What makes the Giants so effective on the road, where they are now 6-1 this season?
Yesterday’s 16-13 win over the Eagles answered that question somewhat, but not completely.
The Giants were able to take the Lincoln Financial Field crowd out of the game by keeping the Eagles’ best weapons in check and denying Philadelphia a chance to take advantage of the Giants’ ninth and tenth turnovers in their past three games. Similar to the last time these teams met, New York was able to contain Philadelphia’s explosive offense, ranked fifth in the league in total yards.
Though there was no young left tackle like Winston Justice for the Giants to pick on, New York’s game plan focused on stopping the Eagles’ all-purpose weapon, running back Brian Westbrook, who leads the league in yards from scrimmage per game with 145.3. Despite 80 combined yards in the first half for the veteran back, the Giants were able to contain him (with just 74 total yards in the second half) for most of the game after allowing him to open with three rushes and a catch for a touchdown. The key was shutting down Westbrook on screen passes, which the Giants did twice in the second quarter as Sam Madison and Kawika Mitchell were able to get behind Eagles blockers to make key tackles. Then, in the third quarter, a Westbrook screen turned into a fumble recovery by Sam Madison, leading to a Plaxico Burress touchdown catch to put the Giants ahead 13-10.
Donavan McNabb surprised everyone in his return from an ankle injury, moving around in the pocket in the opening drive of the game, avoiding pass rushers to complete throws to Reggie Brown twice. He also turned a broken play into the aforementioned touchdown to Westbrook. But none of his sack-avoiding plays spent turned into big gains. And so the Giants shut down both Eagles playmakers.
What the Giants haven’t done effectively on the road is to put teams away or run out the clock. In games against the Redskins, Dolphins, Lions, Bears, and especially yesterday against the Eagles, the Giants gave the home teams chance after chance to take a lead or tie, due to their inability to punch in goal line attempts.
Lawrence Tynes kicked three field goals from inside the Eagles 10-yard line, adding on to the four-of-five he’s made from 20-29 yards out on the road this season, which shows New York’s inability to take advantage of goal-line situations. And just when Brandon Jacobs could have brought the Giants into Philadelphia territory with under six minutes to go, he fumbled away another New York opportunity to close out the game. David Akers’ 57-yard field goal attempt with the wind in his face was long enough to tie the game but it hit the right post, way too close for the Giants’ comfort.
Fortunately, the Giants defense was able to continue its effectiveness at stopping the Eagles on third down, when Philadelphia could only muster two conversions on 13 attempts.
It appears that New York is indeed headed for the playoffs, but if they’re expecting to go farther than the first round, they’ll not only have to continue their solid play on the road, but will have to learn how to deliver a knockout punch.