8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Philadelphia –
A classic NFC East rivalry is renewed as the revitalized New York Giants travel to Lincoln Financial Field to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. After a dismal 0-2 start, the Giants (3-2) have strung together three consecutive victories, on the strength of a more efficient offense and playmaking defense. During the offseason, Tom Coughlin and Co. made a wealth of changes to both the roster and coaching staff, most notably dumping longtime Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride in favor of Ben McAdoo, who has incorporated the West Coast scheme that he utilized in Green Bay over the several seasons. Indeed, improvement was hard to see in the first two weeks of the campaign, but over the past three outings the Offense, and in turn the Defense, hasn’t looked better. In back-to-back losses to Detroit (35-14) and Arizona (25-14), New York looked like the same malfunctioning unit that they were for most of 2013, averaging just 269.0 yards, including a mere 67.0 on the ground, while committing six turnovers. However, starting with a 30-17 victory over the Texans, the running game game got going (193 yards), Eli Manning became highly efficient, and the Defense started taking the ball away. Since Week Three began, Coughlin’s charges have averaged 157.0 yards on the ground, while the Defense has forced ten turnovers.
Serving as the barometer for the Offense’s success has been Manning, who looks to have temporarily ditched his 2013 form in which he led the league with 27 interceptions thrown. Like the rest of his teammates, the two-time Super Bowl MVP looked shaky as hell in in the first two weeks, completing 61.1% of his passes for an average of 220.0 yards per game (6.11 yards/attempt), three touchdowns and four interceptions. However, since that point he has actually resembled his brother Peyton, completing 70.1% of his attempts for an average of 244.7 yards per game (7.57 yards/attempt), while tossing eight scores to just one pick. With each passing week, Manning looks to be more and more comfortable in McAdoo’s, which has instituted more short-throws in an effort to get the ball out of the pocket faster. As a result, the eleven-year veteran has posted the highest completion percentage of his career (66.3%), along with his best Total QBR (80.98) since being drafted No. One Overall in 2004. We’ll see if he continue his stellar play against the Eagles, whom he has started 20 games against throughout his career; Eli is just 9-11 lifetime versus Philadelphia, owning a 58.27% completion percentage, with 36 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, his second-highest total against any opponent.
Of course a big reason why Manning has been so good this season has been New York’s sudden ability to run the ball. Beset by injuries, the Offensive Line has gotten healthier as the season has progressed, with Rashad Jennings reaping the rewards over the last three weeks. The veteran Tailback was acquired during Free Agency, fresh off of a career year in Oakland, and has not disappointed since arriving in the Big Apple. Jennings has rushed for an average of 79.2 yards per game on 4.4 yards per carry, with a pair of touchdowns, while catching another eleven balls for 109 yards. The sixth-year veteran led the charge against Houston, trampling them to the tune of 176 yards on 34 carries, and has picked up another 110 yards in the last two wins over Washington (45-14) and Atlanta (30-20). Unfortunately, he will miss tonight’s clash after tweaking his knee in last week’s victory over the Falcons. Look for Rookie Andre Williams to get the majority of the carries, as Coughlin and McAdoo continue to protect their Quarterback with their power-running game. As one playmaker takes a seat, the Giants have welcomed a new one into the fold, as First Round Pick Odell Beckham Jr. finally made his long-awaited debut last week after missing the first four outings with a nagging strained hamstring. With Hakeem Nicks gone to the Colts, Beckham was counted on to make an impact, which the young Receiver did against the Falcons, catching four passes for 44 yards and a score in his first action since early preseason. Coupled with Tight Ends Daniel Fells and the emerging Larry Donnell, the latter who leads the team in receptions (25) and touchdowns (4), Manning has a growing cache of weapons at his disposal.
Meanwhile, even though they own a share of first place in the AFC East, the Eagles (4-1) are hardly a team without flaws, and should count themselves rather fortunate that they’ve found such success thus far. This isn’t advanced criticism folks, for Chip Kelly and Co. have struggled mightily just about as much as they’ve soared this season, having to come from behind on multiple occasions. Case in point; in the victories over lowly Jacksonville (34-17) and Indianapolis (30-27), Philadelphia had to rally back from seventeen-point and fourteen-point deficits respectively, and at various points in each of their last three outings, wins over Washington (37-34) and St. Louis (34-28), along with a loss to San Francisco (21-26), they managed to blow fairly comfortable leads. Against the 49ers, they blew a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, only to be outscored 16-0 the rest of the way. And even last week at home against the stumbling Rams, the hosts very nearly coughed up a 34-7 lead, as the visitors ran off 21 unanswered points. So what in the name of Rocky Balboa is going on in the City of Brotherly Love?
Ironically, the answer to that question is also the same things that makes their own offense so difficult to stop: tempo. In Kelly’s rapid-fire attack, the Eagles mercilessly jab away at their opponent, tiring them out with a plethora of snaps, ultimately taking it’s toll in the second half. In fact, no team has been more prolific offensively over the final 30:00 than Philadelphia, who has averaged 17.6 points int he second half of games, including 22.0 points in their four victories. This same approach has led to 31.2 points per game (2nd overall) on 374.6 total yards (14th overall), including 276.0 yards through the air (9th overall). However, that same approach can oftentimes work against them as well; in running off so many plays, a team inadvertently creates more plays and opportunities for the opposition, which can come back to hurt them. And this is where the turnovers come into play; despite running off play after play, the Eagles have committed an NFL-worst twelve turnovers thus far, effectively averaging 2.4 per game. Turnovers kill drives, and when you mass produce drives that get no points, then the other team gets an opportunity to score points. Third-year Quarterback Nick Foles has struggled greatly in this regard, a complete 180 from hyper-efficient passer he was in 2013. Last season, Foles completed 64.0% of his attempts for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions in thirteen games (ten as starter), leading the league in touchdown percentage (8.5%), yards per attempt (9.1), yards per completion (14.2), and passer rating (119.2). Through five games this season, he has completed just 59.1% of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, posting an 82.5 passer rating.
But it’s not all Foles fault, you see, for the Eagle have lost a good deal of firepower over the months. Most notably, DeSean Jasckson’s departure created a void in the Receiving Corps, even with a healthy Jeremy Maclin returning from an ACL injury. At his best, Jackson was one of the league’s most lethal vertical threats, opening holes in coverage on underneath routes for his teammates, while he himself racked up 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. His absence is felt no more than in the telling net yards per pass statistic, where Philadelphia ranked third at 7.4 yards per attempt in 2013, but a middling seventeenth (6.4) this season without him. That means a lot less explosive plays, which means more dinking and dunking, and if you’re primarily dinking and dunking, then you become much easier to defend. It also doesn’t help that the running game hasn’t been nearly as productive as they were a year ago; in 2013 Kelly’s offense led the league in both rushing yards (160.4) and yards per carry (5.1), but in 2014 have only managed to net 98.6 yards per game (23rd overall) on 3.8 yards per carry (22nd overall). They also ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts last season (31.3), but have only attempted 26.0 attempts per contest this year (19th overall). Injuries across the Offensive Line have really affected this facet of their game, with starters Jason Kelce (abdomen), Evan Mathis (knee), and Allen Barbre (ankle) all expected to miss tonight’s tilt with an assortment of injuries. With the interior of the O-Line on the mend, it’ll be difficult for LeSean McCoy to break out of his slump; last year’s leader in both rushing yards (1,607) and yards from scrimmage (2,146), has struggled in the early stages of the current campaign, averaging just 54.6 yards per game on a career-worst 2.9 yards per carry.