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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (1-1) at Philadelphia (1-1)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Eagles aren't entirely sure whether Michael Vick will be at quarterback for Sunday's tussle with the New York Giants from Lincoln Financial Field, though the defending NFC East champions have been able to achieve success against their longtime division rivals lately regardless of who's been under center.
Vick is tentatively expected to play in Philadelphia's 2011 home opener despite suffering a slight concussion during the third quarter of last Sunday's marquee matchup at Atlanta, the ex-Falcon star's first appearance at the Georgia Dome in a starting role since being exiled from that organization followed his well- publicized arrest on dog-fighting charges in 2007.
It wasn't a happy homecoming for the reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year, as Vick committed three turnovers (two fumbles, one interception) before exiting, then had to watch the Falcons score 14 unanswered points in fourth quarter to rally for a thrilling 35-31 victory.
Vick did participate in the walkthrough portion when the Eagles reconvened for practice on Wednesday and will be cleared to start against the Giants as long as he can pass a baseline concussion test during the week. If he can't, Philadelphia's explosive offense would likely be left in the hands of unproven second-year pro Mike Kafka, with the more experienced Vince Young still making his way back from a preseason hamstring injury.
Kafka, a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2010, took over for a groggy Vick against Atlanta and completed 7-of-9 passes for 72 yards in his first NFL regular-season action. The 24-year-old marched Philadelphia to the Falcons' 21- yard line with under two minutes left, but had a fourth-down throw dropped by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to kill the scoring threat.
That miscue spoiled an otherwise dominant display for Maclin, who racked up career bests of 13 catches and 171 receiving yards while scoring two touchdowns. The 2009 first-round choice also amassed big numbers in Philadelphia's two triumphs over the Giants last season, following up a nine- catch, 120-yard performance in a 27-17 decision at Lincoln Financial Field in November with two touchdown grabs in the team's memorable 38-31 road win in Week 15.
The Eagles erupted for four touchdowns in the final 7 1/2 minutes of that contest, which ultimately enabled Philly to edge New York on a tie-breaker for the NFC East crown, with wideout DeSean Jackson capping the historic comeback with a 65-yard punt return as time expired.
That result extended the Eagles' current win streak over the Giants to six games, which includes a 23-11 verdict at the Meadowlands in the 2008 NFC Divisional Playoffs. New York's last victory in the series occurred in Philadelphia by a 36-31 score earlier that season.
The Giants will be heading to the City of Brotherly Love with a bit of momentum forged by Monday's 28-16 home win over a mistake-laden St. Louis team. New York forced a pair of turnovers on the night, including a fumble that was returned for a key touchdown by linebacker Michael Boley, and induced three field goals on the Rams' four red-zone trips.
The injury-plagued Giants, who are presently minus three defensive starters that includes standout pass rusher Osi Umenyiora, may have to deal with a short-handed corps of wide receivers on Sunday as well. Starter Mario Manningham's status in uncertain after sustaining a concussion against St. Louis, while No. 3 man Domenik Hixon tore his ACL in the game and is done for the season.
New York also no longer has Steve Smith, who defected to the Eagles via free agency in August following four productive years with Big Blue, highlighted by a club-record 107-catch campaign in 2009.
Despite Philadelphia's recent success in this series, the Giants still hold a 79-71-2 overall edge in a regular-season set that dates back to 1933. New York has lost in two straight trips to Lincoln Financial Field, however, suffering a 40-17 blowout defeat there in 2009 in addition to last season's 27-17 setback in Week 11. The Giants had emerged with a win in Philadelphia in each of the four previous years, including overtime decisions in 2005 and 2006.
These storied foes have also split a total of four all-time postseason bouts. In addition to Philadelphia's above-mentioned Divisional Round win at the Meadowlands in 2008, the Eagles were also 23-20 home victors in a 2006 NFC Wild Card Playoff. New York posted a 20-10 verdict over Philadelphia at the Giants Stadium in the 2000 Divisional Round, as well as a 27-21 win in a 1981 NFC First-Round Playoff at Veterans Stadium.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid sports a 15-12 lifetime record against New York, including a 2-1 mark in the postseason. The Giants' Tom Coughlin is 8-10 versus Philadelphia over his coaching career, with two of the wins dating back to his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and 7-10 when going head-to-head with Reid.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Look for the Giants to attack a Philadelphia defense which has had trouble stopping the run in the early going with its diverse two-back tandem of slasher Ahmad Bradshaw (103 rushing yards, 1 TD, 6 receptions) and pounder Brandon Jacobs (79 rushing yards, 1 TD), especially if second-leading receiver Manningham (7 receptions) isn't cleared to go. The duo combined for a workmanlike 109 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries against the Rams, while quarterback Eli Manning (491 passing yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) overcame a slow start to throw for 223 yards and two scores in the win, connecting on 16 of his final 18 attempts. With Hixon out and Manningham questionable, New York may have to turn to raw youngster Victor Cruz, who owns just two career catches, to be the outside complement to top target Hakeem Nicks (11 receptions, 160 yards, 1 TD) when Manning drops back to pass, though the team did sign wily veteran Brandon Stokley prior to the St. Louis game. The projected return of starting tight end Travis Beckum from a strained hamstring that kept him out the first two weeks could help matters, while Bradshaw is a capable receiver out of the backfield as well. The Giants have encountered problems sustaining drives so far this year, having converted just 24 percent (6-for-25) of their third-down opportunities that includes a woeful 1-for-10 showing in a Week 1 loss at Washington.
