As the New York Giants head into Week 3, it almost feels like the season is already on the line. While at 0-2, the Giants are technically only a game behind the three other teams in the division, another divisional loss would be a huge set back. 0-3 teams also make the playoffs roughly just two percent of the time, so if the Giants still fancy themselves as contenders, a win in Philadelphia might be needed.
Last year the defense carried this team to the playoffs, but it hasn’t shown that type of production yet. They get an Eagles team that still appears to be getting comfortable with some of the new pieces brought in during the offseason. Here’s what to look at on that side of the ball on Sunday.
By The Numbers
Rushing Yards: 133.5 per game (28th), 4.2 yards per carry (t-20th)
Passing Yards: 191 per game (ninth), 6.5 yards per attempt (14th)
Total Yards: 324.5 per game (18th), 5.1 yards per play (t-15th)
Points: 21.5 per game (15th), 1.89 points per drive (19th)
Rushing Yards: 82.5 per game (21st), 4.0 yards per attempt (t-12th)
Passing Yards: 289.5 per game (third), 7.5 yards per attempt (seventh)
Total Yards: 381 per game (fifth), 5.7 yards per play (eighth)
Points: 25 per game (10th), 1,95 points per drive (12th
Status of Janoris Jenkins
If you ever hear someone say players can’t change the type of players they are, point them in the direction of Janoris Jenkins. Maybe he’s an exception, but the player Jenkins was in his first year with the Giants was a much more patient, disciplined, technical cornerback than he was in his final year with the Rams and that made him one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Per Football Outsiders charting, Jenkins had the 10th-best yards per pass allowed among 82 cornerbacks targeted at least 40 times last season and he was third in Success Rate.
When Jenkins is on the field, it completely changes how the Giants can play defense and gives him the argument as the most important singular piece on the defense because of how much has to change if he’s off the field. He can either follow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver or he can shut down an entire side of the field if there’s no one worthy of shadowing. With Jenkins on the field, the Giants can go three-deep at cornerback and match up easily against 11 personnel (three wide receivers) for any opposing offense. Without Jenkins, though, -- he was inactive for Monday’s game and did not practice Thursday -- the secondary changes. That leaves bigger responsibilities for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (something he can handle) and Eli Apple (something he’s struggled with).
Apple’s rookie season was generally looked at favorably, though his charting metrics were not very kind. Among those 82 corners, Apple ranked 80th in yards allowed per pass and 74th in Success Rate. Those numbers haven’t improved through two games in 2017. Apple has been picked on over the first two games, tied for the third-most targets among cornerbacks with 17. There have been 36 corners targeted at least 10 times this season and Apple ranks 26th in yards allowed per pass, but 35th in Success Rate, above only Minnesota’s Trae Waynes.
The Eagles have three wide receivers they can go to in Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor. Detroit had that ability too, though they stayed away from stretching the defense for much of the game. That might be because the Lions didn’t prepare all week for Jenkins to be out and stuck mostly to their original game plan. But Philadelphia will be able to prepare like Jenkins won’t be on the field, so there could be a lot of passing all over the field for the Eagles to test the Giants’ corners.
Zach Ertz, Another Tight End
NFC East teams grow tight ends from the ground just to exploit matchups against the Giants. Or at least that’s what the Giants must feel like with every divisional opponent sporting a more than capable tight end in the passing game. While Zach Ertz hasn’t been the touchdown scorer like Jason Witten or Jordan Reed, he’s turned into one of Carson Wentz’s most trusted receivers at any part of the field. Through two games he’s second on the team in targets behind Jeffrey and leads the team in receiving yards, even if you ignore his deflected 53-yard catch at the end of the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. Through two weeks, Ertz leads all tight ends in Football Outsiders’ DYAR and the Giants, unsurprisingly are 20th in DVOA defending opposing tight ends. They’re one of four teams to already give up multiple touchdowns to the tight end position and of 15 targets to tight ends against the Giants, 13 have been completed.
The Screen Game
The Eagles were almost comically bad at screen passes to the running back against the Chiefs in Week 2. Typically, it’s an easy completion that gets a back into some space, ideally with blockers in front. That’s great when the team’s running back is a player like Darren Sproles, who excels in space. But with some timing issues and pressure from the defensive line -- screens are supposed to allow defenders to get through unblocked, but this was legitimate pressure -- the Eagles couldn’t connect with screens when they were trying to move the ball in the fourth quarter. One screen attempt even turned into an interception.
Moving The Ball
The Eagles haven’t been a great offense so far, but one thing they have been able to do through two weeks is avoid three-and-outs. Philadelphia has the fewest three-and-outs per drive of any team in the NFL with just two in their 22 offensive drives. Meanwhile, the Giants have gone three-and-out on a third of their offensive drives this season, which ranks 29th. The Eagles are 13th in yards per drive and 12th in points per drive, so while they’re not converting everything into points, they’re doing enough to avoid quick offensive series. Against a defense that’s still keeping their top two edge rushers on the field for 90-plus percent of plays, that ability to keep the ball moving could come into play late to wear down Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Progression of Carson Wentz
Of course everything on the Philadelphia offense really comes down to how much Carson Wentz has progressed from his first to second year in the league. While there’s been some spectacular plays thrown in -- the deep touchdown to Nelson Agholor in Week 1 stands out -- there’s still been a mixed bag when it comes to Wentz.
While Wentz has improved in the intermediate part of his game, he’s still struggling with deep accuracy. He’s completed just seven of 22 deep passes (15 or more yards down the field), which is not a high success rate for a quarterback going deep that often. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, no quarterback is averaging a deeper pass than Wentz, while there were only seven qualified quarterbacks who threw shorter than Wentz last season. He’s also averaged the longest time to throw among quarterbacks, though much of that has been his ability to escape pressure and attempt throws outside the pocket. Per Football Outsiders, the Eagles are allowing pressure at the second-highest rate in the league -- an astounding 41.4 percent. Only the Seattle Seahawks (42.3 percent) have allowed more through two weeks.