Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season kicks off Thursday night in Philadelphia when the 1-4-1 Eagles host the 1-5 New York Giants.
The NFC East is very much up for grabs as the division-leading Dallas Cowboys have only one more win and they're reeling from losing quarterback Dak Prescott, so the winner of this prime-time showdown will be in good position. The Eagles, in fact, get the Cowboys 10 days after this matchup and then the bye week, so they could really get on a roll.
The Eagles are coming off a pair of tough losses to AFC North foes Pittsburgh and Baltimore where they fell behind early in both games, rallied back, but fell just short of a win. There are several reasons to be optimistic if you're an Eagles fan. Quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense scored 57 points in the last two games against defenses currently ranked first (Baltimore, 17.3 points per game) and tied for third (Pittsburgh, 18.8) in the league in scoring defense.
Another aspect is that the Eagles are starting to get healthy with the return of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson, cornerback Avonte Maddox, and special teams captain Duke Riley against the Giants. Other key players are getting closer to returning to action. Over the next three weeks, the Eagles can get two NFC East wins and a bye week of rest (not including the mini-bye following the Giants game).
But first, the Eagles must handle business against a Giants team with a new head coach in Joe Judge, former special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach in New England. The Philly native has focused on instilling discipline and it's working as this Giants team ranks third in fewest penalty yards per game.
On offense, the Giants have former No. 6 overall pick Daniel Jones at quarterback playing in a new offensive scheme run by a familiar face in Jason Garrett, the former Cowboys head coach. The plan was to build the offensive line with 2020 No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas anchoring the offensive line and feed running back Saquon Barkley. But Thomas has struggled and Barkley suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Jones has picked up the slack in the run game, but the leakage in the offensive line has hampered the passing attack. Wide receiver Darius Slayton is the go-to weapon for Jones, and it will be interesting to see how Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz tries to erase him from the game plan.
Defensively, the Giants implement a version of the scheme used throughout the league by other Bill Belichick disciples like Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores and Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia. Much like the Eagles, the defensive line is the strength of the unit led by former Jets standout Leonard Williams. In the secondary, the Giants signed cornerback James Bradberry in free agency, who is playing very well in his first year in the NFC East. Will Bradberry stay to a side of the formation? Will he be deployed to erase Travis Fulgham? Or DeSean Jackson?
The Eagles are 5-0 in Thursday night games in Head Coach Doug Pederson's tenure and have won seven straight against the Giants. The Eagles are wearing their black uniforms for some added good luck, something that has worked well against the Giants in the past. But nothing comes easy in the NFC East. The first matchup between these teams in 2019 went to overtime, and the Eagles needed three touchdowns from Boston Scott to clinch the NFC East in Week 17. The Eagles could use three more from Scott as Miles Sanders is out for this game.
For more insight into the matchup, check out the rest of our Game Preview, presented by Unibet.
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro's 3 keys to an Eagles victory
1. Daniel Jones isn't in the class of Lamar Jackson as far as quarterbacks who are threats with their legs as well as their arm, but he's definitely able to hurt teams with designed runs and scrambles away from pressure. Jones ripped off a 49-yard run in Sunday's win over Washington, part of a seven-carry, 74-yard day. Jones also ran for 49 yards against San Francisco and 45 yards against the Rams earlier in the season. Jones has 204 rushing yards this season, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt. New York has struggled to score points and incorporating Jones into the run game has helped move the chains and make defenses accountable. The Eagles have been dominating at times rushing the quarterback, but they've also got to maintain discipline on Thursday night or Jones will make them pay.
2. This could be a Darius vs. Darius game, as the Eagles may be wise to use cornerback Darius Slay in one-on-one coverage against Giants receiver Darius Slayton. The latter is more than just a name. He has 25 receptions this season and is averaging 16.2 yards per catch. He's had two 100-plus-yard games and Slayton has caught all three of Jones' touchdown passes. The Eagles had troubles against Slayton last year in the two meetings - he caught nine passes for 204 yards (23 yards per reception) and scored two touchdowns, both in the first game between the teams when Slayton torched the secondary for five catches, 154 yards, and a pair of scores. Of course, Slay wasn't on the team in 2019.
