The start to the 2020 NFL Season has not been kind to the teams of the NFC East to say the least. A plethora of injuries to key players have taken the wind out of the sail of the division. Thursday night’s division matchup pits two teams who have had much different paths to their current records. The Giants, under first-year head coach Joe Judge, have struggled to find an identity but have showcased a surprisingly solid and improving defense. The Eagles, on the other hand, have struggled to stay healthy at almost every position and will be without star tight end Zach Ertz and running back Miles Sanders in Week 7. This game could provide a huge momentum swing for either of these teams in what is a wide open division. Here are the keys to the game for both sides:
Keys to the game for the Giants:
1. Force Carson Wentz into some early turnovers
This season, Eagles QB Carson Wentz has seen a number of his favorite targets and key offensive linemen go down with injuries (some have yet to see the field at all). This has led to Wentz making some questionable decisions that have cost the Eagles. So far, Wentz has only had two games this season where he has not thrown two interceptions. Moreover, Wentz has had fumbling issues. He is currently second in the NFL in interceptions (9) and tied for the league lead in total fumbles (5). The past three games, the Giants have forced five total turnovers and scored two defensive touchdowns. With James Bradberry playing so well — he currently is graded as the second-best cornerback in the NFL according to PFF — this could eliminate Travis Fulgham as a productive target and force Wentz into making some questionable decisions. The Giants will have to take advantage of all the Philadelphia injuries in order to make things easier for their offense.
2. Get Evan Engram more involved in the game plan
Philadelphia has had its struggles against tight ends this season. This was epitomized in Week 4 when George Kittle exploded for 15 receptions, 183 receiving yards, and 1 TD. Overall, the Eagles have given up 36 receptions, 376 receiving yards and 6 TDs to tight ends this season. Most of the yardage came from Kittle while half of the touchdowns (3) came from Rams TE Tyler Higbee in Week 2; however, the point still stands that the Giants should look to expose the Eagles’ secondary with the use of tight end Evan Engram as New York has struggled to find an offensive rhythm through six weeks. Engram has started to get used more, but he has a game-high on the season of only 65 receiving yards. If there is a game to start getting him going, it should be this one. The Giants can get mismatches with Engram almost anywhere on the field due to his 6-3, 240-pound frame, and he has the speed to cause some significant problems for opposing linebackers. With the Giants’ passing attack being one of the weaker ones in the NFL (27th in the league with 1,125 total passing yards), Daniel Jones needs a security blanket just to make sure that this team can confidently move the ball up and down the field. With all of the injuries to the Eagles, Engram could be in for a nice day.
3. Stop Travis Fulgham
As will be pointed out constantly this week, the plethora of injuries the Eagles have had this season have forced them to thrust players like Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward Jr. into the fire early and often. The Giants’ defense has been starting to play better as far as defending the pass, as Logan Ryan and James Bradberry have had strong starts to this season for the G-Men. Part of the reason why the Eagles have been able to hang in some of these games recently, despite all of their injuries, has been due to the play of Fulgham. When Wentz has needed a big play, especially the last two weeks, he just threw the ball up for Fulgham and allowed him to try to make a play. Since Fulgham started playing regular snaps, he has had at least 50 yards and a touchdown in all three games he has played this season. Against the Steelers’ top-tier defense, Fulgham had 10 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown. If the Giants want to force Wentz into making poor throw decisions, then stopping Fulgham must be a priority. They have to make somebody else beat them, especially with the large amount of injuries the Eagles have sustained so far.
Keys to the game for the Eagles:
1. Protect Wentz
As mentioned before, Wentz has been turning the ball over at a very high rate and a lot of this can be attributed to the poor play from the injury-ravaged offensive line. Last week alone, Wentz was pressured a total of 14 times and was sacked six times by the Ravens. This season, Wentz has been sacked 25 times. This is certainly not what you want to see with a quarterback who has battled injuries himself the past three seasons. The Giants are 11th in the league with 15 sacks through six games and have generated pressures on 23.9% of opposing teams’ dropbacks (eighth in the NFL). If the Eagles want to be able to move the ball without Sanders or Ertz in the lineup, they are going to have to keep Wentz upright in order to avoid him making decisions that could give the Giants an early lead. The Eagles may have to rely on Boston Scott to get the run game started or run some read-option, but something has to be done that will give Wentz time in the pocket to make smart decisions and avoid turnovers.
2. Generate pressure on Daniel Jones
If there is one thing the Eagles have been solid at this season, it is getting after the quarterback. That part of their defense has not been the team’s biggest issue. The Eagles rank fourth in the NFL in total sacks with 21, behind only the Steelers, Ravens and Buccaneers. Furthermore, the Eagles defense boasts one of the higher pressure rates in the NFL with 23.7%, which is right behind the Giants. The Eagles have also pressured opposing QBs 56 times, sixth-best in the NFL. The Giants offense has been all over the place this season, and a lot of that has to do with the current state of its offensive line. It has improved a little since the start of the season but it is still one of the worst units in the NFL. The Giants have allowed 17 sacks, which ranks eighth-worst in the NFL. In Week 4, against the Los Angeles Rams, Daniel Jones continually had to check down to Devonta Freeman and other running backs because he had no time to find receivers open down field (and those receivers weren’t getting open anyway). The Eagles should stick it to the Giants’ receivers in order to get Jones out of sync early. The longer he has to hold onto the ball, the better the chance that the Eagles can get home and potentially give their offense great field position.
3. Lean heavily on the run game
Even though Sanders is out for this one, it still seems like the Eagles should try to establish the run, especially when their quarterback has struggled to make smart decisions and has had little time in the pocket to get his receivers the ball. As it stands, the Eagles have actually been one of the best teams in the league this season at rushing yards per attempt with 5.2. This ranks fourth in the NFL, so why wouldn’t the Eagles rely on that more often when their offensive line has clearly failed in pass protection? The Eagles rank 22nd in rushing attempts with 141, which could be due to the fact that the team starts to press when it gets down; however, part of the reason the Eagles were able to get back into the game against Baltimore last week was because of a 74-yard run from Sanders, who also had a big game against the Steelers. Those are two defenses that are typically not easy to run against. If the Eagles are able to move the ball on the ground against those caliber of defenses, then it seems reasonable to expect they can do the same against the Giants. Overall, something is going to have to change in the offensive philosophy for this team, as they can’t continue to let Wentz drop back 40-50 times a game and get sacked three or more times. This team is still very talented despite all of the injuries, but the execution has just not been on point.