We have already begun to turn the page over to the 2020 off-season, but there is still one more game to be played. This Sunday the New York Giants will be hosting the Philadelphia Eagles in one last NFC East showdown.
For the Giants there is little more than pride at stake as they try to end a disappointing season on a high note, but for the Eagles the NFC East and a trip to the play-offs are on the line. As we heard about every 3 minutes when these two teams met three weeks ago, if the Eagles win, they win the NFC East and they’re in the play-offs.
The Eagles’ roster has been depleted by injury (severely so, at some positions) but they are a well-coached team fighting for their play-off lives. What can the Giants’ defense expect to see from their division rivals?
Stats At A Glance
Keys To The Game
Discipline defending running backs
The last time these two teams played, the Giants’ defense was shredded by then-unknown second year running back Boston Scott. Scott only ran the ball 10 times, but still averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored a rushing touchdown.
It was Scott’s second start and by far the largest workload of his career to that point, but Scott proved to be a very difficult player to defend. He is able to use his stature (5-feet, 6 inches, 203 pounds) and quickness to hide behind run blockers, make would-be tacklers miss and accelerate to pick up chunk yardage. While it would be incredibly premature to compare Scott to Darren Sproles, he is a similar back with a similar game — and that play style that can be very dangerous.
Miles Sanders remains the Eagles’ primary running back, averaging roughly 18 carries per game over the last month. Sanders is (a bit) bigger than Scott, and brings a stronger and more explosive running style. The two backs compliment each other and make for a difficult combination to defend. Defending the two backs is going to take discipline first and foremost. Giants defenders will need to be sound in their gap integrity and sound in their tackling form. Scott can exploit bad angles or missed assignments while Sanders can run through them. At the very least, the first defender to meet the running back needs to slow them down long enough for the rest of the defense to rally to the ball.
There is also the wild-card of a potential Jordan Howard return. Howard has been out since suffering a stinger back in week 9 and when healthy he is a very good runner, as well as receiver. While he might not return as the starter, his presence would give an injury-depleted offense another weapon and more options.
Don’t let a depleted receiving corps beat you
As it stands now, the Eagles only have four wide receivers likely to play in this game, and one of them, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, is dealing with a foot injury after last week’s win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants’ secondary is coming off of a rough performance against the Washington Redskins rookie receiving corps, but the good news is that Philly doesn’t have anyone like Terry McLaurin to torment the Giants’ defensive backs. Their “number one” receiver will likely be first year player Greg Ward, who saw his first action three weeks ago against the Giants. Since then he has seen his role — and production — increase in each game.
Nothing is given, especially when dealing with rookie defensive backs, but this is a game in which the Giants’ bevy of young corners should be able to match up and play with confidence.
Of course, life is rarely so simple and how the Eagles use their running backs in the passing game. Last game Scott caught the ball six times (6 targets) for 69 yards, Sanders caught the ball four times (5 targets) for 24 yards and Howard had 10 receptions prior to being injured.
As we should expect from Andy Reid’s former offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson is very good at getting running backs involved in the passing game. Sanders is Philly’s third-leading receiver (behind Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert) and Boston Scott is fourth among players who will be active. The Giants should not only be prepared for screens and swing passes, but also the running backs to attack them at the second level and try to find open space in zone coverage.
Be prepared for 12-personnel
There’s good news and there’s bad news here. The good news (for the Giants) is that Zach Ertz suffered fractured ribs against the Dallas Cowboys and might not play. He went back in the game last week and is lobbying hard to take the field in a game which will decide the winner of the NFC East, but broken ribs are broken ribs. Not only will doing much of anything be painful, there is always the risk of further (and serious) injury.
The bad news is that the Giants struggle against pretty much any tight end.
The further bad news is that Philly uses their tight ends a lot — like, a lot a lot.
No team in the NFL uses 12-personnel (one back, two tight ends) more than the Philadelphia Eagles, and it isn’t really close. Per SharpFootballStats, the Eagles have used 12 personnel 464 times this year, or 49 percent of their offensive snaps — they’ve used 11-personnel 447 times (47 percent). To put that in perspective, the next most frequent user of 12-personnel is the Minnesota Vikings, who have used it 312 times this year (36 percent of their offensive snaps).
While Ertz is injured, Dallas Goedert is still a dangerous offensive weapon and the Eagles’ second-leading receiver. Regardless of whether or not Ertz plays, the Giants will also likely get to see a fair amount of TE Joshua Perkins, who caught five passes against them last time, and newly re-signed veteran Richard Rodgers. Rodgers has mostly been a back-up over the course of his six-year career, but as a 12-game starter for the Packers in 2015 he caught 58 passes and 8 touchdowns, so he is a player to be aware of as well.
All told, while the Giants’ secondary matches up well against Philly’s depleted receiving corps, their offense will likely be run though the tight end and running back positions. The Giants’ struggles against tight ends are well-documented, and a well-used running back can be difficult for any defense to deal with. The Giants should prepare — and game plan — to be attacked at the linebacker and safety positions.