Just three weeks after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants 36-21 at MetLife Stadium, the NFC East rivals meet again Sunday. This time, the scene is Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles have lost a franchise-record nine consecutive games.
As he did last time, Michael Vick is expected to start at quarterback for the Eagles. Vick was injured before halftime of that game and hasn't played since. In his absence, Nick Foles led the Eagles to a decisive win in Tampa and an equally decisive loss to Dallas. Foles left that game with a concussion.
As he did last time, Eli Manning will start for the Giants. The Eagles intercepted Manning three times in the fourth quarter. Against the Vikings Monday night, Manning had his first game of the season without an interception, after throwing 15 in the Giants’ first six games. All six were losses, which is probably not a coincidence.
Dan Graziano, who covers the Giants for ESPN.com, chatted with Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan about Sunday’s game.
Phil Sheridan: Now that the Giants have that elusive first win, is there a sense the season is salvageable?
Dan Graziano: Phil, I really think the Giants have excelled at one thing this year, and that is keeping their focus on the week at hand and pushing the ugly, big picture out of their minds. They know they're in a huge hole at 1-6. If they stopped to think about it, they'd probably realize their chances of making it a season are impossibly low. But they're not stopping to think about it. They are enjoying the fact that they won a game for the first time since Week 17 of last year, and then they're locked in on trying to beat the Eagles and get another one. This is where Tom Coughlin's leadership shows, I think -- in the Super Bowl runs but also in a tough time like this, when it really is all about playing for pride, but over the years we've seen a lot of teams unable to do that when a season slips away. The Giants are unlikely to quit on their season, no matter how bad it gets, and that week-to-week focus is critical to that.
How about the Eagles? Ol' Mike Vick couldn't finish the game three weeks ago and hasn't played since, but it sounds like he's starting Sunday, right? Will he be at full strength and able to rip off those long runs that caused the Giants so much trouble the first time?
Sheridan: I doubt Vick himself will know the answer to that one until he tries it, Dan. That’s the thing about an injury like a hamstring or other pull. You can’t be sure it’s 100 percent until you do something that would make it pop again without popping it. Vick has been avoiding that while the injury heals. That question leads to the next point, which is that Vick running was about the only thing working for the Eagles in that game against the Giants. He couldn’t get the passing game going and the Giants drew up the blueprint Dallas just copied to contain LeSean McCoy. So this shapes up as a tough test for Vick and the rest of the offense.
Speaking of that Giants' defense, it looked as if Jason Pierre-Paul had a little more bounce Monday night. How much better and healthier is that defense than it was even three weeks ago?
Graziano: Pierre-Paul did look better in the first half, I thought. I thought the same thing in the first Eagles game. But we haven't seen him maintain it throughout a game yet, and regardless of how he looked Monday, he's still a player who has one sack in his past 14 games. The Giants need him to be great, and he hasn't been. They believe there's a week coming when he'll terrorize people again. They wish they knew which it was. The biggest difference, though, to me on the Giants' defense is new middle linebacker Jon Beason, who has really taken over as a leader and a playmaker the last two games since coming over in that trade from Carolina. Beason is getting the defense fired up before the game and lined up during it, and his performance so far really points to how glaring their need was for anything at all at linebacker. The whole defense is more energized and organized now, and they are doing a good job limiting opposing running backs, especially between the tackles. Vick and McCoy are going to have to find room outside if they're to pile up yardage.
How's that Eagles defense shaping up these days? I know they were happy when Eli Manning started throwing them the ball a couple of weeks ago in the fourth quarter, but they weren't much for stopping a weak Giants offense in the first three quarters. Are they improving on defense in Chip Kelly's first year?
Sheridan: They were darn near respectable against the Cowboys Sunday. It’s important to remember that the Eagles played the Broncos right before the first game against the Giants. Peyton Manning put up 52 on them. It was an Arena League game. The Eagles desperately needed to show some improvement. When Eli Manning hit on a couple of deep throws, it looked like another debacle in the making. That fourth quarter, and those three picks, helped a lot. The Eagles were fine against Tampa Bay, but that was against a rookie quarterback making his second start. So playing well against Tony Romo and Dez Bryant was a big step. They aren’t going to scare anyone, but they can get some pressure on the quarterback, play the run reasonably well and are improving in the secondary. It remains a work in progress, but you can actually see the progress, which helps.
Seems like the Giants went ahead and grafted an entirely new running attack onto their offense since the last go-round. How effective have Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis been? And has that helped Eli get the passing game going a little bit more effectively?
Graziano: Well, Jacobs rushed for 106 on 22 carries in the loss to the Bears, but he and Da'Rel Scott hurt their hamstrings in that game, so they ended up signing Hillis last week and running him and rookie Michael Cox out there for their first carries of the season Monday. Figure David Wilson and Andre Brown were supposed to be the "co-starters" preseason, and they're down to their No. 5 and 6 running backs. I think the Jacobs game was a fluke against a bad Bears defense that has nothing on the defensive line right now, and while Hillis got some love Monday, they averaged only 2.0 yards per carry against the Vikings. The one thing that I think has come out of the past two games in terms of running backs is that Hillis looked like a good checkdown option for Manning catching passes out of the backfield. So many of Manning's issues this year come down, I think, to his insufficient comfort level in the pocket due to protection issues. Having a checkdown pass-catcher whom he trusts would be a helpful thing in terms of limiting turnovers.
And Manning cutting out the turnovers sure would put the Giants' fans in a better mood going forward. Speaking of which, what's the mood like around the Eagles in Philadelphia these days? The fans high on Chip Kelly? Skeptical? And ultimately, do you think they break their home losing streak against the last team they beat down there?
Sheridan: I would say there is a fair amount of skepticism about Chipper right now. Not being Andy Reid only goes so far (especially when Big Red is Bigger, Redder and 7-0). Reasonable fans (there are a surprisingly large number of those here) expected it to take a little time to implement Kelly’s plan. I think whatever doubts have crept in are due to Kelly himself: a silly two-point conversion try against San Diego, admitting he didn’t know an injury/timeout rule, a truly dreadful offensive showing against the Cowboys, and so on. We just haven’t been dazzled by the promised bells and whistles on offense. Still, there is a lot of curiosity about where this is going and what Kelly will do next. As for predictions, well ...