If Eli Manning thought the pressure was unbearable last week in Chicago, wait until he faces the Eagles this Sunday.
When the Giants last beat Philadelphia in a Week 4, 16-3 victory, they struggled to put points on the board against a tough but banged up Eagle defense, ending the game with a scant 212 total yards. And that was when the Eagles were missing two playmakers in their secondary: cornerback Lito Sheppard and possible Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins, both out due to injury.
With those two back on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, Manning will continue to feel the heat as he tries to rebound from an error-filled start last week against the Bears. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson employs a strategy that relies on blitzes from all different angles, with an ever-changing rotation of personnel thrown at the quarterback at unpredictable times.
Dawkins and Sheppard, along with cornerback Sheldon Brown, fit perfectly into the system: the safety is constantly used in those blitzes, and with Johnson sending packages on one side of the line or from multiple areas, the corners must be able to handle their receivers in one-on-one matchups. Both Brown and Sheppard have proven they’re more than capable of handling those assignments.
The Giants will probably respond as they did late last week in the fourth quarter, when they boiled down the passing offense to quick, short routes and even quicker throws from Manning. That should at least keep the Eagles defense off balance and without the time to send in reserves.
Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress should run shorter patterns, and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride must utilize the screen passes he’s called in recent weeks to Jeremy Shockey. And Sinorice Moss, with all of his speed, needs to get involved in this game if the Giants expect to beat the Eagles’ constant rush. With Sheppard and Brown blanketing Burress and Toomer, the Eagles don’t have a great option at nickel back to cover Moss.
The Giants’ running game should also adjust accordingly. They’ll have Brandon Jacobs back in action, even though may still be hobbled by a hamstring injury. Though Jacobs is a bruiser who can run between the tackles, Gilbride should take advantage of Jacobs’ abilities running to the outside. He’s first in the league among backs in going to the right sideline with 6.9 yards per carry and is a great weapon to protect against a rush from the Eagles’ linebackers.
Manning’s failure—or reluctance—to throw long passes in recent weeks, combined with the presence of Dawkins, Sheppard and Brown, should make for a more toned down, tempered offense on Sunday. It’s not pretty, but it works.