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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (6-3) at Philadelphia (6-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Eagles were all about defense when Buddy Ryan was head coach. Reggie White, Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner were just a few of his Pro Bowl players wreaking havoc on a week-to-week basis.
If only Ryan had a cohesive offensive line and a stable running back to play alongside quarterback Randall Cunningham, the Eagles may have been able to get out of the first round of the NFC Playoffs. Cunningham was a street-ball type of player who would use his speed and athleticism to take over a game, but those skills would only get him so far until he finally became a pocket passer and student of the game with Minnesota in 1998. Under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Brian Billick, Cunningham had a dynamic season and led the Vikings deep into the playoffs with an All-Star cast of weapons, all of which was made possible when expected starter Brad Johnson went down with an injury.
Fast forward to 2010, and current Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is going through similar circumstances. In today's world it's common to give people second chances, and Vick is reveling in his, as Philadelphia sits tied for first place in the NFC East with the New York Giants, who will try to take the wind out of Vick and Philadelphia's sails when they invade Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night.
Vick has transformed himself from public enemy No. 1 to an early MVP candidate, and stated his case in Monday's 59-28 rout of the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. The Virginia Tech product had a night to remember, passing for 333 yards and four touchdowns while running for an additional 80 yards and two more scores. His game jersey was sent to the Hall of Fame afterwards.
Vick has led the Eagles to two straight wins and a 6-3 record because of his patience in the pocket, and the team is 4-0 in game's in which Vick has started and finished. He hasn't thrown an interception or lost a fumble and is the highest-rated passer in the NFL (115.1).
Becoming the first player in NFL history to pass for 300 yards, rush for 50 yards, throw four touchdown passes and rush for two touchdowns all in the same game is quite a feat. Head coach Andy Reid was appreciative of the effort.
"I'm proud of him, first of all," Reid said postgame of Vick. "He did a nice job out there. He led our football team on the offensive side the way you're supposed to lead it. I think the guys rallied around him and really played well collectively; the offensive line, receivers, tight ends and running backs. I thought everyone really played well around him. He was in charge out there."
New York was in charge over a recent five-game winning streak before suffering a lopsided 33-20 defeat at the hands of the lowly Dallas Cowboys last week from the Meadowlands. More than just the power went out at the new stadium, as the Giants headed to halftime trailing by a 19-6 score before making it respectable with 14 points in the third quarter.
It was New York's first loss against an NFC opponent this season. It's top- ranked defense was also burnt for 427 yards, while quarterback Eli Manning was picked off twice and finished with 373 yards and two scores for the Giants, who had three turnovers and 480 yards of offense.
The Giants, still one of the top teams in the conference, totaled 487 yards the previous week at Seattle and 497 in Dallas on Oct. 25. Sunday's production just wasn't enough.
"We didn't play well enough to win," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "We didn't execute the way we've been executing. We gave up big plays. We didn't make as many big plays. We do have things to straighten around, but that's nothing different than following up any loss, to be honest with you."
Manning was without tackle David Diehl because of hip and hamstring issues and wide receiver Steve Smith due to a pectoral tear. The team also has been without center Shaun O'Hara, who is battling a foot problem.
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw didn't seem to mind the absence of his o- line teammates, however, as he continued pursuit of the first 1,000-yard rushing season in his career. He ran for 73 yards on 20 carries versus Dallas and has a career-best 838 yards in 2010.
But the biggest surprise was how poorly the New York defense played for the first three quarters after dominating in a 41-7 thrashing of Seattle the week before. The stop unit doesn't get a pass on this one, even if it did hold the Cowboys scoreless for the final 15 minutes. Dallas' Jon Kitna, who's filling in for the injured Tony Romo under center, became the first quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards against the Giants this season.
If Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell doesn't get that corrected by Sunday, expect another aerial show from Vick.
The Giants hold a 79-69-2 edge in a regular season series that dates back to the 1933 season, but have lost three straight such matchups to the Birds since earning a 36-31 victory in Philadelphia in 2008. Last season, the Eagles prevailed by a 40-17 margin when the teams met at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 8, and took a 45-38 decision when the clubs squared off at Giants Stadium in Week 14.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have split a total of four postseason matchups all-time. The Eagles evened that series with the aforementioned 23-11 win in last year's NFC Divisional Playoff. Philadelphia was also a 23-20 home winner in a 2006 NFC First-Round Playoff, while Big Blue took a 20-10 home decision in a 2000 NFC Divisional Playoff and a 27-21 triumph in a 1981 NFC First-Round Playoff at Veterans Stadium.
Including playoffs, the Eagles have won four in a row over the Giants.
