The New York Giants have a short week heading into Philadelphia for another divisional matchup on Thursday Night Football, after getting the first win in the Joe Judge era Sundy vs. Washington. The Eagles, who haven’t lost to the Giants since 2016, are 1-4-1 in this fetid NFC East. The Giants are 1-5, coming off a win, and the Eagles will be without star running back Miles Sanders and tight end Zach Ertz.
New York has had struggles playing at Lincoln Financial Field. They haven’t won a game there since a 15-7 victory in week 8 of 2013. Last season, Eli Manning was able to force overtime in Philadelphia, but fell just short on Monday Night Football. The rivalry has been very one sided for too long, and the Giants will look to change that Thursday.
Philadelphia added significant pieces to their defense this offseason. They traded for former Lions’ star cornerback Darius Slay who’s been solid all year, and they added Javon Hargrave from Pittsburgh in free agency. Hargrave joins Fletcher Cox, Hassan Ridgeway, Malik Jackson, and Brandon Graham on a stacked defensive front.
The Eagles defense ranks 22nd in the NFL in opponent rushing yards allowed per game (125), which is oddly a big drop off from last year where they ranked third in the NFL. The Rams, Bengals, and Ravens all rushed for more than 100 yards on the Eagles, albeit the Ravens were mostly due to Lamar Jackson’s dual threat ability, something that Daniel Jones also possesses to some degree. As for their pass defense, the Eagles rank 12th in the NFL (229 YPG). However, outside of the Rams and Steelers game where the Eagles gave up 242 passing yards in both contests, they played Dwayne Haskins, Nick Mullens, a rookie in Joe Burrow, and Lamar Jackson, who averages about 185 passing yards a game.
The strength of this Eagles team is that defensive rotation, and their ability to generate pressure. The Eagles have a total of 124 pressures; for reference, the Giants have 84, the Cowboys have 95, and the Football Team has 91. They generate so much pressure, and they have 21 sacks on the season. The Rams and Steelers are the only teams that average more sacks per game (Steelers played one less game). As for pressures, Brandon Graham has 26, Jackson has 19, Cox has 17, and Derek Barnett has 11. Edge players like Barnett and Sweat have been playing well this season, too.
The Giants offensive line blocking this line will be problematic, but there are liabilities on this defense. Linebackers Nathan Gerry (47) and Duke Riley (50) aren’t great in coverage. Davion Taylor, a rookie third-round linebacker out of Colorado saw his first action against Baltimore. He played 11 snaps, and could be a player to target in zone. These vulnerabilities can be exploited, especially in the intermediate parts of the field versus zone, and in man coverage. Tight ends have been able to torch the Eagles this season, so we could be, I know guys & gals ... we hear this a lot, in for an Evan Engram game.
Tight end touchdowns
The Eagles have struggled on play action passes near the goal line. The vertical release from Robert Woods (17) forces the defender to drop, and the tight end has outside leverage to the field against his defender. These are incredibly tough assignments for defenders to execute well, especially with the play action and vertical traffic from Woods’ route. I can see Kaden Smith falling into the end zone on a play resembling the one above.
Here we see something similar from a tight BUNCH; two vertical releases from the No. 1 and No. 2 receiver, and the No. 3, tight end Tyler Higbee (89) releases into the flat. The Eagles seem to be in zone to the strength, so the outside corner takes the outside release, but it’s still an easy pitch & catch for the Rams, which is helped by Cooper Kupp (10) taking a slight outside release.
This is the third Higbee touchdown from a look that the Giants may utilize. Tight 12 personnel play action tight end leak to the far numbers. Higbee is inline between a tight end and the tackle; the flow of the play is towards the field, and Gerry gets lost trying to read the play action. Higbee easily gets through the traffic and is wide open for a touchdown. A bit of trickery is enough, and all the Giants will have to do is have Gerry hesitate in man, because his athletic ability can be exploited by players like Engram and even Smith.
Engram is not George Kittle, but this simple play design could be helpful for New York in the red zone. To the play side, the running back holds the apex defender and the outside receiver runs a quick pivot to provide a lot of space for the tight end’s 7 route. It’s up to the quarterback to put a high catchable pass in the air for a tight end who should be able to win inside against either Riley or Gerry.
