Week 4 Spotlight: Giants-Eagles
If Michael Vick can't take care of the ball better, Eagles may switch starting QBs
The worst rushing team in 2011, the Giants backs are starting to find their groove
If the game is close, Eli Manning's fourth-quarter poise may make the difference
N.Y. Giants (2-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)
1. The Vick puzzle
The Eagles came into the season with protecting Michael Vick at the top of their priority list. The mobile quarterback puts his body in jeopardy of taking big hits because of his style of play -- last year, he missed three games and was knocked out of two more because of injuries -- and he has just once lasted a full 16-game season.
Now, however, ball security has become a bigger issue with Vick. In the team's first three games, he had nine turnovers (see chart below), throwing six interceptions and losing three fumbles. His most egregious error took place on the final play of the first half in last week's 27-6 loss in Arizona, when a sack forced a fumble inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line that safety James Sanders returned 93 yards for a dagger-to-the-heart touchdown.
It's hard to imagine that the Eagles would make a quarterback change not necessitated by injury, but if Vick can't take care of the ball better coach Andy Reid might be forced to turn to third-round rookie Nick Foles, who was impressive during the preseason. Reid didn't exactly give Vick a firm endorsement during his press conference on Monday.
"Right now, we're with Michael, and that's what we're doing," Reid said. "We'll evaluate as we go." Two days later, feeling that his comments had been misinterpreted, Reid qualified his stance on Vick, saying, "Michael is our starting quarterback."
The Eagles have made an effort to keep Vick out of harm's way by using more six-man protections and having some of their players chip defensive opponents. Nonetheless, Vick still is absorbing too much physical punishment.
"I'll tell you, he's getting hit way too much," Reid said. "So that part's got to end. We've got to limit that."
2. A Giants running revival
The G-Men won the Super Bowl last season despite an anemic running game that was the worst in the league (89.2 yards per game) during the regular season. Their rushing attack improved somewhat over their last six games, including the postseason, when they averaged 114.5.
There were various reasons for the grungy ground game -- the offensive line had injuries, running back Ahmad Bradshaw suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, the team trailed late in many games, forcing it to throw the ball to catch up (the Giants had a league-high seven fourth-quarter comeback wins) -- but coach Tom Coughlin was determined to restore a better run-pass balance on offense this season.
So far, it's still a work in progress. After rushing 19 times for 82 yards in a season-opening loss to Dallas, the Giants stepped it up somewhat in victories over Tampa Bay (25 carries for 94 yards) and Carolina (29 for 125). Bradshaw began the season as the No. 1 back, but he suffered a sprained neck in the Tampa game and was forced to miss the win in Carolina.
Bradshaw's injury opened the door for little-known Andre Brown, a fourth-round draft pick of the Giants in 2009 whose NFL career was stymied by a ruptured Achilles tendon in his rookie preseason. He wound up bouncing among five teams in 2010 before the Giants re-signed him last season and put him on the practice squad for the entire year. After carrying 13 times for 71 yards and one touchdown in relief of Bradshaw against the Buccaneers, Brown started against the Panthers and rushed 20 times for 113 yards and a pair of 1-yard TDs.
Bradshaw is expected to be back for Sunday night's game in Philadelphia. The Giants had hoped speedy rookie David Wilson, their No. 1 draft pick from Virginia Tech, would be a big part of their running rotation, but he has played a limited role since losing a fumble on his second carry against Dallas.
3. Hatfield ... er ... Umenyiora vs. McCoy
We know that Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy are big playmakers on their teams. Umenyiora is one of the league's best pass rushers and McCoy's 20 touchdowns last season led the league.
We also know these guys really don't care for one another. They don't just feud on the field; they also trade insults on social media.
When Umenyiora was trying to negotiate a new contract with the Giants during the NFL players lockout in 2011, McCoy tweeted that Umenyiora was "overrated" and "soft" and was only the third best defensive lineman on the Giants. Umenyiora responded by referring to McCoy as "she" and "Lady Gaga" and, later, a "Twitter Gangsta."
Their relationship escalated again this year when Umenyiora tweeted to wish McCoy a happy Mother's Day. Keeping the dialogue going, McCoy said he thought Umenyiora thinks he's better than what he really is, calling Osi "a ballerina in a Giants uniform."
