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Tape Study

Tape Study: What to expect from the Eagles on Sunday

The Giants and Eagles have already met once this year, but a fair amount has changed in the past five weeks since that Thursday night at Metlife Stadium. Here’s what I’ve seen from the Eagles that’s new since they beat the Giants on October 11. You can find my previous assessment of the Eagles HERE.

When the Eagles Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Quarterback Carson Wentz

In the past few weeks, Wentz seems to have gained some confidence in his knee, and is far more willing to tuck the ball and run than he was earlier in the season. He can avoid the rush, and often tries to duck under defensive linemen trying to tackle him around the pads. Once he scrambles, he is looking to make big plays down the field.

Wentz struggled mightily against the Saints last week (19 of 33, 156 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs), and even though his numbers were strong the three weeks prior, there were some struggles. He sometimes holds the ball a little bit (he will pump the ball and hesitate) and will throw late and at times inaccurately, especially when he does not reset his feet after being on the move.

Wentz is not afraid to throw the ball downfield, and he will make big plays. He loves to target his tight ends, especially deep in the middle of the field. He is a playmaker.

Inside the Numbers: Carson Wentz has struggled to get the ball down the field with consistent success. He is only 15 of 37 for 527 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He has not completed a pass (0-11) to the right outside the numbers that travels more than 20 yards in the air.

Quotebook: Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur, “Wentz does a really good job not only of executing in rhythm, but if he can slide it out of the pocket, I call them 60-yard check downs. He does a really good job, he remains a passer all the way ‘til he crosses the line of scrimmage, so it’s super important that we stay in coverage because guys running free downfield, he’ll see them all the way ‘til the last moment before he starts to run. That’s really what makes their offense tick.”

The Matchup: Tight End Zach Ertz

Zach Ertz is Carson Wentz’s number one option. The Saints limited him to two catches for 15 yards last week with bracket coverage in the middle of the field for much of the game. Wentz tries to get the ball to Ertz all over the field -- short, deep, over the middle and on the perimeter. He is both a big play threat and someone Wentz likes to target on third downs.

Wentz will try to find Ertz on seam routes, crossing routes, and then outward routes heading toward the sideline. He is in the same category as Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce as the top tight ends in football. Ertz has wide receiver-like numbers with 77 receptions (3rd most in the NFL), 804 yards and five touchdowns.

Inside the Numbers: Carson Wentz has had immense success targeting Zach Ertz deep down the middle of the field. According to Pro Football Focus, on passes traveling 10 or more yards, Ertz has 20 catches on 25 targets for 338 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Eagles Scheme and Tendencies

The Eagles still run RPO’s, trying to get the run action to get linebackers to crash inside, which in turn, opens up passing lanes on slants. Discipline by the linebackers when they see run action from the offensive line is the key to slowing these down.

Alshon Jeffery’s production has slowed in recent weeks. He has just 12 catches for 116 yards and no touchdowns in his last three games. Wentz likes to get him the ball in a way that allows Jeffery to use his big frame on slants and back shoulder throws. Nelson Agholor is the team’s deep threat, and they often try to get him free on deep posts in the middle of the field.

The Eagles are trying to incorporate Golden Tate, who they acquired three weeks ago from Detroit before the trade deadline. In his two games with the Eagles, he has seven catches for 67 yards. Philly has tried some creative ways to get him the ball in space on short passes and runs, but they are still figuring out how to utilize him best in the framework of the offense. Tate’s best skill is his run after catch ability.

Inside the Numbers: One reason the Eagles are below .500 is their inability to protect the football. They have 16 giveaways this year and a -9 turnover ratio, third worst in the league.

Josh Adams has emerged as the Eagles best running back. He still splits time with Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. He has a direct, one cut, downhill running style. Last week against the Saints, he had a 28-yard run for a touchdown. The Eagles ran the ball just 12 times against the Saints, and 16 times the week before against the Cowboys. They are a pass-first team right now.

The Eagles offensive line finally appears to be relatively healthy. Both left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson are starting but neither are playing up to their usual standards. Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce injured his elbow last week but all indications he won’t have any residual effects this week. Despite the starters all being on the field, the Eagles line has not performed to the standards of last year’s Super Bowl team when they were considered one of the best units in the league. The team’s running game has been at times inconsistent, and at others absent.

Inside the Numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Lane Johnson has allowed five sacks and four quarterback hits on 372 passing snaps this year, while Jason Peters has one sack and five quarterbacks hits in 372 pass blocking snaps. Peters has also committed seven penalties this season.

