Eagles Six For Sunday Week 3 VS Giants by Matt Lombardo

Each week as the Eagles game draws near, Taking It to The House will put the focus on six storylines to watch. This week, The Eagles open their home schedule against the Giants in an NFC East Showdown. The Giants certainly have revenge on their mind from last season’s comeback in the meadowlands but have been bitten by the injury bug. The focus will be on the chess game between Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin that has come to define this rivalry in recent years. 

The Philadelphia Eagles have won six straight games against the New York Giants, when these two historic NFC East rivals meet on Sunday, the G Men enter an injured and beleaguered bunch. There is no love lost between these teams after a week of bitter trash talk is simply the tipping point following an offseason of twitter wars and verbal jabs being lobbed up and down the Jersey Turnpike. On Sunday afternoon, the Eagles enter healthy and stung from a week two loss against the Falcons. New York meanwhile enters at 1-1 but snake bitten by injuries. Regardless of circumstances though, these games are typically hard fought, close and physical affairs.

6. Can the Eagles tighten up their red zone defense? Last Sunday night in Atlanta the Eagles were tested by the Falcons and had no answer inside the 20 yard line. The Falcons were a masterful five for five scoring touchdowns in red zone opportunities. While the Giants enter this game shorthanded with a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball, that sort of performance by the Eagles defense would be a great equalizer. Last season opponents scored touchdowns in the red zone nearly 77 percent of the time against the Birds. That dreadful showing was a major factor in Sean McDermott being replaced by Juan Castillo at defensive coordinator, and thus far the results have yet to change.

5. Will Eagles stretch the field early and often? If we’ve learned anything about the Eagles offense through two games is that it is fast. Really fast. Through two games DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have accounted for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Adding to the glutton of speed on the outside, running back LeSean McCoy has emerged as a top tier running back in the league with 217 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 6.6 yards per carry so far this season. Meanwhile the Giants secondary is anemic, giving up back to back 300 yard games against Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman and Rams starter Sam Bradford. The Eagles have the ability to end this game early, if they send their receivers deep in the first quarter and Vick connects for a couple of big plays.

4. Effectiveness of Eagles new look linebacker corps to withstand Giants running attack: On Wednesday Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid and Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo shuffled the deck at linebacker. Rookie Casey Matthews was moved from the middle to weakside, Jamar Chaney slid into the middle and Moise Fokou to strongside. The Eagles claim that the move is a temporary tactical one to place the more stout against the run and experienced Chaney in the heart of the defense against the run leaning Giants, however it feels much more like an admission of a mistake in putting Matthews in the middle to begin with. Whatever the case, all eyes will be on the heart of Philadelphia’s defense for the third straight week. While Matthews struggled with gap recognition and fighting off blocks in the middle, the fifth round choice out of Oregon now must cover running backs out of the backfield and keep pace with tight ends running routes in the flat. How the Giants utilize tight end Jake Ballard be Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s next move in the chess game of this division rivalry. It’s difficult for defenses to hide their weaknesses, and it would not be shocking to see Ballard line up opposite of Matthews several times.

3.  Eagles pass rush against Giants offensive line: The Eagles pass rush has been the bread and butter of their defense through the first two weeks of the season. Against the Rams and Falcons, Philadelphia’s defense has notched nine sacks, good enough for second in the league. Meanwhile, The Giants have allowed seven sacks against Eli Manning through their first two games. With Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp out, look for Cullen Jenkins to get several snaps at defensive end to augment the Birds rotation along the edge. Manning’s options will be limited due to receivers Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon out of the lineup. Because of the Giants injuries, combined with the Eagles all-world secondary, the Birds can make the Giants play a one dimensional game on the ground if they get to Manning early and force him into mistakes.

2.  Can Jason Peters neutralize Jason Pierre-Paul? The key each week seemingly is to keep Michael Vick upright and his jersey clean, that task is of extra importance for the Eagles in week three after their signal caller suffered a low grade concussion against the Falcons last Sunday night. The Giants possess the type of pass rusher in Jason Pierre-Paul who can make that task a difficult one. Standing at 6-5, 278 pounds, Pierre-Paul has the rare combination of raw size and speed that can change way game plans are written. The 2010 first round choice out of South Florida already has two and a half sacks and eight tackles this season. Meanwhile, Eagles left tackle Jason Peters anchors an improving offensive line and played as good a game last week that he’s played since being traded to Philadelphia in 2009. If Peters duplicates his week two performance on Sunday, the pocket may just be the safest place for Vick.

1. Will Eagles be able to protect Michael Vick? Apologies if this key is getting to be redundant, but Vick’s health is crucial to the Eagles success this season. Number seven’s concussion a week ago is no secret, but the battering that Vick has taken in just two games is certainly troubling. Against the Rams and Falcons, Vick has been knocked to the ground a combined 33 times in roughly five quarters of play. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewwell stifled Vick in the two meetings between these teams last season by both bringing pressure up the middle and blitzing his corners off the edges. The Giants pass rush overall is a stout one, and if Vick continues to take the kinds of beatings that have been handed to him in the first two games, the question will continue to be asked about his durability and if this team can survive in the long run without him.

Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat  reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL or by Email atMDLombardo@yahoo.com

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