Eagles-Giants player matchups to watch in Week 14




 

Eagles-Giants player matchups to watch in Week 14 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (11-1) will travel to North Jersey to face the Giants (7-4-1) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Here are some key matchups to watch:

Giants' rushing attack vs. Eagles' run defense

The Giants obviously have a great running back in Saquon Barkley, who is probably going to win Comeback Player of the Year. In 12 games this season, Barkley has already rushed for 1,055 yards at a clip of 4.4 yards per carry. And he's still doing big things as a receiver too with 40 receptions for 241 yards. He's a huge part of the Giants' offense.

But when it comes to the Giants' run game, it's about more than just Barkley. Quarterback Daniel Jones has been a huge threat on the ground too. He's second on the team in rushing with 522 yards on 91 attempts (5.7 per attempt). He's not quite the runner that Jalen Hurts is but he can pick up chunks and the Eagles have to be aware of that dynamic.

"Yeah, Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka know what they're doing," Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon said. "Bobby Johnson is the O-line coach. I was with Bobby for a little bit and he knows what he's doing. They know how to use, to maximize their quarterback skill set in a way that makes it very challenging for the defense because it challenges your rules and your structures, and they find their match-ups, their one-on-one match-ups because of the quarterback skill set.

"So, we've got a big-time challenge ahead of us, and we've got to be on it. It's a game where you can't just line up and play your stuff, or you will get gashed. We've got a big-time challenge ahead of us."

While the Eagles have to deal with Jalen Hurts in training camp, they haven't really faced many running quarterbacks this year. In the one game they did, Kyler Murray ran 4 times for 42 yards in Week 5.

Darius Slayton vs. Eagles' nickel cornerback

The Giants don't have a very good group of receivers this season, but the best of the bunch has been Darius Slayton, who has 33/566/2 in 11 games. He's been very consistent too, with at least 3 catches for 50+ yards in each of his six games. And he's coming off one of his better games of the season against the Commanders with 6 for 90.

In his career, Slayton has more catches (20) and more yards (367) against the Eagles than any other team. Obviously, he's played the Eagles a ton but he's still done more damage against them than the Cowboys or Commanders in about the same amount of games. What makes Slayton so impressive is his deep threat ability. He's averaging 17.2 yards per reception this year and is at 15.3 for his career. That's big play ability and it's rare out of the slot.

Recently, Slayton has been seeing much more time in the slot, likely a reaction to Sterling Shepard's season-ending injury. Over the last four games since the bye week, Slayton has been working out of the slot a ton and he's been playing much more in general.

Here's a look at the percentage of his slot snaps before and after the bye, via PFF:

Before the bye: 17.7%

Since the bye: 39.4%

In this game, the Eagles will hope to have Avonte Maddox back from a hamstring injury that sent him to IR. Maddox is eligible to return this week after missing the minimum of four games and he'll have a test immediately if he plays. If Maddox can't go, then Josiah Scott will be dealing with Slayton.

Jalen Hurts vs. the blitz

Through 13 weeks of the season, the Giants' defense has been one of the most aggressive in the NFL and they blitz at a higher rate than any other teams. Here's a look at the top five, according to ProFootballReference:

Giants: 40.8%
Packers: 36.9%
Cardinals: 35.3%
Broncos: 32.7%
Steelers: 32.2%

(If you're wondering, Gannon's defense has a blitz rate of 21.9%, which puts them in the middle of the pack.)

"I think with anything you've always got to have a plan for those things," offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. "They're one of the highest blitz rates in the league, the Giants are, so we're working through that right now. We have to have answers for everything they do. This is a good defensive front, and we have to be ready."

The good news is that the Eagles and specifically Jalen Hurts have shown huge growth against the blitz this season. We saw how much blitzing hurt the Eagles last year, especially in the playoff game, but as time has gone on, they've created more answers and Hurts looks way more comfortable when there's extra pressure.

The most blitzing we've seen the Eagles deal with this season came from Arizona in Week 5. That Vance Joseph defense is very aggressive. The Eagles' biggest answer in that game to deal with it was going heavy screen. They could do that again but it appears that since then they've found other answers to the blitz.

Here's a look at Hurts' numbers against the blitz over the last two seasons, according to ProFootballFocus:

2022: 62.6%, 891 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT; PFF grade of 76.1

2021: 55.6%, 1,214 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs; PFF grade of 64.7

"He's been awesome," Steichen said. "The more you see, the more you play, the more experiences you have, your accelerated vision is going to pick up, and that's what he's been doing. It's a credit to him and his preparation and the film study that he puts in getting ready for those things each and every week."

Eagles iOL vs. Dexter Lawrence

The Eagles will have their hands full on Sunday as they face one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Former first-round pick Dexter Lawrence hasn't made a Pro Bowl in his first three years in the NFL but that's about to change in 2022. Heck, he's playing at an All-Pro level.

Lawrence, 25, has started all 12 games for the Giants this season and has already tied his career high in tackles with 54 and he's already set career marks with sacks (6) and QB hits (20). He's also batted down 2 passes, forced a fumble and has 5 tackles for loss. Lawrence is ranked as the second-best interior defensive lineman in the NFL by PFF. He's second behind Kansas City's Chris Jones and just ahead of future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald.

Lawrence plays a couple different positions on the interior of that line and lines up on both sides of the center and is even sometimes head up on the center. But keep a very close eye when Lawrence is matched up against Eagles left guard Landon Dickerson. While Dickerson has been solid for a lot of the season, he has been dealing with some sort of lingering injury that has forced him to miss snaps recently in games. If he's not 100%, Lawrence is going to give Dickerson all he can handle. And if Dickerson has to leave the game at any point, it'll be Andre Dillard in there at a relatively new position for him.

Lawrence isn't the only good player on that line either. We'll see if Leonard Williams will be able to play as he deals with a neck injury but he's obviously a talented player. The Giants also have a couple good edge rushers in rookie Kayvan Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, but the Eagles have a great pair of tackles. It's important to remember that in addition to a pretty good line, the Giants will bring a ton more pressure.

Eagles red zone offense vs. Giants red zone defense

The Giants rank 23rd in overall defense by yards but are 12th in the NFL in points allowed. So … what's going on here?

Well, the simple answer is that they're very good when the field shrinks in the red zone. The Giants have the NFL's No. 5-ranked red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 48.9% of opponents' trips inside the 20.

On the flip side, the Eagles have the NFL's No. 2 ranked red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 73.8% of their drives inside their opponent's 20-yard line. A couple weeks ago, Nick Sirianni raved about the most tedious weekly meeting: The deep red zone meeting, which can last several hours on Wednesdays. The Eagles put in the work to be one of the NFL's best red zone offenses.

So this is a very good matchup between two strengths of these respected teams and could end up deciding the outcome if it ends up being a typical hard-nosed NFC East battle in December.

Eagles receivers vs. banged-up corners

The Giants no longer have James Bradberry, who was released in May, signed with the Eagles and has been playing at a Pro Bowl level. Now their top cornerback Adoree' Jackson has missed a couple games with a knee injury and is in danger of missing this week again. And, remember, starter Aaron Robinson has been on IR since early in the season.

In addition to those injuries, a couple other recent cornerback starters, Nick McCloud (hamstring) and Darnay Holmes (shoulder), are banged up and were limited to start the week of practice. The Giants' only healthy starting cornerback is Fabian Moreau, who ranks as the 61st best cornerback in the league, according to PFF.

So as long as the Eagles have the right answers for the blitz, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins should be able to win their 1-on-1s.

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