The Philadelphia Eagles are an old, long-time rival of the New York Giants. With new head coaches and lots of new faces on both sides, though, there is a fresh sense to Sunday’s upcoming first meeting of the season between the two teams.
Likewise, there is a fresh sense to working with SB Nation’s Eagles web site, Bleeding Green Nation, where Adam Hermann and Dave Mangels have taken the reigns this season. Our five questions this week is with Adam, our first encounter wth one of the new BGN bosses. Let’s see how this goes.
Ed: Impressions of Doug Pederson as a head coach thus far? I know he's getting ripped for some late-game decisions last week, but I'm hoping for an overview and not just an emotional "he screwed up last week" response.
Adam: He's a work in progress. Through three games, Pederson was being anointed (as was the entirety of the team) as The Next Great Thing, and rightfully so. He put rookie Carson Wentz in good, safe positions without hindering his downfield throwing, he called a creative game against the Steelers that led to a 34-3 win, and looked generally to be taking the whole "NFL head coach" thing in stride.
Since then, Pederson's had hiccups. His play calling has become stagnant, and almost (gulp) Chip Kelly-like in its affinity for underneath routes and repetition. He's made some time-management mistakes, and been plain out-coached in late-game situations. But he's still a rookie head coach who is sitting at 4-3, and could be 5-2 if his guys had executed slightly better, which most Eagles fans will take.
Overall, he's a guy who seems to have earned the respect of his locker room with ease. He knows quarterbacking, which is basically all that matters this season with getting Wentz acclimated and figuring out if he's the future of the franchise, which it seems he is. Pederson will learn the rest of his lessons in time.
Ed: Your thoughts on Carson Wentz thus far? Better or worse than expected? You think he ends up justifying the Eagles' move up in the draft to get him?
Adam: Better than expected. His last few weeks haven't been as pretty as his first few, in large part because of the plays being called for him, as well as the absence of Lane Johnson at right tackle. And he's playing with quite possibly the worst assemblage of wide receivers in the entire league.
All that said, Wentz has shown time and again that he has the tools you want in your franchise quarterback. He obviously has the size. He's got the mobility and pocket escapability (yes, I used that word) to save broken plays and create new ones, including making run-pass options real threats and not just ignorable decoys like they were with Sam Bradford. And some of the throws he's made in the first seven weeks have left jaws on the floor.
He still has room to grow, too. His ball placement needs to be more consistent, which would also be aided by improvement of his basic throwing mechanics in the pocket. But, writ large? Wentz has been superb through seven games.
Ed: My go-to question. If you could take one player off the Giants' roster NOT NAMED ODELL BECKHAM (because this question would be boring if I let you have the Beckham option) and put him in your lineup who would it be? Why?
Adam: Gonna stay a little boring: Sterling Shepard. The Eagles' wide receivers, as you may have heard (from me and literally anyone in the Greater Philadelphia Area), are awful. No bones about it. They are bad. That Wentz has played as well as he has with basically a college-level unit of pass catchers around him is astounding.
If we were to transplant Shepard into the Eagles' system right now, he would have the second-most receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns on the team by a wide margin. Wentz needs as much help in the passing game as possible, and pairing him with a young, obviously talented wideout like Shepard would be a boon for Doug Pederson's offense.
Ed: You are devising a game plan for the Giants against the Eagles. How would attack them, offensively and defensively?
Adam: Offensively, you're going to want to establish a bit of a run game, but by and large you should be throwing the ball. The Eagles' cornerbacks are susceptible to big plays against talented players -- see Terrelle Pryor, Marvin Jones, Dez Bryant as just a few examples -- and with very thin depth at corner, I'd roll out three-wide receiver sets constantly. Those looks force safety Malcolm Jenkins into slot corner and put Jaylen Watkins at safety, a favorable matchup for most offenses. Then, as obvious as it seems, go to work with Odell Beckham Jr. Keep a running back in for pass protection on most plays, and you should be set.
Defensively, you want to blitz not infrequently, and aim towards the right side of the line. Halapoulivaati Vaitai (fun, right?) has looked better in his last two games, but he's still a huge liability at right tackle as he fills in for Lane Johnson. Wentz's receivers haven't been getting much, if any, separation down field this year. If you don't give Wentz much time to throw his receivers open, you can get him off his game with heavy rushes and pick up a few sacks along the way. The Eagles' run game is effective, but not a killer app. Defend Darren Sproles, and you'll be set.
Ed: Who are a couple of under-the-radar players we might not know much about who could have an impact on Sunday's game?
Adam: On offense, one name to remember is Stefen Wisniewski. With the Eagles' starting left guard, Allen Barbre, likely out on Sunday, Wisniewski will take his turn at left guard. He played well in relief of Barbre against Dallas on Sundaynight, and if the Eagles want to keep Wentz upright and pound the ball through the middle early on, Wisniewski will be a key to those successes.
On defense, Leodis McKelvin is a man to watch. He was beaten early by Dez Bryant on Sunday, but from then on McKelvin more than held his own. You're going to lose a few to a receiver of Bryant's skill. McKelvin made up for those by racking up a handful of impressive pass break-ups and stifling Bryant for a large swath of the game, keeping Dak Prescott uncomfortable until the final two drives of the game. Against OBJ, McKelvin will need another big outing.