Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eagles - Giants preview

The Eagles of 2008 fancy themselves as the Giants of 2007. They are hoping they will get on a run like the Giants of last year and get the rings. On the surface, there are some similarities: both teams had uneven regular seasons and made it into the playoffs as a wildcard; both had qbs and coaches that were under fire and seemed to have their futures with the team in question; both came in as wildcard and won their first game on the road. But there is something slightly demeaning of the Eagles talking about the 2007 Giants as being a mediocre team that just happened to get on a roll and play their best in the playoffs. That would be a reasonable assessment of last year's championship if the Giants followed up their title last year with a record of 8-8 or 9-7 this year and did not make the playoffs or barely squeezed in as a wildcard. Then, asserting that the Giants playoff run last year was a mirage would be a defensible position. However when they follow up the title last year with a division title by 3 games in a tough NFC East, with the # 1 seed in the conference and a 12-4 record, some other explanation is appropriate. Specifically, I would assert that the Giants and their qb came into their own last year at just the right moment and continued their growth into this year. Giants had (and still have) a very young team with several rookies and 2nd and 3rd year players. Many needed a season to gain experience, hit their stride at the right time and continued their growth into this year. As an example, let's not forget the explosion onto the scene of Corey Webster at the end of the year and the contributions of Ahmad Bradshaw at the same time that gave the Giants some extra juice. Their excellence has continued into this year.

To the game itself, the Eagles beat the Giants a few weeks ago in Giants Stadium and really stopped the Giants offense from being effective all game long. Their strategy was simple and straightforward. The 40 mph winds and the absence of Plaxico Burress made the Eagles completely unafraid of the Giants passing game. Eagles, therefore, dropped a safety or two down to the line of scrimmage and even more, had the LBs shooting the gaps and run blitzing often to challenge the Giants running game. Then, when they got the Giants in 3rd and long, they would blitz the bejesus out of Eli. They were confident that their improved db-field could handle the Giants WRs man-to-man. They did not sack Eli (maybe once) but did put some pressure on him. Mostly, however, the Eagles aggressively stopped the run and the wind stopped the passing game. Everyone remembers the wide open pass on a post pattern that would have been a sure TD had Hixon not dropped the ball. The Giants will need him to hold on to the ball this weekend.

There are a few tactics that the Giants can use against this aggressive, run stopping and run blitzing defense:

(1) Notwithstanding the extra guys at the line of scrimmage, the Eagles have a smallish front and the Giants can road grade them and just overpower them at the point of attack. This is what the Giants did to the Eagles in their first game at the Linc in Philadelphia. The presence and health of Brandon Jacobs will help this. I would run right at Trent Coles, who, though quick, is small. You should hit them with quick traps and counters to take advantage of their forward push. Some additional deception in the running game would help also. Using two RBs at the same time, faking to one into the line and pitching to the other on an outside run might be an interesting wrinkle.
(2) Line up Boss in a slot or split out wide in 2-TE personnel groupings, out of which the Giants usually run. This forces the Eagles to send someone out to cover TE Boss and opens up the middle for the OL to handle more easily. It also gives Boss better blocking angles from the slot, rather than getting down low in tight formations.
(3) Run out of shotgun formations, and not just straight draw plays. Pull a G or T and let him lead to the opposite side of the field, running between the T and G on the other side. Eagles take fairly wide splits at the line of scrimmage and this should be open. Snee, because of his great athleticism would be the best choice to pull for Giants, running back to the left side of the offense. Giants used all of the above techniques against the Panthers and they were very effective in recharging the running game.
(4)Finally, don't be afraid to throw on first down or in typical running situations. Eli is very good with the play action fake and can be selective and effective throwing down the field.

In order to get the Eagles off the line of scrimmage, Giants have to be able to throw down the field, using Hixon and maybe one other target to go deep. Giants don't have to hit 60 yard pass plays all day long, but they will have to hit some 20-25 yard balls to make the Eagles pay for what will surely be tight man-to-man most of the day. Hixon is very important player this week, but Toomer is not as capable of gaining separation against faster, younger DBs in man coverage. He is very good at finding the spots in zones, but Giants are not likely to see much zone this week. Consequently, it would be a bold, if somewhat risky move to try and make some plays to Sinorice Moss and/or Manningham down the field. I know it was only garbage time in the Vikings game, but both young WR's made some catches and looked pretty good in that 2nd half. I think there's a good chance that Toomer will not be coming back next year and I would have liked to have seen more form these young players, so Giants would know what they have in them, can determine if they are valuable assets and can decide a future course of action.

Another wrinkle might be to have two RB's in to max protect on passing downs when the Giants expect a blitz from that Eagles defense. Pick up the blitz with extra blockers and use a double move on the outside to take advantage of the Eagles db's aggressiveness. If the blitz doesn't come, it leaves the second RB 1-on-1 with a LB and he could leave the backfield and be a target with a short throw. Ward is a great pass catcher out of the backfield, and -who knows - we may even have an Ahmad Bradshaw sighting this week.

Another important wrinkle is how the Giants handle the red zone and get a little more efficient there. My answer is the same it has been for several weeks: Kevin Boss. He is not as fast as Burress but he is a bigger target (both taller and in bulk) and is sometimes ignored by the defense at the goal line. He has caught several short TD passes this year, but he should become a bigger part of Giants goal line package. Boss 45 yard pass reception in the Superbowl was the longest in his career. Maybe Gilbride could pull that play out of mothballs, because with Eagles blitzing, Boss may be open on a seam route.

With this active Eagles defense, it goes without saying that the game could rest on the shoulders of the OL. They open up the holes for the running game and give Eli time to make plays in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Giants try to overpower the Eagles right away, regardless of the defensive strategy they employ. Alternatively, they could use the pass early to set up the run.

On defense, the Giants need to keep Westbrook contained. He is a little beat up now, but he's still dangerous. Giants might consider having an extra DB on the field even in running downs, when he is in the game. He is mostly about speed, not power and having the extra speed on defense might be interesting. Giants have to put pressure o McNabb, but need to be disciplined in their pass rush and stay in their rush lanes. It is important to put pressure on, but it might be more important to keep McNabb contained in the pocket. I think the Giants should try to make McNabb a pocket passer and challenge him to beat them with his arm, rather than by breaking the pocket and making plays with his legs. I think McNabb is not a great pure passer, though he has been playing well lately.

Eagles beat the Giants last game, but they showed their cards and Giants certainly have had a sufficient amount of time to come up with some adjustments (maybe some that I've suggested in this post) and get their offense going.

Giants need to be patient in this game and not take needless chances on offense. I don't think Eagles will put up lots of points and it is important not to put them in good field position because of a bad turnover.

No comments: