The last time the New York Giants played the Philadelphia Eagles, in Week 17 of last season, Philadelphia was sleepwalking through the final game of the Andy Reid era while the Giants were being eliminated from playoff contention by results in other cities. The month of September didn't treat either team much better, and so it is a 1-3 Eagles team that travels to New Jersey this weekend to face the 0-4 Giants at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Eagles team reporter Phil Sheridan and Giants team reporter Dan Graziano offer their thoughts on this bottom-of-the-division NFC East matchup.
Dan Graziano: Hey, Phil. Hope things are going well for you down there in the City of Brotherly Love. Up here, the Giants might be the worst team in the NFL so far this year. I don't think that's a development anyone saw coming, but based on the way they've played on both sides of the ball, it's hard to argue. Not sure anyone knew what was coming in Philadelphia, and the Chip Kelly Eagles sure did burst onto the scene with their Week 1 victory in Washington. Things don't seem to have gone very well since, however. What do you think is the biggest thing that's derailed the Chip-Kelly-Will-Change-The-NFL storyline?
Phil Sheridan: The biggest thing, Dan, is that the NFL just isn't that easy to change. Kelly had one chance to throw a sucker punch, which he did in the first half of that Monday night game at Washington. The Eagles haven't looked remotely as crisp or as confident since halftime of that game. They did put up some points against San Diego, but only because the Chargers' mystifying decision not to cover DeSean Jackson. Since then, Kelly has been outclassed by Andy Reid and John Fox, two of the NFL's senior head coaches. Ultimately, if Kelly is going to stage a revolution, he's going to need a better army. The Eagles just aren't good enough.
Which brings me to the big question about the Giants: What in the world happened? OK, a little more specific: Is Eli Manning playing that badly or is it the offense around him?
DG: Oh, the problems are around Manning, for sure. He needs to play better, and he's committed too many turnovers. But the issues start up front, as they always do, and the Giants' offensive line is just plain awful. It was a rotten run-blocking unit in the first two games. It gave up seven sacks of Manning in the 37-0 loss in Carolina in Week 3, and starting center David Baas and right guard Chris Snee got hurt in that game. So they had to use backups at those two spots last Sunday in Kansas City, and it was a mess again. The result is that Manning and the offense can't get in any kind of rhythm because they can't get the play blocked at the point of attack. The receivers don't have time to get open, the running backs can't find holes, and even if there is something that works, the Giants simply can't trust that anything will be there play to play. Tom Coughlin said after Sunday's game that trying to call offensive plays right now is like "throwing a dart at a board."
Now, all of that said, they have faced four pretty strong defensive fronts so far in Dallas, Denver, Carolina and Kansas City. The Eagles' defense, to me at least, looks a little bit more, shall we say, permissive. Do you think it's possible the Giants get the offense going this week against the Philly D?
PS: It's very possible. Peyton Manning has it all going on right now, obviously, but I think Archie Manning could go out Sunday and move the ball against this Eagles secondary. The litany of issues sounds quite a bit like what you just outlined regarding the Giants' offense. The Eagles have not been able to generate any kind of reliable pass rush. Trent Cole is in transition, playing some standard defensive end while also standing up and occasionally dropping into coverage. Connor Barwin, the only true 3-4 outside linebacker on the team, has not been the difference-maker the Eagles expected. At least not yet. The lack of pressure makes the secondary vulnerable and the lack of coverage ability doesn't give the pass rush time to get there. It's a cycle that allows smart, experienced quarterbacks to do their bidding, and Eli is certainly one of them. He hung 42 on the Eagles as a lovely parting gift to Andy Reid last December.
While we're talking pass rush, we're used to watching the Giants torment Eagles quarterbacks. What happened to the Giants' pass rush and is there any hope to get it cranking again?
DG: I'm starting to think not. The Giants have only seven sacks in their past nine games dating back to last November. (And the one they got Sunday really shouldn't have counted, since it was a linebacker tackling Alex Smith at the line of scrimmage on a run play.) Jason Pierre-Paul has one sack in his past 11 games, and I watched him closely Sunday. There are plays on which he simply doesn't do anything at all. The explosive player who racked up 16.5 sacks in 2011 has vanished, and while he might still be getting over offseason back surgery, it's possible he never returns to form. That's more than possible for Justin Tuck, obviously, coming off two down years. Mathias Kiwanuka is so-so. Rookie Damontre Moore has great skills but has been slow to develop to the point where the coaches trust him.
The Giants have actually had some guys perform better than expectations at linebacker and in the secondary. And the way the offense has played has offered the defense some cover. But you're right -- if they can't get the pass rush going, they're not a good defense.
They have, in the past, had a lot of trouble stopping LeSean McCoy and the Eagles' midrange passing game, as Andy Reid used to love to exploit the Giants' weakness at linebacker. Can we expect a heavy dose of the run game Sunday, I assume?
PS: Absolutely. Kelly flat-out said the Eagles will continue to rely on what they do best, which is to run the ball. They are No. 1 in the NFL in rushing yards, which would have sounded like science fiction during Reid's pass-happy tenure. The basic philosophy is simple: The Eagles spread opponents out with three wide receivers, then pound the ball behind a good run-blocking line. The question I have is whether defensive coordinators are willing to concede a certain amount of rushing yards in order to safeguard against big plays from DeSean Jackson. The Eagles amassed 890 yards the past two weeks -- 426 of them on the ground -- but scored just four touchdowns. That's not enough in 2013.
Here's a more abstract question. With two Super Bowls on their résumés, there has to be a temptation for the Giants' core group to accept that this is just a down year. Do you see signs of that? And can Coughlin still find a way to prevent that?
DG: Yeah, I don't think that's what's happening here. Not after they missed the playoffs last year for the third time in four seasons. This team won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but the six-week stretch that culminated in that title is one of the few sustained runs of strong play the Giants had over the past half-decade. The Giants believe they can play better and that it's on them to do so, whether the season can still be saved or not. And what ownership is telling Coughlin is that they have faith in him to figure out how to fix the problems. Whether he can or not will have an impact on his legacy. He's not in any trouble here in terms of job security, but the current plight offers him a chance to prove he's the coach the Giants and their fans believe him to be.
Good talk, Phil. Thanks. Looking forward to seeing you Sunday in the swamp.