If Philly plays the way they did in the first half yesterday, they lose to the Giants, in my opinion. It wasn't terrible, but the offense got off to a slow start, settling for field goals for their first 9 points. The surprising thing was that the offense, which has had a tendency to snowball early mistakes into later catastrophes, continued to persevere, and eventually began to pick apart a stingy Vikings D in the 2nd half. They now need to build on that strong second half if they want to take down the Giants at the Meadowlands next Sunday.
Here are a few things that will be key to continuing their playoff run, and how they did on each in yesterday's game:
- Stick with the run... at least a little: I give Andy credit here, because the run game went pretty much nowhere all day yesterday, but he continued to stick with it, if for no other reason than to keep the Vikes' D honest and to run down some clock time. That's really all I ask for against the best run D in the league. I would have liked to see Buckhalter used more, especially considering he had the only effective run all day, for 27 yards. They NEED to run the ball against the G-men if they want to stay in the game and keep the offense on the field. In their week 14 victory over the Giants, the Eagles had more runs than pass plays, and Westbrook carried 33 times for 131 yards. The issue now is that Westbrook appears to be very banged up, and struggled yesterday until the huge screen play TD in the 4th. This is where Buck must come in: he NEEDS to get some carries on Sunday, especially with an ailing Westbrook. In case Andy hasn't noticed, Buckhalter has been extremely effective when he has the ball, and is among the league leaders in yards per touch. He also had a great block on that B-West TD, but let's see if he can be the one getting some screen passes this week.
- Protect McNabb: This goes without saying every week, but the O-line finished the season strong and had the best sack-to-pass attempt ratio in franchise history. Unfortunately, the line was a little off its game yesterday, allowing 3 sacks and a lot more pressure on McNabb than I would have liked to see. Granted, blocking Jared Allen is no easy task, but neither is the Giants pass rush, so this is hugely crucial in the coming week. The last thing we want to see is McNabb on the ground a lot, or having defenders in his face on every other play. Hopefully the O-line can step it up this week- containing Justin Tuck is a must.
- Keep Celek involved in the offense: Brent Celek has done a superb job filling in for the injured L.J. Smith (I'm one of the many fans who has no problem seeing L.J. remain sidelined) and the Eagles O is a lot more effective when McNabb can spread the ball around to a lot of receivers, especially the tight ends. Celek had 6 catches for 56 yards yesterday (Matt Schobel had another for 7) and this was huge in helping the Birds extend their offensive drives. In the 3 consecutive weeks against all 3 NFC East foes (weeks 13-15) in November and December, the Giants allowed a total of 22 catches by tight ends. This is a weakness that the Eagles must exploit this week on offense.
- Stop the run: The Giants have the best running game in the league, so Adrian Peterson was just a warm-up for the 3-headed monster of Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw that the Birds will face on Sunday. The run D actually did a phenomenal job on Peterson on 19 of his 20 carries, in which he only ran for 43 yards or just over 2 yards/carry. Unfortunately, on that other rush he gained 40 yards and a touchdown, galloping nearly untouched (except by the ref) to the endzone. The D MUST shut down the run, or at least slow it down, if they want to get off the field and keep the Giants from the endzone. This means no 7 or 8 yard runs on 1st down, as was too often the case in both Redskins games, and in the first Giants game when Jacobs averaged nearly 6 yards/carry. Fortunately, without Plaxico, teams have learned that they can take the Giants passing game a bit less seriously and stack the box if necessary. If the Giants win, it will be on the shoulders of the RBs, not Eli, so the focus must be on plugging their run game.
This isn't rocket science, obviously, it's the same stuff we've been looking to see for the past month and a half. The Giants game will be no easy feat, and to be perfectly honest, if the Eagles show up and play a tough, hard-fought game (i.e. not the Skins performance) but ultimately lose by a field goal or so, I would consider this season pretty damn successful. Not that I'm OK with a loss, and I think they are more than capable of advancing to the NFC championship and beyond, but I still can't help but be a little in awe of the fact that they've gotten as far as they have, given the inconsistency and disappointing performances that were sprinkled throughout the season. Still, let's see if they can silence the rowdy Meadowlands crowd this weekend and terminate the postseason for the defending champs, and make a return to the NFC championship that used to be so familiar to us Eagles fans. E-A-G-L-E-S... EAGLES!!