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Giants-Eagles key matchup: The Giants’ interior OL vs. Eagles’ defensive tackles

Can the Giants hold up in the middle?

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the quirks of the New York Giants 2020 schedule they are facing five divisional games in six weeks. This week the Giants are facing the Philadelphia Eagles, a team the Giants saw just three weeks ago, coming off their bye week.

Rather than taking the time to break down an opponent we just saw, and who have only played one game since they last played the Giants, we’re going to be taking a look at one key match-up. There are a number of potential match-ups across the Giants’ offense around which the game could pivot.

We could watch the matchup between wide receiver Darius Slayton and cornerback Darius Slay. Or we could look at Andrew Thomas and Cam Fleming against Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett on the edges. Both of those could be crucial match-ups for both teams and could well determine the flow of the game. But I want to take a look right at the middle of the field and the matchup between the Giants’ interior offensive line and the Eagle’s defensive tackles.

This is a relevant matchup for a couple reasons. The first is that the Giants activated starting left guard Will Hernandez from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, and if he is inserted back into the offensive line, the Giants will once again have their starting group.

The other reason is that the Eagles might have gotten starting defensive tackle Malik Jackson back from injury — a player the Giants didn’t face in their Week 8 meeting on Thursday Night Football. Neither Cox nor Jackson are young players, Cox will be 30 in December and Jackson is 30, however both are still very athletic and capable of wrecking an offenses day. Jackson is still listed as “questionable” as of this writing after being limited in Philadelphia’s Wednesday practice. The Giants, however, should be treating Jackson as though he will be playing and we will as well.

His best game of the season came in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens when he had four tackles, two for a loss, a sack, and two quarterback hits. Jackson has been struggling with a quadriceps injury, but when he is healthy he still has a dangerous burst into the backfield.

Here we see Jackson (No. 97) line up as a 2-technique heads up over the left guard. Jackson is initially unblocked this play, with the left guard pulling to the outside to block the right defensive end while the left tackle works up to the second level. Just before the play starts, Baltimore motions 300-pound fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard into the H-back position behind the right side of the line. His job is to come over and account for the left A-gap, however Jackson is simply too quick off the snap. The defensive tackle shows a strong first step and great snap timing to fire off the ball and Jackson is able to get through the line of scrimmage to make the tackle for a loss before the fullback can get there. The play was blocked up fairly well elsewhere, and had Jackson been picked up, running back Gus Edwards would only have had to beat a safety for a nice gain.

As disruptive as Malik Jackson is capable of being, the player who must command the most attention is Fletcher Cox. Cox has been creating havoc for the Eagles’ defensive front for years now and he remains a disruptive player against the run and the pass.

Cox is lined up as the left defensive tackle over the right B-gap, an alignment he frequently mans in the Eagles’ defense. The Giants are able to block him initially, with Cam Flemming and Kevin Zeitler getting hip-to-hip to shut down the gap. Cox, however, shows off both his technique to keep from being engaged by the Giants blockers as well as his athleticism to move laterally and navigate the chaos around the line of scrimmage.

He does a very good job of getting into the backfield just before left guard Will Hernandez meets him on the pull. Cox is once again able to keep the Giants’ blocker from engaging and makes the tackle in the backfield. His power, explosiveness, athleticism, and technique all combine to make Cox a tough match-up for any blocker — or three blockers in this case.

The match-up between the Giants’ interior and the Eagles’ defensive tackles could be important for one additional reason.

The Eagles saw Daniel Jones’ ability to run first-hand when he nearly broke a long touchdown run on a read-option play. That play likely figured into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game plan the following week, which saw them playing a more containment-oriented game on the edges while being very aggressive attacking the interior gaps. While the Buccaneers played a sloppy game of their own, that was one of Jones’ worst performances as a starting quarterback. Pressure through the interior gaps can be devastating for any quarterback, and Jones is no different.

Turnovers and mistakes have been the bane of the Giants through the first half of the season. The Giants are still figuring out how to limit them, but it’ll be that much harder if they don’t first figure out a way to keep the Eagles’ defensive tackles from getting into their backfield.