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Giants-Eagles, Week 18: When Philadelphia has the ball

The possibility that the Eagles will rest their starters complicates matters

Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks
Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The last time the New York Giants played the Philadelphia Eagles, the game was surprisingly competitive. This one will be interesting if it’s surprisingly competitive in the opposite direction.

Nick Sirianni is considering resting his key starters against the Giants. If that happens, you would expect the Giants’ starters to beat the Eagles’ backups. However, considering the Giants’ long-standing futility against Philadelphia, I still picked the Eagles even knowing they might rest their starters.

What the Eagles’ offense may look like without their starters remains in question. Jalen Hurts, D’Andre Swift, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedart, Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata, and Lane Johnson seem to be the likely names to sit. Trying to predict what the Eagles will do without those players is not easy.

If the Eagles play their starters, their offense vs. the Giants’ defense will look similar to the matchup from two weeks ago. If they rest their key starters, the game could look quite different. Just how different is another question.

Let’s go with the assumption that the Eagles play their starters. How can the Giants stop Philadelphia more effectively than they did last time?

Pressure, pressure, anywhere?

In the Week 16 matchup, the Giants pressured Jalen Hurts just 11 times on 41 dropbacks (26.8%), his second-lowest pressure rate of the season. They managed to sack him just once. For the season, Hurts’ 39.5% pressure rate ranks 26th out of 36 qualified quarterbacks. Furthermore, Pro Football Focus blames Hurts for 23% of the pressure he’s faced this season, the second-worst rate among quarterbacks, indicating that it’s about Hurts more than who does or does not play on the offensive line.

Kayvon Thibodeaux managed three pressures on 31 pass rush snaps in the first matchup (9.7%) and has not recorded a sack since Week 14. Despite his impressive 11.5 sacks on the season, Thibodeaux’s 8.4% pressure rate is subpar, far below the 11.7% average for edge rushers. He must find a way to affect the quarterback more consistently to alleviate questions about his sustainability as a pass rusher aside from his sack numbers. Doing so against Hurts, who runs into so much of his own pressure, should be an easier task than for other passers, even if sacking him is harder.

Though the Giants did muster four sacks against Matthew Stafford last week, they pressured him just seven times on 38 dropbacks, a puny 18.4% rate. If Hurts does play, giving him the freedom to scan his targets from within the pocket could spell another 300+ yard effort.

Does anyone want to tackle?

In Week 16, Eagles ball carriers rushed for 170 yards against the Giants and had 301 receiving yards. Of those 471 yards, 351 (74.5%) came after first contact or after the catch. A big reason for that was the Giants’ inability to tackle. In particular, Micah McFadden and Jason Pinnock each missed three tackles, while Cor’Dale Flott and Adoree’ Jackson both had two. Giants tacklers also took many poor angles to the ball, turning nice gains into big ones.

The Eagles’ offense is predicated on their speed. To contain it, the Giants must find a way to bring down the ball-carrier on first contact to mitigate explosive plays.

Once again, stick with zone

Before the last game, I pointed out that the Eagles’ offense has more trouble with zone coverage than man primarily due to the disparity between big plays and turnovers. Although Philadelphia’s offense was generally successful against both man and zone coverage in the first matchup, their touchdown pass came against man, while their interception came against zone. Furthermore, Hurts averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt vs. man and 6.9 vs. zone, and he had a higher rate of explosive passes against man (2, 11.1%) than zone (1, 6.3%).

It would be wise for Wink Martindale to flip his coverage tendencies from man to zone in this matchup.

Cover ancillary targets

While A.J. Brown had six catches for 80 yards in the first matchup, it was DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedart who often racked up the most costly receptions against the Giants. Smith’s targets generated an 80% success rate, while Goedart was at 77.8% (although hurts’ one interception went his way). Grant Calcaterra and Kenneth Gainwell had five catches for five first downs.

Brown can break out at any time, but covering the team’s other targets minimizes the chances that Hurts can find a target when he flushes out of the pocket.

Better handle on 12 personnel

Before the last game, I pointed out that the Eagles seem to run out of 12 personnel far more than they pass, although they run 11 personnel far more than 12 personnel. In that game, though, the Eagles ran virtually the same number of plays out of each personnel grouping. The run rates held up: they ran just 18.2% of the time in 11 personnel compared to 76.5% out of 12 personnel.

The problem was that the Giants could not stop 12 personnel. They allowed two touchdowns out of each grouping, but they gave up 0.269 EPA per play and a 61.8% success rate in 12 personnel compared to 0.0195 and 48.5% in 11.

The main issue appears to be that Martindale remained in his nickel defense even when the Eagles had 12 personnel on the field. The Eagles ran 33 plays out of 12 personnel, and the Giants were in a 3-3-5 DB look for 26 of them and 4-2-5 on another two. As a result, when the Eagles ran the ball, they had a strength advantage from their second tight end over the Giants’ added defensive back, particularly if it was the 174-pound Flott.

Martindale should be more careful to mix and match against the Eagles, especially since they tend to run out of 12 personnel so often.

If the Eagles play their backups

Marcus Mariota was a starter for much of last season in Atlanta. He completed 61.3% of his passes for 2,219 yards, 7.4 yards per attempt, 15 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and an 88.2 quarterback rating in 2022. He also rushed 85 times for 438 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. The Eagles likely pursued Mariota because his profile is similar to Jalen Hurts’ as a running quarterback.

Mariota was fairly turnover-prone in 2022, as he had a 4% turnover-worthy play rate, ranking 25th out of 35 qualified passers (min. 200 dropbacks). He also fumbled eight times, tied for the eighth-most among quarterbacks, despite playing only 13 games.

Mariota is also a poor deep passer. While his 16% deep target rate was the fourth-highest among passers last season, he completed just 27.1% of his attempts, the third-lowest rate. His 8.5 yards per attempt on those passes was second-lowest, and he had a 2:5 TD:INT rate. The Giants don’t need to be so worried about Mariota completing deep passes simply because of his inaccuracy on them.

The intermediate area of the field is Mariota’s bread and butter. Attempting those passes 26.3% of the time, the second-highest mark among passers, he completed 63.3% (sixth) for 11.1 YPA (sixth) with four touchdowns, two interceptions, and a fifth-ranked 90.1 Pro Football Focus grade. While he had just a 2.4% big-time throw rate (24th), he also had a 2.4% turnover-worthy play rate (third). In other words, Mariota protected the ball in the intermediate range and found the open receiver. That’s where the Giants should be concentrating their coverage.

Running back

The Kenneth Gainwell-Boston Scott duo can cause plenty of damage to the Giants even without Swift. Scott broke his touchdown streak against the Giants, garnering just one carry for three yards. Gainwell was more successful, rushing six times for 41 yards (6.8 YPC) but fumbling once. Gainwell also caught 3 balls for 38 yards.

On the season, Gainwell has rushed 77 times for just 302 yards (3.9 YPC) with two touchdowns and three fumbles. He’s made more of an impact as a receiver, where he has 30 receptions for 183 yards. Scott has just 21 touches all season.

How well either back can run behind the Eagles’ backup offensive line remains to be seen. The Giants allow 132.4 rush yards per game, ranked 28th in the NFL, but perhaps they can muster a better effort without Mailata, Kelce, and Johnson in the lineup.