Perhaps McCoy, who didn't come into the NFL until 2009, has never watched tape of the Giants' victory over Philadelphia on Sept. 30, 2007. Umenyiora danced his way to six sacks of Donovan McNabb, and the Giants tied a league record with 12 sacks overall.
McCoy is nursing a rib injury, but he's not expecting a get-well card from Umenyiora. Look for the jawing to continue Sunday night on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection and a former linchpin of the Texans' defense, the 28-year-old middle linebacker was traded during the offseason to Philadelphia, where he quickly established himself as the leader of the Eagles' D. Through three games, Ryans has 19 tackles, one sack and one interception. Here's an excerpt from Ryans' chat with SI.com.
What was your initial reaction when the Texans traded you to the Eagles?
It was a big difference for me, a big changeup. Unexpected. But being in the league for six years, I understood that things like that can happen. When I found out I was going to the Eagles, I was happy that I was coming to a good team, a team that year in and year out has great talent. So that was definitely a plus.
Why is playing in the Eagles' 4-3 defense a better fit for you than the Texans' 3-4 scheme?
It wasn't that the 3-4 scheme wasn't a good fit for me. I did what was asked of me in the 3-4. They just took me off on third downs; they only played one linebacker on third down. From that standpoint, I didn't get the reps, so the production goes down. Here in the 4-3, it's back to what I did for the first five years of my career. It's a similar style of defense, and I'm familiar with it. I did it for a long time. Learning the scheme was a very easy transition for me.
What's the one thing you like most about the 4-3 defense?
It allows me to play downhill, play fast, and make a lot of plays in the backfield. That's the biggest difference from playing in a 3-4.
How did you become the leader of the Eagles defense so fast?
What I learned from an early age was to always be yourself. It's nothing special I did. Just being myself in the locker room. The guys and me just jelled together pretty well. It helps me out being out in front of the defense, and guys are always looking at me for the calls and the checks and things like that.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said you have brought a new energy to the team. How have you done that?
When it's game time, I like to be that guy that keeps everybody in tune with what we're doing, keeping everybody focused and pumped up. I want to be that vocal guy out there when we're playing.
Is there a little more buzz in the locker room this week knowing you're going to play the defending Super Bowl champs?
Yeah, I can feel a little sense of an extra buzz with the Giants coming into town. It's a big divisional game for us and we're playing the defending world champs. I know it's going to be a physical game, and it's a prime time game, which brings a little more excitement to it. We have to stand up and make our mark against this team.
You played against Peyton Manning twice a year when you were in Houston. Now you're about to face his brother, Eli. How do they compare?
They're very similar in the way they control their offense, control the tempo of the game. You don't see those guys make a lot of bad decisions. They know how to put the ball in the right spaces. They don't take a lot of hits very often. You have to play tight coverage and make some good plays on them because they know the game, know positioning and know how to place the ball.
What's the one thing you've learned about Eagles coach Andy Reid that surprised you?
I don't think anything surprised me. Andy is a great leader, the way he controls things. I'm just happy to be here with him, learning about life, learning about being a man, how he handles situations. He's a true leader, someone that a lot of people definitely look up to.
While Michael Vick continues to be one of the most challenging quarterbacks to defend, he unfortunately has developed a penchant for turning the ball over. It's somewhat remarkable that the Eagles are 2-1 given Vick's lack of ball security so far this season. Vick helps the Eagles a lot, but this is how he has hurt them.
|Week 1 vs. Cleveland|
|Week 2 vs. Baltimore|
|Week 3 vs. Arizona|
The Eagles have won eight of the last nine against the Giants, including a playoff game after the '08 season, and Lincoln Financial Field is one of the most hostile environments in the NFL for a visiting team. But Vick and the Eagles can't afford to turn the ball over like they have in the first three games.
"They have some veteran guys who [have] been around the block," Vick said of the Giants. "They have Super Bowl rings, so they know what it's like to play in the tough games. We just have to come out and play sound, play disciplined and try to put it all together."
This battle for first place in the NFC East likely might not be decided until the fourth quarter. If that's the case, the Giants will have a big edge in quarterback Eli Manning, whose 110.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter last season ranked second only to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (114.3) among regular starting quarterbacks. This season, Manning has completed 19 of 30 passes (63.3 percent) for 323 yards and three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.
Giants 20, Eagles 17
Last week: Saints 31, Chiefs 17
Season record: 2-1