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October 09, 2018

Al Morganti: Eagles must produce statement win at Giants Thursday

The Eagles are off to a miserable start, but the ultimate course of the season will likely be set Thursday night at the Meadowlands where they face the Giants. 

The Eagles are at a spot where the direction of the team can be sent into a downward spiral if they can’t beat the Giants, or they can gain some footing with an expected victory. They will enter the game as a three-point favorite on the road, but there is nothing that has happened to this point to make any fan feel comfortable. 

The Giants are coming off what should be a deflating loss on Sunday when what appeared to be an exhilarating comeback engineered by Eli Manning was snuffed out by a 63-yard game-ending field goal. When the ball went through the uprights, the Giants had lost to Carolina, 33-31, and the team was in the NFC East basement at 1-4. 

Basement? Well, the Giants miserable 1-4 record is only one win less than the Eagles (2-3), Dallas Cowboys (2-3) and Washington Redskins (2-2). 

The Giants saw their season disintegrate about a year ago when Eagles kicker Jake Elliott nailed a crucial 61-yarder against them. This edition of the New York Giants is much different for one huge reason – Saquon Barkley. 

In this area, Barkley was revered from his days in the blue and white of Penn State. Barkley has carried that act into the NFL and you wonder if he will be enough of a difference to further derail the Eagles season. The scary part of this is the thought of a combination passing attack WITH a running threat. 

Think back to this past Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings came into Philadelphia with no running game. There was simply no option for the Vikings to go to the run, and still Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins navigated through the air to tear up the Eagles, especially Jalen Mills. Can you imagine if the Vikings had been able to mix in some early running plays to further soften the Eagles defense? 

As for the passing attack, there are still moments when Manning can look like the quarterback who owned Tom Brady in Super Bowls. Manning can still engineer a drive, especially late in games, and especially with some guy named Odell Beckham Jr. able to haul in passes – (as well as throw them). The whole Beckham story is a backdrop to the game, and you can bet much of the pre-game attention will be directed at Beckham’s interview last Sunday in which he questioned the very heart of the Giants organization. 

The interview so unnerved coach Pat Shurmur that he had to address it after the awful loss, and directed the receiver to address the locker room. Eagles fans will hope that he whole soap opera will be a reason the Giants come apart at the seems. 

Well, don’t count on it – the better chance is that the late field goal will be the reason the Giants come undone, not Beckham. In fact, Beckham is more likely to see this game and the Eagles mess in pass coverage as a means to undo any damage done as a result of the interview. The bottom line in pro sports is performance based, and Beckham could light up the Eagles. 

The best case scenario for the Eagles – and one they are very capable of achieving is that the Eagles use this game as their night to roar back as a defending Super Bowl contender. Rather than licking their wounds, the Eagles have this sweet opportunity to lick the Giants, and beat them badly. 

Eagles coach Doug Pederson and the entire locker room have been preaching that the situation is “fixable,” and everybody is echoing the age old sports cliché of “looking in the mirror.” The Eagles need to fix the offensive line so that quarterback Carson Wentz can complete his comeback and get back to his status as an elite NFL quarterback. 

The Eagles are doing Wentz no favors as he has to scramble just to get away from the pressure that comes at him from either side. The path to the playoffs is that Wentz would get better week by week as he gears up following his knee surgery. Wentz has certainly been solid in his return, but there had to be some time to get back up to full speed, and the Eagles inability to protect his has slowed that progress. 

It is with that in mind that this Thursday night’s game against the Giants is so important. It is an early crossroads game for the direction of the team. One of the biggest advantages the Eagles own this season is the status of the NFC East, and this is where they need to take advantage of the advantage. 

Just like the Steelers did to Atlanta, the Eagles need a statement win. You could argue that a victory over the Giants wouldn’t prove so much about the team’s viability as a Super Bowl threat. However, it would be difficult to argue that a loss wouldn’t do a whole lot of damage in the other direction. 

The Eagles need to give Wentz the time and space to direct an offensive attack on the Giants. The Eagles need to have their defense put up a shut down performance on the Giants double attack of passing and running. There is no need for this to be another Miracle at the Meadowlands. This needs to be a solid and steady effort from start to finish, and when it’s done the discussion needs to be how quickly the Eagles became a threat to win it all again.