Eagles-Giants: A closer look at Sunday's NFC East matchup

It's a must-win for the banged-up Eagles to keep alive hopes of somehow winning the division

The Eagles walked out of MetLife Stadium back on Oct. 11, confident they had turned their season around.

They had just vanquished the New York Giants, 34-13, in what was their best overall game of the early season. They left with a 3-3 record staring at two more games before the bye week.

The Giants, on the other hand, were in a free fall. They left their building that night sitting at 1-5 and mired in a three-game losing streak that expanded to five straight losses.

My how things changed, with the Eagles no on a two-game slide and trying to right a sinking ship that may already be well beyond rescuing after last Sunday’s 48-7 loss. It was the Eagles’ worst loss since a 42-0 stinker to the Seattle Seahawks in December of 2005 and left them at 4-6. It was also a game in which quarterback Carson Wentz threw three interceptions for just the second time in a career that began in 2016.

And the Giants? Well, they have won two straight and are rising at 3-7.

“Since we played them last they had a bye and they've come back with a couple wins,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “They're leaning more - and we probably opened this box - but leaning more on (Giants RB Saquon) Barkley not only catching the ball, which he was early on in the season, but running the ball and really pounding it on inside runs. So I think that's probably the biggest difference.”

Barkley shredded the Eagles with 130 yards on the ground and 99 yards receiving.

The Cowboys beat the Eagles two weeks ago on the strength of their running back, Ezekiel Elliott, who hammered out 151 yards rushing and another 36 yards receiving.

“We obviously have an outstanding running back and it’s important he gets his touches,” said New York coach Pat Shurmur. “He’ll get over 20 touches a game, whether it’s a catch and a pass or running the ball. We happened to run it the other day (in a 38-35 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He had 27 rushes, which is probably his high for the year, but that was the way the game was playing out as well.

There have been other games where he’s going to touch the ball, probably run the ball close to 20 then maybe have six or eight more catches. I hate the whole idea of saying so and so is going to touch the ball so much, but it really makes sense for him to have the ball in his hand.”

SERIES HISTORY: 167th regular-season meeting. Giants lead series, 83-82-2.The Eagles have won four in a row over New York and eight of their last nine. Dating back to 2008, the Eagles are 16-4 in their last 20 games versus the Giants.

PREDICTION: GIANTS 24, EAGLES 20

NOTES, QUOTES:

Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins raised a ruckus this week with comments saying he think the team may have quit against the Saints.

“I didn’t feel like as a team that we had a lot of fight,” he said. “I think that when a team jumps on you like the Saints did, and things get rolling, you find out a lot about yourself. You’re going to get blown out regardless. You either get blown out swinging or blown out laying down. And I think you had a little bit of both.

“Not to say that there aren’t guys playing hard, or that they aren’t giving it what they’ve got. It’s just that we need every drop of that at this point, and we’re going to demand that from the top of the roster all the way to the bottom.”

The Eagles have scored just 21 points in the first quarter all season, which is the fewest in the league. Fourteen of those first-quarter points came against the Giants.

“We just have to catch a rhythm early in a game,” said tight end Zach Ertz. “I feel if we do that, we’ll be able to execute the rest of the game at high level. We have to catch a spark early on offense. We have to score points in the first quarter. That is the bottom line. That is the big thing from this entire season I take so far. We have to score points in the first quarter. I’ve been saying it for 10 weeks now and hopefully it comes true this week.”

The last interception the Eagles had – and they have just four – was against New York on Oct. 11.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8. That could be the number of wins it will take to win the NFC East this year. There is a realistic shot that could happen, but the magic number may be nine.

PERSONNEL PLAYER NOTES: Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan was added to the 53-man roster after spending all season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list. Asked what his role would look like, head coach Doug Pederson said, “A good one.” And what that means in terms of snaps? “One hundred percent of the game, I don’t know, we’ll see.”

The Eagles secondary is so banged up, with starters Ronald Darby (out for season with torn ACL) and Jalen Mills out, but also ruled out are Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox. Rasul Douglas is questionable.So the Eagles will have three cornerbacks get significant snaps - Chandon Sullivan, Cre’Von LeBlanc, and De’Vante Bausby. None of those three were on the roster three weeks ago.

