After a much-needed week of R&R, the 3-4-1, first-place Eagles will face the 2-7 Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Three weeks ago, the Eagles needed a furious finish to eke out a one-point win over the Giants at the Linc.
Slowly, but surely, the Eagles are getting many of their injured players back. But they still have problems, not the least of which is a quarterback with a league-high 16 turnovers. A breakdown of Sunday’s game:
When the Eagles run
The Giants held the Eagles to 3.7 yards per carry in Week 7. But the Eagles didn’t have their top running back, Miles Sanders (knee), or tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle), and their line was an injury-riddled mess. Sua Opeta started at left guard. All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson, playing with ankle and knee injuries, missed a quarter of the game.
Goedert returned in Week 8, and Sanders and left guard Isaac Seumalo (knee) both could return Sunday. Sanders, who has missed three of the first eight games after being touted as a carry-the-load guy by the coaching staff, is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, the highest rush average of any back in the league with at least 50 carries. But more than a third of his 434 rushing yards have come on two carries: 74-yard runs against the Steelers and the Ravens. On his other 69 carries, he has averaged a good-but-not-great 4.1.
Backups Boston Scott and Corey Clement mostly gathered dust until Sanders injured his knee. They combined for 94 yards on 20 carries against the Cowboys. But they were shut down in the second half by a Cowboys defense that is the worst in the league against the run. Quarterback Carson Wentz has been an integral part of the Eagles' ground game. He’s second on the team in rushing and has five of the team’s eight rushing TDs. His 20 rushing first downs are tied with Sanders for the team lead.
The Giants are sixth against the run (94.8 yards per game) and fifth in opponent rush average (3.7). They’ve got a physical front led by Dalvin Tomlinson, who gave the Eagles problems in the first game. The Giants have given up more than 96 rushing yards just once since Week 2 (126 to Dallas in Week 5).
When the Eagles throw
Much like the ground game, the Eagles' passing game has been adversely affected by all the injuries to the offensive line. Wentz has been sacked a league-high 32 times. In the last five games, he was under pressure on nearly 42% of his drop-backs. But that’s still no excuse for his NFL-high 16 turnovers (12 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles). He had four turnovers in the Week 8 pre-bye-week win over the Cowboys.
Wentz is 32nd in the league in passing (73.2), 32nd in completion percentage (58.4), and 30th in yards per attempt (6.2). His 67.1 completion percentage on throws of 0-10 yards is the lowest of his career. He got two of his top receivers back from injury in Week 8, rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor and tight end Dallas Goedert. Neither played in the first game against the Giants.
Former practice-squad player Travis Fulgham has been a godsend since his October promotion. In five games, he has 29 catches for 435 yards and four TDs. Twenty-one of those 29 receptions resulted in first downs. Slot receiver Greg Ward has a team-high 32 catches and is tied for ninth in the league in third-down receptions (14). Wentz brought the Eagles back from an 11-point deficit in the final five minutes in the first Giants game, completing 5 of his last 6 passes for 121 yards and two TDs. Before that, he was 20-for-37 for 238 yards and an interception.
Last weekend, Washington’s Alex Smith came off the bench and threw for 325 yards against the Giants, who are 29th in opponent completion percentage (69.5) and 25th in opponent yards per attempt (7.9). They are tied for eighth in sacks (22).
When the Giants run
The Giants rushed for 160 yards against the Eagles in Week 7, but 80 of them came on a long run by quarterback Daniel Jones. The Eagles held Giants running backs to 65 yards on 16 carries in that game. Without Saquon Barkley, the Giants have been inconsistent on the ground. But they ran the ball effectively in last Sunday’s 23-20 win over Washington. They promoted veteran Alfred Morris from the practice squad, and he and Wayne Gallman combined for 135 yards on 23 carries.
The Giants have 26 runs of 10 yards or more, the 14th-most in the league. But half of those have come in the last three games. The Eagles know better than anybody that they have to respect Jones' running ability. He leads the Giants in rushing with 320 yards and an 8.0 yards-per-carry average.
The Eagles are ranked 24th in run defense (130.8). Over the last four games, they’ve given up 152.7 yards per game on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry. They’re 27th in opponent rush average on first down (4.9, and 5.2 over the last four games). They’ve also given up 29 runs of 10 yards or more, the sixth-most in the league entering the bye week.
As was the case in the first Giants game, the Eagles have done a good job against opposing running backs, holding them to 3.3 yards per carry. Their Achilles heel has been mobile quarterbacks and misdirection plays. In their first eight games, nearly 41% of the rushing yards they gave up were to quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. Wide receivers are averaging 9.1 yards per carry against them on reverses, end-arounds, and jet sweeps.
