The NFC East is the worst division in football. Not just this year, but in quite some time. Lucky for us, the division is being featured in primetime for the second time this week, as our regularly-scheduled Thursday Night Football game features the 1-5 New York Giants traveling to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the 1-4-1 Philadelphia Eagles.
In the interest of getting to the point as quickly as possible, let's just break down the matchup.
How to watch
When the Giants have the ball
It would be a lie to say that it was difficult to see the Giants' offensive regression coming. The Giants added two significant offensive pieces during the 2020 offseason: rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Thomas figured to be an improvement over incumbent starter Nate Solder (who opted out of the season) but Garrett was just a bad hire. He had not called plays in seven years, and the last time he did, he could not field a top-10 offense despite having Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray on the roster. His philosophy is retrograde, as he has proudly stated that he runs his offense like the Norv Turner-coordinated Dallas Cowboys teams he once played for during the 1990s.
Thomas has instead not been an upgrade over Solder, struggling badly for the first five games of the year before being benched for disciplinary reasons last week. Garrett has not put any of his players in position to succeed -- from Saquon Barkley being run right into the line prior to his injury, to receivers running routes directly to the sticks and turning around, to uber-athletic tight end Evan Engram having the lowest average depth of target among every tight end in the league, to Daniel Jones being asked to throw in far too many bad down-and-distance situations due to the team's conservative play-calling tendencies.
As a result, New York has scored 20 or fewer points in five of six games, with the only exception being the game against Dallas, where they had both a defensive touchdown and a drive that started on the Dallas 17-yard line. In a league where teams are averaging 368.3 yards per game, the Giants have yet to top 300 in any contest. They rank 31st in total yards, 31st in points, and 32nd in efficiency, per Football Outsiders' DVOA, with bottom-five units in both the pass (29th) and run (30th).
New York has shown precious little ability to take advantage of other teams' defensive weaknesses, and it would be silly to expect such a trend to start on Thursday night. So even though the Giants have a player who should be a matchup nightmare at tight end and the Eagles have allowed a 37-377-6 receiving lines to opposing tight ends on 44 passes to the position, there is simply no reason to expect that the Giants will deploy Engram in a way that exposes Philadelphia's biggest defensive weakness.
It seems far more reasonable to expect that the Eagles' defensive front will be able to consistently get pressure on Jones, who is one of the most heavily-pressured quarterbacks in the league. He's been under pressure on 44.3 percent of his dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus, the second-highest rate in the league behind only Justin Herbert. It will be interesting to see whether the Eagles send more blitzes at Jones than usual, because he has struggled badly to deal with extra rushers in his face. Philly is one of the most blitz-averse teams in the league (20.3 percent of opponent dropbacks) but Jones is the second most-blitzed quarterback in the NFL (39 percent).
If the Giants are able to give him time, Jones does not figure to have much in the way of openings down the field anyway. Darius Slayton is the only one of the receivers who has shown any kind of ability to separate from defenders this season, and he should be seeing a whole lot of Eagles corner Darius Slay throughout the game. Really, it's tough to see the Giants doing much of anything offensively unless and until they make some philosophical changes -- which seems unlikely to happen before the offseason.
When the Eagles have the ball
Much like the Giants offense has regressed, so too has that of the Eagles. In Philadelphia's case, though, it's easy to point to a circumstantial culprit rather than a systemic one. This is an offense that has simply been undermined by an absurd volume of injuries.
Star guard Brandon Brooks went down for the year before the season began. Andre Dillard hit injured reserve during training camp. Jason Peters lasted three games before season his season ended. Lane Johnson has been in and out of the lineup and less effective than usual. DeSean Jackson and Dallas Goedert have been out since Week 3. Jalen Reagor has been out since Week 2. Alshon Jeffery hasn't played at all. Miles Sanders missed Week 1 and is set to miss this game and possibly more. Zach Ertz is out now as well.
Making matters considerably worse, Carson Wentz appears to have taken several giant steps backward. The trend line of his career since his MVP-caliber 2017 campaign that ended in an ACL tear is extremely troubling.
The injuries have obviously had an effect on Wentz's performance, but he's also simply regressed on his own. He's forcing throws that aren't there, but also trying to make way too much happen on every given play. There are times where throws are open to him right in front of his face, but he ignores them in an effort to find a bigger play downfield -- only to then get surrounded by pressure and throw incomplete or check down for an even shorter gain. With so many of the speed demons the Eagles added to juice the offense now sidelined, those checkdowns have been less fruitful.
While the sad-sack Giants have been a disaster on offense, their defense actually hasn't been that bad. James Bradberry looks like the best signing of the entire offseason, shutting down opposing No. 1 receivers every single week. He has allowed only 0.95 yards per route covered, according to Pro Football Focus, an absurdly low number. (That might mean breakout receiver Travis Fulgham sees his hot streak come to an end.) Additionally, the interior of the Giants' defensive line has played quite well: Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams all rank inside the top 20 in Weighted Overall Win Rating, an adjusted version of PFF's pressures and run stops per snap, weighted so that pass-rushing impact counts for more than run defense.
New York has the ninth-highest pressure rate in the league, per Pro-Football-Reference, which could cause some trouble for Wentz and company given the injuries up front. With Sanders, Ertz, and Goedert all out for this game, Wentz's checkdown options will be limited to Boston Scott, Corey Clement, and Richard Rodgers. That trio might be able to cause some issues for the Giants' linebackers in coverage, but their being able to do so is dependent on Wentz navigating the pressure and getting the ball out to the right guy.
Prediction: Eagles 23, Giants 16
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