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Giants-Eagles: 5 things to watch as Giants try to save their season

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New York Giants v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

“Im my opinion this is the game. We gotta win this game in order to feel like you still have a chance in the division.”

That’s Michael Strahan, legendary, New York Giants Hall of Fame defensive end, on the importance of Thursday night’s NFC East at MetLife Stadium against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

This game is absolutely the season-defining one for the Giants. This game will determine whether or not the Giants can be competitive in the mediocre NFC East or if they will simply spend the rest of the season playing out the string and building toward a hopefully brighter future.

They know it, with tight end Evan Engram saying Tuesday that players are “well aware” of the standings.

Here is Saquon Barkley on tonight’s game:

“I think everyone’s goal is to win a Super Bowl and that’s still in play and in my opinion, if you ask me, like you said I think we’re a game behind in the division and I know I haven’t been in the NFL for a long time, but I think if you win your division, you automatically go into the playoffs, so everything like I said before, that coach Shurmur said a couple weeks ago, everything that we want in our season is still there.”

Here are your NFC East standings entering tonight’s game:

1 - Washington Redskins (2-2)
2 - Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
3 - Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)
4 - New York Giants (1-4)

Shurmur told the team’s official website that looking at the standings “just reinforces that you just keep playing because you never know. You never know where this thing is going to go, so you just can’t get down on yourself, you can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. You just keep worrying about getting better and put a winning effort on the field.”

Here are five things to watch tonight as the Giants try to make themselves relevant in 2018.

Can Olivier Vernon make an impact?

The Giants best EDGE player will make his season debut Thursday night, and the Giants desperately need him to give them something.

The pass rush has been non-existent for the Giants this season. They have a league-worst six sacks and their Adjusted Sack Rate of 3.6 percent is also last in the league. In the Pro Football Focus grading system, the Giants have the league’s 29th-ranked pass rush score.

If the Giants are ever going to generate an impactful pass rush this is a game where it could happen. The Eagles have given up 17 sacks and have an Adjusted Sack Rate allowed of 8.4 percent, worse than the struggling Giants offensive line (16 sacks, 7.8 percent).

The Giants have had virtually no pass rush the past two weeks. If that’s the case Thursday night, the Eagles’ struggling offense could get healthy.

Dealing with those tight ends

Earlier this week, Mark Schofield looked at the myriad ways the Eagles use tight ends in their passing attack. The Eagles have thrown more passes (82) to their tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, than any other team in the league. Ertz leads all tight ends with 58 targets.

Historically, tight ends have cause the Giants trouble in the passing game. This season, Football Outsiders DVOA ratings actually have the Giants ranked seventh in the league in covering tight ends.

Can the Giants control Ertz and Goedert? If they can, that could go a long way toward slowing down the Philadelphia offense.

Which offense will we see?

Will we see the empty the playbook, get the ball down the field Giants who finally cracked the 30-point barrier Sunday against the Carolina Panthers? Or, will we see the Giants revert to the checkdown-oriented complete a lot of passes that go nowhere team that has been so frustrating to watch.

The play of the offensive line vs. and Eagles front that includes Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Chris Long will be critical. The Giants have been improving in pass protection in recent weeks, with coach Pat Shurmur telling the team’s official website they were “much better” in that area vs. the Panthers.

The Giants could have advantages in the passing game against the Philadelphia secondary. Brandon Lee Gowton told us that the Giants targeted cornerback Jalen Mills 21 times in Week 3 of last season. They will probably go after Mills again, if Eli Manning is given time.

Where the Giants have really struggled is in run blocking. The Giants have the league’s highest number of negative running plays, a stat that needs to change to both keep the Giants on schedule and maximize the talents of Saquon Barkley.

Special teams

Can the Giants avoid the Curse of the Game-Ending 60+ yard field goal?” That bit them last year against Jake Elliott and the Eagles (61 yards) and last week when Graham Gano hit a game-ending 63-yarder.

Seriously, though, the Giants do have some things on special teams to figure out. Will Odell Beckham Jr. return punts again? Will it be Jawill Davis? Placekicker Aldrick Rosas is apparently good to go after being on the injury report earlier in the week with a sore quad.

Those throwback uniforms

This isn’t really a thing to watch as much as it is, in my view, a really cool thing to look at, The Giants will be in all-white throwback uniforms with “Giants” on their helmets rather than the lowercase “ny.” Gotta admit, I love it.