The Philadelphia Eagles will be entering MetLife Stadium for Sunday's critical NFC East clash with the New York Giants attempting to climb out of an awfully big hole they've dug for themselves, but now may have to do so without the services of Michael Vick.
The disappointing Eagles head into this pre-Thanksgiving showdown trailing the division-leading Giants by three games in the standings and are faced with the same deficit in the Wild Card chase, and seem unlikely to have Vick available for at least one game after the dynamic quarterback fractured a pair of ribs in last week's startling 21-17 home loss to a non-contending Arizona squad.
Vick did not participate in the early practice sessions leading up to Sunday's tilt and is expected to listed either questionable or doubtful for the contest, with ex-Tennessee starter Vince Young the leading candidate to lead Philadelphia's offense out on the field. That group also figures to be without leading receiver Jeremy Maclin, who suffered a sprained shoulder in the Arizona game.
The Eagles will have fellow wideout DeSean Jackson back on the field as they attempt to avoid a third consecutive defeat. The impending free agent added more controversy to the defending NFC East champion's already-tumultuous 2011 season when he skipped a team meeting the day prior to last week's loss and was deactivated by head coach Andy Reid as punishment.
Minus Jackson and with an ailing Vick putting forth his most ineffective performance of the year, Philadelphia's usually-potent offense mustered a season-low 289 total yards against the Cardinals. Vick finished the day with just 128 passing yards and two interceptions while completing a lackluster 16- of-34 attempts.
The Eagles also allowed two touchdown passes to no-name quarterback John Skelton in the final 9 1/2 minutes, with the go-ahead score coming with just 1:53 left to play, after taking a 14-7 advantage into the fourth quarter. That regression continued a troubling trend for the prohibitive preseason division favorites in 2011, as Philadelphia has blown a final-period lead in five of its six losses and has been outscored by a whopping 74-27 margin in the fourth quarter this year.
One of those setbacks came at the hands of the Giants in Philadelphia back on Sept. 25, with New York scoring 15 unanswered points in the last eight-plus minutes to deliver a 29-16 triumph.
Of course, the Eagles haven't been immune to comebacks in this series as well. When these rivals squared off at MetLife Stadium last December, Philadelphia erupted for four touchdowns in a 7 1/2-minute span to come through with a stunning 38-31 win, with Jackson capping the historic rally with a 65-yard punt return score as time expired.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns in that devastating loss, which enabled the Eagles to edge out New York for the NFC East crown on a tie-breaker, and duplicated that feat in the teams' Week 3 meeting. His cause was aided by a defense that forced three Philadelphia turnovers and knocked Vick out of the game with a broken right hand in the second half.
While the Eagles have floundered down the stretch of games, Manning has excelled in crunch time during what's been so far a superb 2011 campaign for the former No. 1 overall draft pick. He's led the Giants back from a fourth- quarter deficit in four of the team's six victories, including back-to-back decisions over Miami and New England that preceded Big Blue's matchup with NFC West front-runner San Francisco last week.
Manning's latest comeback try fell short against the one-loss 49ers, however, as New York wound up on the wrong end of a 27-20 verdict that halted a three- game winning streak. That defeat also began a challenging five-week stretch for the Giants, who'll visit NFC South leader New Orleans following Sunday's test before hosting unbeaten Green Bay prior to a pivotal battle at division-member Dallas in Week 14.
New York currently holds a one-game edge on the Cowboys for the NFC East's top spot.
The Giants own an 80-71-2 overall lead in a regular-season set with Philadelphia that dates back to 1933, but had lost five consecutive times to the Eagles before their Week 3 breakthrough. Philadelphia has also prevailed in three straight and six of their last eight non-playoff bouts as the visitor in this series, posting a 20-14 win at Giants Stadium in 2008 and outlasting Big Blue in a 45-38 shootout the following year in addition to last season's improbable victory.
The Eagles also came through with a 23-11 road ousting of the Giants in the 2008 NFC Divisional Playoffs, giving Philly a split in the four all-time postseason games between the storied foes. The Eagles were also 23-20 home winners in a 2006 NFC First-Round Playoff, with New York claiming a 20-10 decision at Giants Stadium in the 2000 Divisional Round as well as a 27-21 win in a 1981 Wild Card encounter at Veterans Stadium.
Reid sports a 15-13 lifetime record against New York, including a 2-1 mark in the postseason. The Giants' Tom Coughlin is 9-10 versus Philadelphia over his coaching career, with two of the wins dating back to his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2002), and is 8-10 when going head-to-head with Reid.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Though Vick (2193 passing yards, 11 TD, 11 INT) is unquestionably an essential part of a dangerous Philadelphia offense that's third in the NFL in total yards (418.2 ypg), the team may not be in dire straits if Young is forced to take the snaps on Sunday, provided he's now got a grasp on Reid's West Coast scheme after joining the Eagles in the offseason. The athletic six-year pro compiled an impressive 30-17 record as a starter in Tennessee and also led the Titans to wins in both of his previous appearances against the Giants, one of which came at MetLife Stadium last season. He's not as polished a passer as Vick, however, and almost certainly won't have the benefit of the reliable Maclin running routes due to his shoulder woes. The Eagles will be counting on ex-Giant Steve Smith (10 receptions), who hasn't been much of a factor since leaving his former club for its hated rival over the summer, and seldom-used sophomore Riley Cooper to fill the void alongside steady slot man Jason Avant (34 receptions) and Jackson (29 receptions, 503 yards, 2 TD), one of the game's premier deep threats who was held to just 30 yards on two grabs in Philly's Week 3 clash with New York. They'll also be relying heavily once again on standout running back LeSean McCoy (906 rushing yards, 31 receptions, 12 total TD), the league's second-leading rusher who burned the G-Men for 128 yards and a touchdown back in September. The elusive 23-year-old has eclipsed the 120- yard mark four times this season and has found the end zone in all nine games thus far, a big reason why the Eagles boast the top ground attack in the NFL (171.6 ypg) at the moment.
