horrible play of Sanchez. Kelly's arrogance seems to be getting the better of him.
On the other sideline, Tom Coughlin was on the hot seat earlier this season, but probably saved his job with this late season run. Well, that and those two Super Bowl trophies. Of course, winning three games to improve your team's record to 6-9 is about as meaningful as when Andy Reid won four straight games to finish 8-8 a few years ago. It saved his job and led to that 4-12 abortion of a season in 2012. Hopefully the same fate awaits the Giants.
Neither of these teams have anything to play for but pride and both teams would be far better off losing the game in order to improve their position in next April's draft. Unfortunately, that's not the way most NFL coaches think, so both teams will trot out all their starters who weren't good enough to get either of these sad teams into the playoffs. Luckily for Eagles fans, that means that Mark Sanchez will turn the ball over multiple times and Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams will getting eaten alive by Odell Beckham.
This is going to be a bad game, but I expect a good result in the form of a loss for the Eagles.
Giants 27 Eagles 23