Tight end non-touchdowns
Taking advantage of Gerry in zone coverage with high-low concepts is also a way to get quick yardage. Kittle runs the deep dig against a Cover 3 defense, and the running back releases out of the backfield to hold Gerry from sinking a bit more. Kittle gets himself in between the safety and linebacker for an easy gain. We haven’t seen much Engram on these deep digs, but I hope he’s a part of the game plan in this manner on a short week against Eagles.
This play doesn’t have to be tight ends, but the nature of the play is a great man beater vs. this defense. The pre-snap movement shows Philadelphia is in man coverage. The 49ers are in a tight 2x2 set inside the numbers where Kittle releases outside, and the receiver runs a pivot. Both routes are open in man coverage, and Kittle has a ton of space to beat Cre’Von LeBlanc (34).
New York may have to get creative in order to move the football against Philadelphia. The 49ers came out with this play in 12 personnel, a play I can see the Giants running, if they can have any success establishing the run, albeit the Giants don’t run a lot of stretch. If the Giants can play action to the boundary and get Engram or Smith to the field against Gerry or rookie K’Von Wallace (42), then it could be a nice way to move the chains. Engram hasn’t lived up to his first round pedigree, but I like getting him in space against an inferior athletic defender.
Here are two five man pressure packages from the Eagles, one a success, the other not so much.
LeBlanc gets home for the sack fumble against the 49ers, but the protection is all accounted for by San Francisco. The running back picks up Gerry, but LeBlanc does a good job beating the guard. The Eagles will shift, and twist a lot up front with their defensive line and their blitzing linebackers/corners.
Jones is much faster than Dwayne Haskins, so if the Eagles line up in man coverage and don’t account for Jones, it could lead to another 40 plus yard run from Jones. The end man on the line of scrimmage to the field loops to the opposite A-Gap, and it’s handled well by the Football Team’s offensive line. The offensive line seals the edge and the 3x1 set all goes inside, which leads to the running lane. The Eagles love blitzing some of their linebackers and defensive backs, so the Giants’ protection package must be ready. Dion Lewis has been very good in pass protection and picking up the blitz, and the Giants will need better play from their tackle positions. Communication is key.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been known for his aggressive blitzing. He was among one of the more aggressive blitzers during the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl run, but with a younger more unproven secondary, he hasn’t blitzed as much. I hope they blitz Jones because the young signal caller has success when the blitz is recognized. Since the Giants lack superior skill position players, I can see Schwartz attempting to blitz on third and short situations early on, and then adjust his defense depending on how the blitzing works.
The Eagles will use quarters coverage, man in short yardage, Cover 3 cloud and buzz. They’re vulnerable in 2-High Cover 2, middle of the field open, which we saw against Pittsburgh, but I don’t think we’ll see as much against the Giants, due to New York’s lack of deep threats on the outside.
Darius Slay has been targeted the most of all cornerbacks, and he’s the best of the group. If Darius Slayton plays, then there should be a lot of Big Play Slay vs. Big Play Slayton. The rest of the corners are beatable. LeBlanc, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Avante Maddox (who has missed several games) haven’t had the best of seasons. Maddox is probably the best of the three, but he missed the game against Baltimore and may not play Thursday. The issue for the Giants is skill at the wide receiver spot; New York may have to play two 2020 undrafted rookies on Thursday.
Jalen Mills is the Eagles strong safety who played outside corner against Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Mills is now back at safety, and the Eagles love to use three safeties. There will be a lot of Mills, Rodney McLoud, and Will Parks, with some Wallace sprinkled in, if he’s active. The way to win through the air consistently is to attack the short/intermediate parts of the field, where these linebackers play.
The Giants offensive line will have its hands full against this Eagles pass rush. Running the football, on the road, against this team may be difficult, so the Giants may have to rely on quick passes to set up, hopefully, deep shots that can have success. Pre-snap movement from the Giants to switch assignments and help identify the Eagles coverage could assist Jones with attacking the defense. If the Eagles choose to bring pressure, it is imperative that it’s picked up, and that Jones finds the hot receiver, or the receiver who won at the line of scrimmage, and gets rid of the football. The Eagles are a struggling football team, as is New York, but this would be a huge momentum type win if Joe Judge and Co. can pull this upset off.