NFL Preview - Philadelphia (1-3) at NY Giants (0-4)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The term must-win isn't usually debated this early in the NFL season, but for the winless New York Giants it's necessary.
The 0-4 Giants are back home at MetLife Stadium and will try for their first win of the season Sunday versus the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants have lost four in a row to begin a season for the first time since losing five straight to kick off 1987, when replacement players were used. The last 0-4 start in a non strike-shortened campaign was an 0-5 mark in 1979.
New York hasn't played with a championship pedigree all season and has given up an NFL-worst 36.5 points per game this season. The team hasn't been able to disrupt opposing quarterbacks as evidenced by its total of four sacks through four games and is allowing almost 400 yards each week (384.2).
After taking it on the chin in a 38-0 loss at Carolina in Week 3, the Giants dropped a 31-7 decision in Kansas City on Sunday. Facing former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, the Giants surrendered 390 yards of offense and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns with a pair of interceptions. Linebacker Spencer Paysinger posted the only sack for the Giants, who only trailed by a 10-7 score at halftime and fell to 0-3 on the road this season.
"I thought our defense played hard today and I thought for the most part if we had some offense to go with it, if only to get them off the field for a while, the finish might have been better," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "Our inability to do anything in the second half, there's no excuse for it."
Coughlin may get some reinforcements on defense versus the Eagles, as cornerback Corey Webster is expected to return this week. Webster missed the last two games with a hip and groin issue. Safety Will Hill is eligible to return after serving a four-game suspension, while cornerback Terrell Thomas was limited in practice to rest his surgically repaired knee. The Giants may see extended roles for rookie defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore versus Philadelphia.
"(I'm) just an eager puppy that's ready to go in there and go play," Moore said. "I'm going in there with open eyes and just running in there as fast and as hard as I can. Hopefully, something happens."
Former Eagles defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson will try to help their rookie teammates along the front line.
The Giants, who will play two games in a five-day stretch, need something to happen up front and Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said "it's very disappointing" that they're having trouble getting to the quarterback. Pierre- Paul should know since he has 3 1/2 sacks in the past five meetings with the Eagles and 14 1/2 sacks in the previous 16 games against division opponents.
Veteran defensive end Justin Tuck's productive days could be in the past and he has just a half-sack this season. Tuck, though, owns 5 1/2 sacks in the last six matchups against Philly. Philadelphia runs an up-tempo offense and that could pose as a problem for the Giants.
"We're pretty confident in our defense and how we're going to line up," Coughlin said. "We just have to make sure we get the calls in, relay the calls and we'll be fine."
The Eagles have been far from fine ever since their first-half surge against the Washington Redskins in Week 1. They lost back-to-back home games to San Diego and Kansas City, and were annihilated at Denver by a 52-20 count on Sunday. It was a 21-13 contest at halftime, but the red-hot Peyton Manning aided the Broncos in a 21-point third quarter. Manning was practically perfect in the decisive stanza and the Eagles' defense could only watch.
"He's a coach on the field. He sees what we're running, changes the offense and everything's quick," Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin said of Manning. "He's not giving anybody time to get back there."
Philadelphia has 10 sacks on the season and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton had the only one in Denver.
Eagles veteran linebacker Trent Cole, who switched from defensive end under the new 3-4 scheme, has faced Manning's younger brother, Eli, many times and gave his take on what to expect Sunday.
"I know Eli is probably going to his brother and trying to get some tips, but every game is different, said Cole. "Every team goes in and makes their changes and does what they have to do to clean up their mistakes ... He'll do the same things. He'll do all of his checks. Eli is another one of the great quarterbacks in the NFL. He's an offensive coordinator on the field, too."
Manning has thrown an NFL-high nine interceptions, so that could work out in the Eagles' favor. However, the Eagles haven't intercepted a pass since taking two away from Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III back in Week 1. Boykin and Cary Williams each have an interception for the Eagles, who have just two wins in the past 16 games dating back to last season.