The Giants surrendered 177 rushing yards total to Philadelphia in the teams' earlier meeting and have been hit-or-miss in stopping the run this year. New York is allowing mediocre averages of 121.6 rushing yards per week (20th overall) and 4.6 yards per attempt, but did limit San Francisco's quality ground game to a harmless 77 yards this past Sunday. The team may have to make do without its best linebacker this week, however, with rangy weakside starter Michael Boley (59 tackles, 1 sack) a question mark due to a hamstring strain he sustained against the 49ers. If the Giants are able to keep McCoy under wraps and contain either Vick or Young, both of whom are incredibly mobile signal- callers, they'll be able to unleash a furious pass rush that's accounted for a league-high 30 sacks through the first nine games. Ends Justin Tuck (10 tackles, 2 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (19 tackles, 7 sacks) have each recorded double-digit sack totals multiple times over their careers, while 2010 first- round pick Jason Pierre Paul (40 tackles) is on his way towards one after amassing a team-best 9 1/2 quarterback takedowns for the year. The secondary has also gotten solid cornerback play from the duo of Corey Webster (31 tackles, 4 INT, 11 PD) and Aaron Ross (30 tackles, 3 INT, 8 PD), who came up with a career-best three interceptions in the Week 3 win over the Eagles.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning (2688 passing yards, 17 TD, 8 INT) has been tremendous for the majority of this season, with the composed veteran having connected on a career-best 63.1 percent of his throws while drastically reducing his turnover totals from a year ago, and the Giants have needed him to be as well with a running game that's been mostly stagnant this year. New York has managed a mere 89.2 rushing yards per game, the fourth-lowest total in the league, and won't have valuable back Ahmad Bradshaw for a third straight week due to a cracked bone in his foot. Though replacement Brandon Jacobs (253 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 4 total TD) has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and contributed an 80-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles in September, the powerful 264-pounder is averaging a pedestrian 3.2 yards per carry and doesn't offer the versatility of Bradshaw, who racked up 139 yards from scrimmage (86 rushing, 59 receiving) in the first matchup between these participants. The Giants are in far better shape at the wide receiver spots, where Hakeem Nicks (40 receptions, 616 yards, 4 TD), Victor Cruz (40 receptions, 672 yards, 4 TD) and Mario Manningham (33 receptions, 3 TD) comprise a formidable young trio, and oversized tight end Jake Ballard (26 receptions, 3 TD) has made an impact as well to an offense that's fifth overall in passing yards (285.0 ypg). Cruz had two long touchdown catches from Manning in the Week 3 triumph and ended that game with 110 yards on only three grabs.
Philadelphia will try to combat the Giants' potent aerial assault with a talented secondary headlined by well-regarded cornerbacks Asante Samuel (28 tackles, 2 INT, 7 PD) and marquee free-agent addition Nnamdi Asomugha (22 tackles, 3 INT) as well as an impressive collection of pass rushers of their own. End Jason Babin (23 tackles) has proven to be well worth the big contract he received during the Eagles' offseason spending spree, having registered nine sacks in nine games, while counterpart Trent Cole (21 tackles, 5 sacks) is a two-time Pro Bowler and among the game's most prolific pressure-producers and tackle Cullen Jenkins (24 tackles, 5 sacks) is putting forth a fine first season with his new team. Though the Eagles were burned for several big pass plays when they last faced the Giants, defending the run has been a bigger issue for most of this year, with coordinator Juan Castillo's unit allowing an uninspiring 4.8 yards per carry to date. They've improved in that department as the season has gone along, however, having permitted just 94.8 rushing yards over the last four games as young players such as second-year middle linebacker Jamar Chaney (60 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and rookie weakside starter Brian Rolle (30 tackles) have grown into their expanded roles.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Getting back the old Young. Though it's uncertain how he'll perform in a different offense after spending the entire season standing on the sidelines, Young has proven he can win games in the past and could even be an upgrade over the slumping Vick, who struggled greatly in Philadelphia's two most recent losses and has thrown 11 interceptions. Young's attempted just one pass this year and it was picked off, however, and he'll need to be at least serviceable if he indeed starts for the Eagles to come out a winner.
Turnovers. Perhaps no aspect has contributed more to the Eagles' surprising downfall than this one. Philadelphia's 21 giveaways are tied for the most in the NFL and its minus-seven turnover margin is next-to-last in the NFC. Conversely, the Giants are plus-six in that category and scored 14 points off three Eagles' miscues when these teams squared off in September. On the other hand, New York is just 1-3 when either even or on the negative side of the turnover battle, which was the case against the 49ers last week.
The fourth quarter. Another reason why the Giants are where they are in the division and why the Eagles are presently looking up in the standings. Philadelphia's inability to close out games has came back to haunt the team on several occasions, while Manning's 116.5 passer rating in the final period is the second-best mark of any quarterback this season. If this game is tight heading into the final minutes, both factors could come into play.
If the Eagles truly are the championship contender they were pegged to be at the onset of this season, now's the time to show it. While Philadelphia should be playing with passion and purpose due to its dire situation, knocking off one of the conference's more consistent teams on the road with a quarterback who's barely played all year and won't have his top receiver available seems to be a tall order. The Eagles' recent success in this series and Reid's track record as a coach says it's not out of the question, but Philadelphia's poor results over the last two weeks suggests otherwise.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 28, Eagles 20