Sizing up Sundays game between the Eagles (1-1) and the New York Giants (1-1) at Lincoln Financial Field.
When the Eagles have the ball
All week the New York Giants said they hoped Mike Vick would start at quarterback for the Eagles on Sunday. Well, it looks like they will get their wish.
Vick, who suffered a concussion in Atlanta, practiced on Thursday and will start against the Giants, barring any setbacks. Mike Kafka, who played well in relief against the Falcons, appears headed back to the bullpen where he will be ready just in case.
For Vick, the good news is he will be going against a New York secondary crippled by injuries. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has patched things together as best he can, but it isnt a pretty picture. The Giants rank 24th in the league against the pass, despite facing two teams (Washington and St. Louis) that dont have a lot of weapons.
The Eagles, by contrast, have weapons galore. The Giants dont have the speed to cover DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin and they dont have the depth to match up when the Eagles spread the field with Jason Avant, ex-Giant Steve Smith, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy. This is the kind of game that makes Andy Reid giddy with delight. He will have receivers open all over the field.
The only question and well probably ask it every week is can the line protect either Vick well enough to allow him to hit the big plays that will be available down the field? Dont expect the Eagles to run much. The Giants run defense ranks third in the league, allowing an average of 3.0 yards per carry.
The Giants defense is built on one thing: the front four. The linebackers havent been good since the days of Lawrence Taylor and while they keep changing personnel in the secondary, it never seems to improve. They had a promising cornerback in Terrell Thomas, but he injured his knee and is out for the season.
The Giants still can be formidable if their line is kicking butt up front. Weve seen Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora dominate a game, but they are banged up now. Tuck is coming back from a neck injury and Umenyiora (knee) didnt play the last two weeks and seems unlikely to play Sunday.
Look for Jason Pierre-Paul to play a lot of snaps. If Umenyiora cant play, Pierre-Paul will start in his place. If Umenyiora does play, he will split time with Pierre-Paul, a 6-6, 280-pounder with the wingspan of a stealth bomber. He leads the team in sacks (2.5) and he gets better every week.
Left tackle Jason Peters, who played a strong game in Atlanta, will have the task of blocking Tuck. Right tackle Todd Herremans will have to contain whoever lines up on the other side, either Umenyiora or Pierre-Paul.
When the Giants have the ball
The Giants rank 24th in offense and they arent doing anything well. They are averaging 3.3 yards per rush and Eli Manning was so erratic in the last game against St. Louis that the home crowd was booing him in the first quarter.
After the Week 1 loss to Washington, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs criticized offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. They felt he was relying too much on the pass and not calling enough running plays. Gilbride called more runs against the Rams and while the Giants won, 28-16, Bradshaw and Jacobs didnt do a whole lot.
It will be interesting to see what approach Gilbride takes Sunday. The Giants came into the season vowing to return to the ground game that won for them in the past. It would be tempting to do that against an Eagles team that clearly has issues in that area. Their rush defense (30th in the NFL) was gashed for long touchdown runs in each of the first two games.
The Eagles shuffled their linebackers this week, finally admitting what everyone already knew: the alignment with Casey Matthews in the middle. Moise Fokou on the weak side and Jamar Chaney on the strong side wasnt working. Chaney is now back in the middle (he had 16 tackles against the Giants in his first start in the middle last season) with Matthews on the weak side and Fokou on the strong side.
Chaney will be an improvement over Matthews in the middle. But what makes the Eagles coaches think Matthews will be adequate on the weak side? He is unfamiliar with the position and he will have a whole new set of keys and responsibilities. Look for the Giants to test him by sending Bradshaw out on pass patterns and forcing the rookie to cover.
The Giants dont look good running the ball. The line, which was the best in the NFC a few years ago, is mediocre now. Will Beatty is the new left tackle and he could get eaten alive by Trent Cole (six tackles, four for a loss in Atlanta). The new center is ex-49er David Bass, who isnt the anchor Shaun OHara was in the middle. He will have problems trying to block Cullen Jenkins.
The book on Manning hasnt changed. Pressure him and he will make mistakes. He will start throwing off his back foot and floating the ball into coverage. He led the NFL with 25 interceptions last season.
During the off-season, the Giants allowed Mannings favorite receivers, Smith and tight end Kevin Boss, to leave and he has not developed the same chemistry with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. In an offense built on option routes where the quarterback and receiver have to read coverage and adjust patterns on the fly that can be deadly.
In the past when Manning was rushed, he knew where Smith and Boss would be. Now when the walls are closing in, he doesnt know where to turn. Here is a telling stat: He is 29th among quarterbacks on third-down efficiency through two games.
The Eagles front four (nine sacks) should get a heavy pass rush and force Manning into some of those Uh oh throws. With Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie lurking in the secondary, the Eagles should pick off a few.
The memory of Jacksons punt return last season still haunts the Giants. Nothing has gone right for them since that memorable walk-off score. Could history repeat itself Sunday? Possibly.
The Giants cut Matt Dodge, the punter who hit the line drive to Jackson, and replaced him with Steve Weatherford. But the real issue is the Giants kick coverage. It has been lousy for years. Jackson could pop another big return and since Lawrence Tynes ranks next to last in touchbacks, Dion Lewis should have several chances to do the same on kickoffs.
For the Eagles rookie specialists, kicker Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry, this will be their first regular season game at the Linc and also their first regular season game outdoors.
There is no doubt the Eagles are in the Giants heads. They have beaten them the last six times they played and last seasons back-from-the-dead 38-31 win knocked the Giants out of the playoffs. The Giants claim they are using that as motivation this week, but their bravado sounds rather hollow to me. I think the Eagles have their number.
The Giants have had nothing but bad luck since the start of training camp and a trip to Philadelphia isnt likely to improve matters. The Eagles defense will swarm all over Manning and make it easy for the offense.
Eagles 24, Giants 13.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.