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October 10, 2018

Eagles vs. Giants: Five matchups to watch

The Philadelphia Eagles have owned the New York Giants in recent years, as they have won 16 of their last 20 games against them, though the most recent matchups have been very tight games.

Here are five matchups to watch.

1) The Giants' inability (or unwillingness?) to go deep vs. the Eagles' inability to stop the deep ball

As you have all seen so far this season, the Eagles (Jalen Mills, mainly) have been toasted repeatedly on deep balls. Meanwhile, Eli Manning was so conservative during the first four weeks of the season, that Odell Beckham bitched about it on the record in a TV interview with Josina Anderson

The NFL's "Next-Gen Stats" back up Beckham's assertions. Through the first five weeks of the season, Manning's average pass travels 2.4 yards short of the sticks, which ties him with Sam Bradford, and is "better" only than Blaine Gabbert and C.J. Beathard.  

Of course, the Tennessee Titans are a team that has struggled to push the ball down the field on the season, but they did it with ease against the Eagles' secondary. 

Beckham is obviously very capable of burning the Eagles for big plays, as he has done in the past. In 7 career games against the Eagles, he has 50 catches for 603 yards and 6 TDs. 

Pat Shurmur would have to be an idiot not to test Mills deep often.

2) The Eagles' defensive line against the Giants' bad offensive line

The Giants' offensive line was awful in 2017, so it's understandable that they wanted to make changes there this offseason. As such, the Giants' OL underwent a number of significant moves:

  1. C Weston Richburg left in free agency.
  2. OT/OG Justin Pugh left in free agency.
  3. They signed OT Nate Solder away from the Patriots on a four-year, $62 million deal that makes him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
  4. They signed OG Patrick Omameh away from the Jacksonville Jaguars on a three-year deal worth $15 million.
  5. They drafted OG Will Hernandez with the 34th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

First, let's get to the departures. Richburg and Pugh were unarguably the Giants' two best offensive linemen. 

The Giants said they felt comfortable letting Richburg walk on the premise that they believed in backup center Brett Jones. That was nonsense, as Jon Halapio beat him out for a starting job, and Jones was subsequently traded. The Giants obviously felt like Richburg wasn't worth the five-year, $47.5 million contract he received to play for the 49ers. I don't disagree, as that is an asinine contract. Still, going from Richburg to Halapio was a downgrade.

Halapio has since suffered a season-ending leg injury, and longtime journeyman tomato can John Greco has taken over at center.

Meanwhile, Pugh was capable of playing four spots along the offensive line. While certainly not a world-beater by any stretch, Pugh is the kind of offensive lineman coaches love because his versatility allows the offense to weather the storm when injuries are suffered along the OL. He bolted for the Cardinals on a five-year deal worth $45 million. Again, that is big time money for an OK starter, but Pugh is missed.

Now for the additions.

First, the Giants added Solder, who as noted above, became the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Giants, he is, at best, the fifth-best offensive tackle in the NFC East, and maybe even lower. Making Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL was a ridiculous overpay. 

However, considering how awful their line was in 2017, particularly with Ereck Flowers at left tackle, the Giants clearly felt like adding a competent left tackle was worth the price of not having to worry about some RDE wrecking the game from week to week. Flowers moved from left tackle to right tackle, which didn't help, as many defenses now put their best pass rusher up against the RT.

Flowers was awful again in 2018, so the Giants waived him and now have undrafted second-year player Chad Wheeler at right tackle.

To fill the hole vacated at LG by the departure of Pugh, the Giants drafted Hernandez, a mean, nasty human being who moves defensive linemen in the run game. The Giants seem to be transitioning from a pass-heavy team to one that is going to try to pound the run, and the selection of Hernandez was a good pick for what the Giants seem to want to do offensively, though what they may want to do offensively is a terrible idea.

And finally, at RG is Omameh, a journeyman guard who is now on his fifth team in six years. Omameh was a fallback option after losing out to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Andrew Norwell. Like Solder, Omameh is being overpaid on a three-year deal worth $15 million.

Here's what the Giants' offensive line looked like Week 1 of the 2017 season, what it was on opening day in 2018, and what it will be Thursday night:

Giants OL 2017 2018 opener Thursday night 
 LT Ereck FlowersNate Solder  Nate Solder
 LG Justin PughWill Hernandez  Will Hernandez
 C Weston RichburgJon Halapio  John Greco
 RGJohn Jerry Patrick Omameh  Patrick Omameh
 RT Bobby HartEreck Flowers  Chad Wheeler

The Giants spent a hell of a lot of resources on their offensive line, and I'm not sure they even got any better, at least in 2018. 
Whether or not you think the Giants improved their offensive line, one thing that is indisputable is that the OL has no continuity whatsoever. In fact, in 2018, they were one of two teams returning just one OL starter. That was Ereck Flowers, who, again, is now gone.

It's no coincidence that the five teams returning all five OL starters all made the playoffs in 2017, and that all but one of the teams returning three of fewer OL starters were watching the playoffs from their sofas. More simply stated, offensive line continuity is a big deal.

If the Eagles' defensive line should be able to dominate this sorry Giants offensive line. We'll see.

3) The Giants' anemic pass rush vs. the Eagles' disappointing offensive line

The Giants have 6 sacks so far this season. That's tied for dead last in the NFL with the Khalil Mack-less Oakland Raiders. The Giants simply don't have anything scary at all in terms of pass rushers, especially with Olivier Vernon having missed the entirety of this season so far.

There's a chance Vernon could return Week 6, but even then, this Giants rush is among the worst in the NFL. This is a matchup the Eagles should dominate. Again, we'll see.

4) The Eagles' ground game vs. the Giants' rush defense

Hey look! It's yet another thing the Giants don't do well. On the season, the Giants have allowed 124.4 rushing yards per game (sixth-worst in the NFL), at 4.6 rushing yards per attempt (eighth-worst in the NFL).

The Eagles passed on 56 percent of their offensive plays last season. This season, they're passing on 64 percent of their offensive plays. Why? Simple. They've been behind in games and have been forced to throw more.

"I love to run the football," said Doug Pederson. "I think our guys are good at it, and we've been successful at it. But at the same time, we can't get behind in football games because sometimes the running game won't allow you to get back fast enough."

Whether it's Corey Clement or Wendell Smallwood or Le'Veon Bell, the Eagles can run on this Giants team if they don't fall behind.

5) Zach Ertz vs. the Giants' safeties and linebackers

One rare thing the Giants have done well this season is cover tight ends. On the season, opposing tight ends have a combined 15 catches for 264 yards and no TDs. That's pretty good. 

Ertz is the Eagles' most consistent weapon in the passing game, and they'll need to find ways to get him involved, as they usually do. In two games against the Giants last year, Ertz had 14 catches for 111 yards and 2 TDs.

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