The New York Giants will face their third NFC East opponent this year, as they return home to host the Philadelphia Eagles. The rivalry between the Giants and Eagles is long and storied, with absolutely no love lost on either side.
New York is reeling from their fourth blow-out loss of the 2021 season and are still looking to get their first win against a division opponent. The Eagles, meanwhile, are trying to claw their way back to a .500 record and stay within striking distance of a playoff berth.
As Giants fans should probably expect, the Eagles still field a dangerous defensive line, and their defense is improving as their offense picks up momentum.
Of course, this game also has added intrigue as the Giants have fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. We don’t yet know what will change with the firing of Garrett, but it might throw a wrench into the Eagles’ preparation for this game.
Pass rushers galore
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Giants’ and Eagles’ defenses mirrored each other. The two teams invested heavily and often in the defensive lines, boasting the ability to send waves of disruptive pass rushers after quarterbacks. But while the Giants have gotten away from that philosophy, the Eagles have maintained a dangerous stable of pass rushers. They’ve also remained dedicated to the 4-3 (well, 4-2-5 nickel) defensive front.
Each of the Eagles’ starting quartet of linemen is among the league’s most disruptive pass rushers at his position.
Starting edge defenders Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett are ranked third and sixth respectively among qualifying edge defenders in ESPN’s pass rush win rate. Barnett and Sweat complement each other well on the field. Where Sweat is quietly one of the most explosive EDGE rushers in the NFL, Barnett is strong, stout, and an excellent technician with surprising short-area quickness.
Interior defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox are ranked third and ninth respectively)in PRWR for defensive tackles. Javon Hargrave has an exceptionally explosive lower body, while Fletcher Cox remains a thorn in the side of pretty much every interior offensive lineman in the NFL. Cox entered the League in 2012 and has so far stubbornly refused to truly decline — though this is shaping up to be his weakest statistical season since 2013. That could, of course, change if the Eagles’ offense stays hot.
While the chart is obviously cramped, that goes to illustrate that there isn’t an easy match-up on that Eagles defensive line. While each of their starters are among the best at their positions, their second string of Ryan Kerrigan, Tarron Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, and Milton Williams aren’t that far behind.
If there’s good news for the Giants’ offensive line, it might be that the Eagles’ defense doesn’t blitz all that often. In fact, they have the 3rd lowest blitz rate of any defense in the NFL at just 16.7 percent. That means that the Giants should, more often than not, at least have a numbers advantage in pass protection. Whether or not that protection holds up is another matter.
It’s also worth noting that SAM linebacker Genard Avery is the sixth-rated run defender.
As a whole, the Eagles run defense isn’t as dangerous as their pass rush, but it’s still pretty stout. They currently rank 11th in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate, and are tied with the New England Patriots, Washington Football Team, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, and Tennessee Titans with a 32 percent win rate.
That’s not-great news for a Giants’ offensive line which currently ranks 30th in Adjusted Line Yards (Football Outsiders’ metric for separating rushing yardage blocked by the offensive line from yardage picked up by the running back).
The Eagles struggled to assemble a functional secondary in recent years, but they started taking strides in that direction this past season. They acquired cornerback Darius Slay from the Detroit Lions in 2020 and signed free safety Anthony Harris this past year in free agency. While both players are 30 years old, they’re also still effective players. Harris has been one of the best safeties in the NFL for a while now, and Slay is back to his playmaking self.
(It should be noted that Slay exited the Eagles’ 40-27 win over the Saints early and is in the concussion protocol as of this writing.)
Added to those two veterans are CB Steven Nelson, slot Avante Maddox, and safeties Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace.
Taken as a whole, the Eagles’ secondary could probably be best described as solid, if not spectacular. They are generally able to challenge receivers and take advantage of mistakes — Slay and Harris are particularly dangerous in that regard — but probably won’t take anyone out of the game.
The Eagles typically play a variety of zone coverages, particularly Cover 3, but with a higher-than-average incidence of Cover 2, 4, and 6 shells.
The Eagles generally seem to rally to the football well and have given up about league-average yards after the catch. However, they do miss a lot of tackles, ranking third in the NFL for missed tackles.
The combination of zone coverage and potentially shoddy tackling could create opportunities for Kadarius Toney to pick up yards after the catch in space. If so, that’s a potential avenue for the Giants to move the ball and create big plays through the air.
Playing into the Eagles’ hands
Perhaps the biggest danger for the New York Giants is a willingness to play right into the Eagles’ hands defensively.
Unless the Giants make a radical schematic change this week, we’re likely to see a short-range offense. The Giants’ tendency to slip into an offense that lives about 5 yards downfield is pretty well known at this point. Even if the Giants make a change to their offensive coaching staff, they’re unlikely to completely overhaul the scheme in the middle of a short week and there’s nothing they can do about their personnel at this point.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw the lowest average depth of target in the NFL coming into Week 11. But after the Eagles’ performance against the Saints, they now lead the league in defensive depth of target at just 6.4 yards. Like the Buccaneers, the Eagles look to force offenses to throw the ball short and then play downhill. The Giants played right into Tampa’s hands in that regard, and they run the risk of doing so again against Philly.
We already know that the Eagles are going to focus on running the ball and dominating the time of possession. They’ve fielded the most dangerous running game in the NFL over the last month, racking up an average of 217.5 yards per game and have held the ball an average of 33 minutes, 22 seconds. Over that same stretch, the Eagles have scored 44, 24, 30, and 40 points. Not only can they control the ball, but they can finish in the end zone.
That could put pressure on the Giants’ offense to try and keep up, forcing them out of their own offensive game plan. Those situations, where the Giants are pressing to keep up on offense, have proven to be recipes for disaster. That would likely put more pressure on the Giants’ offensive line to hold up against Philly’s talented pass rushers, as well as open the door for the ball to be put in danger with risky passes.
Of course, the Giants do need to take a less risk-averse stance on offense. Their short passes might keep the ball — and Daniel Jones — out of harm’s way (for the most part), but they also don’t really put the Giants themselves in position to score points. This is a tricky balance to strike, but it’s one the Giants need to navigate. They’ll need to dictate the terms of the game with their own offense to avoid being forced into spinning their metaphorical wheels or giving the Eagles’ defense the chance to make big plays.
Check out the line for this game and the rest of this week’s matchup over at the DraftKings Sportsbook.