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Eye On the Eagles: Breaking down the matchup

Posted Dec 14, 2017

Giants.com's Michael Eisen scouts the opposing offense, defense, and special teame:


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants hope to reverse both their recent fortunes and those against the Philadelphia Eagles, and enjoy payback for perhaps their most difficult defeat of the season, when the longtime rivals meet Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium. The Eagles have won six of seven meetings since the start of the 2014 season. The most recent of those games was played in Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 24 when Jake Elliott’s 61-yard field goal as time expired gave the Eagles a 27-24 victory.

That was the first of nine consecutive triumphs for the Eagles, who have already clinched the NFC East title with an 11-2 record. The Giants have lost their last three games and are 2-11. With their recent success, the Eagles have cut the Giants’ lead in the alltime regular-season series to 83-80-2.

What is the Eagles’ biggest strength?

When a team is 11-2, it gets more than one. Most notably, Philadelphia has the NFL’s scariest offense, one that is well-balanced, generates big plays, doesn’t often turn over the ball, and has scored a league-high 31.1 points a game (with the help of four defensive touchdowns). Defensively, the Eagles are first against the run (allowing 71.2 yards per game) and might have the NFL’s most lethal pass rush. The big question is whether they can continue their march to the NFC’s top postseason seed without quarterback Carson Wentz, out for the season after tearing his left ACL last week in a victory against the Rams in Los Angeles. Nick Foles will replace Wentz. Philly has overcome the loss of several outstanding players, including left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Jordan Hicks, safety and special teams standout Chris Maragos, and kicker Caleb Sturgis, but playing without Wentz will be particularly challenging.

Which player is key to the Eagles’ offense?

It’s been Wentz, the second-year pro who leads the league with 33 touchdown passes. He is one of the frontrunners for the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. Now it becomes Foles, who threw 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions for the Eagles in 2013. The focus is also on head coach Doug Pederson, who calls the offensive plays and must devise a plan for Foles to get the ball to Philadelphia’s many playmakers – running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, and tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles’ offense has many components, but it now falls predominately on Pederson and Foles to keep the machine moving forward.

What is the strength of the Eagles’ offense?

Its impressive balance. Philadelphia is second in the NFL with an average of 143.0 rushing yards a game; the Eagles ran for 193 yards against the Giants in September, and have finished with less than 100 yards just twice all season. Opposing defenses’ obsession with stopping the run helps set up the Eagles’ many big plays (41 passes of 20 or more yards). Philadelphia has scored on an NFL-high 44% of its possessions this season.

Which player is key to the Eagles’ defense?

Tackle Fletcher Cox and end Brandon Graham line up next to each other on the defensive line and dominate opposing offensive fronts. Philadelphia has the NFL’s No. 1 pressure defense and its best pass-rushing line, largely because of this duo. Graham has a career-high 8.5 sacks, and Cox has 5.5. Cox and Tim Jernigan form what is arguably the NFL’s finest defensive tackle combination. Rookie first-round draft choice Derek Barnett has 5.0 sacks.


What is the strength of the Eagles’ defense?

The ability to create pressure and turnovers. Philadelphia has five players with at least 3.0 sacks. Since Week 4, the Eagles are second in the NFL in quarterback hits, fourth in pressures, sixth in tackles for losses, and eighth in sacks. That activity helps create turnovers; the Eagles have forced 24, which leaves them tied for third in the league. Philly’s turnover differential of plus-eight is tied for fourth. The Eagles have allowed 19 touchdown passes, but have intercepted 16 passes. And as we mentioned, they’re the league’s best unit against the run. The offense contributes with its league-best average time of possession of 33:35, which keeps opposing attacks off the field and Philly’s defense fresh. Last week’s Eagles-Rams game was a meeting of the NFL’s two-highest scoring teams. Philadelphia ran almost twice as many plays, 85-45, owned the ball for 19 more minutes, and won the highly-anticipated showdown, 43-35.

What is the strength of the Eagles’ special teams?

In Kenjon Barner, they have a strong return game, and the Giants are painfully aware that Elliott, their rookie kicker, has a strong leg. But no one in the NFL covers kicks like Kamu Grugier-Hill, who leads the Eagles with 14 special teams tackles. He is one of six Eagles – including Wentz, Ertz and Cox – who leads Pro Bowl voting at his position.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

First, they have to fend off the Eagles’ typical early onslaught. Philadelphia has outscored its opponents in the first quarter, 92-35, and has 71 points on its first two possessions, the third-highest total in the NFL. The Giants have to keep it close; if they quickly go down, 14-0, it will likely be a long day. Second, the Giants must control the ball and keep Philly’s offense off the field. As teams have discovered all season, that is no easy task.

Statistics you should know:

*The Eagles’ defense has at least two sacks in every game this season but one – it was shutout against the Giants on Sept. 24.

*Philadelphia is 11-2 or better through 13 games for just the third time in franchise history. They were 11-2 in 1980 and 12-4 in 2004, the only two seasons in which they played in the Super Bowl.

*The Eagles’ 404 points are the most in franchise history through 13 games.

*Foles has twice faced the Giants, with one start. On Oct. 12, 2014, he completed 21 of 34 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 27-0 victory.