The Giants (1-4) and reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) both have lost two straight, but the NFC East remains wide open since no team has more than two wins after five weeks.
Washington (2-2), in first place with one fewer game played due to a Week 4 bye, and Dallas (2-3) have a tenuous grip on the division’s top two spots.
A victory Thursday Night could turn around the Giants’ season. A loss could drain almost all remaining hope of salvaging success in 2018. And they have lost three in a row to Doug Pederson’s Eagles, their last win being a 28-23 Week 9 nail-biter at home in 2016.
Here are three keys to beating the Birds, who are 0-2 on the road and playing their first division game of the season. The Giants are 0-1 in the NFC East due to their 20-13 Week 2 loss at Dallas.
IMPROVE THE RUN GAME AGAINST A TOP RUN ‘D’
Six of Saquon Barkley’s 15 rushes went for negative yardage last Sunday at Carolina, and 12 of his 15 carries went for a combined -8 yards. He just bailed everyone out with three other carries for a total of 56 yards. Now the Giants, who rank a lowly 28th in rush yards per game (75.6), run into the league’s second-best run defense: Philly allows just 66.4 yards per game on the ground. Eli Manning has had success moving the ball and scoring touchdowns through the air against the Eagles in recent seasons, but if the Giants’ offense is rendered too one-dimensional, the Giants’ O-line won’t be able to withstand the Eagles’ pass rush and relentless rotation up front.
PLAY A COMPLETE GAME ON DEFENSE
The Panthers offense was averaging 9.8 yards per play last Sunday against the Giants until Carolina’s final drive of the first half. Then the Giants defense intercepted Cam Newton twice in the second half and only surrendered an early fourth quarter TD due to a bad penalty call on Landon Collins. Except then they let Newton drive the Panthers 30 yards in the final 1:08 to set up Graham Gano’s 63-yard game-winning field goal. Enough chaos. It’s time to put together a full game. No better time than in pass-rusher Olivier Vernon’s season debut. And maybe B.J. Goodson gets the start over Ray-Ray Armstrong at linebacker after taking over for him on the final couple drives in Charlotte.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MORE DOWNFIELD THROWS
Manning connected on eight passes that gained 20 or more yards Sunday in Carolina (57, 40, 33, 30, 28, 26, 22 and 20), after rarely connecting down the field to his receivers through four weeks. And the Giants snapped their drought of 37 games without scoring 30 points. The Eagles’ secondary is short-handed and struggling. Manning has had success throwing the ball and scoring touchdowns against Philly the last couple seasons, but the Eagles also have frequently turned Manning over. In their past four meetings, Manning is averaging 33 completions on 50.75 attempts (65% completion), 353.25 yards passing, 2.75 TD passes and 2.0 INTs per game. Sometimes the Eagles’ aggressive reads of Manning passes lead to turnovers. Other times, Manning and the Giants have used that against them, like making corner Jalen Mills bite on double moves. Pat Shurmur and Manning will have opportunities to push the ball down the field, but the quarterback has to take care of the ball, too. The Giants, believe it or not, are averaging more points per game (20.8, 23rd in NFL) than the Eagles (20.6 points per game, 25th in NFL), so there is an opportunity to repeat their Carolina output and get a win. Carson Wentz, back from last season’s torn left ACL, is starting his fourth game of the season at QB for Philadelphia after Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles handled the first two weeks.
THE INJURY REPORT
GIANTS: TE Evan Engram (right MCL sprain) and WR Russell Shepard (neck) are out. TE Rhett Ellison (foot) is questionable.