Veteran running back Darren Sproles will miss yet another game with a hamstring injury. He hasn’t played since the season opener on Sept. 6.

Golden Tate still hasn’t had the effect on the Eagles’ offense as the team had hoped when they acquired the veteran receiver from the Detroit Lions at the trade deadline. He had more snaps in his second game than he did in his debut, but his impact was minimal, catching five passes for 48 yards.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Carson Wentz. The offense, of course, runs through Wentz, and the quarterback struggled mightily against the Saints, probably playing his worst game as a pro.

“I’m going to go through this week same way I always do,” said Wentz. “Last week was last week … I don’t change my approach win, lose, good bad, indifferent, I stay the same really all the time. I kind of build my routine and how I mentally prepare. I’ve established that.”

Wentz had his second three-interception game as a pro. His previous one was against the Bengals on Dec. 4, 2016 in a 32-14 loss. He went 36-for-60 (60 percent) for 308 yards with a touchdown. How did he respond? Well, just OK. Against the Redskins the following week, he was 32-for-46 (69.5 percent) with 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The week after that, he didn’t throw a touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens.

In fact, until Sunday, when he didn’t throw a touchdown pass against the Saints, that game against the Ravens on Dec. 18, 2016, was the last game he had not thrown a TD, meaning his streak of throwing for at last one score in 22 straight games ended last weekend.

GAME PLAN:

The Eagles did a good job taking Odell Beckham away from New York quarterback Eli Manning, holding Beckham to just 44 yards on six catches. It was his lowest yardage output of the season.

“They paid special attention to him, whether they were playing man, they used Malcolm (Jenkins) to double him, and when they were playing zone, they would crowd him up,” said Shurmur. “We need to be aware of that, but still find ways for him to touch the ball.”

The flip side to taking away Beckham was that Barkley beat them on the ground and in the air. The way the Eagles run defense has played the last two weeks, Barkley could chew them up again.

“They run the football really good and lately we haven’t been able to stop the ball and that’s a problem because they’re going to hand (number) 26 the ball,” said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “We gave up 100-plus yards the last two weeks and that’s uncommon for our defense, and we have to get it fixed.”

Added Jenkins: “There are a ton of things on this team right now that are alarming, run defense being one of them. It’s most disappointing because we’ve always taken pride in stopping the run. That comes down to a multitude of things. But at the end of the day, we gotta dominate at the line of scrimmage. That’s where we make our plays as a defense, being able to challenge teams when they do try to run it ... and they’re behind the sticks and we can pass rush.”

Offensively, well it sounds like a broken record for sure, and that is the slow starts. It’s been a problem all season, and if it doesn’t stop here and the Giants grab a lead and ride to a win, the Eagles’ will have nothing left to play for the rest of the way but pride.

QUOTES TO NOTE:

“We've got to get back to work,” said Pederson. “New York Giants, (NFC East) game, right in front of us, in fact three games in front of us with our division. We have to quickly erase Sunday. We have to learn from Sunday, never to let that happen again as coaches and players and move on from that. And again, you're two games out, and it's a great opportunity this week to make one step closer to your goal.

“It’s a division game and we know what they can do offensively, so we have to put up points,” said receiver Nelson Agholor. “They have a fast defense, a lot of speed, so we have to prepare for that.”

MATCHUPS TO WATCH – Saquon Barkley against the Eagles run defense. This looks like a mismatch, given the way the Eagles’ run stoppers have been giving up yards the last two weeks. Perhaps the return of Jernigan will give the line a boost. The Eagles know Barkley will need to be contained, somehow, some way. Quite honestly, that's what I would do (run the ball) against us right now,” said Schwartz. “We're going to have to be ready for it.”

Wentz against the Giants defense. It will be interesting to see how Wentz rebounds from the worst game of his career. Giants Cornerback Janoris Jenkins said this week that he doesn’t think Wentz is moving around on his repaired knee as well as he did last year. Of course, Jenkins didn’t have much to say about how Wentz carved up the New York defense in their first meeting this year, completing 26 of 36 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns.

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