The Eagles are not taking the Giants lightly
Eli Manning has thrown six touchdown passes and nine interceptions so far this season. (USA Today Images)
People wonder when Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis will make a personnel change to fix a defense giving up an unprecedented amount of yards.
But what can he do?
Bench struggling linebacker Mychal Kendricks for rookie free agent Jake Knott? Cut down Trent Cole’s reps in favor of Clifton Geathers? Put Brandon Boykin on the outside and make Jordan Poyer the slot?
These just aren’t feasible options. The Eagles aren’t very deep or talent-rich among the backups, save for a few linemen and safety Earl Wolff. Making rash personnel changes would just be rearranging furniture on the Titanic.
But if you hadn’t noticed, Davis already executed one personnel change last week against Denver, essentially removing aging nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga from the starting lineup, sliding defensive end Cedric Thornton to the middle and bringing outside linebacker Trent Cole up on the line to take Thornton’s old spot.
Sopaga didn’t see much action until late in the second half and Thornton continued his good season, even picking up a sack and showing progression as a two-gap lineman. Look for Thornton to keep manning the nose, where he draws a favorable matchup against the center instead of the tackle, and for the Eagles to show more four-man looks in the pass rush against a battered Giants offensive line missing Pro Bowl right guard Chris Snee and center David Baas.
Against Denver, the Eagles employed almost exclusively a two-gap scheme to guard against the threat of Peyton Manning opting out of passes. Against the Giants, Davis can mix it up and be more creative. Expect to see more Vinny Curry, who barely saw action against the Broncos after an impressive season debut against Kansas City, and perhaps more Brandon Graham, one of the few Eagles last Sunday to hurry Manning into an incomplete pass.
One trap the Eagles can’t fall into is taking the Giants lightly. Although the opponents have outscored the Giants 110-30 over the past three games and Eli Manning has thrown nine interceptions, the Giants still have prolific weapons in receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and running back David Wilson.
The offense’s struggles are largely due to injuries up front, but veteran lineman David Diehl is ready to play right guard after a thumb injury kept him sidelined. Diehl will replace Snee, who’s on Injured Reserve and will undergo hip surgery. He’s old but cagey and should be an upgrade over prior fill-in James Brewer.
The Giants are also hurt by the season-ending injury to fullback Henry Hynoski, an unsung hero of their rushing attack. They’re asking H-back Bear Pascoe to replace Hynoski but lead blocking isn’t Pascoe’s strength.
Despite their offensive pitfalls, Cruz is the NFL’s fourth-leading receiver with 425 yards. He already has catches of 70, 60 and 51 yards. He’s given the Eagles headaches throughout his career, burning them from the slot and outside and usually for deep connections.
Davis has used Boykin as a blitzer, forcing safeties into coverage on slot receivers, but that formula keeps backfiring. Eddie Royal caught three TDs against them, Donnie Avery racked up 141 of his 213 total yards this year against them and Wes Welker caught two TDs last Sunday against the Eagles. Time for Davis to keep Boykin in coverage and double up on either Cruz or Nicks.
Eli Manning loves interior receivers but tight end Brandon Myers, a big free-agent pickup from Oakland, has just 16 receptions for 173 yards and second-year receiver Ruben Randle only has six catches for 61 yards since his five-catch, 101-yard effort in the opener.
Still, the Eagles are really struggling in coverage across the middle, especially Kendricks. Despite all of his natural athleticism and quickness, Kendricks is starting to look like Ernie Sims 2.0. Teams are killing the Eagles across the middle, moving the chains with underneath stuff that the Eagles can't stop.
If there’s a remedy for Manning and the struggling Giants offense, it very well could be this Eagles defense.
For the scouting report on the Eagles' offense vs. the Giants' defense, click here.