EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Their identity is set now. We've known for a while that the New York Giants, anchored by their relentless defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, are quarterback killers.
But since their 27-17 loss to the Eagles on Nov. 21, the Giants have added another facet - a ground-and-pound offense - partly out of necessity and partly because of the reemergence of Brandon Jacobs.
For Eagles-Giants II on Sunday at New Meadowlands Stadium, the game-time temperature is expected to hover around freezing, with the possibility of snow. While the New York defense will focus on containing Michael Vick and his young playmakers, the offense will try to take advantage of the conditions and expose the Eagles' perceived weakness in the middle - Stewart Bradley is out at middle linebacker, rookie Jamar Chaney is in - by keeping the ball on the ground.
The goal will be multipronged: control the clock, limit Eli Manning's turnovers, mask the Giants' deficiencies at wide receiver, and keep Vick and the Eagles' offense off the field.
In the first 10 games this season, Jacobs averaged 7.8 carries for 47.7 yards. Against the Eagles in Philadelphia, Jacobs got five carries and gained only 10 yards. But since that game, in wins over Jacksonville, Washington, and Minnesota, Jacobs has averaged 12 carries for 102 yards and one touchdown.
Jacobs has provided the power to Ahmad Bradshaw's speed. In the last two games - both blowout wins for the Giants - Jacobs and Bradshaw combined for 58 carries for 419 yards and six touchdowns. Each player topped 100 rushing yards on Monday against the Vikings, and it was only the second time in franchise history that the Giants have had two players in triple digits rushing in the same game.
In fact, when the Giants have had a 100-yard rusher this season, they are 5-0. They now lead the NFC in rushing (148.3 yards per game), good for fourth in the league behind Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Oakland. The Giants' 21 carries of more than 20 yards ranks first in the NFL, and their 16 rushing touchdowns are tied for first with Houston, New England, and the Eagles.
After gaining 61 yards on 19 carries against the Eagles, the Giants have dominated on the ground, and they will try to continue the trend.
"We didn't have much success running or throwing" against the Eagles, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said during the week.
"There are a lot of clear objectives here, one of which is that offensively we've got to get going," Coughlin added. "We've got to do our job. We've got to hold the ball. We've got to move the ball. We've got to be able to run the ball against a very good defense."
It is a defense without its captain and its rookie defensive end and, perhaps, its Pro Bowl cornerback. Brandon Graham is out for the year and Asante Samuel has missed the last three games.
The Giants, however, will be without their best wide receiver, Steve Smith, who suffered an articular cartilage tear in his left knee against the Vikings and will miss the rest of the season. Smith was Manning's most reliable and trusted target. He missed four games with a pectoral tear and had just returned to the lineup against Minnesota.
"You can't get used to missing somebody like Steve," Jacobs said. "When Steve wasn't around for the last four weeks, we really missed him. And you can tell."
With Smith out, Hakeem Nicks will likely draw any double teams. Nicks, who missed two games with a lower-leg injury before returning last week, has a team-high 69 catches for 896 yards and nine touchdowns. He called Smith's injury "very deflating" but said, "I just have to rise up to the occasion."
Mario Manningham moves into the No. 2 role, and he insisted last week that he will play against the Eagles despite having an injured hip. Derek Hagan, who has 13 catches this season, will move into the slot in New York's three-receiver sets.
"You'd prefer it the other way, but unfortunately there is nothing that we can do about it right now," Coughlin said. "Someone else has got to step up there and do the job that we would have asked Steve to do."
With Manning having thrown an NFL-high 19 interceptions, look for the Giants to rely on Jacobs and Bradshaw. The best way for the Eagles to combat that? Get an early lead and force the Giants to throw.
"With [the Eagles'] offense, you don't want to give them anything easy," Manning said. "Our defense is playing great football these last weeks, and you don't want to give the opposing team a short field. We have to protect the ball, but we also have to know that we have to move the ball and go down there and score some points."