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Giants vs. Eagles: Five things to watch on Sunday

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What will change on offense? Can Giants get off to a better start? More questions

NFL: International Series-New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams
Will Giants fans enjoy what they see on Sunday?
Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Can the 4-3 New York Giants make a run to the playoffs, a place they haven’t visited since the 2011 season, over the final nine games? A victory on Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles would be a good place to start.

Let’s look at five things to watch that might help determine whether or not the Giants get that victory.

Changes on offense?

Something, maybe several somethings, has to change for the Giants’ underwhelming offense. We have been examining the possibilities ever since the Giants began their bye week following a Week 7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

So, what is it going to be? More Paul Perkins at running back? Jerell Adams at tight end? More Odell Beckham in the slot? Less “11” personnel? More variety in the play-calling? Or, just more of the same?

We find out Sunday afternoon.

Here is a brief look at a couple of the issues the Giants had in the run game Week 7 vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

Lady Luck?

Something about the Eagles always seems to bring out the worst in the Giants. Philadelphia has won the last four meetings between the two teams, and 13 of the past 16.

Bad things keep happening against the Eagles. Victor Cruz wrecks his knee. Matt Dodge punts to DeSean Jackson. That Joe Pisarcik fumble thing that happened way back in the Wilderness Years.

One of these days the Giants actually have to have some things go their way against the Eagles? Don’t they?

Will the waves come crashing in?

Yes, I’m going for a bit of imagery here. The Eagles are third in the league with 22 sacks. Eighteen of those, from eight different players, have come from defensive linemen. They bring pass rushers in waves. The Giants have kept Eli Manning safe thus far by having him get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.

We have analyzed the matchup between the much-maligned Giants’ offensive line and the Eagles’ ferocious pass rush a number of ways throughout the week:

With all of that reading material at your disposal I’m not going to try to offer more deep analysis. One, note, though. Another key matchup to watch will be Eagles’ defensive end Brandon Graham (tied for the team high sacks with 4, leading the league in pressures by an edge rusher with 41) vs. second-year right tackle Bobby Hart. Or Marshall Newhouse if he is back in the lineup. No matter who is over there, he will have his hands full.

Will the Giants set their watches correctly?

Clocks go back an hour Saturday night, and that might be an issue for the Giants. They have been having enough trouble in recent weeks figuring out when they were supposed to begin playing.

In each of their last two games, they fell behind, 10-0, before waking up, getting to work and going on to wins games they had to have to remain relevant in the evenly-matched NFC East. They fell behind the Green Bay Packers, 17-6, at halftime of a Week 5 loss and trailed the Minnesota Vikings 14 3 in a Week 4.

They fumbled on their very first play in a Week 6 game against the Baltimore Ravens, and were patient enough to wait two plays to do so Week 7 vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

That sort of sleep-walking through the beginning part of games is not going to fly if the Giants truly want to make a playoff run. Let’s see if the Giants are actually awake when kickoff comes at 1 pm. ET on Sunday.

Can Giants stack up on special teams?

Using its DVOA statistics (explained here) Football Outsiders ranks the Eagles’ special teams as the best in football. For comparison, FO ranks the Giants No. 12 overall. I don’t have to remind any Giants’ fan that special teams play has been the difference in games between these two teams before.

“They have a very good core and they have good returners. Darren Sproles is excellent,” Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said of the Eagles. “They have a good scheme, good coach and good players. They’ve had a pretty consistent core, too. A lot of the same guys. They’re good players. It’ll be a good challenge.”

The Eagles are first in the league with an average of 37.3 yards per kickoff return, with two of their 11 returns going for touchdowns. Of course, the Eagles cut primary kickoff return man Josh Huff this week. Wendell Smallwood, however, is averaging 46.3 yards on three returns, including an 86-yard touchdown. There is also Darren Sproles, who can return both kickoffs and punts.

Punter Brad Wing is averaging 48.0 yards per punt, and his net average of 40.7 yards in nearly two full yards better than a season ago.

The Giants are averaging 27.0 yards per return, third in the league. Both teams have 10 returns of more than 20 yards, the Giants simply have not yet hit the home run on a return.

Robbie Gould will be in his second game as the Giants’ placekicker, and the 12-year veteran has been able to go through his first full week of practice with the team.