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December 13, 2017

Eagles vs. Giants: Five matchups to watch

Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles will be sans Carson Wentz for the rest of the season, and the 2-11 New York Giants don't offer much in the way of intriguing analysis at this point, but as always, we'll look at five matchups to watch for the Birds' upcoming opponent.

1) The Eagles' tackling vs. the Giants' quick passing offense

Over the last two games, the Eagles have simply not tackled well. Jim Schwartz noted that a lot of that had to do with the last two opponents they faced, but acknowledged it must get better.

"I spent some time in Detroit and saw a lot of Barry Sanders, and there were a lot of really crappy tackling defenses that played Barry Sanders," he joked. "When I was a kid, Walter Payton was out there and every week he was going against a crappy tackling defense. You have to give some credit to the opponent.

"But I think our standard's high, also. I've said this a bunch of times: Tackling is not an individual thing. There's form when it comes to tackling and technique and all those different things, but tackling is a team game and we're at our best when if one guy misses, the next guy is there to clean it up. It was a little bit more difficult in that game just [with] how many different things you had to play with reverses and fake reverses and all that different stuff but there's no excuse.

"To be a good individual tackling team, you need to be a good team tackling team. And that's where we're at our best when we're doing that. That's where we need to get back to."

The Giants don't have a Barry Sanders or Walter Payton, but they do have a quick passing attack that requires sound tackling from the defense. The Eagles must make the Giants try to drive the field on them. They cannot afford to miss tackles and turn five yard gains into 50 yard gains.

2) The Eagles' run defense vs. the Giants' rushing attack

In their Week 3 matchup, the Giants' running backs rushed 17 times for 49 yards (2.9 YPC). Obviously, a 2-11 team is unlikely to have have a good rushing attack, and the Giants certainly don't, but it's imperative for the Eagles to get back to shutting down opposing running backs. 

Last Sunday against the Rams, Todd Gurley ran 13 times for 96 yards (7.4 YPC) and 2 TDs. The Eagles hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 4, and while they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, Gurley would have easily gotten there with a few more carries.

The Eagles' defense all starts with stopping the run. When they are at their best, they shut down the run, make teams one-dimensional, and then get after the quarterback. They need to get back to that formula against a craptastic Giants offense.

3) Nick Foles vs. himself

With a win, the Eagles will clinch at least a first round bye, and could clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and a Minnesota Vikings loss.

The Eagles should attempt to ease Nick Foles back into the starting lineup, not asking him to do too much, running the hell out of the ball, and if need be, punting and playing the field position game.

What they cannot afford are turnovers that lead to points in the other direction. Even without Wentz, the Eagles are a far superior team, and they should let the defense and the run game bring this one home.

4) Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard vs. the Eagles' secondary

After the Giants lost Odell Beckham for the season, the Giants were left with no wide receiver presence on the outside whatsoever. In fact, Beckham is still somehow second on the team with TD catches (3) and third in receiving yards (302), despite playing in only four games. That's just sad.

However, the two guys who have had success this season have been rookie tight end Evan Engram (55-623-6) and slot receiver Sterling Shepard (43-547-1).

Earlier this season, Shepard killed the Eagles, hauling in 7 passes for 133 yards and his lone TD on the season. Engram had 5 catches for 45 yards. Those two players should be the focus of the Eagles' pass defense.

5) The special teams battle

The Eagles' special teams took major hits this season when they lost Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos, and Caleb Sturgis. That they rank 12th in Football Outsiders' special teams rankings is impressive, given the circumstances. Still, they have gone from an elite unit to just an OK one, and they gave up a blocked punt touchdown to the Rams last week.

Much like their offense and defense, the Giants' special teams have stunk this year too, as they rank 29th in Football Outsiders' special teams rankings. This would be a good week for the Birds' special teams units to get back on track.

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