Reid is 13-12 against New York all-time, including 2-1 in the postseason. Coughlin is 8-8 versus Philadelphia, with two of the wins dating back to his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is 7-8 against Reid in his career.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
The Giants are hoping last week's debacle at home versus Dallas was just an aberration. They have already gained respect around the league for their strong start and need Manning (2,448 yards, 19 TD. 13 INT) to be on point against the Eagles. He threw for 373 yards -- the second-highest total of the season -- last week, but also recorded his fifth multi-interception game of 2010. Manning also completed 33 passes for the second-best total of his career and now has 13 lifetime 300-yard games, with the Giants going 7-6 over that span. In the last meeting with the Eagles, Manning passed for 391 yards and three scores with no turnovers for a 130.5 rating. Despite having injuries up front, New York did not allow a sack for the second consecutive week last Sunday. Diehl missed the first game in his eight-year career and had started 120 consecutive regular-season games, while O'Hara was out for the second week in a row and fifth time in 2010. Former Eagle Shawn Andrews will play at left tackle, with Kevin Boothe at left guard and Rich Seubert at center. Wide receiver Mario Manningham (35 receptions, 4 TD) picked up the slack in Smith's absence and had 10 catches for 91 yards and a score last Sunday. Fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks (56 receptions, 735 yards) is tied for the NFL lead with nine touchdown receptions.
Philadelphia probably thought it was going to be in a serious fight on Monday after it was announced that former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb signed a contract extension with the Redskins prior to the game. Instead, the Eagles intercepted McNabb three times, while tackle Trevor Laws (9 tackles, 3 sacks) and end Juqua Parker (15 tackles, 5 sacks) each had a sack. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, making his second straight start for an injured Ellis Hobbs, picked off a pass and returned it 40 yards for a score. Patterson (22 tackles, 3 INT) is tied for second on the team in interceptions, while Hobbs (16 tackles, 1 INT) is questionable for Sunday with an injured hip. Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel (21 tackles, 5 INT) leads the team in picks and has an interception in two of the past three games against the G-Men. Rookie safety Nate Allen (34 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) did not play Monday because of a neck issue and is also listed as questionable for this week. The same goes for linebacker Ernie Sims (35 tackles, 2 sacks), who is nursing a balky ankle. Sack leader Trent Cole (43 tackles, 7 sacks) will be anxious to bring the heat on Manning.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Vick (1,350 passing yards, 11 TD) helped the Eagles record a team-record 592 yards of offense in Washington. Philadelphia also set a franchise record for points in a half (45) and held the biggest lead of any NFL road team after the first quarter (28 points). Vick, who hasn't thrown an interception in 180 passing attempts, will face a tough challenge in New York's defense, but ability to run and keep plays alive could also be the downfall of the Giants on Sunday. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (28 receptions, 602 yards, 5 TD) scored on 88-yard touchdown pass 12 seconds into Monday's game as he burned past Redskins safety LaRon Landry, who supposedly was jawing with Jackson before the game. He settled for just two catches for 98 yards, while slot receiver Jason Avant (31 receptions, 1 TD) and all-purpose running back LeSean McCoy (615 rushing yards, 5 TD) both finished with five grabs. McCoy, who had 51 rushing yards and a touchdown Monday and is battling both rib and shoulder problems, will be an X-factor for Philadelphia's offense. He leads NFL running backs with 46 catches. Reid will most likely try to get McCoy involved early to keep pressure off of Vick.
Fewell's defense has to take Vick and the Philadelphia offense out of the game right away. Vick has been sacked 15 times this season, so he can be stopped. The Giants registered only one sack last week, as end Osi Umenyiora (26 tackles, 9 sacks) ran his team-high total to nine this season. He is shooting for a sack in his sixth straight meeting with the Eagles. Fellow end Justin Tuck (44 tackles, 4 sacks) is tied for second on the team in sacks. Dallas' 324 passing yards last week were the most allowed by the Giants since the Vikings had 358 in the 2009 season finale, with safety Deon Grant (33 tackles, sack, 3 INT) garnering the lone interception for the defense. The Giants' defense is still rated first in the NFL in allowing 270.2 yards a game, and is 6-0 this season when holding opposing ground attacks to under 100 yards. Dallas had 103 yards rushing, dropping New York to 0-3 when that happens. Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (49 tackles, 3 INT) and Corey Webster (28 tackles, 2 INT) were embarrassed by Dallas' receivers last week, and it could get even worse Sunday without proper preparation.
The Giants have been a treasure chest of fantasy options this season, starting with their stingy defense and solid special teams. Even though New York is on the road in this one, it always seems to play Philadelphia tough. Manning and Bradshaw are definite shoo-ins to start, but picking from Nicks, Manningham and tight end Kevin Boss is tough. Manningham seems to have the hot hand right now.
Vick had a fantasy performance for the ages on Monday. Expect him to come back down to earth, but obviously keep him in the starting lineup. It would be foolish not to insert Jackson, Maclin and McCoy as starters on Sunday. Using the Eagles' defense is a bit of a risk, but roll the dice anyway.
New York was the victim of big plays last week and Philadelphia took advantage in its game by producing quite a few of its own. Don't expect fireworks in this classic NFC East battle from either well-coached team, as both Coughlin and Reid are known for their extensive preparation, However, Vick is in gear six of a finely-tuned offense right now and will keep the Eagles in the driver's seat of the division.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 26, Giants 19
11/18 19:54:55 ET