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What to watch in Eagles-Giants | Early Birds

Five keys for the Eagles on Thursday, answering your questions, and more

Eagles guard Brandon Brooks prepares to throw a block during the game against the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field September 24, 2017. The Eagles won 27-24. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles guard Brandon Brooks prepares to throw a block during the game against the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field September 24, 2017. The Eagles won 27-24. CLEM MURRAY / Staff PhotographerRead moreCLEM MURRAY

Good morning. The Eagles play the New York Giants tonight in a game that could determine much about the direction the Eagles are headed this season. A win moves them to 3-3 and 1-0 in a wide-open NFC East. A loss drops them to 2-4 with upcoming games against two playoff teams from last season.

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— Zach Berman

Five keys for the Eagles against the Giants

Score in the red zone

The biggest problem with the Eagles this season is that the offense isn't scoring enough points. They haven't topped 23 points in a game yet after doing it 12 times last year. This is the longest they've gone in a season without reaching 24 points in 20 years. They're too often settling for field goals. The Eagles have scored touchdowns on three of nine red zone trips during the past two games. They are 10 of 19 this season. Last year, the Eagles scored touchdowns on 64 percent of their red zone visits. That makes a big difference when you lose close games. The Giants have the third-best red zone defense this season, allowing touchdowns on only 37 percent of red zone visits.

"We've really done a nice job in most of these games of driving the ball between the 20s, but we're not getting the points that we want," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "We're not finishing the drives the way we want and the way we expect to. Again, it goes back to evaluating the scheme. Is it scheme related? Is it self-inflicted wounds? Is it a physical error? All those things happen."

Replace Jay Ajayi

The Eagles lost their best running back this week when Jay Ajayi tore his ACL, but it doesn't mean the Eagles can't run the ball. In fact, the Eagles' best rushing performance of the season came in Week 3 when Ajayi didn't play. Corey Clement is back and will be in the lineup. The Eagles have renewed trust in Wendell Smallwood, who has six yards per carry this season. Josh Adams might sprinkle in, too. This is an audition for that trio. Darren Sproles is going to return at some point, and though the Eagles might make a deal, this group has a chance to show they can handle the load. The Eagles need to run the ball more than they did last week. The Giants have the 27th-ranked run defense, allowing 124.4 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. The Eagles will miss Ajayi, but I think they'll get by fine on Thursday without him.

Where are the playmakers?

The Giants have one of the best playmaking duos in the league with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Saquon Barkley. That's the lifeblood of the Giants offense. The Eagles need to know where they are at all times. Beckham going to be tough assignment for Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby – the Eagles play left and right cornerbacks – and he's hurt the Eagles in the past. Jim Schwartz tends to put his cornerbacks on an island, but Avonte Maddox must provide help when he's the deep safety. Barkley is so versatile; this is a game when the Eagles need Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham to play to the standard they reached in the past. Malcolm Jenkins is the type of safety who can be used to keep his eyes on a player like Barkley, too. Both Barkley and Beckham will get their yards, but the Eagles can't make it easy for them.

Defend the quick passing game

Eli Manning is completing a career-best 71.7 percent of his passes, although the knock on him this season is that he's not throwing downfield. Manning has attempted 13 passes of more than 20 yards. He completed three of them. The ball is coming out of his hands in 2.65 seconds this season, which is far from the fastest in the league. But Manning has relied on the quick passing game to try to neutralize the Eagles pass rush in recent years. He'll likely try to do the same again, and then take his chances downfield when they're available. (He's hurt the Eagles deep, too.) The Eagles must force the Giants into third downs and be sure tackles to limit yards after the catch.

"It's the yards after the catch. The quick throws aren't the things that get you," Schwartz said. "When you look back at the Vikings it wasn't that they were getting those catches. A lot of times they were catching the ball for a one-yard gain, zero-yard gain when they were throwing the ball out there. It's the run after the catch. It's limiting that. There is some scheme stuff I can help those guys with."

Overcome the quick turnaround

Thursday games are tough, but the conditions are the same for both teams. They both played on Sunday. They both had limited practice work. The Eagles are on the road, but this was a quick drive up the Jersey Turnpike and not a flight. So who can overcome the quick turnaround? The Eagles have played well on Thursdays under Doug Pederson, winning all three Thursday games. Two of them came on short rest, and both were upsets.

"You kind of get back to the basics offensively and defensively,' Doug Pederson said. "The kind of things you do coming out of camp because you're in a short week and you can't really fully study the opponent as much."

Because it's harder to game plan for these games, I think the more talented team has the advantage. That's the Eagles this week.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles know the NFC East is up for grabs. If they want to repeat as champions, Thursday is one step.

  2. Paul Domowitch looks at Carson Wentz's playing style and how that will affect his career longevity. 

  3. Marcus Hayes looks at players on the Eagles who must step up.

  4. Jeff McLane broke down the film on whether Stefen Wisniewski deserved to get benched for Isaac Seumalo.

  5. Domo gives an Eagles-Giants scouting report.

  6. Haloti Ngata, Corey Graham, and Darren Sproles are all out against the Giants.

From the mailbag

Good question. The Eagles miss Tim Jernigan. Haloti Ngata is injured and they're not getting enough production from Destiny Vaeao. That's not a position that always puts up big statistics, but how many times are you watching the game and Vaeao jumps out at you? The No. 3 defensive tackle is Treyvon Hester. The Eagles miss the defensive tackle depth from last season. I know the Eagles move defensive ends inside, but they're not playing from ahead as much this season so they need to be mindful of the run. Maybe Jernigan comes back. But right now, this is an area of concern.

Not necessarily. It depends on the matchup and the personnel. In general, I think you pass to take the lead, then have your run and pass work off each other. With that said, the Eagles need to run the ball more because it will help their offensive line and it will get the play-action involved. But I don't believe in needing to establish the run – I like being aggressive, passing the ball, loosening up the defense that way. Get a lead, run the ball while the defense is tired.

If the Eagles can get LeSean McCoy for a mid-to-late Day 3 pick, I think it would be worthwhile trade to make. The Eagles know McCoy, he knows the team and some of the coaching staff – Duce Staley, most importantly. I believe he'd be happy to be back in Philly and in the locker room, so he'd fit in. He can play three downs and the other running backs would complement him. The Eagles must be satisfied that there's no threat of suspension – and they must be confident there's still tread on the tires – but the money is not so burdensome this year that it cannot be done and I like the football fit. With that said, the Eagles need to play well on Thursday with what they have.