Key for The Giants Defense

  1. Take the ball away
  2. Don’t let Zach Ertz dominate
  3. Prevent big plays

When the Giants Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox

Cox can dominate a football game from the three-technique position with his ability to get to the quarterback. Don’t let his four sacks fool you into thinking he is not a consistently disruptive player. He has his least productive game of the year last week against the Saints with no sacks or quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.

Cox can win with speed, power and technique. He will be the biggest test that newcomer Jamon Brown has had since joining the Giants and will serve as a good measuring stick for where Will Hernandez has progressed as a rookie.

Inside the Numbers: Fletcher Cox has not recorded a sack since the Eagles last game against the Giants back on October 11. Despite that drought, he is still the second-highest graded defensive tackle overall and in terms off pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system, sitting behind only Aaron Donald.

Quotebook: Giants Quarterback Eli Manning, “I think just obviously there’s good players and it starts obviously with Fletcher Cox. He’s a disruptive player right there in the middle and do a good job with their ends, getting outside pressure, and just kind of making sure got to step up and you got a big man making some push up front. They do a good job getting to the quarterback and being disruptive in the run game, so we got to handle that, try to get the ball out quickly.”

The Matchup: Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett vs. Chad Wheeler and Nate Solder

With a force like Fletcher Cox in the middle potentially affecting the depth of the pocket, it makes it even more essential for the Giants offensive tackles to control the Eagles perimeter rushers. Michael Bennett leads the Eagles in sacks with 4.5 and he will line up primarily over Nate Solder. Bennett made a lot of plays against the Giants in Week 6 with a sack, forced fumble, two quarterback hits and six tackles.

Brandon Graham will work mostly over right tackle Chad Wheeler. Graham was quiet against the Giants in their first matchup, but despite that performance and his modest three sack total, he is a huge threat to the Giants offense. His speed and quickness gets him into the backfield often, and he is a disruptive player in both the run and pass game.

Inside the Numbers: To go along with his three sacks, Graham also has 5 quaterback hits and 36 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. They have him graded as the second-best edge player in the NFL this year, behind only J.J. Watt.

Eagles Schemes and Tendencies

The Eagles secondary is a MASH unit. At the start of the season, the Eagles top five cornerbacks were Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox. There is a chance all five of those players will be unavailable when the Giants and Eagles match up on Sunday afternoon. There’s no telling how the Eagles will adjust their defense with their cornerbacks out, except to look at how they played in their last couple of games.

Against the Saints last week, with both Douglas and Jones still healthy, the Eagles played a ton of man to man defense. They ran double-teams at the Saints two main playmakers, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, for much of the game. I would be surprised to see a strategy like that against the Giants with players like Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram presenting matchup issues if they pay too much attention to Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley.

I would expect the Eagles to play more like they did against the Cowboys two weeks prior, when they played a lot more zone. This will allow them to protect their cornerbacks a little bit. I can’t imagine the Eagles will want cornerbacks Cre’Von LeBlanc, Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby and whoever else they add to the active roster before Sunday to be in man to man situations against the Giants perimeter weapons. The Eagles, by their nature, want to play man and pressure up front, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust to their injuries in the secondary.

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles give up a ton of yards defensively, ranking 23__rd in the league at 378 per game. Their yards per play allowed versus the run and pass both rank below 20__th in the league. They have succeeded because of their ability to get off the field on third down (9__th in the NFL - 37%) and stop teams in the red zone (6__th in the NFL - 49%).

I detailed the Eagles top pass rushers above, but they will use a steady rotation of defensive linemen in an effort to keep their players fresh. They will rotate in players like Tim Jernigan, Chris Long and Josh Sweat. Long has been a source of pressure all season, with 3.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The loud home crowd of the Eagles should give their pass rushers some help, making it difficult for the Giants offensive line to hear Eli Manning’s snap count.

Inside the Numbers: A big reason the Eagles have taken step back this season is their inability to get takeaways. Last year, they were fourth in the NFL with 31 takeaways, but this season only two teams have fewer than their seven.

In addition to the Eagles injuries in the defensive backfield, the potential absence of middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) would be a huge loss. He is the Eagles best run stuffer and tackler from the linebacker position. It has been reported that Nigel Bradham would likely move over to middle linebacker if Hicks is unable to play.

Inside the Numbers: The Eagles rank 24th in the NFL, having allowed 9 runs of 20 yards or more his year. Opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 116.7 when throwing 21 or more yards in the air against the Eagles defense. Only four teams have allowed more than their 50 plays of 20 yards or more.

Keys For The Giants Offense

  1. Run the ball successfully on early downs
  2. Protect the quarterback
  3. Make big plays down the field (for scores)

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