3. Stabilize the offensive line. With so many injuries, it is very difficult to do and the Eagles have been playing with a rotating offensive line all season. It hasn't helped the offense's performance. New York is eighth in the league against the run, allowing 106.5 yards per game, and the Giants average 2.5 quarterback sacks per game and, in a close loss at Dallas and a win over Washington, New York scored a defensive touchdown in each game. The Eagles have 12 giveaways offensively this season, largely because the offensive line has had so many leaks and quarterback Carson Wentz has been under pressure often. The Eagles need to win the line of scrimmage on Thursday night.
Head Coach Doug Pederson on the Giants' defense: "This defensive line is a challenge for our offensive line; they're big and physical inside. They can put pressure on a quarterback and they can shut the run game down. It's probably a little more zone coverage in the back end than man coverage, but it's a lot of disguises back there with their linebackers and safeties. It's got its own set of complexities within this defense, especially on a short week. But having some familiarity with them and Coach Graham (Giants Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham) last year in Miami does help, to be able to take a look at some of that. Really good defense that we're going against this week."
Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones' rushing ability: "He is their leading rusher. There is that. They ran a little bit last year. They ran some zone-read type stuff with him. He can surprise you with his mobility. We can't be surprised about that on Thursday night because he does have good mobility and he's run for some first downs. He's probably not the first guy you think of when you think about mobile quarterbacks, but he's run the zone read and a couple different layers of it really well, and he has not been afraid to put his head down and get extra yards."
Eagles Game Plan analyst Greg Cosell on the Giants' defense: "(They are) multiple with their fronts, some stunts, and they play some two-man coverage as one of their main foundations. They're close to the top of the league in playing in that formation. Two-man - that is a coverage that the Eagles will have to defeat if they want to have a good offensive performance against the New York Giants."
Eagles Game Plan analyst Greg Cosell on Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton: "He can beat you catching the short ball and taking it to the house, or he can beat you over the top of the defense. He's the player the Eagles must really be concerned about. You cannot let him beat you with the long touchdown."
By the Numbers
5-0 - Head Coach Doug Pederson is 5-0 in Thursday night games (4-0 in Thursday games on a short week).
7 - The Eagles have won seven straight and 11 of 12 in this series. Quarterback Carson Wentz has not lost to the Giants since his rookie season of 2016.
3 - Boston Scott became just the seventh player in Eagles history to rush for three touchdowns in a single game in Week 17 of the 2019 season against the Giants, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process. In the two games against the Giants, Scott had 113 rushing yards, 153 receiving yards, and the three scores.
16.07 - Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has 69 receptions for 1,109 yards in 18 career games against the Giants, averaging just over 16 yards per catch. He also has 8 total touchdowns, including two as a punt returner.
32 - Since the start of the 2019 season, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has 32 total giveaways, second in the NFL to Saints backup quarterback Jameis Winston, according to the NFL Media Research Team.
32.7 - Quarterback Carson Wentz is being pressured at a rate of 32.7 percent of his dropbacks, the highest of his career, according to the NFL Media Research Team.
50/1 - Wide receiver Travis Fulgham has at least 50 receiving yards and a touchdown in each of his first three games with the team. He is the first Eagles receiver to have at least one touchdown in each of his first three games with the team since Terrell Owens in 2004.
6.9 - The Giants' defense allows just 6.9 passing yards per attempt on targets outside the numbers, the sixth-lowest total in the NFL, per the NFL Media Research Team.
31 - Giants left tackle, first-round pick Andrew Thomas, leads the NFL with 31 pressures allowed, according to Pro Football Focus and the NFL Media Research Team.
32.3 - The Giants are one of the most disciplined teams, only getting 32.3 penalty yards per game, third fewest in the NFL.
40 - Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has been hit 40 times, the fourth-highest total in the league. The Eagles have hit the quarterback 51 times, good for third in the NFL, according to the NFL Media Research Team.
53.8 - The Giants have a top-10 rushing defense, a top-12 defense in terms of total yards, but rank 31st in third-down percentage, allowing opponents to convert 53.8 percent of the time.
Behind Enemy Lines
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro caught up with John Schmeelk, reporter and podcast host for giants.com, to get a look behind enemy lines ahead of this NFC East showdown.
