The NFC East division is tightly bunched, yet the New York Giants (4-3) road map to the playoffs has become clearer. It includes a sweep of all their November games, starting with a victory on Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) come to town, with a rookie quarterback and four game winning streak against the G-Men. The past few years have not been kind to Big Blue in this divisional match-ups. Can new head coach Ben McAdoo provide the magic elixir to squeeze out a win? Let’s take a look at how a victory can be achieved defensively:
Giants Road Map: Stifle Wentz
As much as Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz has been a revelation, he’s also a feel-good story. Case in point, Wentz has thrown for almost 250 less yards than Dak Prescott (1,773 yards vs. 1,526 yards). Calculated into “real” terms for these rookies, that amounts to a full game’s worth of passing yards.
If you believe Prescott has thrown the ball more, think again. Wentz has thrown the ball 228 times this season, while Prescott has 221 passes to his credit. Ironically, it has been Prescott who has been under the microscope for being reluctant to throw downfield.
These stats are not a knock on Wentz, he has been as good as advertised. Instead, all quarterbacks have flaws, and rookie QBs especially do.
Give credit to the Eagles coaching staff for putting Wentz in a position to succeed. The rookie attempts only 32.6 passes per contest; good for 27th in the league. So keep in mind that most, if not all of his statistics are middle to bottom of the NFL pack.
As the New York Post pointed out on Nov. 4, 2016, “Wentz either flat-out refuses to test opponents downfield or is being told to avoid that by coach Doug Pederson. As a result, the Eagles have just one pass play of longer than 30 yards the past four games — a span of 230 snaps.”
The Giants secondary is a defensive strength, and expect Leon Hall to be at safety for injured Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo does not necessarily have to dial up pressure against Wentz. Every member of the defense simply has to do his job.
The play here is to take away short and intermediate routes for Wentz. In the process, do not let the rushing attack beat you. If the Eagles desire to make Wentz mobile, then the defense needs to punish him within the rules of the game.
Giants’ Road Map: 8 is Enough?
No longer do the Giants have to contend with running back LeSean McCoy, or even DeMarco Murray. The Birds’ leading rusher, Ryan Mathews, carried the ball four times against Dallas last week. Meanwhile, scatback Darren Sproles received a season-high 14 carries against the ‘Boys.
Head coach Doug Pederson is obviously concerned about ball security with Mathews. The veteran back recently lost fumbles against the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. Pederson tried to get rookie Wendell Smallwood into the picture, and he lost a critical fumble on Sunday at crunch time.
Which leads us back to Sproles. According to Pro Football Reference, Sproles has averaged 7.3 yards per carry against the Giants. The sample size is not large (28 attempts), but Sproles as a change-of-pace back can be lethal.
The Giants can punish Sproles, and the Eagles, if they make the diminutive veteran their featured back. This is accomplished by placing eight defenders in the box. The strategy is also aided by the fact that none of the Philadelphia receivers are game breakers.
Hopefully, we don’t see a reincarnation of Brent Celek, or the emergence of a otherwise dormant Zach Ertz on the Giants’ watch. According to Jon Marks of Philly Football Talk, Ertz is the most “disappointing” offensive player on the Eagles. “Every season seems like it’s going to be the season Ertz has the breakout, but I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. He was paid like an elite tight end in the offseason and he has all the tools to be a Gronk-lite type of player, but just never seems to be consistent enough to do it.”
The last time the Giants saw Ertz, on Jan. 3, 2016, he caught nine passes on nine targets. The tight end had 152 receiving yards as the Eagles beat the Giants 35-30 in Tom Coughlin’s final game.
If Ertz somehow repeats that production, it might be Jerry Reese’s last game against Philadelphia at home. This game plan is fairly simple, but based upon history, it won’t be easy.
History tells us the best team does not always win these match-ups. And in some cases, crazy plays determine the outcome. Give us your strategy for victory.