By Paul Dottino
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“A game of attrition.” This phrase will likely be repeated several times over the next two months as teams all over the NFL enter the second half of their schedule – the place where Commissioner Roger Goodell stacked most of the intradivision rivalry games to create more interest down the stretch.

And that’s bad news for the Giants, who are operating at much less than full strength, as they get into the heart of their divisional schedule while heading to Philadelphia Sunday night.

Do you remember when we told you months ago that the divisions with the most heated and physical rivalries – and the NFC East is one of those – would be involved more in a game of survival than the competition on the field? The Giants (6-3) may be battling such a situation, given the injuries to WR Steve Smith, TE Kevin Boss (back), three –fifths of the starting offensive line, WR Ramses Barden, etc.  And don’t forget DE Mathias Kiwanuka on injured reserve from an early-season neck problem. Considering what’s left, here are your three key matchups as the teams play to break their first-place tie in the NFC East:

1. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell vs. Eagles QB Michael Vick. Vick is playing the most efficient and effective football of his career – he’s become more patient in the passing game and more selective about when to run.  The Eagles (6-3) are 4-0 in games when Vick has started and finished this season – he was knocked out of the loss to the Redskins. And maybe that’s the key.

At peak efficiency, the Giants’ defense has made a habit of sending battered quarterbacks to the sideline. They may be at least able to slow him down by making him pay for every scramble. Nevertheless, the real burden falls on Fewell, who much decide how he will approach this challenge: Does he play coverage? Does he use a spy? Does he apply heavy blitzing? Do you contain the pocket? Do you push the pocket from the front? At the moment, there is no easy answer because – as DE Justin Tuck said – Vick has a very strong arm and can turn any passing play into a positive running play.

Fewell might be best served using a combination of schemes while employing a spy (maybe Deon Grant or Michael Boley) against Vick on long passing downs. Boley was Vick’s teammate with the Falcons and may have a better read on Vick’s movements when he scrambles. Vick is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and has run for four TDs this season.

2. Giants CBs Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas vs. Eagles WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Speed, speed and more speed. These two receivers allow the strong-armed Vick the luxury of unloading a bomb, and knowing that his guys have the jets to go get it. Even more problematic is Vick’s ability to keep a play alive with his feet, giving Jackson (28 catches, 21.5 avg, 5 TDs) and Maclin (38, 15.4 avg., 7 TDs) more time to escape coverage.

Webster has missed practice time this week because of a sore toe, so nickel corner Aaron Ross needs to be prepared to move outside, if necessary. Just as they must do with Vick, the Giants need to be very physical with his targets, jamming them when called for and making sure they are aggressive with their tackling. As the Giants LB Keith Bulluck said, “objects that move fast come to a sudden stop … that could be pretty effective.”

3. Giants LT Shawn Andrews or Will Beatty vs. Eagles RDE Trent Cole. Andrews, who’s started the past two games at left tackle because of the assorted injuries, has missed practice time this week because of a bad back. Remember, he underwent back surgery while he was playing for the Eagles and coach Tom Coughlin admits he’s concerned.

Andrews was unhappy with his exit from Philadelphia and you’d have to think he’s itching to make a victorious return to The Linc, but his injury may not allow it to happen. Enter Beatty, who returned from surgery for a fractured foot to play the third tight end against Dallas. He was injured against Carolina and took only limited practice reps leading into the Cowboys game before the Giants were forced to use him.

Beatty certainly could use more time to fine-tune his game, especially against a speed rusher like Cole (52 tackles, 7 sacks), who has registered sacks in three straight games. The insertion of Beatty would bring the number of offensive line combinations the Giants have used this season to 10.

PREDICTION: Eagles 31, Giants 20

PREDICTION RECORD: 5-4 (3-6 vs. the spread)