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Giants vs. Eagles: 5 things to watch as Giants try to end Philly Follies

What do the Giants need to do to win on Sunday?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New York Giants
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For the better part of the last decade, the New York Giants have generally turned into an NFL version of the Bad News Bears at the sight of the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Giants’ improbable dream of an 8-0 second half of the season and a playoff berth is to continue they have to go to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday and put an end to their Philly Follies.

Let’s look at 5 things to watch as the Giants try to do that.

That depleted Eagles’ secondary

The Philadelphia secondary is a mess. Safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Ronard Darby are on IR. Cornerbacks Rasul Douglas (knee/ankle), Sidney Jones (hamstring), Avonte Maddox (knee/ankle) and Jalen Mills (foot) could all miss Sunday’s game.

In our ‘5 questions’ segment, Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation had this to say about the Eagles’ secondary:

The Eagles’ secondary has been absolutely ravaged by injury. Starting cornerback Ronald Darby is out for the year with a torn ACL. Starting cornerback Jalen Mills is likely to be out with a foot injury. Third cornerback Sidney Jones has a hamstring injury and won’t play this week. Fourth cornerback Rasul Douglas is dealing with an injury issue and might not play on Sunday. Ditto for rookie starting safety / nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox.

Against the Giants, the Eagles might be down to undrafted rookie free agent Chandon Sullivan and practice squad player De’Vante Bausby starting on the outside with recently acquired Cre’Von LeBlanc starting in the slot. None of those players were even on Philadelphia’s roster on October 24.

I just don’t see those guys standing much of a chance of containing OBJ and the rest of the Giants’ receiving corps.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson this week acknowledged the makeshift state of his secondary.

“It’s a tough situation to be in. Again, it goes back to we’re not going to make any excuses for it. It is what it is. We embrace it, and we still have to go play,” said Pederson.

Coming off a season-high 38-point game during which Eli Manning was a career-best 17-of-18 (94.4 percent) will the Giants be able to take advantage?

The running game

For much of the year the Giants have been an explosive running team but an inefficient one. SB Nation’s advanced statistics highlight this dichotomy, showing the Giants first in the NFL is marginal rushing explosiveness but 30th in rushing efficiency.

During the last two weeks, though, with improved run blocking and rookie running back Saquon Barkley heading pleas to hit holes harder and stay longer with the designed path for running plays that has changed.

In their two victories the Giants have gained 260 yards on 54 carries (4.8 yards per carry). Barkley gained 142 yards on 27 carries (both career highs) vs. the Buccaneers and earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

While the Giants appear to be figuring out how to establish an impactful running game, the Eagles’ vaunted front has somehow struggled to contain the run.

After not allowing more than 77 yards rushing in any of their first five games, the Eagles have allowed 121 or more in four of their last five games. In the past two weeks Philadelphia gave up 171 rushing yards to the Washington Redskins and 173 to the New Orleans Saints.

Winning in Philly?

The Giants have lost 17 of their last 22 games against the Eagles, including four straight and eight of the last nine. They haven’t beaten the Eagles in Philly since 2013. They are currently 6-point underdogs.

Lots of bad things have happened in Philly in recent years.

  • 2017: Losing a game on a last-second 61-yard field goal.
  • 2014: Victor Cruz tearing his patellar tendon in a 27-0 loss.
  • 2012: Trailing 19-17 the Giants drive to the Eagles’ 26-yard line. With 25 seconds left an offensive pass interference call pushes the ball back 10 yards. Lawrence Tynes is short on a 54-yard game-winning field goal attempt. The Giants finish 9-7, and this blunder costs them a playoff berth.

Pat Shurmur, in his first year as Giants coach, wasn’t involved in any of that history from the Giants side and didn’t want to hear about it when asked this week.

“Last time we played them, I know exactly why they beat us. We didn’t do anything that you need to do against any type of team to win. We turned the ball over, we gave them big plays, we just didn’t play well enough to beat any team, so we have to fix that,” Shurmur said. “That’s more about us. Going back to it, we can’t turn the ball over, pick six early in the game. We did a lot of things where you go, ‘Ugh, now I see why we didn’t (win).’ That’s more about us and less about them.”

Still, Giants vs. Eagles has largely been a one-side rivalry for the past decade.

“We’re trying to win this game this week against this opponent. I’m not using it as a measuring stick,” Shurmur said. “We’re doing what we can to win this game.”

Impact of the tight ends

This is a two-way street, affecting the Giants on both offense and defense.

For the Giants’ offense, neither Evan Engram nor Rhett Ellison played in the Week 6 game against the Eagles. On the Giants’ second offensive play, Manning threw an interception on a pass intended for No. 3 tight end Scott Simonson. The presence of both regular tight ends should help open up the middle of the field and present more headaches for that injury-ravaged Eagles’ secondary.

“We’re playing better football right now. We’re finishing drives, we’re – I think after a short week, we had some guys banged up with Evan (Engram) and Rhett (Ellison) at the tight end position, so I think also just with some receivers that we added since then,” Manning said. “I think we’re running the ball better than we did so I feel like we’re playing better football, but we got to continue doing that. They’re a good team, they’re a good defense, they got a good front four and they’re a little banged up in the secondary, but they’ll have a good plan and we just got to go execute.”

For the Giants’ defense, handling the tight end is always a concern. Zach Ertz had seven catches in nine targets for 43 yards and a score against the Giants. Two weeks ago, George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers had nine catches in 10 targets. Last week, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers combined for seven catches for 94 yards in nine targets.

“Zach is a target of choice for good reason. He’s an outstanding player. They exploit matchups well, they target him even in situations where he’s covered, he’s a tall receiver,” Shurmur said. “He and Carson (Wentz) can play above the rim with high throws on shorter safety/linebacker-type guys in coverage. It’s just the way it plays out.”

Matchup to watch: Jamon Brown vs. Fletcher Cox

Handing the Eagles’ front is always a concern for the Giants, and the best player in that group for Philadelphia is left defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a Pro Bowler three consecutive seasons. Cox has four sacks and 18 quarterback hits, two shy of his career high for QB hits in a season.

The last time the teams met Patrick Omameh was the right guard. Cox had a sack, six tackles and three hits on Eli Manning. Omameh is now a backup with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the right guard for the Giants is Jamon Brown.

A Los Angeles Rams castoff awarded to the Giants on waivers, Brown has started two games. They just happen to be the best two games the Giants’ offensive line has played this season.

Sunday, Brown gets primary responsibility for controlling Cox. A 25-year-old fourth-year pro, Brown has been widely lauded for his play to date with the Giants. Dealing with Cox will be his biggest test as a Giant.

“He’s (Brown) a good player and he’s done a good job for us, but I think that group as a whole is playing better together,” Shurmur said of the offensive line.