Eagles-Giants player matchups to watch in Week 18

Eagles-Giants player matchups to watch in Week 18 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (11-5) travel to North Jersey to face the Giants (5-11) in the regular season finale before their playoffs begin.

Here are some key matchups to watch:

Eagles vs. Eagles

I thought about skipping this week’s matchups for a few reasons. One is that there’s a good chance this game doesn’t matter. The Eagles are likely going to end up as the No. 5 seed and have to start their playoffs on the road. In order for them to win the division, the Cowboys would have to go to Washington and lose to the Commanders in a game that also starts at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday. But because there’s still a chance the Eagles can win the division and earn the No. 2 seed, this game still matters. And the Eagles will have to play their starters, at least at the beginning of the game. If the Cowboys are up 28-0 at halftime, though, then it would be wise for the Eagles to pull their players and get ready for the wild card round on the road.

The other main reason I thought about skipping these matchups is because it doesn’t seem to matter who the Eagles play. They’re their own biggest opponent. If the Eagles lost to the Cardinals last week, there’s not a layup in the NFL for them. It really starts with them correcting their own issues. And even when they beat the Giants a couple weeks ago, they nearly lost that game because of a couple huge and weird turnovers. Dallas Goedert slips and Adoree’ Jackson gets a pick-6 and Olamide Zaccheaus gets launched into Boston Scott to force a fumble on a kickoff. The Eagles outplayed the Giants on Christmas Day but still almost blew it.

But we’ve done matchup all year and this week will be no different. The Eagles have to treat this as the next game on the schedule and we will too (at least right here).

Eagles’ secondary vs. Darius Slayton

One of those big mistakes against the Giants a couple weeks ago was the 69-yard touchdown bomb to Slayton streaking down the left sideline. It was a play that pulled the Giants within 5 points in the Eagles’ eventual 33-25 too-close-for-comfort win. Aside from that play, the Eagles’ defense wasn’t horrible in that game. They gave up just three points in the first half. And the touchdown to start the second half came after a fumble to set up a short field. The Giants didn’t put together one lengthy touchdown drive but that one play nearly helped the Eagles blow the game.

Reed Blankenship got beat in coverage on that deep ball and took the blame for it after the game, saying he lost sleep over the technique mistake. There’s a chance Darius Slay (knee) could return for this game but that’s not a definite. And because of that notoriously bad turf and likely bad weather conditions, it might make sense to hold Slay back. The Giants don’t have a ton of scary weapons in their passing game but neither did the Cardinals last week. The Eagles’ secondary has been shaky all season so they definitely can’t underestimate any group of receivers.

In addition to Slayton, the Eagles also have to stop the Giants’ tight ends. In that last matchup, Daniel Bellinger had 4 for 43 and Darren Waller had 2 for 32.

Eagles run defense vs. Saquon Barkley

The Eagles’ run defense hit rock bottom against the Cardinals, giving up 221 yards on the ground. That’s the most the Eagles have surrendered since the 2016 season. The Eagles were actually pretty good against the run a couple weeks ago, giving up 106 yards and limiting Barkley to 80 yards on 23 carries (3.5).

But there’s no question that the Giants don’t have much firepower and the fact that Barkley got 23 carries in that game really spells out what their game plan was. And after seeing how the Cardinals were able to out-scheme the Eagles in the run game last week, you can bet that the Giants are going to try to run against them in this one.

The Eagles’ run defense was a major strength earlier this season. They had the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense before the Week 10 bye week but are 30th against the run since then.

Eagles’ pass rush vs. Giants O-line

The Giants this season have allowed 83 sacks, which is the second-highest total in NFL history. The only team that allowed more was the 1986 Eagles, who gave up an astounding 104 sacks. That record is feeling mighty safe.

Especially because the last time these two teams played, the Eagles managed to get just one sack against the Giants and it came from linebacker Shaquille Leonard, who hadn’t had a sack since 2020. Every big-time defensive lineman was shut out in the sack category the last time these teams played. That one-sack day was the second-best performance all season from the Giants, who didn’t allow a sack in a 24-22 win over the Packers in early December.

But it’s not like the Giants turned some kind of corner against the Eagles that they carried through last week. On New Year’s Eve, Tyrod Taylor was sacked six times by the Rams in a 26-25 loss. We thought the Christmas Day game could be a get-right game for the Eagles’ defensive line but it wasn’t. And then they managed to bring down Kyler Murray just once last week.

While sacks clearly don’t tell the full picture of pass rush effectiveness, it is safe to say this Eagles defensive line has not played up to standard. After leading the NFL with 70 sacks in 2022, the Eagles have just 41 with a game to go in the regular season. They are tied for 16th in the NFL. So they’re not awful in this area but they’re nowhere near where they were or where they need to be.

A.J. Brown vs. Giants corners

Brown broke his silence on Wednesday but it’s time to see if he can break out on the field Sunday. Against the Giants in Week 16, Brown had 6 catches on 11 targets for 80 yards. But since his stretch of six consecutive games with 125+ yards, he hasn’t reached that number in the eight games since. It’s still likely going to be a career season for Brown, who has 1,447 yards (49 yards behind his 2022 season) but the pace has cooled considerably.

There’s a chance the Eagles won’t have DeVonta Smith in this game either. Smith hurt his ankle in the loss to the Cardinals on New Year’s Eve and his availability for Sunday is unknown. The turf and weather factors could also play a role in the decision whether or not to play him.

D’Andre Swift vs. Giants run D

The Eagles’ newest Pro Bowler is having a career season. He is over 1,000 rushing yards for the year and had a big day against the Giants a couple weeks ago. In that Week 16 win, Swift had 20 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.

If there is a wintry mix at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, it would make some sense to run Swift even more in this game. Special teams coordinator Michael Clay said he watched that 2013 Snow Bowl this week to prepare for snowy conditions. While you shouldn’t expect Swift to turn into Shady McCoy, it always makes sense to ground-and-pound in extreme conditions if the game flow allows.

Jordan Mailata vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux

The Giants have some good players on their defensive line, including Dexter Lawrence and Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux is having a really strong second season with 11 1/2 sacks but he’s hit a bit of a dry spell recently without a sack in the last three games. That includes the Week 16 matchup against the Eagles. While Thibodeaux rushes from both sides of the line, he’ll lineup more on the right side of the defensive line, which means more time against Mailata instead of on All-Pro Lane Johnson.

If you’re looking for a way the Giants win this game, turnovers are one and strip-sacks (Thibodeaux has 3 forced fumbles this year to lead the Giants’ OL) are sometimes how they happen. One big rush from Thibodeaux could change the game so it’s up to Mailata to shut him down.

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