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September 20, 2017

Eagles vs. Giants: Five matchups to watch

After their first bump in the road in 2017 at Kansas City against the Chiefs Week 2, the Philadelphia Eagles will play their home opener Week 3 against the New York Giants, who come in desperate after starting 0-2.

Here are five matchups to watch:

1) The Giants' offensive line vs. the Eagles' defensive line

Let's just get the obvious matchup out of the way right off the bat. As we noted in our Giants dumpster fire piece back in June, the Giants' offensive line is a mess. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been particularly bad this season, especially in Week 2, when he was destroyed on the edge by Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah, who had three sacks and a forced fumble Monday night in East Rutherford.

Conversely, the Eagles' defensive line has very clearly been the biggest strength of the team so far. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are off to career years, Timmy Jernigan has created a lot of disruption next to Cox in the middle of the defense, and even Vinny Curry, Chris Long, and Derek Barnett have shown promise. The Eagles have battered both of the opposing quarterbacks they have faced.

The Eagles are fourth in the NFL with eight sacks, while the Giants are fourth-worst in the NFL with eight sacks allowed. Still, I don't even think that adequately tells the story of how good the Eagles' defensive line has been, and how bad the Giants' offensive line has been.

Jim Schwartz noted that the Giants can do things offensively to help stabilize that lopsided matchup.

"I think that will go widely reported this week, that it's an important matchup, our defensive line against their offensive line," Schwartz acknowledged. "Well, that only comes into play if we can make the quarterback hold the ball. If he's running it or throwing quick, that defensive line can get neutralized.

"Play action pass, quick passes, max protect, chip, there's a lot of things that can go into layering the pass rush."

2) Odell Beckham Jr. vs. the Eagles' corners

Odell Beckham missed Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys with an ankle injury suffered during a preseason game. He returned Week 2 against the Detroit Lions, but did not look like he was 100 percent.

In terms of preparation, as Chip Kelly would say, the Eagles aren't going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe trick.

They intend to prepare for Beckham as if he's 100 percent.

"We have to expect him to be 100 percent," said Schwartz. "If we expect anything less, we're in the wrong business because he has a full week to prepare. He obviously was well enough that they played him for 30, 33 plays I think it was. He's another week away from that, another week ahead of his rehab and things like that, so we'll have to be ready for 13, and we're going to have to be ready for him being the same guy we remember from last year. 

"And he's a very difficult player to handle, and their offense has missed him the first couple weeks. It's our job to keep him from being a factor. Well, he's going to be a factor, but keep him from being a game-changing factor. It's going to take good team defense to do it. It's not going to be one guy that'll do it."

In two games against Schwartz's defense last season, OBJ had 15 catches for 196 yards and 2 TDs.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are down Ronald Darby and potentially Jaylen Watkins at corner.

3) Evan Engram vs. the Eagles linebackers and safeties

For the third straight week, the Eagles will face a very talented tight end. In Week 1, they saw (and handled) Jordan Reed. In Week 2, they saw (and didn't quite handle) Travis Kelce. In Week 3, they'll see rookie Evan Engram.

Engram's spider chart from the Combine, where he ran a 4.42 40:

While he doesn't have great size, those are some highly impressive athleticism measurables. Engram has eight catches for 93 yards and the Giants' only TD of the season.

"I mean, that rookie tight end looks like he's going to be one of the same kind of guys that we're used to playing," said Schwartz. "A Travis Kelce or a Jordan Reed, that kind of guy, and they're getting him more involved in the offense."

Expect a lot of work for Malcolm Jenkins on Engram.

4) Carson Wentz vs. Steve Spagnuolo

A season ago, the Giants confused Carson Wentz quite a bit, particularly in the first matchup, when Giants defensive coordinator threw everything he could at the rookie.

Frank Reich explained that Spagnuolo-coached teams do a great job of disguising what they're going to do before the snap.

"I think the Giants' defense probably has the best or one of the better pressure packages that we face," said Reich. "They do a good job of disguising. They do a good job of presenting a similar presentation and have multiple looks off of it. Safeties do a very good job disguising. They'll be all the way down one way and kick back the other way. They make a lot of things look the same. They'll give you a pressure look and bail out. 

"I mean, it's nothing that you don't see every week. I just think that Spags does a particularly good job coaching his guys and having the full complement of pressures that go with the different presentations that he gives you."

This will now be the third time Wentz has seen Spagnuolo's defense. It will be interesting to see what he has learned.

5) The Eagles' offensive line vs. the Giants' defensive line

While the Eagles' defensive line vs. the Giants' offensive line looks like a major advantage for the Eagles in this matchup, there's also an argument to be made that the Giants' D-line has an advantage over the Eagles' O-line.

The Eagles have not been able to get anything going in the run game so far, and Carson Wentz has been hit a league-high 19 times. Some were calling the Eagles' offensive line one of the five best in the NFL before the season began. They have not played like it so far.

Facing a very talented edge-rushing duo of Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, as well as a dominant run-stuffing DT in Snacks Harrison, the Eagles' O-line must play better.

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