At the start of the season the “pundits” were calling us the sure-fire winner of the NFC East and the team to beat in the eventual NFC playoffs; now, they’re calling us the “troubled Eagles” after a rough 2-3 start, and there is no consensus as to how we will fare against the “troubled Giants” on Thursday night.
At least the Eagles players are aware how critical to their season this game in the Meadowlands really has become.
“Throw out the records, because it’s a division game,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We know the Giants [1-4] are an extremely talented team offensively and they’re playing hard. They’re close to turning things around there. You see it when you watch the tape. I know how competitive the NFC East is. I know how tough it is to win games against that team.”
“We just need a win, man,” DT Fletcher Cox said on Tuesday. “That’s all it is. That’s our focus. We’re not happy to be here 2-3, but it is what it is. We just have to find a way to win.”
The New York Football Giants are out to salvage their fading divisional chance to become relevant again. They’re coming off a bitter loss in which Graham Gano’s 63-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Panthers over the Giants 33-31.
Tom Bowles at Athlon Sports and Life provides us with his personal keys to the upcoming game:
1. Can the Eagles play mistake-free football on offense?
The drama surrounding the Eagles revolves around doing the little things all wrong. They’re ranked 29th in the NFL with 395 penalty yards. Their turnover margin is a dismal minus-four, ahead of only Jacksonville and San Francisco. Their red zone scoring percentage is just 38.5 percent in the three games since Carson Wentz returned, ahead of only four other teams. In short, this team can’t get out of its own way. “I’m concerned,” said Eagles tight end Zach Ertz after Sunday’s contest. “It’s not where we thought we would be.”
2. Can Eli Manning re-assume control of the Giants’ offense?
“So much has been written about Manning’s decline at age 37. People have blamed a poor offensive line as a main reason he’s struggled to get on track.
“But despite the addition of star first-round pick Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. back from injury, Manning’s numbers are only marginally better year-to-year. Here’s a quick comparison of his last two seasons through five games.
2017: 1,338 yards, 67.8 completion rate, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 13 sacks
2018: 1,381 yards, 71.7 completion rate, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 3 fumbles, 16 sacks
“It’s not like Manning has become a Pro Bowler again with more weapons in the arsenal. Instead, the best play from under center last Sunday came from Beckham, throwing what became a breathless 57-yard TD to Barkley.
“The problem with Manning these days is he has a number of young dynamic offensive talents around him but his explosive playmaking ability has declined. That’s a dangerous recipe for chemistry in this locker room, especially considering Beckham’s aggressive personality. A game-changing performance is necessary to quiet some critics and remind them Manning still controls the office, not the people he gives the ball to. Being just a game manager won’t be enough.”
3. A battle of two bad offensive lines
The Eagles’ offensive line, just five games removed from a Super Bowl, enters the Giants game in tough shape. Tackle Lane Johnson has gone from first-team All-Pro to also-ran, allowing pressure that led to a Wentz sack and fumble-six last week. Nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters is once again playing through injuries that have him showing his age at 36. The starting lineup has been shuffled with Isaac Seumalo inserted in place of Stefen Wisniewski at left guard. Through five games, they’ve allowed 17 sacks, fourth worst in the NFC. This unit allowed just 33 all of last season.
“But the Giants, of course, are in the same boat. Manning has been sacked 16 times although the line has played better since 2015 first-round pick Ereck Flowers was finally benched. The speed of Barkley makes his blockers look a little better than they actually are.
“But both sets of linemen are vulnerable, setting up opportunities for an Eagles defense ranked second against the run. For all the playmakers they have on defense, the defending Super Bowl champions have just two fumble recoveries in five games. Cox, Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett and that whole defensive unit must put pressure on Manning and stuff Barkley, who for all his flair has less than 50 rushing yards in two straight games. They’re due for a few takeaways.
“The same goes for the Giants on Wentz. The Giants have just six sacks through five games and one fumble recovery of their own. That’s not going to cut it, especially in a division known for physical play. The team that gets to the quarterback quickest and most consistently Thursday night has the best chance to win.”
There is also the “drama factor”, says Bowles…
Everything about this Eagles team has felt off, in particular Doug Pederson’s coaching decisions. The head coach has come under fire for everything from play-calling to clock management to even dissing his kicker’s range.
But the Giants have their own drama, Odell Beckham Jr. spending last week whining publicly about his role on offense. To be fair, the wide receiver addressed his team on Sunday and responded with a game ball-type performance: 131 receiving yards, a touchdown catch and that spectacular 57-yard TD throw to Saquon Barkley. But the chemistry within this team still seems off.
Tom Bowles finally calls it 23-20 Eagles, citing the higher leadership factor of Wentz over the leadership factor of Eli as the difference. But I will be a little nervous anyway if the game ends up being that close. Anything can happen when you least expect it between two struggling teams in the same division.
Tom Bowles is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.