One of the NFL's oldest and fiercest rivalries will resume Sunday when the Giants clash with the Philadelphia Eagles in Lincoln Financial Field. Each team is 1-1 with a victory over the St. Louis Rams. The Giants lead the regular season series, 79-71-2, but have lost their last six games with the Eagles, including one in the postseason. In 2010, they twice held fourth-quarter leads vs. the Eagles but lost both games, 27-17 in Philadelphia and 38-31 at home. The Giants are 4-5 in Lincoln Financial Field, including 0-1 in the playoffs.
Although the Eagles' offense is staffed by many familiar names – Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy – the unit has undergone a philosophical shift in the nine months since these teams last met. Philadelphia brought in Howard Mudd, an NFL assistant since 1974 who put in a 12-year stint with Indianapolis that ended in 2009 – to coach the offensive line. Under Mudd, the group has shifted from a power scheme to one that emphasizes athleticism and zone blocking. But the unit has spent little time together; the starting five played as a group for the first time in the opener in St. Louis. This will be their third game together.
Left tackle Jason Peters is the only starter who returned at the same position. Head coach Andy Reid wanted to keep Peters at the position where he has been voted to four consecutive Pro Bowls and is arguably the NFL's best at his position. Peters is a gifted player – athletic, powerful, tough, strong and smart. Left guard Evan Mathis arrived as a UFA from Cincinnati. He works well in space and thus fits the mold for the new scheme. The center is sixth-round draft choice Jason Kelce, who is getting on-the-job training like all rookie starters. He is athletic and very quick at the snap. Right guard Kyle DeVan played for Mudd on the Colts, so he knows the scheme. DeVan will do whatever it takes to make a block. Right tackle Todd Herremans moved over from left guard. He is a smart, solid veteran player. The top reserves are Jamaal Jackson, the former starting center who missed most of last season with a torn triceps, and King Dunlap.
Philadelphia still has an explosive, high-octane offense. Vick is a rare athlete for a quarterback. In 2010, he had career highs in passer rating (100.2), completion percentage (62.6) and passing yards (3,018) and he accounted for 30 touchdowns (21 passing, nine rushing) while earning his fourth Pro Bowl berth. But he suffered a concussion in the Eagles' loss Sunday night in Atlanta and his availability for the Giants might not be determined until shortly before game time. If Vick can't play, the starter is expected to be Mike Kafka, a second-year pro who saw his first regular season action vs. the Falcons. Kafka has good size (6-3, 225) and athleticism and is poised in the pocket. He was seven-for-nine in Atlanta and the two incompletions were a fourth-down drop and a Hail Mary on the game's final play. The Eagles also have former Tennessee Titan Vince Young, who has been inactive with a hamstring injury.
As good as Vick is, many consider McCoy the lead dog in Philly's offense. He was fourth in the NFL with 1,672 yards from scrimmage last season. McCoy is to the Eagles what Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk once was for the St. Louis Rams – an excellent runner and receiver who can score from anywhere, is tough, smart on blitz pickup and an outstanding screen runner. McCoy has a suddenness when he runs and Vick has a knack for finding him when the quarterback runs into trouble. Ronnie Brown, a 16-game starter in Miami in 2010, is the backup. He has good vision and patience and exceptional hands coming out of the backfield. Brown is also a willing blocker in pass protection. Rookie Dion Lewis is a quick, shifty back with big play ability. The fullback is Owen Schmitt, a tough, competitive blocker who had 19 catches last season.
Jackson and Maclin join McCoy to give the Eagles three players who can turn the field at any time. No other team has a tandem of receivers this explosive. Jackson might be the NFL's fastest player. A Pro Bowler each of the last two seasons, he averaged an otherworldly 22.5 yards per reception in 2010. Jackson is an exceptional deep receiver who tracks the ball, is a good route runner and instinctively goes forward after making the catch. Reid likes to use gadget plays, so Jackson could line up in the backfield in a Wildcat alignment. Maclin does everything well and is Philadelphia's most-targeted receiver. Last year, 45 of his 70 catches went for first downs. Maclin has a very quick release, he's tough and he blocks. Jason Avant is a big, strong, physical and dependable wideout who willingly does all the dirty work inside. He has strong hands and is very smart; if the Eagles face a third-and-seven, he will run an eight-yard route. The fourth receiver is former Giant Steve Smith, another possession wideout who caught his first two passes for Philadelphia last week.
