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Eagles Eye: Eagles-Giants predictions
Michael Vick is probable for Sunday's game but may not be 100 percent healthy. (AP)
Given that Michael Vick might be slowed some by his hamstring, the Eagles will probably have to win this game on the ground.
And given how LeSean McCoy and the offensive line struggled in the first showdown against the Giants, this game will probably be a little closer and tighter than the 15-point win the Eagles emerged from MetLife Stadium with on Oct. 6.
For starters, the Giants are healthier up front this time around. They didn’t have defensive tackle Linval Joseph and hadn’t yet traded for linebacker Jon Beason when they met about three weeks ago.
The athletic Joseph is an integral piece of the team’s top-10 rushing defense and an improving pass rusher. Beason is far from the linebacker who made three Pro Bowls with Carolina but has 21 tackles so far in his two starts since the trade. The second level of the Giants’ defense is much more stable with Beason manning the middle, flanked by Keith Rivers and former Oregon standout Spencer Paysinger.
In the first meeting, the Giants came with the antidote for Chip Kelly’s bread-and-butter inside zone run by stunting 300-plus-pound defensive tackles across center Jason Kelce, who struggles to single block the league’s quicker and stronger defensive linemen. The penetration allowed by Kelce led to McCoy getting dropped in the backfield or rerouting his runs into traffic.
Mike Patterson, who was always an excellent run defender in his eight seasons with the Eagles, really gave Kelce fits, along with mammoth tackle Shaun Rogers, who is doubtful for the rematch. The rotation of Joseph, Cullen Jenkins, Patterson and 330-pound rookie Jonathan Hankins gives the Giants a stout interior defensive line and helped hold Adrian Peterson to a season-low 28 yards on 13 carries Monday night.
In general, the Giants have kept opponents from establishing the ground game. Only six NFL teams are allowing a lower yards-per-carry average than the Giants, who allow an average of 3.7 yards per run.
If they don’t fear Vick’s scrambling ability, the Giants can key in even more on stopping McCoy and forcing Vick into passing situations. They will apt blitz frequently and dare Vick to run on a hamstring that might not be 100 percent recovered (see story).
The Giants will play man press against the Eagles like they did for most of the first game. Eagles receivers have struggled to get separation this year against man, but some of the blame goes to the quarterback. Vick needs to throw with confidence and lead receivers better than he’s done. It’s great that he’s only thrown two interceptions in 132 attempts, but on third downs and inside the red zone he’s been reluctant to pull the trigger, especially when there’s space for him to run.
Vick ran for 79 yards in the first half against the Giants before leaving with a hamstring injury but completed just six passes and went the entire first quarter without making a connection. The Eagles settled for too many field goals, which almost came back to haunt them when the Giants took a 22-21 lead into the fourth.
Riley Cooper has had two nice back-to-back games and at some point Jason Avant will start getting the ball. Rookie tight end Zach Ertz is consistently open and should see more targets. Brent Celek is just an afterthought in the offense now. One of these four needs to make some plays with DeSean Jackson likely to get double-teamed. The Giants are a little healthier in the secondary than they were last time, with corner Terrell Thomas probable and Corey Webster questionable.
Gone are the days when the Giants dominated the trenches with stout defensive ends who couldn’t all be double-teamed. Michael Strahan is long gone and Osi Umenyiora is with Atlanta. If Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t winning battles up front this year, the Giants are very ordinary in the pass rush.
Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka are still hustle players, but they’re not fierce in the pass rush anymore. The Giants were hoping to find a pass-rushing gem in third-round pick Damontre Moore, but the rookie from Texas A&M hasn’t stayed healthy.
Their pass rush hinges on which Pierre-Paul shows up -- the one who’s still unsure of himself in his comeback from summer back surgery or the one who provided a spark Monday night against the Vikings.
(To read the Eagles' defensive scouting report, click here.)