BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.– The NFC East is still wide open. Yes, believe it. As of today, the Redskins sit atop the dismal division at 2-2 (.500). That is the lowest win percentage for a division-leading team in the entire National Football League. With that being said, this is an absolute must-win game for both the New York Giants (coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Panthers on an improbable 63-yard field goal) and the Philadelphia Eagles (coming off a two-point loss to the Minnesota Vikings after the Eagles’ hopes were crushed after they failed to recover an onside kick after a late Zach Ertz touchdown). On Thursday Night Football, all eyes will be watching what will transpire in the Meadowlands as these two teams are both trying to avoid three-game losing streaks.
NEW YORK GIANTS KEYS TO VICTORY
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 9, 2018
1. Eli Manning. I feel like I could re-post exactly my keys to victory from last week from this section. Manning needs to play better (in regular time, not in garbage time), plain and simple. So much blame has been put on the offensive line, but the Giants seem to have a combination that works well enough. Troublesome for the Giants is the fact that the front four of the Eagles defensive line is elite. Through five weeks, they’ve pressured the opposing quarterback 79.5 times. Manning needs to get the ball out of his hands in under 2.3 seconds to have any success Thursday Night. Lineman Fletcher Cox, when he gets the one-on-one coverage with the center John Greco will have his hands full, on passing plays, but especially on running plays. The Eagles’ defense only allows 66.4 rushing yards per game (3.4 yards per rush). That is good for second best in the league behind the Chicago Bears.
2. Defend the tight end. A hole in the Giants’ defense has been, for some time, their inability to adequately account for and defend against a tight end. This season, against the Giants, tight ends average, per game: 8 targets, 3 receptions, and 52.8 yards. To the defense’s credit, though, there have been zero touchdowns scored by an opposing tight end.
Based on your votes, TE Zach Ertz is our @Toyota Player of the Week.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 10, 2018
The fact that tight ends successfully catch a ball at a 62.5% clip should be alarming for the Giants, especially with the elite talent level of Pro-Bowler Zach Ertz. Ertz leads all Eagles pass-catchers in number of targets… and it’s not even close. His 437 targets almost double wide receiver Nelson Agholor’s 212. The Eagles also rely on their second and third string tight ends, too. They love utilizing the position, sometimes even putting all three of them out there in the same package. This will induce fits for the Giants’ defense. Tight ends Dallas Geodert has the fourth-most targets on the team and Josh Perkins has the eighth-most targets on the team.
3. Carson Wentz Watch. With running back Jay Ajayi having been placed on the injured reserve following last Sunday’s game due to a torn ACL, quarterback Carson Wentz will assume an even bigger role in the Eagles’ offensive scheme in their first game without Ajayi. I think the Eagles are okay with that.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 10, 2018
Despite his slow start, Wentz has been on a tear lately. He completed 24 of 35 passes (68.6%) for 311 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions vs. the Vikings last Sunday. Wentz is an absolute game-changer that, last season, barring injury, was on his way to being crowned league MVP. He is even a threat to run the ball, too. The Giants defense must always have eyes on #11 and be able to limit his ability to dictate the pace of play.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Figure out a solution to the play-action play: Over the past two weeks opposing offenses have completed 82% of their passes off play-action at an alarming clip of 11.13 yards per attempt. Opposing quarterbacks, when utilizing play action against the Eagles defense, hold a QBR of 113.6. Unlucky for the Eagles, according to ProFootballFocus, over the past three seasons, Eli Manning’s efficiency improved slightly over 4 points to 95.2 when utilizing play action. That was before Saquon Barkley donned Giants’ blue. The Giants are starting to get the memo.Last week Manning tilized play-action on 32% of his dropbacks.
2. Make Odell Beckham, Jr. a non-factor: As every defensive unit the Giants have faced this year have been able to do, the Eagles defense needs to continue to keep Odell Beckham, Jr. at bay. The truth is: Beckham has not caught a touchdown pass as a wide receiver this season (of course, he threw a 57-yard one to Saquon Barkley this past Sunday). Reminiscent of the Jets’ Keyshawn Johnson “just gimme the damn ball” mantra, Beckham, in an NFL Sunday Countdown interview, flanked by hype-man Lil’ Wayne, seemed to criticize the Giants’ offensive scheme. In my opinion, he was simply stating the obvious. Manning’s accuracy when passing 20 yards or more is a terrible 23.5%. In the game that followed Beckham’s comments (last Sunday), the Giants scored greater than 30 points for the first time since Tom Coughlin was head coach. Coincidence? I think not.
3. Control the clock. Believe it or not, Manning has orchestrated 35-game winning drives in his career- tied for ninth all-time. The way the Eagles can prevent becoming another statistic is if they control the clock, keeping the ball out of the Giants’ offense’s hands as much as possible. The good news for the Eagles is that they are ranked second in the NFL with an average time of possession (32:51). Wentz and Co. must control the clock, thus dictate the pace of play. The longer New York’s defense is on the field, the more the scales tip in the favor of Philadelphia.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Carson Wentz, one of the league’s best quarterbacks, always seems to rise to the occasion under the bright lights of a national stage. However, the Giants showed signs of life in last week’s last-second loss to the Panthers. Will week six be the first week the Beckham, Jr. finds the end zone? How will the Eagles’ offense look without Ajayi? For me, this is a difficult game to pick this week. I think it’ll be a close game, but I think the Giants will find a way to eek this one out this week. Beckham will not only have his first touchdown of the season, but his first two touchdowns.
Final score: Giants 24, Eagles 21