Thursday, November 17, 2011

Giants: Look ahead to the Eagles

On the surface, the Giants should be in the driver's seat for this game against the Eagles. As support, we can bring the following data:
1. Giants beat the Eagles already on the road in week 3 and now get the Eagles at home
2. Vick, the QB that treated the Giants like dogs in last year's embarrassing 4th quarter meltdown in the Meadowlands has two cracked ribs and realistically is unlikely to play. If he does play, at the very least, he will be hampered by those ribs which seemed to affect his accuracy last week when he played through it. He looked awful against the Cardinals playing hurt (16-34-128-0 TD-2 INT for a QB rating of 32.4)
3. DeSean Jackson is back from his punishment but is still unhappy about his contract status. Maclin, who is the Eagles leading receiver is injured and looks like he will not play.

Those are some superficial facts that would seem to support the idea that the Giants will win. But there's something about this Eagles team that makes you nervous. They lost the last two weeks, with their offense looking really bad against the Bears and the Cardinals. But the week before that, they absolutely destroyed the Cowboys 34-7. What I deduce from those results is that while they are inconsistent, they do have some great team speed on offense and some dangerous play makers that can turn the game around on offense. A look at their offensive statistics supports that idea. They are the third ranked offense in football as measured by yards gained, best in rushing yards per game and near the top in passing. However they also lead the league in turnovers, with a league worst 21. Turning the ball over often undermines your offensive progress, of course, but there is a lot of luck involved in those turnovers. It also strongly suggests that if the Eagles play a tighter game and don't turn it over, they could be difficult to handle. Look at it this way: the Eagles have rushed the ball 265 times this year and passed it 318 times for a total of 583 plays from scrimmage. They turned the ball over 21 times, or 3.6% of their plays. By contrast, the Giants have run 566 plays and turned it over only 10 times, for a turnover percentage that is twice as good at only 1.76% of their offensive plays. While that difference might seem impressive, the fact remains that it is still a very small fraction of the total plays that are run and can not be counted on to turn the tide each and every game. My point is that if Eagles don't turn it over they could be tough. In general, be wary of teams that have very high or low turnover numbers. The Bills might be an example of a team that did very well early in the year, but whose status was inflated by lots of early takeaways on defense. You can't count on those turnovers and when they disappeared, the Bills regressed. The converse is also true - if Eagles don't turn it over their offense could shine.

If I were the Eagles, my game plan would be to attack the Giants with their running game and the Giants LB with their passing game. McCoy is the best offensive player  on the Eagles; Eagles lead the league in rushing and Giants are 20th in the league in rushing defense, so this seems like an obvious approach. But with Boley out and with the Giants LBs inexperienced, the Eagles should attack them in the passing game. They are well equipped to do it, because their TE Celek is a good pass catcher and the Eagles are a very good screen team which also plays to the strengthens of McCoy. Giants are likely to play more zone than usual, because playing man-to-man often gives running QBs lanes to run against DBs that have their backs turned to the QB. Vick is a great runner at QB but even if he doesn't play, likely replacement Vince Young is a much better runner than passer. If the Giants are forced into more zones, it also exposes the LBs to defend the middle of the field and this could be a challenge for them. The Giants LBs are young and talented, but they are mistake prone and blow assignments occasionally. I expect that this experience will be good for them in the long run, but at this point in their development it could be dicey.

Consequently, the Giants need a big game from their DL, primarily to stop the Eagles running game so the Giants LBs don't have to sell out to stop the run. Of course, a good game by the DL also puts pressure on the QB to cover up the exposure the Giants may have with their LBs in the passing game in the middle of the field. It seems like we say this every week, but with McCoy a key weapon of the Eagles, it is certainly true. Last week, the DL and LBs did a good job stopping the run of the 49ers, but were exposed in the passing game in the middle of the field. Smith completed nothing deep to the outside - everything was inside and over the middle against the Giants LBs. Eagles OL has not been very good this year, notwithstanding the offense's lofty standings in NFL team rankings and they are further hurting with some injuries there. Giants DL has to take advantage of this.

When Giants have the ball on offense, they should be able to move the ball against the Eagles. Eagles LBs are not good in pass coverage and Giants should use DJ Ware to attack them. Eagles have two excellent cover CBs in Samuel and FA prize acquisition Asomugha. I can't figure out why they are not playing better this year on defense, but certainly some of it has to do with weak help from the S position. Eagles should try to attack these safeties and try to find Ballard and Cruz this week in the middle of the field to attack the LB and S positions.

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