5 Key Matchups This Week

Warnest Contributor Andrew Pluta breaks down five key matchups between the Eagles and Giants in this Sunday's game. How will the Eagles use Brian Westbrook against an improved Giants D-Line? Can Sheldon Brown keep Plaxico Burress in check? All of this and more inside...

Eagles Offensive Line vs. Giants Defensive Line

The Eagles failed to win the battle up front in their 16-3 loss to New York in week four, allowing 12 sacks in the game, and it prevented them from establishing any type of momentum on offense. The absence of William Thomas in that contest was easy to notice, and his replacement, Winston Justice, got beat time and time again by defensive end Osi Umenyiora. With Donovan McNabb missing the last two games with injuries, the Eagles will need to do to keep their quarterback on his feet and protected. Thomas will be back in the lineup this week and the rest of the line has played consistently in the past few games. Last week against Seattle, Jon Runyan did an outstanding job against the Seahawks disruptive end Patrick Kerney, holding him without a sack for the entire game.
Coming into the game, the Giants lead the NFL in sacks and Umenyiora is tied for the most sacks in the NFC with 11. He set the Giants team record for sacks in the game against the Eagles, piling up six.  Seven-time Pro Bowl end Michael Strahan has nine sacks this season and has continued to play at a high level at the age of 35. His 141.5 career sacks are the most among active players and rank him fifth in league history. Justin Tuck, a third-year player out of Notre Dame, also has nine quarterback take downs this year, and at 6-foot-5, 275-pounds, he is one of the Giants bigger defensive linemen and his size allows him to play inside and outside.

Brian Westbrook vs. Giants Run Defense

Westbrook was another Eagle who did not play against the Giants in week four because of an injury, and based on the way he's performed all season, his presence in the backfield should make a huge difference for Philadelphia's offense. Last week, Westbrook ran for 93 yards on 21 carries against a solid Seahawks defense, and it was surprising that he did not get more carries because of how effective he seemed to be. On the season, Westbrook has 994 rushing yards, the fifth most in the league, and seven touchdowns. He will likely get a good number of looks as a check down receiver and will create matchup problems with New York's linebackers. Westbrook leads the Eagles in receptions with 69 catches for 604 yards, and he has at least four receiving touchdowns for the fifth year in a row.

The Giants run defense is led by middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who played in his first Pro Bowl last year, and he leads the team with 82 tackles this season. As a team, the Giants are fifth best in the league at stopping the run, allowing 92.3 yards per game on the ground and holding opposing running backs to 3.8 yards per carry. They have only allowed one back to run for over 100 yards in a game this season and that was Correll Buckhalter, who gained 103 rushing yards in their last matchup.

Sheldon Brown vs. Plaxico Burress

Sheldon Brown vs. Plaxico Burress
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Eagles are tied for the worst turnover differential in the NFC at -9 and have struggled to create turnovers all season, but Brown stepped up last week, picking off a pass from Matt Hasselbeck and forcing a fumble after a monster hit on receiver Bobby Engram. Brown is one of the most physical players in the Eagles secondary, and he leads the team in interceptions with three. He is the only starter in the defensive backfield that has played in every game this year.

At 6-foot-5, Burress is six inches taller than Brown and is the type of receiver that gives Philadelphia's cornerbacks a hard time because of his size and length. A prime example of this came in week two last year, when the Giants beat the Eagles in over time on a 31-yard pass where Burress went up and took the ball away from Brown and raced to the endzone. Burress has continued to be one of Eli Manning's favorite targets and his nine receiving touchdowns are the third most in the NFC. His production has dropped recently though, and he has only scored once in the last six games and had only three receptions last week.  Against the Eagles earlier this year, Burress was held to only 24 yards on four catches, but he did score a touchdown in the game.

Kevin Curtis vs. Sam Madison

Curtis continued to prove that he was a valuable free agent addition last week against Seattle as he recorded six catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. It was the third time this season that Curtis has eclipsed the 100-yard mark and he leads the team in receiving touchdowns with five. The Eagles number one receiver has had at least five catches in the last three games and should benefit from having McNabb back in the lineup. Curtis was a non-factor in the last game against New York, catching only two passes for 21 yards.

Madison is one of the top veteran corners in the NFL and possesses the skills to shut down some of the better receivers in the league. A Pro Bowl selection from 1999 through 2002, Madison has three interceptions this year and now has 36 for his career. He also is third on his team in tackles with 57 total for the season. Against the Eagles in week four, Madison recorded four tackles and Philadelphia was held to only 76 net passing yards and a 2.5 yards per pass average.

Donovan McNabb vs. Eli Manning

McNabb will make his first start since leaving the Miami game with ankle and thumb injuries, and after backup A.J. Feely threw seven picks in the two games he missed, the Eagles will welcome back their franchise quarterback with open arms. Although he has received a good deal of criticism this season for looking hesitant in the pocket, McNabb gives the Eagles their best chance to win and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Before getting hurt against the Dolphins, McNabb had thrown for a touchdown pass in five consecutive games. Against the Giants earlier this season, McNabb threw for only 138 yards and completed 48.4 percent of his passes, but this was mainly because he was getting sacked on what seemed like every other play.

Now in his fourth season, Manning has continued to show flashes of brilliance at times, and mental lapses at others. While he has thrown for 17 touchdowns this season and has only gone one game without a touchdown pass, he has also thrown 17 interceptions, six of those coming in the last two weeks. Against Minnesota in week 12, Manning was picked off four times, and three of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns as the Giants got blown out by a score of 41-17. Philadelphia's defense played well against Manning last time the two teams met and he turned in a mediocre performance, throwing for 135 yards with a 53.8 completion percentage, along with a touchdown and an interception.

Andrew Pluta can be reached at ajp8231@gmail.com.

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