EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - For the Eagles, it's a match made in football heaven.

They lead the league with 22 interceptions.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning leads the league with 19 interceptions.

Manning just lost No. 1 receiver Steve Smith for the rest of the season because of a knee injury. Mario Manningham is playing with an injured hip flexor.

And, when the teams meet here Sunday afternoon, ballhawking cornerback Asante Samuel might be back.

Samuel injured his knee the last time the teams played, 4 weeks ago, while returning the second of his two interceptions. Manning threw three in that Giants loss. Samuel fully participated in practice Wednesday and did a few things yesterday, too.

"We're going to have our game plan and we know a lot of the things they do," Manning said.

Clearly, the Eagles - especially Samuel - know what Manning and the Giants like to do.

Samuel has four interceptions of Manning in the teams' last four games. The Eagles won all four.

"He's just got a great feel out there. He reads the patterns, he reads the quarterback, he jumps things," Manning said. "They let him roam a little bit and do his own thing at times, and he does a great job of taking educated risks. Once the ball gets anywhere near him, he does a great job of tracking it down and making a play."

Samuel isn't the only defender feasting on Manning this season. Manning threw a pair of atrocious picks that stalled early drives against the Vikings on Monday night. The Giants survived, in part because Vikings quarterback Brett Favre did not play (his replacements struggled), in part because the Giants gained 213 yards on the ground.

Considering Manning's issues, considering the Eagles are 11th against the run and considering the weather forecast for Sunday of 36 degrees with snow showers, the Giants, fourth in the league in rushing yards, could commit even further to the run.

"We have to protect the ball," Manning said, "but we also have to know that we have to move the ball and go down there and score some points."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin is reluctant to lay all of Manning's problems at the quarterback's feet.

"Each time you have an interception, you analyze each one individually. At the beginning of the year, there seemed to be a lot of tipped balls," Coughlin said. "You could look at one and say that wasn't a good decision, but you could look at another and say if the receiver had followed through with what he was supposed to do there, at the very least we would have had an incompletion, not an interception."

Generally, the receivers ran correct routes, according to second-year wideout Hakeem Nicks - "I don't necessarily think it was communication errors," he said - but they weren't always coming up with passes that hit them in the hands.

"That was happening a little too much," said Nicks, who leads the Giants with 69 receptions despite missing two games before the Minnesota game. He wasn't always concentrating on the catch, but, he said, "That's something I've keyed in on. I've got to look the ball all the way in before I make a move."

Smith is the fifth wideout to hit the injured reserve list. Behind Manningham and Nicks, the Giants have needed to add three wideouts in the last month.

Manning might have missed Smith but he has made do. Smith missed the first Eagles game with a pectoral strain, and he'd just returned Monday when he went down with the knee injury.

With and without him, the Giants are 3-0 since they lost to the Eagles on Nov. 21. Without him now for good, it is up to Nicks to continue to validate the Giants' use of a first-round pick on him.

"I will let my game rise this week," Nicks said.

"We are better prepared now since we've had some new receivers in the past month," Manning said. "We're working with them and we're not scrambling to get guys in different places."

But they're still not exactly potent. Manning, notorious for his aversion to contact, is playing behind an offensive line that has allowed just 13 sacks this season, the fewest in the league - remarkable, since it, too, has been beset by injury.

Nicks is a physical possession receiver and is confident Samuel's presence or absence won't matter.

"You can't look at it as an advantage," Nicks said.

Manning certainly does.

"He is a good player. He makes big plays on the ball. You've got to know where he is on the field," Manning said.

Given his druthers, Manning would prefer Samuel not be on the field at all.