In Thursday Night’s game at MetLife Stadium you have two NFC East Rivals playing for their early season lives in the division. Both Philadelphia and the New York Giants enter the match-up coming off losses and both teams are under .500 at kickoff. With both teams looking up at the 1st place Washington Redskins, let’s take a look at 3 keys to watch for in this important game in the division.
1. Who Will Step Up In The Eagles Backfield?
It just seems like a short time ago, the Eagles had this same problem. Philadelphia had been without the all-purpose Darren Sproles due to a season-ending injury. LaGarrette Blount was leading the Eagles running back by committee approach, but something was missing. They didn’t have that every down back that you need to win a Super Bowl. Well, the Eagles front office decided they needed one more back and with the addition of former Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, their problems were solved and the rest was history. Now fast forward a year and the Eagles are in a similar position. Ajayi is out with a season ending injury and the Eagles now have Wendell Smallwood leading this group of running backs – well since Le’Veon Bell or LeSean McCoy won’t be in an Eagles uniform for this game. Who will the Eagles look to place in that position long-term?
Smallwood will get the 1st crack at it. So far he’s averaging 6 yards a carry this season and has been able to make things happen in the passing game as well. He’s averaging 9.6 yards a reception and that will help Carson Wentz when he needs a safety valve out the backfield. When he carries the ball out the backfield he’s a bruising back and he’s very sure-handed. He only has one fumble in his career. On top of having him in the backfield, the Eagles will get Corey Clement back as well. Now Corey is another big play back, but he lacks Smallwood’s power. He’s also coming off a quad injury, so he just might be used in a spell situation on Thursday night. Expect Smallwood to get at least 18-20 carries and the majority of the touches in the red zone.
2. Unleash Odell Beckham Jr.
One week after he went on National TV and talked about the offense needing to open up a bit, Beckham went out and had his best game of the season. He caught eight passes for 131 yards and a touchdown against a solid Carolina Panthers secondary. Now he gets to go against an Eagles defense on a four day turnaround. Odell plays his best against the Eagles. In the seven games he’s played in his career he’s caught 50 passes for 603 yards and six touchdown catches. Those numbers all around are the best against any team he’s faced in his career. By the way, this game is on National TV and we all know how he steps up in moments like this.
He’s going against Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills on Thursday night and this might not be a pretty night for those two against OBJ. Last week, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs combined for 17 catches and 211 yards against the Eagles secondary. With almost 24% of his 2017 passing yards coming against Eagles last year, Eli Manning to Odell should happen early, often, and all night in New York on Thursday. This can happen if the Giants offensive line can keep Manning on his feet all night.
3. Olivier Vernon’s To The Return To The Lineup Means?
Philadelphia’s offensive line has been a bit of a problem, especially in the last couple of weeks. Now to their credit Tennessee and Minnesota have really good defenses, but Lane Johnson‘s injury could make things easier for the Giants on the pass rushing side of things. If any one needs help with rushing the passer it’s the Giants. New York is last in the league in sacks (6) and they don’t really get to the passer very often. They have hit opposing quarterbacks 27 times in their five games this season. That ranks them 27th out of 32 teams. Wentz can move and New York can’t stop that either as they have allowed 179 yards on the ground to quarterbacks.
But Vernon is back for the Giants on Thursday. Even though Vernon will be limited in the number of snaps he will receive, he will provide a rush and it should come from the side that Johnson might not be playing on. Vernon played some of his best football against the Eagles last season. In both games, he finished with two sacks and he hit Eagles quarterbacks six times in both games. Yes, he’s coming off an high ankle sprain, but even with limited snaps, if Johnson is out Vernon could help elevate the Giants to their best pass rushing night of the season.
Now saying the words “Must Win” in a game in mid-October shouldn’t be in a teams vocabulary, but in this case it is. New York is coming home after losing by a 63 yard field goal on Sunday and they will be without starting tight end Evan Engram to stretch the Eagles defense. New York will have to find ways to allow Saquon Barkley to get touches in open space and not allow the Eagles to be in the face of Manning all night. The Eagles have to find a way to consistently run the football and make plays in the passing game. Alshon Jeffery struggled last year against Janoris Jenkins and is still getting himself in mid-season form. Division road games are very hard to win, especially in the NFC East. Barkley will have over 140 all-purpose yards and OBJ will make three or four big plays against the Eagles secondary.
Giants 27 Eagles 21
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