When the Giants throw
Daniel Jones is 31st in passing (76.1), and only Wentz has been sacked more. While he turned the ball over twice to the Eagles in their Week 7 meeting, Jones is showing improvement in ball security. He had an 84.3 passer rating in the last four games, including six TD passes and a 64.5 completion percentage. Jones threw just four interceptions in the last five games.
Getting Sterling Shepard back has been a big plus for Jones. Shepard was targeted 26 times in the last three games and has 20 receptions. Against Washington, Jones was 10-for-11 for 86 yards on third down. Shepard had three third-down receptions, two for first downs.
The Eagles have struggled at times against tight ends, giving up six TD passes to tight ends this season. But they did a good job on the Giants' Evan Engram in Week 7, holding him to 46 yards on six catches. The Eagles have one of the league’s best pass rushes. They’re third in sacks with 28, including a team-high seven by 32-year-old Brandon Graham, who had a game-clinching strip-sack of Jones in Week 7.
Jones was under pressure a league-high 150 times on 349 drop-backs (43%). He was under pressure on 14 of 34 drop-backs (41.2%) in the first meeting with the Eagles. What the Eagles haven’t been able to do is turn that pressure into many turnovers. Their 10 takeaways are only the 17th- most in the league. Their three interceptions are the second-fewest.
Jake Elliott missed three of his last four field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder in a two-point loss to the Ravens, and a 29-yarder in the first meeting with the Giants. The 29-yarder was his first career miss from 30 yards or fewer. Elliott, who missed four kicks the entire 2019 season, already has four misses in his first 12 field goal attempts this year.
Punter Cam Johnston is third in the league in gross average (50.4) and fifth in net average (44.3). He’s had a career-high 64.7% of his attempts returned, the second-highest percentage in the league. But the Eagles are giving up only 6.6 yards per return. Punt returner Greg Ward isn’t a home-run threat but has dependable hands, an important asset for a returner as the weather gets colder and the winds get more unpredictable. The Eagles likely will mix in rookie Jalen Reagor on some returns.
Giants kicker Graham Gano has been nearly perfect this season, missing just one of 20 field goal attempts. That was a 57-yarder in Week 2. Since then, he has made 19 in a row, including four from 50-plus yards. Gano has missed just 4 of 66 attempts over the last three seasons. Punter Riley Dixon is 25th in gross average (43.1) and 17th in net (40.0). But just 11 of his 32 punts (34.4%) have been returned, including 3 of 14 in the last three games.
The Giants have three punt-return options this weekend: Golden Tate, Jabril Peppers, and Dante Pettis. Pettis had nine returns for touchdowns at the University of Washington.
The Eagles are coming off a bye week, but the rest hasn’t helped them much under Doug Pederson. They’re 1-3 the week after their bye. That said, the week off helped them get some more people healthy.
Eagles 24, Giants 17
Eagles WRs Travis Fulgham and Jalen Reagor vs. Giants CBs James Bradberry and Isaac Yiadom: Fulgham has 435 receiving yards and four TDs in five games since being promoted from the practice squad. Reagor didn’t play vs. the Giants in Week 7. Bradberry and Yiadom have given up a combined six TDs. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles O-line vs. Giants D-line: Wentz was under pressure on 41.7% of his drop-backs in the first Giants game. But the Eagles might be getting LG Seumalo back, and that would help immensely in dealing with the Giants' hefty front three. ADVANTAGE: Even
Eagles LDE Brandon Graham vs. Giants RT Cameron Fleming.: At 32, Graham is off to the best start of his career. He beat Fleming and RB Dion Lewis for a game-clinching strip-sack in Week 7. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Keys to the game
Eagles and turnovers. The Eagles have the second-worst turnover differential — minus-7 — in the league. They have the second-most giveaways — 17 — including 16 by Wentz (12 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles). The Giants might be 2-7, but they have 15 takeaways, second- most in the league. The Eagles have won just two turnover battles in their first eight games. The first Giants matchup was one of them.
First-and-10. First down has been a bad down for the Eagles. They are averaging just 4.6 yards on first down. That’s the second-lowest average in the league, and the lowest of the Pederson era. Their impotence on first down has put them in too many second- and third-and-longs.
Zero to 10 yards. Carson Wentz’s 67.1 completion percentage on 0- to 10-yard throws is the lowest of his career. So are the 5.5 yards per attempt he’s averaging on those throws. In the first game against the Giants, he completed just 12 of 20 throws at that distance.