Having permitted subpar averages of 146 rushing yards per game (30th overall) and 5.3 yards per carry over their initial two outings, the Eagles will be doing some reshuffling at the linebacker position in preparation for Sunday's tilt, with first-year coordinator Juan Castillo moving struggling rookie Casey Matthews (11 tackles) from the middle to the weak side and moving second-year thumper Jamar Chaney (15 tackles) from the SAM position into Matthews' original spot. The hope is the re-tooling will benefit a unit that's allowed two runs of 47 yards or more already this season. Philadelphia has been far tougher to throw upon, with the stellar cornerback combo of playmaker Asante Samuel (7 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PD) and coveted offseason addition Nnamdi Asomugha (4 tackles, 1 INT) anchoring a secondary that's yielding just 180.5 passing yards per game (5th overall). Both came up with interceptions of Atlanta's Matt Ryan a week ago, while Samuel has snared a league-best 37 picks since 2006. The backfield is aided by a fierce pass rush that's produced nine sacks (2nd overall) thus far, with two other prominent free-agent pickups -- tackle Cullen Jenkins (6 tackles) and end Jason Babin (6 tackles) -- each netting three apiece. They're part of a strong line that also features two-time Pro Bowl end Trent Cole (9 tackles, 2 sacks), who's generated double-digit sack totals in three of the past four seasons.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Obviously, Philadelphia's offense will have a much different dynamic if the barely-tested Kafka (72 passing yards) winds up in place of Vick (429 passing yards, 4 TD, 1 TD), the league's premier running quarterback come Sunday. It's a tradeoff the Giants would gladly accept, considering Vick helped fuel last December's dramatic comeback over New York by scrambling for 130 yards and a touchdown in addition to throwing for three scores. Assuming he's available, the dangerous dual threat will be at the controls of the NFL's sixth-ranked offense (425.0 ypg) that contains a host of quality pass-catchers, with Maclin (14 receptions, 191 yards, 2 TD) fresh off a career-best output, Jackson (8 receptions, 1 TD) the big-play artist who's averaged over 18 yards per reception for his career and slot receiver Jason Avant (4 receptions) and tight end Brent Celek (5 receptions) both sure-handed options underneath. The Eagles can run the ball as well, entering this week's matchup second overall in rushing yards (184.5 ypg). That impressive total is boosted by Vick's (122 rushing yards) uncanny ability to break containment out of the pocket, though top running back LeSean McCoy (217 rushing yards, 6 receptions) has more than done his part by averaging a robust 6.6 yards per carry and finding the end zone four times (3 rushing, 1 receiving) over the first two games.
Philadelphia's potent passing game gets to face a battered New York defense that's had its difficulties preventing enemy quarterbacks from airing it out, with both Washington's Rex Grossman and St. Louis' Sam Bradford eclipsing the 300-yard mark against the group in consecutive weeks. Injuries to starting cornerback Terrell Thomas and 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara have left the secondary with precious little depth, forcing free safety Antrel Rolle (16 tackles) to play out of position as a slot defender in nickel situations, while Thomas replacement Aaron Ross (6 tackles, 3 PD) was briefly benched after being burned for a few long-gainers in Monday's win. Even without Umenyiora, who's still on the mend from a preseason knee procedure, the Giants are well-stocked in the pass-rushing department, with All-Pro end Justin Tuck (5 tackles) returning from a neck stinger to post 1 1/2 sacks against the Rams and athletic second-year pro Jason Pierre-Paul (8 tackles) already registering 2 1/2 quarterback takedowns while subbing for Umenyiora. New York has been very tough in defending the run this year, with oversized linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka (8 tackles) and valued safety Kenny Phillips (13 tackles, 4 PD) heading up a crew that's currently allowing only 66.5 rushing yards per game and a mere 3.0 yards per attempt.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Vick's head -- and his legs. Philadelphia's star quarterback may still be feeling the effects of the hard shot he took in last Sunday's game, and his missed practice time during the week is a bit of a concern for a player coming off a somewhat shaky showing against the Falcons. It could also make him less inclined to utilize his running skills, which would be a major break for the Giants considering how Vick tortured the team with his scrambling ability in the last meeting. With a depleted secondary going up against the Eagles' talented cast of receivers, New York defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has enough to worry about, and certainly doesn't need another potential headache.
Eli's coming. But which Manning will show up? He's been brilliant in a few past skirmish with the Eagles, most of which have resulted in Giants wins. In his last two visits to Lincoln Financial Field, however, the New York quarterback has given the ball away six times (including five interceptions) and completed just over 55 percent of his passes. He'll have to be better than that for the G-Men to compete this week.
Running the ball. An important factor in Philadelphia's two 2010 victories over the Giants was its defense limiting New York's usually-strong ground game to 61 and 100 yards in those contests. The Eagles have not fared well in that area over the first two weeks, though, and the Giants will almost certainly attempt to exploit that weakness.
Signs point to Vick being ready to go this week, and that's clearly good news for a Philadelphia squad that's likely stewing over letting a victory slip away a week ago. The Eagles have more playmakers and an overall talent advantage on the injury-riddled Giants, plus they'll be competing in front of a raucous home crowd that has made a difference in games between these two in the past. While neither team has yet to put it all together, the Giants seem to have a few more kinks to iron out at this stage of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 31, Giants 21
09/22 14:57:27 ET
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