By Paul Dottino
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If there’s one thing we knew about the NFC East before the season, it was that each team had reason to be skeptical about its offensive line.
The results over the first three weeks of the season have proven this to be the case with all four teams – good days (or quarters) by the offensive line have resulted in a winning brand of football; bad days (or quarters)… well, it’s been pretty ugly.
There is no more important factor in evaluating Sunday night’s Giants-Eagles game in Philadelphia. The offensive lines for each team will write the script for this contest.
Here are three matchups to watch for during the prime time game at The Linc:
1. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora vs. Eagles LT King Dunlap and RT Todd Herremans. The Eagles have done better in run blocking than they have in pass protection.
Scrambling QB Michael Vick already has been sacked nine times, thrown six INTs and lost three fumbles while completing only 55.2 percent of his passes. In short, the line has failed Vick, particularly when opponents send more than four defenders at him and the pressure has got him playing more like he did in his early years in Atlanta.
Dunlap is battling a hip injury and C Dallas Reynolds – who spent three seasons on the practice squad – is starting for the injured Jason Kelce (ACL surgery). The Giants’ big three pass rushers, while using their speed against this awkward line, must not allow Vick to have a clean lane in front of the pocket or to escape to his throwing side (left).
2. Eagles DEs Jason Babin and Trent Cole vs. Giants OTs Sean Locklear and William Beatty. The Eagles are taking a page out of the Giants’ book by rotating nine defensive linemen – usually every few snaps – with the thinking that it will improve the energy and quality of each of their snaps.
It’s worked to this point as Philadelphia’s opponents have a NFL-low 57 quarterback rating with five INTs and three TDs. The pressure on the pocket has prompted shorter and quicker passes (only 5.7 yards per attempt) against the Eagles, who are allowing 4.0 yards per rush.
Locklear and Beatty have performed well and their efforts appear to have picked up the rest of the line, which has improved over the six quarters they’ve been in action.
3. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy vs. Giants’ front seven. The Eagles have tried to cut back on McCoy’s workload to improve the quality of his carries and to enhance his durability. However, they are well aware that their shaky offensive line does not match up well against the Giants’ defensive line – which may mean leaning on McCoy more than they’ve shown.
McCoy is a game-breaker with speed and cutback ability. The less effective McCoy, the more pressure it puts on Vick, his suspect line and their erratic passing game (which, ironically, leads the league in big plays because they’ve taken so many shots downfield). Hint: The Eagles are running for more than 5 yards per carry when taking the ball off tackle, behind Herremanns.
Prediction: Giants 31, Eagles 23
Prediction record vs. the spread: 2-1
What’s your prediction for Giants-Eagles? Be heard in the comments below!