WHEN THE EAGLES entertained the Giants back on Nov. 21, New York came out with the thought that running the ball would be just a fine idea, against a team that had looked shaky against the run early in the season.
First play, Ahmad Bradshaw lost 2 yards. Second play, Bradshaw got those 2 yards back. Third play, incomplete pass. Punt.
Second time the Giants had the ball, Bradshaw for 2 yards, Bradshaw no gain, completed pass short of first down. Punt.
The Giants ran it six times in the first quarter, and gained 2 yards. After that, they became much easier to defend; Eli Manning threw three interceptions while passing for only 147 yards. Manning and Bradshaw lost fumbles, as well, in a 27-17 Eagles victory. The Giants ran for a season-low 61 yards on a season-low 19 carries. It was the only time this season they have failed to gain 100 yards on the ground.
Sunday, the Eagles make their first visit to the New Meadowlands Stadium, with New York having won all three of its games since losing to the Birds. The Giants ran for 213 yards Monday night in beating the Vikings, and their rushing attack leads the NFC, at 148.3 yards per game. After the loss to the Eagles, Giants coach Tom Coughlin switched the roles of his top running backs, making Brandon Jacobs the starter and Bradshaw the change of pace. New York has averaged 181.7 yards rushing per game since the switch. Also helping has been the maturation of fullback Bear Pascoe, originally a tight end, who was called on to fill in for injured Madison Hedgecock.
So here the Eagles are again, with a rookie middle linebacker, Jamar Chaney, this time, instead of Stew Bradley (dislocated elbow), who notched five tackles and an interception in the previous meeting while doing an excellent job covering tight end Kevin Boss. The Giants are going to want to run again in the showdown for first place in the NFC East between two 9-4 teams. Can the Eagles stop them again?
"Well, they're a tough team to shut down," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said yesterday. "And I don't know that we shut them down, but we challenged them, and I think that's all you can ask, because they have great ability in the front seven there, and the two running backs just are Pro Bowl-caliber running backs. And they're hot right now, both of them are hot. So, whereas last time we came in and you know, [No.] 44 [Bradshaw] was the starter, now [No.] 27 [Jacobs] is the starter, and 44 plays just as much. But both of those guys are hot, and they're running the ball extremely well."
Defensive end Darryl Tapp recalled yesterday that in the first meeting, "our guys weren't nosy, trying to play other peoples' responsibilities. We were just right in our gaps. It sounds simple, but that's what it was. You just have to play together as a unit."
Strong safety Quintin Mikell put it a little differently. "The first time we played 'em, our d-line kicked [butt]," Mikell said. "That's really what it was. Hopefully, [the line is] ready to play this time, because it's going to be a lot tougher. But I feel the resurgence in their running game is due to putting Jacobs back as the starter. He's much better as a starter than he is coming off the bench . . . It seems like the more carries he gets, the more he gets going, the harder he is to stop. We've really got to be ready to go. That's really what I'm worried about."
Jacobs certainly seems primed for the rematch. He told reporters at Giants practice this week that he was tired of answering questions about why New York has lost five in a row to the Eagles, including a playoff game.
Eagles strongside linebacker Moise Fokou noted the Giants' improvement. "Jacobs is running the ball better now," he said. "They both run hard. [Jacobs] is like a big train that you can't let him get his steam going, and the other one just a violent, angry runner, Bradshaw . . . The reason we stopped 'em last time, I think we were just all into it, being pumped by the rivalry game and everything."
Emotion will play a big role again, in an even more crucial situation, Fokou said.
"Every game is always a fast game, but I feel, especially with everything surrounding this game, in terms of probably the division leader and all that, I think it's going to be almost a playoff game," he said. "I think people are going to be coming in for blood. It's going to be a physical game, but we wouldn't have it any other way."
That was also the theme of defensive end Juqua Parker, who left the previous meeting early with a hip-flexor injury.
"We all know what's at stake," Parker said. "We have to come out and play hard. We know they're going to try to run the ball down our throat, and we just have to stop them. I like the physical game. I like when we play against a team that's going to run the ball downhill and not going to try to trick you. I like it. That's my type of game."
The Giants' offensive line is healthier than it was last month. New York has plugged in versatile Rich Seubert at center, and he has stabilized a position that has been up and down because of injuries, though original starter Shaun O'Hara now seems to be healthy. The Giants got left tackle David Diehl back for Monday's game against the Vikings.