Let’s get to the nitty-gritty, to the ABCs of Sunday’s New York Giants-Philadelphia Eagles NFC East clash.
A is for ... Austin: Austin Mack had 4 receptions for a team-high 72 yards Sunday against Washington in his best day as a pro. The undrafted free agent out of Ohio State has impressed coach Joe Judge.
“The thing about Austin is this guy gets better every day. He’s been that way since day one. We started on the Zoom calls back in the spring. He’s a guy who’s on the first one signed in, he asked questions early to clean up material. He’s always looking for extra work. He’s a guy who leaves the field last. He’s always got a smile on his face. He takes hard coaching really well,” Judge said. “Ball comes his way, he’s a productive with it.”
Mack could be up again this week with the news of Golden Tate’s knee injury.
B is for ... Boston: New York sports fans have a new reason to hate Boston. Boston Scott, that is. Scott is the running back who caught the game-winning touchdown pass for Philadelphia in the Eagles’ Week 6 victory over the Giants.
C is for ... Crowder: Tae Crowder, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury, is back to practice this week. Crowder, the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2020 draft, had emerged as a starting inside linebacker before his injury. Crowder, though, remains on IR and thus won’t play against the Eagles.
D is for ... Domination: The Eagles have dominated this rivalry in recent seasons. Philadelphia has beaten the Giants eight straight times and 12 of the last 13. Sunday will mark 1,470 days since the Giants have beaten the Eagles (‘Kudos’ to Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation for alerting me to that number).
E is for ... Engram: Somehow, this letter ends up being for Evan Engram quite frequently. This week, it’s because this is a redemption game for the Giants’ tight end. His critical drop in the Week 7 game against the Eagles cost the Giants an opportunity to run out the clock and win that game.
“The feeling walking off after that game, that was a real tough one. Real disappointing just coming up that short and just how that game ended wasn’t a really good feeling,” Engram said. “But I have a lot of confidence in the way we’ve bounced back since then, the way we’ve responded as a team, not just in the games but even just in practice. The preparation has been really good. I really have a lot of confidence in the way we’ve been preparing, the way we’ve responded since that game.”
F is for ... Finish: The Giants finally finished a game last Sunday ... barely. They need to finish the rest of the season strong or Dave Gettleman might be finished as GM. I would put five of the Giants’ final seven games — leaving out matchups with the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens — in the ‘winnable’ category.
G is for ... Golden: Not the Golden, you’re thinking of — we’ll get to him later. Markus Golden is the only player the Giants traded at the deadline. He debuted for the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday with a sack, 5 tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed in 34 snaps. Golden is a really good player, just not apparently with the multi-faceted skill set Patrick Graham and the Giants want in their edge players.
H is for ... Hernandez: Will Hernandez will be back this week after clearing COVID-19 protocols. How much he will play is a good question. Judge pointed out this week that Hernandez has been quarantined and unable to work out, lift weights or practice for the better part of two weeks. How game ready he will be is unknown.
“The one thing I want to make sure is we are fair with with Will is this guy has missed two games, that’s a lot of football he’s missed. We have to be fair to him to get him his conditioning back and get him back on the field moving around,” Judge said. “It’s not like this guy has spent the last two weeks lifting weights and running, doing individual drills in his back yard. This guy has been quarantined and fighting a virus. We have to make sure when we get him back, we give him a chance that he’s able to get out there and play a full 60 minutes healthy.”
I is for ... Improvement: Joe Judge jumps into Zoom calls every week and tells us, whether the Giants have just won or lost, that he sees improvement. In a lot of ways, he’s right. The Giants are better and more competitive game-to-game than they have been for a while. Still, without more victories the improvement talk is eventually going to wear thin. The Giants have a combined 15 straight losses to the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. That has to change.
J is for ... Johnson: Philadelphia right tackle Lane Johnson hasn’t played since going in and out of the Week 7 game with the Giants. Johnson (ankle) was a full practice participant on Friday and is good to go. His presence really helps the Eagles offensive line.
K is for ... Kaden: Reserve tight end Kaden Smith came out of last Sunday’s game with a concussion, but has been a full practice participant late in the week and appears on track to play. That’s good news for the Giants, as Smith has been an integral part of the team’s improved run blocking in recent weeks.
L is for ... Logan: Sometimes I’m dense. It took until the other day for me to realize that Logan Ryan’s name is combination of the names of my grandson (Logan) and son (Ryan). Which automatically makes him a favorite of mine. Regardless of all of that, Ryan is a class act and a player we should all appreciate.
