I hate this week. I hate it. I really do. For some reason, the two weeks leading up to each Philadelphia Eagles game are the worst of the year. Dread. Anxiety. Lead-hot blood circulating through my veins. I'm always on edge for those weeks and it's massively uncomfortable. Sure, some would say "Why do you take sports so seriously?", but to those I respond "Because sports are serious," and that barely touches on my New York Giants fandom.
It's only a few days until the first Giants-Eagles and I'm feeling the pressure already. Chris Pflum previewed the other half of the game, but thankfully I don't have to think about Odell Beckham Jr.'s hamstrings, or our lack of tight ends. Nope, this week I'm thankful for the opportunity to look at the importance of run defense, good linebackers, and a new starter in the secondary.
Stats At A Glance
|Points||Total Yards||Passing Yards||Rushing Yards|
|Eagles Offense||23.4 (19th)||339.0 (21st)||245.8 (13th)||93.2 (22nd)|
|Giants Defense||21.8 (14th)||384.8 (27th)||304.2 (32nd)||80.6 (2nd)|
The "Oregon" style offense is built around successful offensive line play. You can make the case for that truth in any offensive system, but the Kelly-Oregon style relies on it more than most. In order to execute the complex package plays installed in Philadelphia, their offensive line need to be studs. At Oregon, it was easy for Kelly to flourish because he could recruit the biggest, toughest, most technically gifted guys available through a series of uniform presentations and facility tours. When you get to the NFL, that doesn't work.
Kelly wants his guys to "buy in" to his system and has sacrificed good players to maintain his philosophy, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans come to mind. It's possible to argue that Kelly's Eagles had more success using Andy Reid's personnel than his own hand-chosen trustees.
And here we are, in rivalry week, and the Giants have got to be licking their chops at the thought of going head-to-head with this offensive line -- at least in the run game. At left tackle, the Eagles have Jason Peters; one of the best. Everything east of him? That's where it gets interesting.
Jonathan Hankins, Jay Bromley and Cullen Jenkins should have the edge against the Philly interior, and on the far right it gets even better. Lane Johnson starts at right tackle and is clearly the worst run blocker on the Eagles, and unluckily draws Kerry Wynn -- one of the best run defenders in the league. This pair will go round-after-round on Monday night and should be a key insight into the development of the game.
Office, interior. A tired-looking Coughlin begins writing an email to the local paper. "Wanted. Linebacker who can play 16 games. Salary negotiable. Desperately seeking Devon, or Devon-like replacement".
What? You don't like my screenplay about a down-on-his-luck coach who takes a plucky group of young players to the brink of success every year only to see it all unhinged by injury? I thought it was a good idea, and my agent will back me up on that once he actually answers my phone calls.
The sad truth is that the Giants are still struggling at linebacker. This was supposed to be the year where everything was fixed, yet here we are in October with two undrafted guys, Mark Herzlich and Uani 'Unga, starting at the second level. They have their upside. They're fine. But they're not Devon Kennard, nor are they Jon Beason.
We know the formula for how to beat this team. Opposing teams have been getting around the Giants' cast-iron run defense by exploiting their suspect coverage skills. Short passes to the tight ends and running backs, hope you can get yardage after the catch and pray for the odd deep bomb to connect with your receivers. Herzlich and Unga are good against the run, and performed well against the 49ers, but both backers are liabilities in the passing game.
The Giants need Kennard, they need Beason, and God help them, they even need J.T. Thomas, because on Monday, the Eagles will be rolling out Darren Sproles, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. The Philadelphia running game has been a running joke, but do you want to take your chances against these guys one-on-one in coverage? Sproles may be one of the top five most dangerous players in space, and any semblance of good production from Murray and Mathews will puncture the chances of New York coming away with a win.
The Eagles' first-round pick, Nelson Agholor, is day-to-day with an unspecified leg injury. It remains to be seen if the promising young rookie will take the field come Monday night, but the Giants may be in trouble regardless. Sure, Agholor on the sidelines would be a net loss for the Eagles, but it's nothing compared to the damage of Prince Amukamara's pectoral injury; as reports have quickly shifted from it being a minor issue to a possible month-long absence.
With Amukamara sitting out, the Eagles will likely try to pick on any cornerback not named Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Coughlin announced in his Thursday press conference that Jayron Hosley would be stepping into the Prince's shoes. Hosley doesn't generate much excitement from the fan base, and the drop off between his skill-set and Amukamara's is noticeable, but it's clear that he has played better this year than in the past. He's also most likely the quickest of the Giants' corners, and the added dimension of speed is a vital tool in the defense of a Kelly-Oregon offense.
The only downside is his size. Did you know Kelly likes tall players? Like even sometimes prefers them over good players? "We want taller, longer people because bigger people beat up little people", said Kelly in 2013. I guess you can see where he's coming from, but I thought Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant were all better receivers than Riley Cooper; who still mysteriously starts for this team, and even more mysteriously, might use his six-inch height advantage to actually manhandle the undersized Hosley. Damn, I hate when it looks like Kelly might be right.
As for safeties Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather, this should be a good test of their ability to recognize plays as they develop. The Eagles' offense relies on a lot of play-action and read-option looks and it could catch out inexperienced or rusty players with its use of motion, sweeps and screens.
It's a reductive process, but when comparing two sides of the ball I generally match an offensive and defensive line, the running backs and tight ends with the linebackers, and the receivers with the secondary. It's a simplistic method that isn't without its faults but for basic analysis and game previews it helps me figure out where the important battles may emerge.
On this side of the ball, I think the Giants have a slight advantage. They should win in the trenches and in the secondary, but we know this team to be extremely susceptible to underneath passing routes and screen plays. Sam Bradford is just the type of quarterback who could have a career day against this defense, but I think the Giants do enough elsewhere on the field to make him really have to earn it.