Eagles Prepare for Giant Road Block to Playoffs


This is the biggest game of the season.  The Eagles continue their familiar rivalry with the 7-1 New York Giants on Sunday Night Football.  A win puts them back into a position of strength in the NFC East and restores optimism to a cautious fanbase, a loss creates greater doubt and puts the club's playoff hopes on life support.

It's bound to be a classic whenever these two teams meet, and even more so whenever there is this much on the line.  After the jump, how the Eagles match up with their foe in the key areas that will decide the game.

What makes the Giants so tough is their ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  I really believed the defense would take a step back with Strahan and Umenyiora out of the picture, but that has not been the case.  Justin Tuck seemed to benefit from the attention being focused on the Pro Bowlers, but his 8 sacks this season suggest he is the real deal, plus Mathias Kiwanuka and Fred Robbins have 6 sacks each as well.  The front four has proven to be plenty disruptive even without the star power.

Meanwhile, McNabb has done very well to escape pressure so far this season.  He's been brought down 13 times this year, putting him on pace to break his lowest sack total for a full season.  He doesn't hold onto the ball as long, and he is starting to make more plays with his feet, particularly in just the past few weeks (3 sacks in past 4 games).  This is the match-up that will dictate how much scoring gets done in this game.  The Giants will bring pressure, so the offensive line must hold the rush just long enough for McNabb to make a decision with the ball.  If he has time to find his receivers, the game could be high scoring, favoring the Eagles.

The Giants have the second ranked running game in the NFL, and it is the premiere power game in the league.  The Eagles run D has been solid most of the season, but don't expect a shutdown performance on Sunday.  Instead they must concentrate on containment in this area, keeping Brandon Jacobs from picking up 5 yards every first down and not allowing Derrick Ward or Ahmad Bradshaw to break off the big gains.

Easier said than done obviously, which is why Jim Johnson will probably use Stewart Bradley to attack the line of scrimmage on most first and second downs.  When Jacobs is in the game, the goal is to fill the running lane and force him to find room outside.  The Eagles defense should have enough speed out there to meet the ball carrier before he's had the chance to turn it upfield and pick up steam, keeping the Giants in long yardage situations.

That is the one area where I feel the Eagles have a distinct advantage over the Giants.  Eli Manning is having an excellent season, but he continues to be more of a game manager than a playmaker.  When he is forced to be the man, one of two things will generally happen: either he will turn it on and put up big numbers, or more often he will become a turnover machine, throwing lame duck picks and kicking the ball around in the backfield.

This is when it pays to have so much invested in the secondary.  Asante has been flying to the ball.  Sheldon may be having his best season yet.  Lito has been inconsistent, but can come up with the ball.  Dawk is Dawk.  Defending Plaxico Burress is a challenge, but the Eagles have never been better equipped to stop a receiver of his caliber.  If Eli keeps firing, this group will almost certainly create turnovers.

I'm going to pick a final score like I've been done all season, but it's basically impossible to predict what will actually happen.  Will the pass rush reach McNabb?  Can the defense contain Jacobs?  Which Eli will get off the bus?  These are two evenly matched groups, and I think the winner will be decided by which team best answers those three questions favorably.

I'm taking the Eagles though.  Yes, partly because I am homer, so don't bother.  They also need this game more, and they've played the tougher schedule to this point.  The Giants have yet to be tested by a quality team at full strength, and McNabb is really starting to fire on all cylinders with his weapons back.  It will be close, it will be tough, but they can pull it off.

Final Score: Giants 20, Eagles 24

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