New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles. Two teams, and fan bases, that largely don’t like each other. With a game between the NFC East rivals looming Thursday, let’s venture into enemy territory and learn some things about the Eagles. Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation answers our 5 questions.
Ed: What is your assessment of the Eagles thus far? I thought they would win this division in a cakewalk, and they still might, but I’m surprised to see them at 2-3.
Brandon: It’s safe to say the reigning Super Bowl champs have been a disappointment through the first five games of the season.
This has been a team that just can’t stop shooting themselves in the foot. Take their most recent loss to the Vikings for example.
After finally starting to string a promising drive together, Lane Johnson allows Carson Wentz to get strip-sacked and Linval Joseph recovers for a touchdown. Then they get another drive going and actually move into the red zone but Jay Ajayi fumbles at the 5-yard line. The Eagles recover a fumble at the Vikings’ 30-yard line with a chance to take the lead and then proceed to knock themselves out of scoring range by taking an illegal formation penalty followed by a grounding call.
Mistakes are always going to happen during the game but it feels like the Eagles continue to make theirs at the worst times.
Part of the reason the Eagles haven’t been able to get out of their own way is they have a number of position groups that are underperforming. The offensive line is arguably the biggest disappointment in this regard. After having one of the best lines in the league last season, Philly’s front is suddenly struggling to protect Carson Wentz. The third-year quarterback has been sacked 12 times and hit 27 times during his first three games back from ACL injury. I certainly don’t need to lecture Giants fans on the importance of offensive line play.
Jim Schwartz’s defense isn’t off the hook, either. The Eagles’ secondary has been far too leaky. Philadelphia ranks 26th in big-play rate allowed. In the Eagles’ past two games, opposing quarterbacks have combined for 60/80 (75% completion), 645 yards (8.1 average), 4 TD, 1 INT, and a 98.8 passer rating.
Put simply, the Eagles just aren’t playing like a good team right now.
Ed: How much are they hurt by the loss of Jay Ajayi, and if the Eagles are indeed interested in a LeSean McCoy reunion is that something you would be in favor of?
Brandon: Losing Jay Ajayi is significant because he’s the Eagles’ most talented running back, when healthy. The problem is he hasn’t been healthy this year. Prior to tearing his ACL, he suffered a fractured bone in his back during Week 2. I don’t know how he managed to play through both that AND a torn ACL against the Vikings, but that just goes to show you he’s one tough dude.
Ajayi is the Eagles’ leading rusher this season with 184 carries and three touchdowns on 45 attempts. He hasn’t been Philly’s most efficient ball-carrier, though.
Surprisingly, fourth-string running back Wendell Smallwood leads the team in rush average at 6.0. In addition to his 150 yards on 25 carries, he’s logged 10 receptions for 96 yards and one score. He’s far from an elite back but he deserves some credit for stepping up.
With Smallwood playing well and Corey Clement returning, I’m not ready to flat out panic about the Eagles’ running back situation. Those guys can be at least solid behind an Eagles offensive line that’s struggled in pass protection but has looked good while run blocking.
But there’s certainly a lot of room to improve and getting a top weapon like Le’Veon Bell or LeSean McCoy would be really nice right now. The Eagles’ offense rank 28th in big-play rate. They need more play-makers.
From a football standpoint, I think McCoy could make sense for the Eagles depending on the cost. From a personal standpoint, I don’t love the idea of rooting on McCoy given all the off-field stuff that’s going on with him.
Ed: Where do you think the Eagles have a clear advantage in this game?
Brandon: Well, in theory the Eagles’ defensive line should be able to get to Eli Manning.
The Giants’ offensive line ranks 24th overall by Pro Football Focus. Football Outsiders, meanwhile, has New York ranked 31st in run blocking and 26th in adjusted sack rate. It seems like the Giants should struggle against an Eagles pass rush that’s generating the highest percent of plays where the opposing quarterback has been under pressure (57%), per PFF.
The Eagles could very well make life difficult on Eli Manning and force him into some bad throws and/or sacks.
Ed: Where do you think the Giants could have an advantage?
Brandon: On the other hand, the Eagles’ pass rush didn’t really faze the Giants last year. Manning had two of his best games of the season against Philly. The Giants were able to get the ball out quick and it felt like the Eagles couldn’t stop the same slant route that the Giants were running over and over.
The Giants should even be more difficult to defend now that Odell Beckham Jr. is back. You can be Pat Shurmur will try to get OBJ matched up against Eagles starting cornerback Jalen Mills, who has struggled this season. During last year’s Week 3 Eagles-Giants game, Mills was targeted a whopping 21 TIMES. New York saw a weakness and they tried to exploit it. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them go after Mills again this year.
Ed: If you could have one player off the Giants roster for the Eagles NOT named Saquon Barkley or Odell Beckham, who would you take?
Brandon: I’ll take Landon Collins. The Eagles are dangerously thin at safety right now with Rodney McLeod out for the season and veteran backup Corey Graham now dealing with a hamstring issue. Philadelphia’s three healthy safeties include: Malcolm Jenkins, Avonte Maddox, and Deiondre’ Hall. Jenkins is obviously a great player. Maddox isn’t even a real safety. The rookie cornerback never played on the back end of the defense until two weeks ago. The Eagles acquired Hall during final cuts and he hasn’t seen any defensive playing time despite the fact Philly is depleted at safety. Collins would fill the Eagles’ biggest need.
I also considered Damon Harrison because he’s dominant and the Eagles are getting nothing out of their defensive tackles not named Fletcher Cox. Sterling Shepard would also help an Eagles wide receiving corps that’s not giving the team a ton right now.