The New York Giants‘ defense is riding high after the past two weeks. First they held the Dallas Cowboys, to a single touchdown on a busted coverage. Then last week they held the red-hot Detroit Lions to just six points, with a trio of potential big-play touchdowns being prevented by big plays from Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Leon Hall.
They don’t get much time to celebrate their victory, with just four days to turn the page and move on to the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the immortal words of Han Solo...
Stop The Run
The Eagles will be getting a pair of players back who can only serve to make their offense more dangerous. Lane Johnson will be Philly’s starting right tackle after returning from a 10-game suspension for PEDs. Returning in a short week that likely precludes a true practice is a difficult position, but the Giants need to treat him as though he hasn’t missed a beat all season.
Likewise, the Eagles will be getting scat-back extraordinaire Darren Sproles back from a concussion. Sproles is both a slippery running back and one of the best receiving backs in the league. With the Eagles’ weakness at the receiver position, the Giants will need to focus on stopping the run first. This is doubly true after RB Ryan Matthews went off for nearly 130 yards Sunday against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense as the additions of Sproles and Johnson can only make that running game more dangerous. With Carson Wentz’s play declining from the torrid pace he set to start the season, the Giants can’t let the Eagles keep their offense on track and ahead of the chains on the ground.
Between the play of linebackers Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas, and the revelation that has been Landon Collins, the Giants have improved against tight ends over previous years. However, they still rank 28th in the league (per Football Outsiders) against tight ends — Though to be fair, part of that is due to the play of their cornerbacks. The Giants rank second in the league against No. 1 receivers, eighth in the league against No. 2 receivers, eighth in the league against all other receivers, and third in the league against running backs.
Ertz has had a definite uptick in opportunities and production since the start of December. Over the last three weeks, he has had six receptions for 80 yards, 10 for 112, and nine for 79 and a touchdown.
Ertz, and Jordan Matthews, have been Wentz’s primary options for moving the ball through the air. If the Giants can force the ball into Wentz’s hands and know where it is likely to go, that will go a long way to containing the Eagles’ offense.
Bring The Heat
Remember when the Giants simply couldn’t get to the quarterback? They pressured quarterbacks as well as nearly any team in the NFL, but they just could not seem to convert that pressure into sacks.
Then the defense started to gel. The defensive line as a unit played better as the year has progressed and growing confidence in the Giants’ young safeties let Steve Spagnuolo design and call audacious and effective blitzes.
Meanwhile, Carson Wentz’s play cratered against the Baltimore Ravens when pressured. Of his 45 dropbacks in that week, Wentz was pressured on 12 of them, and responded with a passer rating of 8.3.
Blitzing, by its very nature, puts stress on the secondary to hold up in coverage with fewer players available. At this point it seems unlikely that his bruised back will allow Janoris Jenkins to play Thursday night, and his absence could force the Giants to rely less on the blitz. As well, the loss of Jason Pierre-Paul could make getting pressure with just the front four problematic against the Eagles’ talented trio of LT Jason Peters, C Jason Kelce, and RT Lane Johnson. The Giants will need players like Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa to continue to step up in JPP’s absence, as well as their secondary to stay strong so Spags can continue to bring the blitz.