By Paul Dottino
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No more trial period for the offense. No more grading on a curve for an emerging offensive line.
The Giants have won three straight to get to 3-2 and are entering the beefy part of their schedule, where they have to show they deserve to be in the year-long conversation about playoff contenders. There’s been much improvement in many areas since the season started, but it must continue because the Giants have yet to pass the test of beating a quality club on the road.
They are relatively healthy and appear to be in a good frame of mind heading into Sunday night’s game at Philadelphia (4-1), with a trip to Dallas (4-1) on deck.
Here are three key matchups to watch:
1) Giants RBs Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis vs. Eagles linebackers: Rashad Jennings (knee) likely won’t play for at least another week, leaving these other two backs to shoulder the load. The good news for the Giants is that Williams, despite being a rookie, and Hillis both can handle the power running game. Williams also has the necessary burst to break a long one and Hillis remains the backfield’s best pass protector and receiver, which means they’ve got all of the necessary areas covered.
Michael Cox has been activated off the practice squad, although his speed may be of more help on the special-teams coverage units. ILBs DeMeco Ryans (groin) and Mychal Kendricks (calf) have missed practice time this week and would be limited, at best, for a defense that’s 24th against the rush (132 yards per game). Backup linebackers Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho may be in for a long night.
2) Giants OLB Jacquian Williams vs. Eagles RB Darren Sproles: Williams is coming off a career-high 14 tackles against the Falcons and is the only member of the linebacking corps who has a chance to stay with Sproles (16 catches for 198 yards), who’s second in the NFL with an average of 12.75 yards after the catch.
Sproles and his breakaway ability is the key to what may be the league’s most dangerous screen game. The best way to stop the screen is with recognition, and then making sure you hold your ground and clog the running lanes while the pursuit does not give up the backside of the field.
3) Giants WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Reuben Randle vs. Eagles CBs Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams: Eagles coach Chip Kelly has expressed concern over the Giants’ passing game, now that it’s gotten production out of TE Larry Donnell and Beckham, who caught a TD pass in last weekend’s pro debut.
Kelly is apt to start out mirroring Atlanta’s scheme, using bracket coverage on Victor Cruz and shading attention toward Donnell. When the Giants go three wide, nickel slot CB Brandon Boykin would draw Cruz at the line and the safeties would be watching Cruz and Donnell. And that would leave Beckham and Randle against man-to-man coverage on the outside. Simply put, they must win their individual matchups, as they did against the Falcons.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Eagles 24 (OT)
PREDICTION RECORD vs. the spread: 4-1
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