Background/Storylines: Eagles (2-1) and Giants (2-1)
It was quite a turn of events in Week 3, when the Eagles fell 27-6 to the Arizona Cardinals, a loss that derailed any momentum they had from their Week 2 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Now, as we head towards their titanic clash against the Giants this Sunday, it’s hard to avoid the word “must-win” entering my mind, even this early in the stage. They may be 2-1, but so are the Cowboys and Giants. What makes this game “must-win” in my mind, however, is the way the Eagles got to 2-1; after escaping AFC North foes Baltimore and Cleveland with mere one-point wins and nearly a dozen turnovers, the Eagles were steamrolled by the perpetual laughingstock of the NFL as their former backup QB, Kevin Kolb, made the Eagles’ secondary look silly. If they want to get back on the right track, especially with struggling veterans like Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles need to make their stand this week against New York.
The Giants, on the other hand, are one of the hottest teams in the league after steamrolling the upstart Carolina Panthers, 36-7, last week on Thursday Night Football. Not only is 2-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning has been pretty solid, completing 67% of his passes for over 1000 yards through only three games, but the Giants defense looks better after effectively shutting down Cam Newton last Thursday. Still, the offense is the story: the Giants are tied for third in the league with 94 points, and the emergences of Andre Brown (RB), Martellus Bennett (TE) and Ramses Barden (WR) make this offense a high-powered one. So many weapons plus a great quarterback is quite the offensive formula, so Juan Castillo will really need to buckle down and game plan well to keep his team in it.
Fantasy Watch: Jeremy Maclin (PHI) and Ramses Barden (NYG)
Returning from his recent leg injury, Maclin is a fantasy must-start in all formats this week. DeSean Jackson might be the one with more sporadic production, but he seems to always get the bulk of the attention from Giants defenses. With a banged-up Corey Webster starting alongside Prince Amukamara, who is still underperforming despite last week’s impressive showing against Carolina, Maclin should have a field day. Look for him to get most of Vick’s attention with double-teams on Jackson and Brent Celek mainly being utilized as a blocker, which could result in easy receptions over the middle and more looks down the field.
Ramses Barden made his name heard around the league last week with a nine-catch, 138-yard performance in his first NFL start. With starter Hakeem Nicks expected to miss yet another week due to lingering knee concerns, Barden is in line to see another start across from Victor Cruz—a man who victimized Nnamdi Asomugha last year with 9 catches, 238 yards and three touchdowns in only two games against the Eagles. Castillo won’t risk sending Asomugha out against Cruz once again, so the likely matchup will be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Victor Cruz. Barden, obviously, gets Asomugha in that scenario, a matchup that likely tips towards New York with Asomugha’s struggles of late. Expect Barden to get a couple of big plays like Jacoby Jones and Larry Fitzgerald before him.
Key Matchup: Jason Pierre-Paul vs Demetress Bell
Is this matchup even fair? Even though Bell will likely get blocking help from tight end Brent Celek, a chip will not be enough to stop an All-Pro defensive end like Pierre-Paul. Bell hasn’t exactly looked comfortable as the team’s left tackle, and Pierre-Paul’s array of moves along with his incredible physique and athleticism will make him a huge problem for the Eagles’ offensive line. If Bell doesn’t improve and put himself between Pierre-Paul and Michael Vick, we could see Philadelphia’s QB taking anywhere from 25-30 hits. By halftime.
On the flip side, a strong performance from Bell will not only solidify the position but keep Vick upright and in rhythm. His biggest problem this year has been indecision in the pocket, but more time could give him the time he needs to get the ball out to his talented receiving corps. This matchup is the difference between a Giants blowout and an Eagles win.
X-Factor: Eagles’ LBs (PHI) and Osi Umenyiora (NYG)
Michael Vick, who’s been a turnover machine as of late, is definitely important, but the Eagles need linebackers DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Jamar Chaney to continue their solid play. We know Jason Babin and Trent Cole can get pressure against Will Beatty and Sean Locklear, but the question is, can the linebacking corps stop the surprisingly tough running back combo of Andre Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw? If the Eagles get subpar performances from Ryans or Kendricks, they won’t have the luxury of rushing the edge with consistency or playing back in coverage against the Giants’ dangerous passing game. Stopping Brown and Bradshaw, on the other hand, gives them quite the edge as their ends relentlessly attack Eli Manning all night while safety help over the top is a fixture, not a rarity.
Osi has been talking trash for weeks, and now it’s time for him to walk the walk instead of talking the talk. With the Eagles’ focus on Pierre-Paul, and for good reason, a solid performance from Umenyiora could overwhelm the already fragile Eagles’ offensive line. If they can’t double-team JPP the entire time, where are they going to find the personnel to double both him and Umenyiora? His play might have the single greatest impact of any Giant on Sunday.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Giants 23
As much as the Eagles have struggled with turnovers and down-the-field coverage, playing the Giants has been the one thing they can hang their hat on. In their last eight meetings, the Eagles are 7-1. The last time these two played, Vince Young led his team on a game-winning drive at MetLife stadium that ended with no other than Riley Cooper making the game-ending touchdown reception. While I don’t see Michael Vick rebounding completely, I do see Reid relying on the run game more which opens things up and keeps Manning—and his weapons—off the field. It’s a back-and-forth, nail-biting ending, but I see the Eagles extending their dominance over the Giants.