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Giants vs. Eagles, Week 16: What to expect when Philadelphia has the ball

NFL: Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 4-10 New York Giants travel to Philadelphia to play the 7-7 Eagles this Sunday. One of the Giants four wins came against the Eagles in Week 12, a 13-7 victory in which the defense forced four turnovers.

Other than that loss, The Eagles are playing excellent football at the moment. They have scored omore than 30 points in four of the last seven games and have rushed for more 200 yards in five of those games, including the loss to the Giants.

Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni was chastised earlier in the season for not running the football enough. Sirianni heard the criticism and has centralized his offense around a unique rushing attack predicated on the legs of quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Rushing attack

Running back Miles Sanders, who has yet to score a touchdown this season, has two 100-yard games since returning from an ankle injury. Philadelphia just rushed for 238 yards against the Washington Football Team on Tuesday night.

The Eagles have a quarterback who has rushed for 10 touchdowns this season. Hurts averages 5.6 yards per carry, and his presence keeps backside defenders honest. This allows for lighter boxes and more hat-on-hat situations for the Eagles’ talented and athletic offensive line.

Most Eagles’ zone rushing plays involve the zone read where Hurts reads a defender and reacts based on what he sees. If the defender goes too far inside, Hurts keeps the ball and runs around the edge; if the defender stays put, he hands the ball to the running back.

Have a defense surrender enough 5- to 6-yard gains and the backside defender will try and anticipate the handoff - Hurts is one of the best at patiently waiting for an over-eager EDGE player to crash down. Philadelphia is the top-ranked rushing offense for this reason; they average nine more yards per game than Indianapolis.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had an excellent Week 12 game plan that led to more RPO throws and forced Sirianni to call more pass plays. He removed rushing lanes with tight fronts, aggressive safeties, and stout plays upfront from Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Austin Johnson. I think we will see a much more run-oriented approach from the Eagles, who strayed too far from their identity in there first game against the Giants.

Both Sanders and backup Jordan Howard average more than 5 yards per carry; Sanders averages 5.5, and Howard 5.2. Third-string running back and Giant-killer Boston Scott averages 4.7 yards per carry. The offensive line is one major reason for this success, but so is the overall system.

The Eagles base their rushing approach around the zone read but aren’t shy to pin-pull and move blockers around. They frequently use trap and wham blocks to easily climb to the second level to locate linebackers which put a ton of pressure on the safeties coming downhill.

The Giants attempted to combat this approach with a 2i-technique and a 4i-technique to the strength (when they weren’t TITE). However, Philadelphia would put Goedert as the H-Back, and they would allow both defenders to penetrate the gaps they were shaded in.

The Eagles would have Goedert aggressively trap the 4i with the backside guard trapping the 2i; in doing this, the center and front-side guard easily chip (sometimes) and climb to the second-level linebackers. If the first-level defenders don’t realize the play, it can go for a big gain.

There is so much to confront when playing this rushing attack because of the offensive line’s multiple styles and overall ability. Center Jason Kelce literally sprinted down the field to throw a block on a safety on Tuesday night. I don’t know how a 34-year-old center can move like this.

There’s no wonder this team is so effective running the ball when a lineman can scoot like Kelce. The Eagles offensive front doesn’t just try and over-match and over-power you, they use their movement skills well to create an advantage.

Lane Johnson is one of the best and most athletic right tackles in the NFL. He is dangerous on the screen game and can execute any block he’s asked to throw. According to Pro Football Focus, Kelce is the 11th ranked overall run blocker, and Johnson is the 50th, but that doesn’t even mention the 13th-ranked run blocker in right tackle Jordan Mailata.

Mailata is their massive 6-foot-8, 345-pound left tackle who is long, mean, and consistently gets chippy throughout games. Mailata was a seventh-round selection by Howie Roseman in 2018. A year later, the Eagles drafted Andre Dillard in the first round, but injuries and inconsistent football have stifled his development, and Mailata is now the starter. He has allowed three sacks and only 19 pressures this season. He’s the 15th-ranked pass blocking tackle in the league.

