This is rivalry week in college football. New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles is supposed to be a rivalry, too. Except that the Giants have gone 3-13 against the Eagles since 2013, and had lost eight straight before a late-season victory in 2020.
What will happen Sunday at MetLife Stadium. In our ‘5 questions segment,’ we chatted with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation about that.
Ed: What has keyed the turnaround for the Eagles in recent weeks? Is it sustainable
BLG: Common sense!
Back in the offseason, many thought the Eagles’ best approach to winning this season would be leaning on Jalen Hurts’ mobility and the run game. For whatever reason, Nick Sirianni didn’t initially agree with that approach. The Eagles logged 34.6 pass attempts per game in their first seven matchups.
After dropping to a 2-5 record, the Eagles finally pivoted to attacking their opponents with their ground game. And it’s been pretty successful! Philly is 3-1 in their last four games and the offense ranks second in EPA per play since Week 8.
Can they sustain this success? When it comes to the rest of this season, I don’t see why not. The Birds just dropped 242 rushing yards on the Saints’ previously No. 1-ranked run defense. New Orleans was allowing just 73.9 rushing yards per game before coming up to Lincoln Financial Field last weekend. The Eagles were able to have this success because they have a strong combination of one of the league’s best offensive lines, one of the league’s best rushing quarterbacks, and some talented backfield options. On the latter point, it might hurt that Jordan Howard can’t play this week. But the trio of Miles Sanders, Boston Scott (notorious Giant killer), and Kenneth Gainwell should still be able to have success.
Now, can the Eagles sustain this approach in the long-term? That still remains to be seen. One would think teams are going to try to really sell out on stopping the run and make Hurts beat them with his arm. Hurts has made some progress as a passer but he’s hardly erased all doubt as a franchise quarterback in that regard.
Ed: How happy are Eagles fans that Philly jumped the Giants for Devonta Smith?
BLG: I’d say they’re pretty happy. There might be some who believe the Eagles should’ve drafted (the wildly overrated) Justin Fields. Or Micah Parsons, who’s doing well in Dallas. But the vast majority are happy with the Smith pick.
Smith is 22nd in receiving this season. I truly believe he’d be posting monster numbers — perhaps not totally unlike Justin Jefferson last year — in a more pass-friendly offense. He’s a true No. 1 wide receiver who can do it all. He regularly creates separation with sharp route-running, he has speed to make plays down the field, he can make contested catches (see: Smith ‘Mossing’ Patrick Surtain for a touchdown in the Broncos game), he can get yards after the catch, he can block. It’s all there. There’s really no good reason for the Eagles not to be getting him at least 10 targets a game. That is, unless they’re having a lot of success with their ground game, which has been the case recently.
Ed: Give me the one player on the Giants’ roster you really wish was a member of the Eagles?
BLG: This answer might seem funny coming off heaping praise on Smith but I’d have to go with Kadarius Toney.
I’d rather have Smith than Toney, to be clear. But the Eagles still need more help at wide receiver. They’re just not getting much out of their non-Smith options at that position. Quez Watkins has demonstrated big play ability but he’s averaged just 29.8 yards per game in his last nine appearances. Jalen Reagor, meanwhile, is very much looking like a bust. The 2020 first-round pick has just 10 receptions for 63 yards in his last eight games. Despite being so ineffective, the Eagles continue to play Reagor a ton of snaps … in part because there are no great alternatives.
Perhaps my opinion on Toney is too colored by what I saw out of him in his career day against Dallas. I know there have been some frustrations with him regarding his availability and inconsistency. But the guy I watched against the Cowboys reminded me a bit of — and I swear I’m not trying to trigger anybody here — OBJ. He made some real difficult catches. I think Toney looks like what the Eagles had hoped Reagor would be.
Ed: How much are you going to enjoy hearing Michael Strahan booed by Eagles fans at halftime when the Giants retire his jersey?
BLG: I think it’s kinda sad that the Giants are already acknowledging that much is going to happen. From the team’s official website:
“Given all that, it’s perfectly logical that when the Giants retire Strahan’s No. 92 jersey on Sunday, the Eagles will be the opponents. But that also means thousands of notoriously vocal Philly fans will invade MetLife Stadium, joining the cheering for Strahan with a chorus of boos.”
There are times when I almost feel bad for the Giants. (Keyword: almost. Not actually.) Aside from a fluke 2016 season, they’ve been inept for so long now. The Eagles have unequivocally owned them to a point where it’s taken the fun out of the rivalry. To some extent, at least. I’m sure Strahan will have fun with the moment. And kudos to him for making the most of it. But it should be pretty embarrassing for the Giants and their fans that one of their franchise icons is getting booed on a day when he’s supposed to be honored.
Ed: If the Giants are going to win, what will that look like? How can they attack the Eagles?
BLG: How I can see the Giants winning this game:
- The Eagles take a lesser opponent too lightly and come out flat. They fall behind early and can’t merely rely on their run game to get them back into it.
- The Giants sell out to stop the run and force Hurts to move the ball with his arm.
- The Eagles struggle to run the ball with Jordan Howard out. Miles Sanders puts the ball on the ground at least once (he has fumbling issues) and/or he’s guilty of dancing too much in the backfield and getting Philly’s offense off schedule.
- The Giants benefit from firing Jason Garrett, who was a terrible offensive coordinator. Basically any replacement has the chance to be better.
- The Eagles go back to playing their soft Cover 2 defense that allowed five quarterbacks to complete over 80% of their passes against them this year.
- The Giants treat this game like their Super Bowl after Joe Judge and some players whined about the Eagles tanking in Week 17 last year, which prevented New York from making the playoffs.