Brent Celek is listed as the starting tight end, but he also lines up in the wing, the slot and out wide. He is a good receiver with sneaky speed. Clay Harbor works in two-tight end packages and has the vertical speed and receiving skills the Eagles like in their tight ends.
Philadelphia's defense, like its offensive line, is a work in progress. That's no coincidence considering Juan Castillo, the line coach since 1998, is the new defensive coordinator and the unit has undergone a significant overhaul in both staff and personnel. The defense has three new coaches (former Giants defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn in the secondary, Mike Caldwell at linebacker and Jim Washburn for the line) and seven new starters, including five imports. Philly likes to use a versatile front four to create havoc up front and fast defensive backs who can cover.
The Eagles will use eight defensive linemen in a game. Left end Jason Babin is in his second tour of duty with Philadelphia and was a Pro Bowler last year who excelled under Washburn in Tennessee. He is a relentless pass rusher (12.5 sacks in 2010) who is tough in the run game. The left tackle is Cullen Jenkins, who played for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers last year. He is a legitimate three-down defensive tackle who finds the ball quickly, is powerful on contact and uses a big bag of tricks on the pass rush. Right tackle Mike Patterson is a steady, solid player who plays primarily on run downs. The Eagles' best defensive player is right end Trent Cole, who has made 70 consecutive starts and two trips in a row to the Pro Bowl. Since the start of the 2006 season, he leads the NFC with 49 sacks. Cole is a professional pass rusher with excellent moves and counter moves.
The reserves are also talented. Juqua Parker's status for the Giants game is uncertain after he hurt his ankle in Atlanta, but he is a clever pass rusher and a smart player who is seldom fooled. Like the other defensive ends, Parker gets off the line quickly at the snap. Trevor Laws is a tough player vs. the run. Antonio Dixon often subs for Patterson in pass situations. Backup end Darryl Tapp has a pectoral strain, but he is an athletic pass rusher. Phillip Hunt led the Canadian Football League with 16 sacks last year.
After giving up 292 rushing yards in two games, the Eagles this week rearranged their linebackers. Rookie Casey Matthews moved from middle linebacker to the weak side. Weakside linebacker Moise Fokou shifted to the strong side and strongside backer Jamar Chaney has moved to the middle. Matthews was a fourth-round draft choice this year and Fokou and Chaney are both former seventh-round selections.
Matthews, whose brother Clay is a star linebacker with Green Bay, is a high-motor player with good straight-line speed who attacks the ball. Fokou has previously played on the strong side and has good speed and awareness. Chaney is a first-year starter who can fly. Brian Rolle, Akeem Jordan and Keenan Clayton are the backups.
Philadelphia's secondary has star power with three cornerbacks – Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – who have played in a combined eight Pro Bowls. Asomugha, a high-profile free agent acquisition this summer, is a big corner at 6-2, 210. His man-to-man cover skills are so strong, teams seldom throw at him. Samuel has been to four consecutive Pro Bowls and his 36 interceptions since 2006 lead the NFL. He is very good at baiting quarterbacks and is not afraid to take risks. Cromartie-Rodgers, who arrived in a trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb, has exceptional ball awareness and is a dangerous blitzer off the edge. He is also an outstanding kick blocker. The fourth corner is Joselio Hanson. Brandon Hughes is a versatile backup.
Strong safety Jarrad Page was a free agent signee who took over for Nate Allen (who had offseason surgery) and runs the show in the back of the defense. He is a smart and alert player. Free safety Kurt Coleman replaced Quintin Mikell, who is now in St. Louis. He has good speed and range. Allen contributes as a reserve.
The Eagles' kicking game is comprised of an unusual blend of players. Jackson is perhaps the NFL's most dangerous punt returner and nine-year veteran Jon Dorenbos is a proven dependable long-snapper. But the rest of the key players are rookies, including kicker Alex Henery, punter Chas Henry and kickoff returner Dion Lewis. Henery, a fourth-round draft choice this year, replaced David Akers, who had been the Eagles kicker for 12 years. He has made two of three field goal attempts. Henry has a 41.1-yard gross average and a 35.6-yard net average on seven punts, and Lewis has run back seven kickoffs for a 21.3-yard average.
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