By Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East beat writer/two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion
With the looming possibility that the real referees could be reinstated for this week’s games (after Ed Hochuli rips the replacements in half, and Jerome Boger pours his Courvoisier on their mangled corpses), I daresay they’re coming back at just the right time.
Sunday night will be meeting No. 161 between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles; a rivalry older than all but 8 NFL teams (Bears, Giants, Cardinals, Packers, Lions, Redskins, Eagles, and Steelers). With both teams sitting at 2-1, although seemingly headed in different directions, this game could go a long way in determined both squads immediate futures. Over a month ago, I even opined on the importance of this very game.
Elsewhere, the Redskins look to halt their 2-game losing streak against a team that can neutralize their biggest strength, and the Cowboys try to find some sort of stability against a team they match up rather evenly with.
1: Giants vs. Eagles: A (Recent) Historical Perspective
Here's a look at the last four meetings between the Eagles and Giants with Michael Vick as starter in Philadelphia.
| ||Largest Victory Margin||QB Rating||Rush Yards Per Attempt||Success on 3rd Down||Sacks + INT|
|Giants(1-3)||13 pts (9/25/11)||94.2||3.16 (291 yards)||46.4% (26/56)||16 (9 sacks, 7 INT)|
|Eagles (3-1)||10 pts (11/21/10)||71.9*||5.48 (658 yards)||41.1% (23/56)||13 (8 sacks, 5 INT)|
* Vince Young played the game on November 20, 2011 in place of Vick.
2: New York: Champions Revived
Over their last two victories, the New York Giants have scored a combined 77 points, which upped their PPG this season to 31.3. Across those last two games, victories over Tampa Bay and Carolina, Eli Manning is averaging 395 yards a game in the air.
The targets of Manning have been plentiful. The Giants are one of only two teams (the other being Indianapolis) to have three different receivers post a 100+ yard game this season: Hakeem Nicks (199 yards in Week 2), Victor Cruz (179 yards in Week 2), and Ramses Barden (138 yards in Week 3).
The Giants defense is also coming around after a quiet opening night game against Dallas, racking up a combined 12 negative pass plays (6 INT, 6 sacks) over three games. Linebacker Michael Boley has become the hardest working man on defense, securing himself three picks (one in each game) and half a sack.
KEY POSITIVE STAT: According to CHFF’s Offensive Hog Index, the Giants are displaying consistency in all facets of protection and efficiency. After having the worst rushing offense in the league last year, New York is now averaging 4.12 YPA (eleventh best in the league) and a healthy 41.03 percent on third downs.
KEY NEGATIVE STAT: As much as the offense as held up, the defense is still in question. Although the Giants performed admirably against Cam Newton’s Panthers on Thursday, for the year, teams are still averaging 8.18 yards per pass attempt against New York. The only teams with a worse average are New Orleans and Washington. The mediocre secondary is tempting for opposing QBs.
3: Philadelphia: The Harvey Dent of the NFL
The Eagles find themselves 2-1, but damned if it feels like it.
It began with two straight 1-point victories, both spurred by Michael Vick erasing mediocre performances en route to super-charged game winning drives. Then Vick himself was splattered by the Arizona Cardinals in a 27-6 loss, leaving many Eagles fans wondering which Eagles team is the real one.
On the one hand, the Eagles are much improved statistically on defense. There’s still the high number of sacks and interceptions (12 total, 7 sacks, 5 picks) that came to define the revamped defensive unit a season ago. But now you can add an impressive third down percentage on defense. The opposing success rate is 28.57 percent, making Philly the fourth best in the league for that stat.
On the other hand, in another category that has not changed much in Andy Reid’s tenure, the Eagles disparity between run and pass plays has remained a joke. Vick threw 56 passes on opening day after Reid expectedly abandoned the run. There was more balance in week 2 and, if not for the turnovers, Philadelphia would have blown Baltimore out. In week 3, the Eagles only called running plays 27 percent of the time, and there were only 3 runs before Arizona had a 17-0 lead.
KEY POSITIVE STAT: Those runs really are something when Philadelphia actually goes through with them. As of now, Philadelphia’s averaging 4.4 YPA, tenth best in the NFL. Vick and LeSean McCoy are averaging 4.5 YPA each, combining for 355 yards and 2 TD over the first three games. Rookie Bryce Brown is also contributing, adding 38 yards on his 9 carries so far.
KEY NEGATIVE STAT: The Eagles, as has been documented, have turned the ball over 12 times this season. Their three lost fumbles against Arizona were actually their best showing to date. The Eagles rank last in the NFL in yards-per-point, a staggering 26.6. In other words, Philly’s driving down the field well enough, but the constant turnovers take away points that should be theirs.
4: Redskins, Buccaneers, and the Forces of Nature
“If the Redskins can’t bounce back in this home opener, Griffin should have to wear a dunce cap for any remaining Subway ads he’s contractually obligated for.”
-me, September 20, 2012
I retract that statement, due to the fact that Robert Griffin III played as good a game as you could ask this past Sunday, mounting 2 strong comebacks against the Cincinnati Bengals. I mean, with 33 points a game, the offense isn’t the problem with Washington at all.
It’s the defense, which gives up 33.7 PPG.
32 from the Saints, 31 from the Rams, and 38 this week from the Bengals are greatly offsetting the energy and thrust that RG3 has brought to the Redskins offense.
This week, the Skins will clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have held their three opponents to 2.33 YPA rushing this season, best in the NFL. Washington, on the other hand, have 5.07 YPA rushing on offense, fourth best in league.
Something’s gotta give.
If it comes down to the passing game, Washington will have a decided advantage. Tampa Bay has given up 1060 yards at the hands of Cam Newton, Tony Romo, and Eli Manning (ESPECIALLY Eli), with Manning and Romo exploiting Tampa Bay’s pass rush with quick dump-offs.
Josh Freeman, meanwhile, is only completing barely over half of his passes (41 of 80), and is averaging just 164 passing yards a game.
5: Cowboys, Bears, and a Slew of Turnovers
It’s been a hard-fought road for Dallas and Chicago to get to 2-1, and that path has exposed many flaws in both shaky offenses.
Both offenses have been prone to turnovers, particularly Jay Cutler coughing up 6 interceptions (4 to Green Bay’s overpowering defense). Dallas as a team has 6 turnovers of their own, split evenly among picks and fumble.
If those giveaways weren’t enough, you can also pressure both teams outside their comfort zone. Tony Romo’s been sacked 7 times, while Cutler has been dropped 11 times.
On Monday night, Romo and Cutler will be under even more pressure when they have to play each other’s defenses, both of which are heavy on pressure and containment.
Dallas’ corners, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, have been excellent at preventing the big gain. Eli Manning struggled to navigate Dallas’ secondary, and Josh Freeman was held to 10 of 28 passing for a paltry 110 yards. In addition, with 7 sacks on the year, Dallas is also capable of pressuring Cutler through his Swiss cheese offensive line.
Chicago, for their part, has been excellent at stopping the run. They’ve held opponents to a combined 228 yards on the ground (76 YPG), and have recovered 3 fumbles to go with their 6 interceptions. As for pressure, 14 sacks are split among 8 players (Henry Melton has 3 sacks, 5 players have more than 1.0 sack).