Premium Preview: Eagles / Giants

Needless to say, the Eagles and Giants are familiar with one another. They split their two regular season games in close fashion and now meet in the Wild-Card Playoffs as each tries to head much deeper into the post-season.

New York Giants (8-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Giants' Game Plan:

About the only thing the Giants can truly expect out of QB Eli Manning at this point is a mistake-free game, which is what he delivered in Washington and needs to produce in the wild-card matchup against the Eagles. Anything more than that would be gravy. Manning's confidence level appears to be at such a low point that the least amount of pressure will cause him to misfire. So it's imperative that RB Tiki Barber have a great running game and that Manning confine himself to short, high-percentage passes with limited deep shots. That doesn't mean that Plaxico Burress, the lone remaining receiving standout now that TE Jeremy Shockey is again iffy with a sprained ankle, must fall out of the game plan. He simply needs to run shorter routes along with fourth WR David Tyree, which might then open up the deeper routes for the occasional toss downfield.

The coaching staff must keep in mind that Manning has completed all of 21 passes for 175 yards with two touchdowns and an interception the past two games. And his last game against the Eagles included two interceptions that eventually cost the Giants the game.

The defense's inability to stop both the run and the pass may well haunt the Giants, as Brian Westbrook stands as a double threat. The Giants will have to play a strict contain against QB Jeff Garcia, lest he beat them on his frequent rollouts and bootlegs. But it won't be easy, considering DEs Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka have turned all but invisible the past couple of weeks. The Giants may have to take a page from the Eagles' playbook and blitz like crazy, playing a zone coverage behind it to minimize the possibility of a big play to Reggie Brown or Donte' Stallworth or, more likely, to Westbrook.

Eagles' Game Plan:

Defensively, everything will revolve around neutralizing RB Tiki Barber and then turning up the heat on struggling QB Eli Manning. The Eagles have done a good job against Barber in their two '06 meetings, holding him to 126 yards on 40 carries. They also have to find a way to contain Plaxico Burress, who has had two 100 yard plus receiving games this season and both came against the Eagles.

Offensively, look for the continued run and pass balance that the Eagles have instituted with Jeff Garcia at quarterback and Marty Mornhinweg calling the plays. Garcia loves to spread the ball around and he should be able to do that against the Giants' defense.

Matchups To Watch:

  • Giants RB Tiki Barber, who rushed for a franchise-record 234 yards against Washington, vs. Eagles LB Jeremiah Trotter, one of the toughest middle linebackers in the league.
  • Trotter doled out a physical beating to Barber the first time these teams played in Week Two, holding him to 51 yards and no touchdowns on 21 carries. Barber didn't find running room until late in the game, when the Giants finally spread their formation to get Trotter off the field for the extra defensive back. The aftermath of that game proved one of the many turning points in Barber's decision to retire at the end of the season. Trotter, a linebacker who not only can stop the run but also can cover a running back out of the backfield, will be Barber's constant shadow as long as he's on the field. Barber had somewhat more success the second time around, producing 75 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Despite Trotter's ferocity, the Eagles had the league's 26th-ranked rushing defense, allowing an average of 136.4 yards per game.

  • Eagles RB Brian Westbrook, who rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns in the last meeting against the Giants, vs. Giants MLB Antonio Pierce, the Giants' leading tackler.
  • Westbrook is to the Eagles what Barber is to the Giants, a double threat out of the backfield. But he's even more of a scorer, as his three rushing touchdowns against the Giants prove. Barber has only one such score. Westbrook is also a huge receiving threat, but it's the ground game that has given the Giants problems. Pierce has missed his share of tackles over the past few games, and even when he does make them, sometimes they are 5 yards downfield. As a result, the defense has allowed 525 rushing yards the past three games, much of it coming up the middle where Pierce patrols. If the Giants don't tighten that up, Westbrook could have a big, deadly day.

  • Eagles TE L.J. Smith vs. Giants SLB Carlos Emmons.
  • Emmons has lost a step and doesn't have the speed to stay with Smith, who had 11 catches for 165 yards in the previous two '06 meetings against Giants.

  • Eagles RDE Trent Cole vs. Giants LT David Diehl.
  • Diehl has been moved to the outside from guard and could have trouble dealing with Cole's edge-rushing speed.

  • Giants WR Plaxico Burress vs. Eagles' secondary.
  • Admittedly, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson knows that he doesn't have anybody who can match up with Burress inch-for-inch. William James may get some of the assignment, but he's not 100%, so don't look for him to play too much of the game. In fact, he may come in just in key spots to help on Burress. Check out our earlier story on this key matcup.

    Inside The Giants:

    Throwing quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride in there as offensive play-caller in place of the dismissed John Hufnagel turned out just fine for the Giants. Of course, the game situation made it easy. Up 20-7, just hand the ball to Tiki Barber, who responded with a single-game, franchise-record 234 yards and three touchdowns. Gilbride showed a willingness to stick to what was working, and he basically kept the struggling Eli Manning away from the low-percentage deep passes.

    When a little imagination was called for, he responded on one play by sending Barber out wide, play-actioning to Brandon Jacobs, and throwing to fullback Jim Finn to catch Washington totally by surprise for a 9-yard gain and a first down.

    Gilbride caught a lot of criticism for not having faith enough in Manning to let him throw on third-and-10 as the Giants tried to run down the clock when up 34-28. But they forget that on second-and-10, he called a pass and Manning threw it into double coverage, nearly getting it picked off. So Gilbride smartly decided to go with Barber on a draw that netted only seven yards, but at least it allowed the Giants to punt and change field position for the Redskins' final possession.

    Keys To The Game:

    Whether the Giants stick around to threaten the upset deep into the second half depends on which Eli Manning shows up. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will keep RB Tiki Barber the focus of the offense, but the Eagles won't fear the passing game and will load the box against Barber until Manning burns them a few times. The Giants don't need a monster game out of Manning, but they do need him to avoid turnovers and step into the face of the pass rush and complete a few passes to keep drives alive. The Eagles have been far more balanced since QB Jeff Garcia was forced into the lineup, but a heavy workload will fall on RB Brian Westbrook if backup Correll Buckhalter is limited or can't play. To disrupt Philadelphia's flow and prevent big plays, the Giants need DEs Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka to wake up from their recent slumber to contain Garcia and prevent him from burning the shaky secondary on rollouts and bootlegs.


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