Here are 10 things to know about this weekend’s matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Giants’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.
1. It’s been an up-and-down start for the Giants’ D. In Week 1, Tony Romo picked New York apart, completing 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards. DeMarco Murray piled up 131 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The Bucs put up 34 points against the Giants in Week 2, although Tampa’s defense played a role in that one, forcing three turnovers and scoring once. And last week, New York shut down Cam Newton and the Panthers on Thursday night. Overall, the Giants are allowing 21.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 21st overall – 17th against the pass and 22nd against the run. New York has six interceptions in three games, tied for second-most in the NFL.
2. With the Giants, everything starts up front with Jason Pierre-Paul, arguably the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL. In his second season, Pierre-Paul had 16.5 sacks to go along with 14 hits and 25 hurries (all team highs), per Football Outsiders. And he’s not a one-dimensional player. Pierre-Paul consistently makes plays against the run and creates havoc. He rarely comes off the field, having played 88.3 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Pierre-Paul lines up on both the left and right sides, meaning Demetress Bell (left tackle) and Todd Herremans (right tackle) will get matched up with him. Herremans played well last week against the Cardinals after an inconsistent first two games. Bell had all kinds of issues in his first start of the season, filling in for King Dunlap.
Pierre-Paul and the defensive linemen are able to make up for a lot of the Giants’ issues in coverage. For example, take a look at this first-down play against the Panthers. Newton clearly has tight end Greg Olsen open and wants to get him the ball.
But because of the Giants’ pressure up front, that doesn’t happen.
The Giants get good pressure from their defensive tackles, and look who’s standing in the way of Newton’s pass. Pierre-Paul, at 6-foot-5, with 34 3/4-inch arms, bats the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Keep in mind, Newton is about five inches taller than Michael Vick. The Giants were second in the NFL with 22 passes tipped at the line last year, per Football Outsiders. It’s another way for them to affect the game up front.
3. The Giants use a group of defensive linemen, but it’s not as much of a rotation as the Eagles. Along with Pierre-Paul, expect to see Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora at defensive end. Tuck will rush the passer from the interior as well. Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph are the primary defensive tackles. Tuck had five sacks and 15.5 hurries last season. Umenyiora had nine sacks and 11 hurries. As a unit, the Giants’ defensive line has 4.5 sacks in three games. Pierre-Paul has 1.5, while Umenyiora, Bernard and Joseph have one apiece. As for the Eagles, Dallas Reynolds will make his second career start at center after committing his share of mistakes against the Cardinals. Evan Mathis has been solid, and Danny Watkins is coming off his best game of the season.
4. At linebacker, the Giants go with Chase Blackburn in the middle, Michael Boley on the weak side and Mathias Kiwanuka on the strong side. Jacquian Williams will see the field plenty as well. Veteran Keith Rivers is out with a hamstring injury. The Panthers went to tight end Greg Olsen all game last week, as he caught seven balls on 14 targets for 98 yards. Brent Celek is off to a strong start, averaging 86.0 yards per game and 18.4 yards per reception. He has seven catches of 20+ yards, second in the NFL to only Calvin Johnson. Last week, Celek was used as a blocker 36.8 percent of the time on passing downs, up from the first two weeks (25.8 percent). The Eagles might be better served using Clay Harbor in that role (more on that below) and allowing Celek to help Vick as a pass-catcher.
5. The Giants have been middle-of-the-pack against the run, allowing 4.1 yards per carry. As you might suspect, LeSean McCoy has been better on runs to the right (including to the right sideline), averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 28 attempts. To the left, he’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry on 20 attempts. In two meetings against the Giants last year, McCoy had 241 yards on 47 carries (5.1 YPC). However, for most of the second game, the Giants kept him in check. McCoy broke a 60-yard run on the Eagles’ final drive, but until that, had averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on 22 attempts. He’ll be looking for more than four first-half carries this week.