Jack Driscoll landed on IR with an ankle injury, and Alabama rookie Landon Dickerson missed the 27-17 win against the Football Team on the COVID-19 list. This forced Nate Herbig and Iosua Opeta into action at guard. Herbig will still start, for he relieved Driscoll, but Opeta could be benched in favor of Dickerson if he returns.

The Giants will face an easier offensive line without Driscoll, but still a very dangerous line. Herbig allowed three pressures and a sack, and Opeta a sack and four pressures. These players can be exposed in pass protection, and they’re not the run blockers of Dickerson and Driscoll.

Jalen Hurts

New York exploited Hurts’ inability to consistently throw the football in their first matchup, but that does not mean he is an inept passer. Yes, he’s a bit limited in this area, but he can still stay in rhythm and take what the defense is giving him. Unfortunately for Hurts, Graham gave him little in Week 12.

Hurts has thrown for 2,731 yards this season, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. He has 14 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. His on-target percentage ranks near the league’s bottom at 29, just in front of Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. For reference, Daniel Jones is 18th.

Hurts is pressured the 15th most out of any quarterback in the league. He has a pressure percentage of 23.4 percent, .1 percent more than Jones. Hurts isn’t blitzed often; he ranks 23rd in blitz rate. I am curious to see how Graham handles Hurts. He blitzed a lot against the Cowboys last week.

Expect a heavy RPO attack from Hurts and the Eagles. The Eagles have run the highest amount of RPO plays. Some RPOs have four executions built into the initial read with Goedert at H-Back. Either Hurts hands the ball off to Sanders if the EMOLOS stays, or, if the EMOLOS bites, he can take the football around the edge; or, if Goedert gains space on an outside flat route, Hurts can throw the ball to him. The fourth option is the slant from the outside receiver, which will be thrown if Goedert’s defender expands laterally with the tight end.

The amount of options built into the play simplifies moving the football but still puts a lot of pressure on Hurts, who does a good job with his decision-making in these situations. He just has to read one side of the field and react to the defense. The Giants are aware of the approach, and they saw it against the Eagles in Week 12 and the Dolphins in Week 13.

As a runner, Hurts has his most success running behind his right guard. He averages 6.83 yards per carry in these situations. He had a few chunk runs against the Giants behind Dickerson. Expect the same if Dickerson can return to the lineup on Sunday.

Receiving threats

Star rookie Devonta Smith is by far and away the best wide receiver on the team. He has four touchdowns on 53 catches for 741 receiving yards. He owns a large chunk of the limited passing pie distributed from Hurts, his former college teammate. Smith is a great route runner who can win at the line of scrimmage with his release while possessing excellent ball skills. He saw a lot of James Bradberry in Week 12, resulting in a two-catch, 22-yard game. The respect heaped towards the rookie from the Giants coaching staff is an honest representation of how good Smith can be, but Bradberry easily handled him for most of the game in that matchup.

The rest of the receivers for the Eagles aren’t much to write home about. 2020 First-round pick Jalen Reagor and 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside haven’t made a significant impact for the Eagles. Honestly, Reagor’s terrible hands were a big reason why the Giants upset the Eagles earlier this year. Still, the Eagles attempt to get Reagor going. Sirianni wanted to take advantage of Aaron Robinson in his first extended action against the Eagles, but it didn’t translate to much success.

Quez Watkins also earns a large snap share. He’s made some big plays throughout the season due to his explosiveness, but he’s not consistently involved in a run-heavy game plan. He has 505-yards on 33 catches with no touchdowns.

Tight end Dallas Goedert is the lone wolf after Zach Ertz departed to Arizona. Goedert was handsomely rewarded for his efforts earlier in the season when he signed a four-year contract extension worth $57 million. He’s a good blocker with excellent hands, route running, and overall ability as a receiver. He has 731 yards, and 48 catches to go along with four touchdowns. He just had a seven-catch, 135-yard game against the Football Team.

Goedert’s lack of involvement against the Giants was another big mistake, in a game full of many, from Sirianni and the coaching staff. Expect to see Sirianni work the play action and attempt to create mismatches with Goedert’s size against some of the smaller defenders on the backend of the Giants’ defense. Goedert will be a frequent option off the RPO game as well.