On the State of the Giants: "Improving. It was a real, real bad loss that third week of the season against a 49ers team that is extremely banged up, had a ton of injuries. Nick Mullens was the starting quarterback and they lost to them by 29 points. That was the worst loss of the year. But since then, they played the Rams tight. They played the Cowboys tight and then they beat Washington. Steady improvement.
"They've had to gameplan around some issues along the offensive line. Obviously, no Saquon Barkley. No Sterling Shepard. That hurts offensively. They're making slow, but steady progress. Obviously, not where they want to be, but happy to be coming off a win."
On second-year quarterback Daniel Jones: "He had a 40-yard run last week. They're starting to integrate some of those read-option plays that Jason Garrett used with Dak Prescott down in Dallas. I would expect to see that on Thursday as teams get a little too aggressive with their defensive line.
"The problem is that the turnovers are still kind of popping off. There's been three red zone interceptions, which is something you don't want. There was another one last week against Washington. The fumbling issues has popped up here and there, but he's been under pressure a lot. Going into the Washington game, he had the highest pressure rate of any quarterback in the National Football League. He tends to hold the ball a little bit like a lot of young guys do. But it's not to the point where that's the reason the pressure rate is as high as it is. He's accurate. He's athletic. The decision-making has to get a little bit better and the turnovers have to get a little bit better. That's kind of what they are at with Daniel Jones."
On the run game without Saquon Barkley: "They've actually run the ball better the last two weeks without Saquon Barkley than the first two weeks of the year, when he can barely get into the positive column. They changed their approach in the run game a lot. They went from a heavy zone scheme the first couple of weeks to more of a downhill power gap scheme type of look where they're pulling guards, tight ends, that sort of stuff to get downhill a little bit more. They're not running the you-know-what out of the ball, but they're getting 3,4 yards per carry and they're trying to keep defenses honest, so they can't pin their ears back and rush the passer."
On the Giants' weapons in the passing game: "(Darius) Slayton's been great. One thing to keep an eye on is that he was questionable with a foot injury heading into Sunday's game. He was limited in practice all week heading into that Washington game. And then he tweaked his ankle twice during the game against Washington, so that's something to keep an eye on during a short week.
"Evan (Engram) has been quiet. They've had trouble getting him the ball on the move down the field. He's done a lot of shorter stuff. He caught a 20-yard pass on the first play of the game against Washington and only caught one pass the rest of the game. They really need to get him going. Golden Tate, who was very good last year, he averaged over 13 yards per catch, has been very quiet this year. They've had trouble getting the ball in his hands so that he can use that yards-after-the-catch ability that he's so well known for.
"It's been hard going. Slayton's been most of the offense. All three of Jones' touchdown passes have gone to him. He's been the guy who has made all of their big 20-plus-yard pass catches as well. Other than him, the offense has been tough to come by."
On the Giants' defensive scheme: "At the start of the season Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham, who was with Miami last year, wanted to do that (Lions Head Coach and former Patriots assistant) Matt Patricia, (Dolphins Head Coach and former Patriots assistant) Brian Flores, (Patriots Head Coach Bill) Belichick single-high coverage type of scheme. They tried doing that early in the season and it was not effective other than James Bradberry, who is playing at an All-Pro level. He's probably the best cornerback I've seen here since Janoris Jenkins when he had his Pro Bowl season in 2016. He's been phenomenal, but they don't really have other guys that can cover man-to-man.
"The last couple of weeks, they've gone to really heavy Cover 3, Cover 2 to keep everything in front of you. They occasionally blitz. Their blitz rate is in the top half of the league. I think they're in that mode where they're going to trust their big guys up front which is a strength of the defense - Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson - really good interior players. Trust those guys."
Final Injury Report
For the Giants
WR C.J. Board (concussion)
S Adrian Colbert (shoulder)
CB Darnay Holmes (neck)
For the Eagles
T Jack Driscoll (ankle)
TE Zach Ertz (ankle)
DT Malik Jackson (quadricep)
WR Alshon Jeffery (calf, foot)
RB Miles Sanders (knee)
S K'Von Wallace (shoulder)