6. There’s been a lot of talk this week about whether the Eagles might play a little more conservative. Perhaps they’ll try to find a little more balance, but my guess is Marty Mornhinweg has had to stop himself from drooling as he envisions ways the Eagles can exploit the Giants’ secondary. At cornerback, Corey Webster is expected to start, but he’ll be playing with a cast on his right hand. Rookie corner Jayron Hosley is out with a hamstring injury. And 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara is scheduled to make his first career start. Meanwhile, safety Antrel Rolle is questionable after suffering a knee laceration last week. In other words, this is a banged-up unit. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a league-high 9.3 yards per attempt against the Giants. Vick, DeSean Jackson and company will have plenty of chances to get the ball downfield, if (and it’s a big IF) the offensive line can give Vick time.
7. After seeing the Eagles’ issues against the blitz last week, you can be sure that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will decide the risk is worth the reward on Sunday night. Last year, the Giants rushed five or more 20.8 percent of the time, which ranked in the middle of the pack (17th). The blitzed six or more 9.1 percent of the time (10th). When the Giants do blitz, the Eagles will have opportunities to burn them. But will they be able to take advantage? Take a look at one blitz the Giants used against Newton. Hosley attacks from the slot, and Boley goes after Newton too. Umenyiora drops back into coverage from his spot at right defensive end.
Newton has the tight end open.
But he doesn’t get him the ball, possibly because the blitz is coming from that side. Instead, Newton spins out of the pocket, scrambles to his left and throws incomplete. The Panthers are forced to punt.
Another play below: Boley blitzes and is unblocked, while Pierre-Paul gets good pressure off the edge.
The Panthers have an empty backfield, and the protection does not account for Boley. You can see that the left guard (No. 61) is blocking nobody. Everyone else has a one-on-one matchup, as the Giants send just one extra rusher. Boley and Pierre-Paul meet at Newton and sack him.
But look at how many receivers Newton has open on the play.
There are five receivers in routes. And every single one is open (some more than others). Newton has a shot to hit on a big play at the top of the screen with the receiver (circled in red), who is running free towards the sideline. But protection breaks down, and he never gets rid of the ball.
This happened consistently. On the very next play, the Giants send six. Newton has wide receiver Louis Murphy open on the post, but is late with his pass and throws behind the receiver for an incompletion. Otherwise, the Panthers are looking at a big play.
Newton has a receiver open at the top of the screen too.
This is all to show that Vick is going to have his opportunities downfield. Whether he capitalizes or not could determine the difference between a win and a loss.
8. You probably heard a lot this week about how the Cardinals blitzed the A-Gap, specifically in the second half last week. That simply means the gap on either side between the center and guard. Given that Reynolds was making his first career start, that made sense. Given that the Cardinals had success, it makes sense that the Giants will copy them, especially considering since it’s something they’ve shown on tape already this season. Here’s a look at a play from Week 2.
The Giants show seven at the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn is going to blitz the A-Gap, and Antrel Rolle is coming off the edge. Mathias Kiwanuka drops back, so in all, the Giants are rushing six defenders. As you can see, Blackburn goes untouched.
The result is a sack. Vick was 0-for-7 with two sacks against blitzes of six or more last week. He can expect to see them again on Sunday night.
9. One way to help Vick, Reynolds and Bell is to keep running backs and tight ends in to block. For some reason, Clay Harbor only played 11 snaps last week, his lowest number of the season. In the first meeting against the Giants in 2011, Harbor played 44.3 percent of the snaps, his second-highest percentage of the year. Keeping him on the field in this one makes a lot of sense. Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Celek should be able to get open, even if they’re outnumbered.
Look at how the Bucs blocked the Giants on a deep pass attempt in Week 2.
The Bucs have seven blockers going up against five Giants rushers. They double-team Pierre-Paul (No. 90) with a tight end. The running back cleanly picks up the blitzing linebacker. They double-team one defensive tackle and block the other two rushers one-on-one, giving Freeman time to take a shot deep. This kind of protection makes a lot of sense for the Eagles on Sunday.
10. Leftovers: It’s not just the tackles that will have to block Pierre-Paul. He’ll stunt inside, where Reynolds, Watkins and Mathis will have to pick him up. …Opponents have scored touchdowns on 66.7 percent of their trips inside the red zone against the Giants. …Vick was 10-for-13 for 141 yards in the first meeting last year when the Giants didn’t blitz. …Jackson had six catches for 88 yards in the second meeting last year, but lost a 50-yard reception when he flipped the ball at Fewell and drew a penalty.