Scouting The Opponent: New York Giants

The victory over Carolina last week ensured that the 7-6 Giants would play meaningful games until the final contest of the regular season. But even if that weren't the case, you wouldn't have to search hard to find meaning in Sunday's game with the Eagles.

These teams hate each other, and have no problem laying the wood out there. And, thanks to current circumstances being what they are, the game is genuinely full of playoff implications.

The Eagles are 7-6, too, but the Giants have a chance to knock them back permanently by accomplishing the season sweep. That would mean that even if they finished tied for a wildcard spot, the Giants would have the advantage on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Besides that, the division is still up for grabs, thanks to the Cowboys' flameout against the Saints. The Giants and Eagles sit one game behind in that category.

But what of the teams themselves? They are both coming in off improved recent performances. Though Donovan McNabb is down for the season, Jeff Garcia has done a remarkable job in the three games he's started so far, throwing eight touchdowns against no interceptions. The Eagles won the last two of those games. And Eli Manning has also looked better of late, throwing five touchdowns against no interceptions in his last two games.

The Giants' defense actually responded well to Carolina's threats last week, something they hadn't done during the four-game losing streak. With Osi Umenyiora starting to look like his old, pass-rushing self again, the new front-line tandem of Umenyiora and first-round rookie Mathias Kiwanuka is putting adequate pressure on the passer. And they got some heat up the middle from backup defensive tackle William Joseph, who had a sack.

What the Giants need to improve on is their late-game play calling. They had five straight three-and-out series after they went up 27-10 against Carolina and continually gave the Panthers opportunities to get back in the game. It burned them against the Titans three weeks ago, but three interceptions bailed them out against the Panthers.

Which brings us to the secondary. Though Gibril Wilson and rookie Kevin Dockery did eventually get critical picks, Will Demps, Dockery, and R.W. McQuarters also dropped potential interceptions. That has been a trend with the secondary that needs to be reversed, especially down this decisive three-game stretch. The ability to protect the ball on offense and take it away on defense now becomes ever more important.

The Giants' special teams are also on the upswing. Jay Feely is kicking far and accurately despite a broken bone on the bottom of his right foot. Jeff Feagles, one of the league's best directional kickers, had only three of nine punts returned last week. The kick coverage was outstanding, as Steve Smith was chased down at the Panthers' six by Kiwanuka. Even Chad Morton, whose 22-yard return set up a field goal, appeared on the coverage team and downed a punt deep in Panthers territory.

The only area that suffered was kickoff return, which did not give the offense remarkable field position.

The biggest difference between the Giants and Eagles might be in the quarterbacks. Eli Manning is clearly the only quarterback on the Giants approaching any quality, with Jared Lorenzen and journeyman Tim Hasselbeck backing him up. Having a former Pro Bowler in Jeff Garcia backing up McNabb basically saved the Eagles' season.

As a result, the Giants and Eagles play a highly meaningful game Sunday.

Notes from the Big Apple...

  • C Shaun O'Hara, who sprained his ankle in the first quarter, missed two series, and returned to finish the game, did not practice Wednesday and is questionable for the game. He was still swollen and sore.
  • T Kareem McKenzie, who sprained his neck just before halftime and did not return after precautionary x-rays proved negative, was back at practice Wednesday and is expected to start against Philadelphia.
  • DE Osi Umenyiora, whose leg cramps sent him inside for an IV during the entire fourth quarter, practiced Wednesday and is expected back against Philadelphia.
  • DE Michael Strahan, whose sprained right foot has kept him out of five straight games, did some individual drills Wednesday but is still not ready to practice fully. He could miss the remainder of the regular season.
  • CB Corey Webster, whose turf toe has kept him out of three straight games, did some individual drills Wednesday and may try to ratchet up the work later this week. He remains questionable, however.
  • T Luke Petitgout, whose broken left fibula has kept him out of the last four games, is still not ready to practice and is out for Sunday's game.

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