By Curt Macysyn
The September version of Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles was clearly a tease. When the Birds traded quarterback Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings after training camp, most fans thought the Birds’ season was done. But a 3-0 start that coincided with strong play from Wentz and company gave Philadelphia fans hope that a playoff run could be in the cards.
So much has happened since September, and the promise seen in early fall has turned to a winter of discontent for the Birds. The team is currently in the throes of a five-game losing streak, and they have fallen into the basement of the NFC East. The impending return of Lane Johnson will strengthen the offensive line and could help buoy the spirits of the team heading into this clash with the Giants.
Philadelphia Eagles Season Record: 5-9
The Eagles started off the season well, which in retrospect was more an indication of the teams on their schedule than anything else. The Birds took advantage of the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers in the early going. Only the Steelers have playoff aspirations, while the Browns and Bears were tailor-made for home victories. Since the 3-0 start, Philadelphia has gone 2-9, and they have dropped out of contention in the competitive NFC East division. The Eagles are not only looking to take down the Giants this week, but they are also setting the groundwork for next season. Several players and coaches may have jobs on the line for Philadelphia this week.
Eagles On Offense:
Offensively, the Eagles reside in the middle-of-the-pack in most categories. The team averages 340.4 total yards per game, which ranks them 20th in the league. The passing attack, which was an early revelation under Carson Wentz, has settled into a malaise of only 227.5 yards per game. That ranks them 24th in the pass-happy NFL.
Much of the blame for the decline will be heaped upon Wentz, but his receiving corps is not top shelf, either. Jordan Matthews has 71 catches on the year, but with 792 receiving yards, he will struggle to get to 1,000 yards this year. Tight end Zach Ertz is coming on as of late, with 25 catches in his last three games. The biggest problem for the Eagles is their inability to get into the end zone through the air. Wentz has only 13 passing touchdowns this season.
The ground attack for the Birds is better, as it rings up 112.9 yards per game. Ryan Mathews leads the team with 615 rushing yards, but durability is always the question with him. Only once has he played all 16 games (2013), and Mathews won’t get there this year, either. The seven-year veteran has a nose for the end zone with eight rushing touchdowns to his credit.
It was reported by NJ.com that Darren Sproles will be out of concussion protocol and ready for Thursday. That’s a good thing for the Eagles, because the team placed tailback Wendell Smallwood on injured reserve, and fellow tailback Kenjon Barner will miss the game with a hamstring injury. The offense will get a boost from the return of right tackle Lane Johnson from his 10-game NFL PED suspension.
Eagles On Defense:
The Eagles have been mediocre on defense, which is surprising. The Birds’ secondary was deemed to be suspect coming into the season, and the front seven was thought to be the team’s strength. But high priced performers like Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks have all disappointed. Cox was “defensive player of the month” for September when he had four sacks, but he’s had only 2.5 sacks since then. Kendricks has all-world talent, yet he has a paltry 30 tackles and zero sacks this year.
Overall, the defense sits in the middle of the pack, giving up 344.2 yards per game—good for 12th in the NFL. The Eagles give up only 239.3 yards per game through the air, which ranks them 12th in that statistic as well. Maybe the G-Men can try the ground and pound attack, since the Birds have the 17th ranked rush defense. They surrender 104.9 yards per game via the run, and the Giants had 114 rushing yards versus the Detroit Lions last week. But, if needed, Eli Manning can certainly go after the Eagles defensive backfield with success.
Players To Watch: Darren Sproles and Jordan Hicks
In the past, the Giants have struggled with covering running backs in space, but that has not been an issue this year. There should be confidence that Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas can handle Darren Sproles out of the backfield, but he remains the only explosive threat for the Birds. For that reason, it would make sense for the Eagles to feed the ball to Sproles as much as possible.
Jordan Hicks is certainly an up-and-coming talent at the linebacking position. Pro Football Focus hands Hicks an 88.2 grade so far this season, which puts his play up there with Luke Kuechly (Carolina), Bobby Wagner (Seattle) and Sean Lee (Dallas). As you may recall, Lee was a one-man wrecking crew against the Giants two weeks ago with 22 tackles. Controlling Hicks will be key to jump starting the Giants’ offense.
The prognosticators keep looking for the flaws in these New York Giants, but the team keeps on winning. It would be hard to imagine a letdown against an NFC East rival, especially with a playoff berth on the line. In fact, Philadelphia’s offense would seem to be tailor-made for Big Blue’s defense to handle. The G-Men don’t usually crush their opponents, but unless the team suffers a major breakdown, the Giants should be able to leave the City of Brotherly Love with a win on Thursday.