The Giants are trying to reverse their recent 1-3-1 skid. A win over the 11-1 Eagles would do a lot to wipe away the Giants’ funk and bolster their postseason chances.
The Eagles can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Giants.
While the Giants have been a limited team grinding out unlikely — if scrappy — wins this year, the Eagles have been among the best teams in the NFL. What can we expect from the Giants’ offense and Philadelphia’s defense in this game?
Does Philly have any weaknesses?
The Eagles have one of the very best defenses in the NFL.
Philly is eighth in the NFL in points allowed and second in yards allowed. The Eagles’ advanced numbers since their Week 7 bye are also impressive.
The Eagles have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys in total sacks. Edge defenders Josh Sweat (26 percent) and Haason Reddick (25 percent) are both in the Top - 10 of ESPN’s pass rush win rate, as is iDL Javon Hargrave (fourth, 18 percent). Their team Pass Rush Win Rate is also second only to Dallas (52 percent to 53).
Their run defense has been poor on the year but improved in recent weeks. The Eagles have allowed only one 100-yard performance in the last three weeks, and their 4.3 yards per attempt allowed is down from their average of 4.6 on the season.
Their pass defense — as well as a dangerous offense — prevent teams from being able to make Philadelphia’s suspect run defense a true liability.
So how are the Giants supposed to attack a thoroughly talented defense?
The Eagles’ biggest weakness might be at the slot corner position. Richie James is less than ideal as a starter, but his quickness and agility can make him dangerous in close quarters and James has made some big catches for the Giants.
The Eagles activated starting slot corner Avonte Maddox on Wednesday, who they had placed on the IR with a hamstring injury after Week 9. Maddox may be healthy enough to play in the game, but we don’t know. Maddox is a good slot corner, allowing a 66 percent completion rate with 18 completions, three passes defensed and an interception on 27 targets. His replacement, 2020 fourth-round pick Josiah Scott, has six passes defensed and an interception (as well as a 60 percent completion rate) in four starts, but he has also allowed three touchdowns to Maddox’s none.
That isn’t much of a weakness, and Maddox may yet play. However, it could be an avenue for the Giants to exploit with one of their primary receivers.
The Giants will likely try to exploit Scott (if he is the starter) with the kind of play-action and RPO plays to which we have become accustomed. The Giants would be well-served to incorporate a mesh point on as many plays as possible to slow down the Eagles’ defense. Likewise, the Giants will need to test Philly’s run defense and introduce as much uncertainty as possible.
The Giants will want to use Daniel Bellinger — and perhaps Saquon Barkley — as receivers in the short to intermediate area. That could be a chancy proposition, T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, and rookie Nakobe Dean are all capable coverage players. However, pre-snap motion and misdirection could use their athleticism against them and create additional opportunities.
Protect the ball
The Giants’ offense has been one of the best in the NFL at protecting the football. They are tied for sixth in turnovers with 12 — seven fumbles lost and five interceptions — on 774 offensive plays. In other words, the Giants have averaged one turnover a game. The Giants have five games in which they have not turned the ball over at all.
That ball security has been central to the Giants’ success this season. They are offensively limited and cannot afford to give opposing offenses any extra possessions or sacrifice scoring opportunities.
Whether or not the Giants’ offense can maintain possession of the ball could loom particularly large in this game.
The Eagles’ 22 takeaways lead the NFL, as do their 15 interceptions and 3.7 percent INT rate. Their seven forced fumbles rank eighth in the league, while their 66 passes defensed rate third. All told, Philadelphia averages 1.8 takeaways per game and only has one game this year without a takeaway. The Eagles have almost twice as many games with multiple takeaways (seven) as a single takeaway (four).
Protecting the football has to be paramount in the Giants’ game plan.
What should we expect from the Giants?
It will be fascinating to see how the Giants attack (or try to attack) the Philadelphia defense.
I don’t expect the basic structure of the Giants’ offense to be any different from what we saw in the first 12 games of the year. The Giants will want to run the ball and use play-action bootlegs with layered reads and levels concepts. I also fully expect them to use at least some read-option and designed QB run concepts.
But the specific game plan remains to be seen.
The Giants have similar concerns to address against the Eagles’ defense as they did against the Commanders. As noted above, the Eagles have a dangerous pass rush and a run defense that has improved in recent weeks. Unlike the Commanders — but similar to the Giants’ games against the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Lions — Philly has an offense capable of putting points on the board and dictating games.
That could lead to two different game plans from the Giants.
On the one hand, we could see a methodical ball-control offense focused on running the ball with Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones. The Eagles have been worse at defending the run than the pass this year, and we don’t know how much Jordan Davis will play. When the Giants have found success this year, it has often been through grinding opponents down and passing them in the fourth quarter.
As we have noted throughout the season, marrying a dedication to the running game with a quick passing game that serves as extended hand-offs and a green light to scramble fits the Giants’ offensive personnel. It helps to protect the offensive line, limit Daniel Jones’ exposure to the pass rush, fits the Giants’ receiving corps, and gets the ball in the hands of the Giants’ best player (Barkley).
On the other hand, we have seen the Giants go against tendencies trying to catch teams off guard. The Eagles have a dangerous offense capable of scoring a lot and quickly, so we could see the Giants attempt to get off to a fast start. New York has to know that it is not built to compete in shoot-outs, and the offense can be prone to mistakes if it’s forced to press and keep up with another squad. Getting off to a fast start and attempting to generate explosive plays early would allow the Giants to dictate the flow of the game and give the advantage to their defense.
Of course, doing so involves much more risk. It would open the offensive line up to the Eagles’ pass rushers and create more opportunities for potential back-breaking mistakes.
The Giants will still play their offense, but it will be interesting to see whether the coaching staff calls the game with greater abandon than in the past several games.