Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Giants’ offense.
1. “Believe it or not, I know the results are not there, but behind the scenes, I’ve watched that game probably 10 times now on tape along with every other game we’ve played. The fundamentals, the techniques, the understanding, the players playing with each other, it is moving forward,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said this week, days after a 52-20 loss to the Broncos. “The results did not show in that game obviously, so I’m asking to you trust me even though there are not the results. But the guys know through the daily work that the techniques, it will turn. It will turn. It hasn’t turned yet. It’s not where we want it to be, but we’ll continue to put our heads down and work, and I really believe it will turn.”
We’ll find out in the next nine days whether his assessment is accurate. The Eagles’ defense ranks 30th, according to Football Outsiders. It is 31st in points allowed (34.5 PPG) and last in yards (446.8). In the Giants and Bucs, the Eagles face the 31st- and 30th-ranked offenses, respectively, per Football Outsiders. If ever there were a time to show that progress is being made, it would be in the next two weeks.
2. The Giants have been a disaster offensively – 29th in passing and 32nd in rushing (Football Outsiders rankings). They are averaging 15.2 points per game (30th) and 325.5 yards (23rd). Against the Chiefs last week, the Giants managed just one touchdown in a 31-7 loss. They are one of four winless teams in the NFL, and the Giants’ -85 point differential is second-worst to only the Jaguars. According to Football Outsiders, they’ve faced the most difficult schedule in the NFL. The Eagles have had the second-toughest four-game stretch.
3. Eli Manning is completing 56.3 percent of his passes (29th) and averaging 7.6 yards per attempt (11th). He has thrown a league-high nine interceptions, or one every 16.8 attempts. According to STATS, Inc., four of those have been due to QB-WR miscommunication. That appeared to be the case last week when Manning was looking for Rueben Randle deep, but he broke off his route.
“From Eli, the one thing you marvel at is just how accurate he is,” Chip Kelly said this week. “He may be the best deep‑ball thrower in the game.”
According to Pro Football Focus, 13.2 percent of Manning’s attempts have traveled 20 yards or more from the line of scrimmage (14th-most). But he’s only been on-target with 30 percent of those throws (17th). Last year, that number was 42.6 percent.
4. Up front, the Giants are expected to go with their fourth different offensive line combination in five games as David Diehl returns from a thumb injury. The 11-year veteran will play right guard for the first time since his rookie season (2003). He’ll line up next to rookie right tackle (and Council Rock South product) Justin Pugh. For the Eagles, left outside linebacker Connor Barwin has been solid with two sacks, two hurries and two balls batted at the line of scrimmage. He’s also been good against the run. On passing downs so far this season, Barwin has rushed 58.8 percent of the time and dropped 41.2 percent of the time, per PFF.
5. Center Jim Cordle made his first career start last week against the Chiefs. Veteran Kevin Boothe will line up at left guard. And Will Beatty at left tackle. The Giants have struggled in pass protection, having allowed 14 sacks, sixth-most. Their run game has been one of the worst in the NFL. For the Eagles, Fletcher Cox has two sacks and five hurries. Both are team-highs. But he hasn’t made an impact consistently through four games.
“[There are] times when Fletch flashes,” Kelly said. “Fletch has a lot of athletic ability. He can be a problem at times. At times, he’s created some mismatches in there. We just need everybody – offensively, defensively and special teams – we just need more consistency.”
Kelly singled out Cedric Thornton as the Eagles’ best defensive player through four games. He’s shown his versatility and leads all defensive linemen with 25 tackles (per team stats). Thornton also has a sack and two hurries.
Trent Cole has played in a variety of spots (All-22 here). He hasn’t been a perfect fit in any of them, but has played with great effort and been productive in stretches.
6. Victor Cruz may shed a tear when he notices Nnamdi Asomugha is no longer lined up against him in these games. Cruz has torched the Eagles for 22 catches, 399 yards and five touchdowns in four career games. He looks as good as ever this year, leading the Giants with 26 catches (tied for 10th overall) and 425 yards (fourth). Cruz has four touchdowns and four catches of 20+ yards. has been targeted 43 times, 17 more than any other Giants receiver. He’s fourth in the NFL with 425 yards receiving and tied for 10th with 26 catches. He has four touchdowns and four catches of 20+ yards.
Cruz lines up in the slot 80.6 percent of the time, per PFF. That means he’ll be Brandon Boykin’s responsibility. Or if Boykin blitzes (he’s done so 17 times in the last two weeks), the Eagles might deploy their “no one cover the slot receiver” defense. Boykin suffered a shoulder contusion last week, but is expected to play Sunday. His role continues to be one of the more puzzling aspects of the 2013 defense.
7. Opponents are averaging 8.1 yards per attempt against the Eagles (sixth-worst). And teams are completing 70.2 percent of their passes against the Birds (second-worst). Davis’ crew has allowed nine touchdown passes (tied for fourth-most). Cary Williams has been up-and-down. He had a three-penalty game against the Chargers and got beat for a deep ball against Denver, but Peyton Manning overthrew Eric Decker. Bradley Fletcher has been serviceable. He got whistled for a ticky-tacky pass interference penalty last week and then got beat for a touchdown. Aside from Cruz, Hakeem Nicks has 12 catches for 230 yards. Randle has 24 grabs for 162 yards.
Now, as much as ever, given the issues in pass protection, Manning is willing to chuck the ball up to covered receivers and let them make plays. Eagles cornerbacks will have to guard against back-shoulder throws and avoid penalties on 50/50 balls.
8. The Giants’ run game has been horrible. They’ve totaled 231 yards in four games (30th) and are averaging 3.3 yards per carry (28th). Da’Rel Scott played the most snaps of any Giants running back through the first four games, but he was released during the week. David Wilson is the team’s most talented back, but he’s battled fumbling problems and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The Giants are one of three teams without a single run of 20+ yards. The Eagles, meanwhile, have been OK against the run (21st, per Football Outsiders). Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has been a complete non-factor. Same goes for backups Bennie Logan and Clifton Geathers. DeMeco Ryans leads the team in tackles. And Mychal Kendricks has had a disappointing start to his second season. The Giants ran a league-high 57 draws last year, per Football Outsiders.
9. Should the Eagles blitz Manning? Last year, he averaged an absurd 12 yards per play against big blitzes (six or more rushers), per Football Outsiders. This year, against the blitz, Manning is completing 55.3 percent of his passes and averaging 7.6 yards per attempt. In other words, there hasn’t been much of a difference in his performance against regular rushes and extra pressure.
We mentioned Boykin blitzing above. Ryans has blitzed 46 times already, compared to just 67 times all of last year. Davis’ blitzes have not been getting home in the last three games.
Earl Wolff made mistakes in his first career start at safety, but held himself accountable and doesn’t sound like he’s lost confidence. If Patrick Chung (shoulder) can’t go, Wolff and Allen will likely start. If Chung is healthy, the three will probably rotate.
10. The Giants are 26th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44.4 percent of the time. The Eagles are 16th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 55.6 percent of the time. …The Giants have been the worst third-down offense in the league, converting just 22.9 percent of their opportunities. The Eagles’ D is 28th, allowing conversions 45.1 percent of the time. …The Eagles’ D has been on the field for 45 drives, per Football Outsiders. The league-average is 47. In other words, the theory that the up-tempo offense is creating more opportunities for opponents is inaccurate. The Eagles have forced three-and-outs 11.1 percent of the time, last in the NFL. The D has just done a poor job of getting off the field.