By Curt Macysyn
The New York Football Giants (6-9) showed some fight, literally and figuratively, in taking care of business against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. While the Jeff Fisher-led Rams tried to bully the New York offense, in general, and rookie Odell Beckham, Jr. in particular, Big Blue was having none of it. So when Alec Ogletree took a cheap shot at Beckham out of bounds, the G-men responded in kind, showing a swagger that had been missing for most of this season.
Swagger is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) have lost as the team went from being a Super Bowl contender on Thanksgiving to also-ran less than a month later. After the Birds destroyed the Cowboys 33-10 in Dallas on Turkey Day, the team dropped three straight games, and poof, that quickly went their playoff chance.
Home losses to Seattle and Dallas were compounded by an inexplicable loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field this past Saturday, as a Mark Sanchez interception turned into a Kai Forbath 26-yard field goal with five seconds left to vault the ‘Skins over the Birds, 27-24. The Eagles loss, coupled with a Dallas victory over the Colts on Sunday, eliminated the Eagles from NFC East division crown. With no wild card possibilities remaining for Philadelphia, the Eagles found themselves on the outside looking in at the NFL playoffs on Sunday night.
It has not been a vintage year for running back LeSean McCoy. The player nicknamed “Shady” has rushed for 1,220 yards this season, which ranks him fifth in the NFL. His 4.1 yards per carry average, however, is lowest of the top five running backs in the league. McCoy has been a Giant-killer in his career, and last time these two teams met, he ran the ball 22 times for 149 yards (6.8 yards per carry).
Mark Sanchez has reverted to old form with 13 turnovers in eight games in relief of Nick Foles, who broke his collarbone. The talk of the Eagles sticking with Sanchez next season has quieted, as old habits die hard for Sanchez, who had a critical interception, as well as a fumble against the Redskins on Saturday. Ironically, Sanchez has almost the identical stat line as Foles, and in fact, Sanchez has a better completion percentage (64.1% vs. 59.8%), and both committed 13 turnovers in eight games. The biggest, and maybe the only difference, is that Foles record was 6-2 as the starter.
Receiver Jeremy Maclin has stepped out of DeSean Jackson’s spotlight and elevated himself to number one receiver status with 82 receptions for 1,269 yards, which is good for seventh in the league. Under the old format (AFC vs. NFC), Maclin would have been a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl, but under any evaluation, he is having an outstanding season. The torch at tight end is being passed from Brent Celak to Zach Ertz. Ertz has 54 catches and three touchdowns, while Celak has only 31 catches this season without a touchdown.
The Eagles do miss DeSean Jackson, but rookie Jordan Matthews is stepping up with 59 catches for 767 yards, and he has seven touchdown catches this season. Controversial Riley Cooper had only one touchdown catch coming into Saturday’s game, but caught two TDs against Washington, giving him three for the season.
Hopefully Giants’ right tackle Justin Pugh learned from the last encounter with the Eagles, when defensive end Connor Barwin schooled the second-year player. Barwin is the Eagles top pass rusher with 14.5 quarterback sacks (4th in the league) on the season, and he had three sacks the first time these two teams met in October.
Mychal Kendricks missed the first contest between the teams, as he was nursing a calf injury. Despite missing four games, Kendricks leads the Eagles with 77 tackles, and he also has four sacks on the year. Kendricks is the type of hybrid player that gives the Giants’ offensive line difficulty.
In addition to Kendricks and Barwin, the Eagles will throw several other hybrids at the Giants’ offensive line, including Vinny Curry (nine sacks), Trent Cole (6.5 sacks), Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks) and Fletcher Cox (four sacks).
The key to this encounter will be the ability of the Giants’ offensive line to keep quarterback Eli Manning upright. In the 27-0 whitewash on Oct. 12th, Manning was sacked eight times, as the line could not keep him clean. Given time, Manning will look to pick on cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who was torched for a 50-yard reception, not once, but twice, by DeSean Jackson on Saturday. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Fletcher has played to a (-7.8) grade this season.
Fletcher’s opposite, Cary Williams, is only slightly better, with a (-2.1) grade this season. Williams does talk like a Pro Bowl player, even if he is the 59th ranked cornerback in the league. Safeties Nate Allen and Malcolm Jenkins lead the team with three interceptions each, and Jenkins has 72 tackles to go along with his picks.
The Giants lead the all time regular season series between these two teams 83-76-2. The teams have split four playoff matches. The teams have also split the two-game series in the previous three seasons (2011, 2012, 2013).
Giants’ wide receiver Victor Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his knee in the Oct. 12th matchup between the teams, and Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles threw two interceptions in that game.
Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning has 29 touchdown passes this year, and if he throws one against the Eagles he will surpass 30 touchdowns for only the second time in his career (2010). With 19 passing yards, Manning will surpass 4,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career. Looks like the additions of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Ben McAdoo are breathing new life into Manning’s game.
For more Giants news and updates, visit Giants Central.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.