Before we begin any full-scale analysis of Sunday's New York Giants-Philadelphia Eagles playoff game let's look back at this season's two meetings between the NFC East rivals and see what we can learn.
We know the outcomes, with the teams having split games. The Giants won in Philly, 36-31. The Eagles won in the Meadowlands, 20-14, the only team to beat the Giants at home this season.
We also know the Giants wrapped up the NFC East ages ago, while the Eagles had to fight right down to the final game to get into the playoffs.
Anyway, let's look back at the two games.
Giants 36, Eagles 31
The Giants did not clinch this game until Chase Blackburn stopped Brian Westbrook on a 4th-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining. This game, however, should not have been nearly that close.
The Giants dominated play.
- They had a 39:10 - 20:50 advantage in time of possession.
- They had 401 yards of total offense to Philly's 300.
- They had 26 first downs to 17 for the Eagles.
The Eagles, though, hung in the game and had an opportunity thanks mainly to the Giants' own mistakes, including a rare Brandon Jacobs' fumble. I don't think we will see the big fella hurdling anyone this week, though.
There was also a very fortunate Eagles' interception by a lineman, I believe, on the game's third play. Philly turned that into a gift touchdown.
Eagles' fans, I'm sure, will say the Giants got help from the zebras. Replay reversal of a key completion by Eli Manning to Kevin Boss when it was ruled Manning had not crossed the line of scrimmage was a huge play in this game.
Brian Westbrook had just 13 carries for 26 yards in this game. Jacobs rumbled for 126 yards on 22 carries, Derrick Ward added 53 on 17 carries and Ahmad Bradshaw had 38 yards on five tries.
That type of running game and time of possession is what the Giants hope to see again this weekend.
The Giants came out of this game 8-1, while the Eagles were 5-4.
Eagles 20, Giants 14
This game was a completely different story. The Eagles re-discovered their running game here, dominating time of possession, 34:54 - 25:06. Westbrook was unstoppable with 131 yards on 33 carries, and Jacobs injured his knee.
The Giants clinched the NFC East despite losing.
You can argue that the Plaxico Burress situation had distracted the Giants. You can say they had won six straight against teams with winning records, that they knew they were going to be NFC East champs, that they simply didn't bring the same intensity.
There is validity to those arguments. Yet this game also started some trends that are disturbing.
- Westbrook had a 30-yard touchdown run. In each game since, the Giants' defense has given up at least one long scoring run.
- Westbrook smoked the Giants' linebackers (particularly Antonio Pierce) for a 40-yard touchdown catch. Teams have been exploiting the Giants' linebackers in pass coverage since.
- The Giants had only one sack of Donovan McNabb. At times this season the pass rush -- especially toward the end of the season -- has not been there.
What can we learn
To be honest, I'm not sure this look back teaches us anything we didn't already know. You simply have to contain Westbrook to defeat the Eagles. If you can do that, I am still not sure where else Philadelphia will get big plays from.
When I look at these two games I believe the Giants are a better team. Offensively, I believe they have more weapons. It's no accident they have a better record.
Contain Westbrook, avoid turnovers and I think the Giants win the game. Not easy, of course, but that's what it really comes down to.