Every year there are a few games that get circled on the New York Giants schedule. And every year one of them is their road game against division rival Philadelphia Eagles.
Last year Giants fans might have thought they had a great opportunity to finally beat the Eagles on the road, but the Philadelphia’s injury-ravaged roster came together enough for a 23-17 win in overtime. The Giants will once again face an Eagles offense that has been hit hard by injury, but after the Giants can’t afford to take them lightly after that offense put up 22 fourth quarter points on the Baltimore Ravens.
So what does the Giants’ defense have to get ready for in Philly on a short week of prep?
The injury question
We can’t really talk about the Eagles’ offense without starting with their injury situation. Philly has (once again) been ravaged by injury so far in 2020. As it stands now, they’ve had to work around a new offensive line group nearly every game of the season and currently have just one projected starter still remaining on their offensive line (center Jason Kelce ).
By the end of Week 6, the Eagles’ offensive line consisted of:
- Jordan Mailata (left tackle)
- Nate Herbig (left guard)
- Jason Kelce (center)
- Jamon Brown (right guard)
- Brett Toth (right tackle)
At the start of the season, Mailata, Herbig, and Toth hadn’t played an NFL snap and Brown (a former Giant) was a free agent.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have been playing without wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Jalen Reagor, as well as tight end Dallas Goedert. Philly also lost starting tight end Zach Ertz and running back Miles Sanders in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Eagles might have been a good team this year and running away with an embarrassingly putrid NFC East division. But as Giants fans well know (from the injury riddled years of 2012 through 2017), when the injury bug mauls a team and wipes out entire depth charts, it is difficult to do much of anything.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Carson Wentz has had a disappointing season. On tape there are glimpses of the quarterback we know Wentz to be, but the patchwork offense around him makes it all but impossible for him to execute at a consistently high level. Whether it is backup receivers dropping balls or having to dodge waves of pass rushers bursting into the backfield, Wentz has had to battle his own teammates nearly as much as opposing defenses. That has led to what has been a terrible statistical season by his standards.
That being said, he is still capable of going off and hurting defenses that don’t take him seriously. The Eagles nearly snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat against the Ravens on the back of a 22-point offensive outburst, which was largely driven by Wentz and his connection with emerging receiver Travis Fulgham.
It’s also worth noting that Philly could start getting healthy this week. Reagor and Goedert are both eligible to return from the injured reserve this week. Likewise, Pederson expressed optimism that Lane Johnson, DeSean Jackson, and Alshon Jeffery could all return this week. Each was upgraded to “limited practice” in Tuesday’s injury report, but their status for Thursday night isn’t clear as of this writing.
While Philly’s offense would still have a number of holes, getting a starting offensive tackle and their starting receivers back would be welcome news for Wentz and change the calculus for the Giants’ defense.
The rise of Travis Fulgham
The Eagles have struggled through injuries over the last two seasons. But while that has hamstring their playoff aspirations, it has opened the door for unheralded players. Last year that was running back Boston Scott, who came from nowhere to gash the Giants' defense.
This year it's second-year wide receiver Travis Fulgham.
Fulgham was originally drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, but was waived during training camp.
He was quickly claimed by the Green Bay Packers, but released again nine days later. This time he was claimed by the Eagles and has risen to become their best weapon through the air.
Fulgham has good size at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds to go with decent athleticism, route running, and reliable hands. He has quickly become a vital piece for the Eagles’ offense, lining up all over their formation. Over the last two weeks Fulgham has lined up on the left and right side of the offense, as an X or flanker, as a slot receiver, and even in the backfield. The Eagles quickly adapted to run their offense through Fulgham and have worked to create matchups and opportunities for him. We will likely see James Bradberry shadowing Fulgham across the field, but Philadelphia’s willingness to use him in every position could put Bradberry in uncomfortable positions or create conflicts in the Giants’ secondary.
Things get more complicated if Jackson, Jeffery Reagor are able to return. That would give the Eagles athletic playmakers to stress the defense vertically while they move Fulgham around to create matchups.
Keep an eye on Jalen Hurts
One of the big surprises of the 2020 NFL Draft was the Eagles selection of Oklahoma (née Alabama) quarterback Jalen Hurts. On one hand, the selection of Hurts is in line with the Eagles' past philosophy of investing in the backup quarterback position. They had previously invested in Kevin Kolb and Nick Files, the latter of which paid off with a pair of post-season runs and a Super Bowl trophy.
But on the other hand, Philly has a young franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz. They had just signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million contract extension in 2019. Philly has an aging roster with some noteworthy thin spots, and a second-round pick is generally expected to be a core piece.
And under most circumstances, teams hope their backup quarterback isn't a contributor.
Increasingly over recent weeks, the Eagles have been finding ways to straddle that line.
They've been able to do so because Hurts is a different kind of quarterback from Wentz. It isn't exactly accurate to say that Hurts is a running quarterback, but rather a "Dual Threat" at the quarterback position. As a prospect, his game combined both his arm and his legs, using one to open up the defense for the other.
Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson has always featured Run-Pass Option (RPO) plays in his offense. The addition of Hurts has allowed him to add true read-option plays to their offense and stress defenses in different ways.
Read-option plays allow an offense to isolate one defender, put him in assignment conflict, then make him wrong. There are, obviously was for defenses to defend read-option plays, but they are all predicted on patience and discipline.
The Eagles have also begun expanding on those plays, at times leaving both quarterbacks on the field at the same time.
While having a second quarterback on the field removes a skill position player, it gives the defense a second distributor to keep track of. It can also open up a number of options for an offense to stress an over-aggressive defense.
The Eagles haven't made heavy use of Hurts yet. However, they're a team that believes they should be in playoff contention. They could look deeper in their playbook to try and catch the Giants by surprise on a short week of preparation.