In the first meeting last season, the Eagles’ defense under new coordinator Juan Castillo was very much in flux. The struggles on that side contributed to Philadelphia starting the season 1-4 and then 4-8. In the second meeting, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was injured and Vince Young led Philadelphia to victory.
So while the teams know each other well, the Giants have more to adjust to this time around. The Eagles know what they’re getting from the Giants. The personnel may have changed a little bit, but with Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell directing the offense and defense, respectively, Philadelphia can gameplan with a little more certainty.
But, as always, the matchups will tell the tale in the Sunday Night Football game. After going over the tape, here are the five most crucial aspects of the matchups between the Eagles and Giants:
Limiting Victor Cruz
No one knew who Giants receiver Victor Cruz was in the first two weeks of the 2011 season when he had two catches for 17 yards. Cruz set the stage for his breakout season in Week 3 against the Eagles when he had three catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including an electrifying 74-yard score. In the Week 11 matchup, Cruz was even better with six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles had problems against Cruz because the Giants like to move him around a lot. That was also a problem for Philadelphia last week against the Cardinals when Larry Fitzgerald had nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Cruz and Fitzgerald are different players physically, but their teams use them in similar fashion. The Eagles are simply going to have to figure out a better way to do with those types of players.
When Cruz is lined up on the left side, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha can handle him. It’s elsewhere that is the problem. The best option would likely be to matchup Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is physical and athletic, against Cruz. Rookie nickel back Brandon Boykin would seem to be overmatched against Cruz. You can bet Gilbride will be designing ways to get Boykin into coverage against Cruz, but the Eagles will need to have answer for it. Expect Philadelphia to use some sort of bracket coverage against Cruz with help from linebackers or a safety.
Slowing the Eagles' pass rush
Philadelphia is really starting to click with four-man rush, which stars Jason Babin (2.5 sacks) at left end, and Trent Cole (1.5 sacks) on the right side. The Eagles use a heavy line rotation, so backups Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham will also get their snaps. The Giants have to feel good that left tackle Williams Beatty has returned to the lineup and played well. That has allowed Sean Locklear to go back to the right side, where his skills fit better. The Giants use a lot of sets that involved multiple tight ends and running backs, so they will be asked to help on the edges against the ends.
Giants' secondary on the spot
Giants safety Antrel Rolle (knee laceration) isn’t a sure thing to play, but it’s likely he’s out there. But with right cornerbacks Jayron Hosley and Michael Coe dealing with hamstring injuries, that means third-stringer Prince Amukamara will be starting for the Giants. He has yet to live up to his 2011 first-round draft status, so expect the Eagles to go after him. Amukamara played well in the Thursday night blowout victory over the Panthers, but the Eagles are more dangerous with receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Eagles LT Demetress Bell
Everyone knows how lethal the Giants’ pass rush is, and that should certainly continue against an Eagles line that allows a ton of pressure. Vick brings on some of the issues himself with indecisiveness and holding onto to the ball too long, but the Eagles will need to play well up front to win.
Bell has the toughest job against exquisite end Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 1.5 sacks and about a dozen other quarterback pressure so far this season. This is a matchup where not having starting left tackle Jason Peters (ruptured Achilles) really hurts. The Eagles are going to have to help Bell against Pierre-Paul, or Vick is going to running the entire game.
Eagles RB LeSean McCoy vs. Giants DE Osi Umenyiora
These two have had a well-publicized battle of verbal and Twitter shots for some time, so there’s a little extra fuel on the fire. The latest installment of this feud came last week when McCoy called Umenyiora “a ballerina in a Giants uniform” during an ESPN interview. Umenyiora has called McCoy “Lady Gaga” in the past, and even wished him a happy Mother’s Day.
Most of it is in good fun among rivals, but the Giants know they have to be serious about stopping McCoy, last season’s All-Pro running back, if they want to win. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of his six career games against the Giants. To limit a shifty, cut-back runner like McCoy, the Giants are going to have to be sound in their gaps and run fits, and not just on the defensive line. Linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka (strong side), Chase Blackburn (middle) and Michael Boley (weak) will need to be disciplined.
Complicating things are the motions with Jackson, and the play-action bootlegs the Eagles like to use with Vick. If the linebackers are fooled by any of the play fakes, that will leave McCoy amble room to gash the Giants on the backside.
Greg Bedard is a contributor to NBCSports.com and the NFL writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @GregABedard.
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