M is for ... Murphy: It’s cool that with the addition of offensive lineman Kyle Murphy to the Giants’ 53-man roster we now have a former teammate of our own Joe DeLeone on the team. What’s even better is that I get to highlight this interview I did with Murphy at the NFL Combine.
N is for ... Nick: We tell fans all the time that they need to be patient, need to let things play out, need to let players develop. You simply can’t decide the first time you see someone that he is terrible and can’t be the answer at whatever position he plays.
Giants’ center Nick Gates is proving the point. Before this season, Gates had never played center and had only started two NFL games. Turning to him as the starting center on a revamped offensive line, in an offseason without OTAs, was a big ask and Gates struggled at the beginning.
Gates has steadily gotten better. In Week 9, he was Pro Football Focus’s second-highest graded center. Gates could turn out to be the long-term answer at the troublesome, and important, center spot.
O is for ... Offensive line: Don’t look now, but the Giants’ offensive line of the future might already be in place. There is no doubt the line struggled in the early part of the season, but it has been improving lately. Look at the ages of the guys who could be long-term solutions.
OT — Andrew Thomas (21), Matt Peart (23); OG — Will Hernandez (25), Shane Lemieux (23); C — Nick Gates (24)
Backups — iOL Kyle Murphy (22); OT Jackson Barton (25)
That’s a pretty good core to build with.
P is for ... Playoffs: Do we even dare talk about playoffs? We certainly shouldn’t with the Giants at 2-7 and having only beaten the Washington Football Team this season. This, though, is the NFC East. If the Giants win on Sunday they will have as many victories as any team in the NFL’s most ridiculous division. So, yes, we have to at least consider the playoffs a possibility.
Q is for ... Quarterbacks: Sunday’s game will pit the league’s most turnover-prone quarterbacks. Carson Wentz of Philadelphia leads the league with 12 interceptions and is third with 7 fumbles. Daniel Jones of the Giants has 9 interceptions and also has 7 fumbles. Whichever one of those two quarterbacks, each prone to making inexplicable mistakes, can play the cleanest game might end up helping his team to victory.
R is for ... Ridiculous: That’s the only way to describe what has gone on with the Giants’ second outside cornerback slot in 2020. The DeAndre Baker mess. A Sam Beal opt-out. Trying and failing to sign Ross Cockrell. A Corey Ballentine flop, which led to him being waived and claimed by the Jets. An injury to Ryan Lewis. Now an injury to Isaac Yiadom. The position must be cursed.
S is for ... Sanders: The Eagles should get leading rusher Miles Sanders back this week. Sanders has been out since sustaining a Week 6 knee injury. In five games, he has 434 yards rushing, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and 86.8 yards per game.
T is for ... Tate: Golden Tate returned to the Giants this week after being left home from the team’s Week 9 trip to Washington as a disciplinary measure. Now, the veteran wide receiver is hurt, having left Thursday’s practice with a knee injury. He is questionable for Sunday’s game. Tate also apologized publicly for last week’s outburst.
U is for ... Undeserved: The NFL fined Jabrill Peppers $11,031 for the leg whip that injured Washington quarterback Kyle Allen. In my view, the hit was completely unintentional and taking money out of Peppers’ pocket simply because a quarterback unfortunately got hurt is ridiculous.
V is for ... Voodoo: That’s the only explanation for some of the awful things that have happened to the Giants in games vs. the Eagles over the years. Seriously, have you got a better explanation? Let’s see if the Giants can turn the tables on Sunday.
W is for ... Wizard: Giants’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has to have some sort of magical powers. That’s the only explanation for being able to think up a defensive scheme on Saturday, install it that night, call it on Sunday and have it turn into a game-sealing interception. Graham pulled that off last week against Washington.
Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said Graham was “a little bit Nostradamus” with the scheme because he knew the exact situation in which he wanted to use it, and it played out the way Graham hoped it would.
X is for ... Xavier: Rookie safety Xavier McKinney is close to returning from the fractured foot that has kept him on IR all season. The Giants could start McKinney’s 21-day clock after next week’s bye, and get him on the field for a few games down the stretch.
Y is for ... Yiadom: Seems like I write about Isaac Yiadom every week. This week I have a good reason to, as the Giants’ starting cornerback is questionable with a calf injury. Ryan Lewis is on IR, Corey Ballentine is with the Jets and the Giants are running dangerously low on options at cornerback if Yiadom is a no-go on Sunday.
Z is for ... Zach: Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz remains on IR with a high ankle sprain. So, while the Eagles are getting healthier they will continue to play without this key member of their offense.