The NFC East is wide open, and Sunday's meeting between the New York Giants (0-4) and Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) in what amounts to an early must-win game. Both of these teams are very much in the division race, which, yes, is a bit sad given their records, but an intra-division contest like this could help either team resurrect their season.
For the Giants, it's must-win at home, simply put. At 0-4 their playoff odds are slim, but at 0-5 it's already time to start scouting out who your first-round pick will be. For Philly, just a game back to the division-leading Dallas Cowboys, it's a chance to work out a few issues, inflate the confidence level and get a key win.
Here's what we're watching for on Sunday:
Jason Peters vs. Jason Pierre-Paul
The Eagles' left tackle has surrendered 15 pressures (one sack, 14 hurries) in his first four games this season, according to Pro Football Focus, which almost as much as he allowed all of last full season in 2011. Some of his struggles can be attributed to the dislocated finger he's playing with on his left hand.
That means it is time to capitalize for Pierre-Paul, who needs to spark the Giants' pass rush. We all know New York has sacked opposing quarterbacks just four times, This is a match-up JPP needs to win in order to put pressure on Michael Vick and contain him to the pocket. If Vick is able to get out of the pocket and scramble, it'll be another long day for the Giants D.
Giants LBs vs. LeSean McCoy
Jamaal Charles accounted for 127 total yards (65 rushing, 62 receiving) last Sunday in Arrowhead, and Charles' skill-set is very akin to that of Shady McCoys'. The Eagles top-ranked rushing attack is spearheaded by McCoy, who leads the league with 468 yards. He's also the Eagles third-leading receiver with 140 yards.
None of the Giants linebackers are athletic enough to contain McCoy, so how Perry Fewell plans to defend the Eagles' prolific weapon remains to be seen. Whether it's Jacquian Williams or a defensive back, who knows, but slowing McCoy down has to be the first priority for the defense.
David Wilson vs. The Offensive Line
The Eagles' sixth-rank rush defense is one of the more underrated pieces of this team, but Wilson will have an even bigger obstacle on Sunday: his own offensive line.
Against a stout front seven in Kansas City, the Giants line put forth a decent run-blocking effort. Kevin Boothe and Jim Cordle received positive grades from PFF, so perhaps running to the left will be the best bet for the Giants running game.
Last week, Philadelphia allowed the Broncos backfield to combine for 141 yard and a 4.3 yard-per-attempt average in the blowout loss. It's now or never for the Giants offense.
DeSean Jackson vs. Prince Amukamara
Amukamara has been the lone bright spot for the Giants defense this season. Last week, he shadowed Pro Bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe and made him a non-factor. This week's test comes in the form of Jackson, who has been one of the benefactors from Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense.
Jackson has 21 receptions for 393 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season, but as the Eagles offense stalls so does Jackson. When the game is more competitive, Jackson has been more involved (e.g. games vs. Washington and San Diego). But in each of the Eagles' last two games, Jackson has totaled five catches, 13 targets and fewer than 100 yards.
Brandon Flowers and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have locked down Jackson, and perhaps it's Amukamara's turn.
Victor Cruz vs. Cary Williams
The Eagles' second-ranked pass defense was exploited by Peyton Manning last week, who sliced and diced them for 327 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest culprit in the secondary was Cary Williams, who earned a negative coverage grade from PFF.
Manning's success came when he got rid of the rock quick and didn't allow the Eagles pass rush to get to him. With a lack of pressure, the Eagles secondary was unable to adjust to the Broncos' aerial assault. So Peyton, have you made a phone call to Eli yet?
Cruz has been far and away the Giants' best receiver this season, but Hakeem Nicks should also have an edge over Bradley Fletcher. Manning hasn't had a lot of success with the deep ball of late, but the opportunities have been there. Let's see if those issues can be straightened out this week.
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