The Eagles are last or near the bottom in most defensive categories. They are last in total yards allowed (446.8) and 31st in both points allowed (34.5) and passing yards given up (325.0). Philadelphia has allowed 121.8 rushing yards per game, but shouldn't be too concerned since the Giants are managing just 57.8 rushing yards a game (30th in NFL).
New York and Philadelphia split two meetings last season, but the Giants ended the season and Reid's tenure with the Eagles with a 42-7 drubbing at the Meadowlands last Dec. 30. The Giants are 81-73-2 all-time in this series, while Coughlin is 10-10 (0-2 playoffs) against the Eagles, who are 8-2 in the past 10 meetings between the teams.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Can New York's defense keep up with Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's break-neck tempo on offense? The Giants haven't been able to keep any style of offense from scoring and Sunday could turn out to be another long one.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has won 10 of his last 12 starts against the NFC East and has played well this season save a Thursday night loss to the Chiefs in Reid's return to Lincoln Financial Field. Vick has five touchdown passes to two interceptions this season and was 14-of-27 for 248 yards in the loss to the Broncos.
Vick talked about the Eagles' three-game losing streak and what it will take to turn the season around.
"We've been there, we know what it's like," Vick said. "The one thing we won't do is we won't go in the tank. Last year, you lost three games in a row and we just felt the world was coming to an end. You just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. Nothing's going to be given to you, you have to go out and earn it, that's why we're professionals and nobody's going to feel sorry for you. We understand that. We have opportunities to get out of this hole and it'll take going out there, playing on Sundays and winning."
The Eagles will have a good shot at winning if they can get LeSean McCoy off and running. The talented back leads the NFL with 468 rushing yards and 608 yards from scrimmage. He is averaging 152 scrimmage yards a game and has rushed for 100-plus yards in three of the past four games against the Giants, who have yielded 122.5 rushing yards per game this season.
Giants rookie Hankins is confident he can help the team stop McCoy.
"I feel like I can come in because that's what I'm good at doing is stopping the run," Hankins said. "I feel like overall as a unit we're going to put more of an emphasis on that and we will get the job done."
Coughlin praised the Eagles' offense and what they have accomplished.
"Very good. A very good offense. Obviously, lots of numbers. Very, very skilled athletes. An outstanding offensive line that's obviously blocking very well," he said. "They're the number one rush team in the NFL. As I said, very good skill with a very unique pattern that all of us have been scrambling to work on all throughout the winter, and they've been very effective with it."
Since New York's ground attack has been putrid, Manning must go toe-to-toe with Vick. Manning has been picked off in every game this season and has nine INTs through four games. He lost two fumbles against Kansas City and was asked what it will take for the Giants to come out on top Sunday.
"It's going to take a great performance. We've got to go out there and play good football and execute well, block things up and just run our game plan like it needs to be run," Manning stated.
Manning has started 139 games in a row, the longest active streak in the NFL, and has played well in his last four home games versus the Eagles, passing for 1,152 yards with 13 TD passes and a pair of interceptions. He will try to add to those numbers with wide receiver Victor Cruz, who is fourth in the NFL and third in the NFC with 425 receiving yards on 26 receptions. Cruz has three 100-yard receiving games this season and four touchdowns.
"I guess I'm just getting open," Cruz said. "Catching balls that are thrown to me and making something happen. That's all I can do, to do what's expected of me and get myself open and be an outlet for Eli to hit. It's not just about me. It's about this team getting on the same page and us clicking on all accords and getting this offense back on track."
All hope is not lost for the Giants, as the Chargers opened the 1992 campaign 0-4 and made it to the playoffs.
Big plays and a failure to generate points hurt the Eagles at Denver and they're hoping a full week of preparation on the winless Giants will be enough to stop the current slide.
Vick has to get rid of the football much sooner and is facing a Giants defense rated 19th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, with opponents averaging 261.8 yards per game through the air. Manning must put his rough start behind him and New York possesses just one touchdown in the last 25 drives.
That being said, there's a sense of confidence from the Giants' camp that Manning and the offense will click and the defense will get back to its roots of forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback. With no clear-cut leader in an NFC East division that has four wins combined, one victory is enough to get the Giants back in the hunt.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 23, Eagles 20
10/03 14:52:35 ET