Eagles-Giants player matchups to watch in divisional round

Eagles-Giants player matchups to watch in divisional round originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The No. 1-seeded Eagles will host the No. 6-seeded Giants at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC divisional round on Saturday night.

The Eagles have already beaten the Giants twice this season but the Giants are coming off an upset win in Minnesota. The Eagles are coming off their first-round bye.

Let’s get to the matchups:

Lane Johnson vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux

Johnson is going to attempt to play through a torn adductor in his groin, which sounds awfully painful. But Johnson decided to forgo surgery for now and is confident he’ll be able to hold up in the playoffs. Johnson returned to practice last week and will really test that groin injury this week before Saturday’s game. In a way, it’s a good thing the Giants won because this is a more favorable outcome for Johnson than having to deal with Cowboys rushers Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence in the first game back from injury.

But Thibodeaux is a very talented rookie who did have 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles this season in 14 games. Of Thibodeaux’s 53 snaps against the Vikings, 37 came on the left side of the line. If that continues this next game, that means he’ll see a lot of Johnson in this game. The Giants’ other starting edge rusher, Azeez Ojulari, exited the wild card game with a quad injury so his status is unknown.

Jalen Hurts vs. blitz?

Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is known for his aggressive, blitz-happy defense. But that wasn’t what we saw from them against the Vikings. Instead, the Giants’ blitz rate was way down in their wild card win. According to NFL NextGen Stats, the Giants played split-safety coverage on 65% of pass plays on Sunday and they were able to really minimize the impact of star receiver Justin Jefferson.

So which Giants defense will show up on Saturday at the Linc? It’s hard to tell and that’s why the Eagles will have to be ready for anything. A year ago, we saw Hurts really struggle against the blitz in the wild card game in Tampa but since then he’s gotten better at beating it. And the Giants have been getting away from heavy blitzes backed by man coverage in recent weeks.

In the Week 14 game against the Giants, Hurts was blitzed on 52.8% of his dropbacks, according to ProFootballFocus. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. His numbers were pretty similar when he wasn’t blitzed (11 of 15 for 103, 1 TD).

So if the Giants really want to help Adoree’ Jackson deal with A.J. Brown, maybe they play a similar style to what they did against the Vikings. The problem there is that the Eagles have other weapons and if Brown is covered, the ball can go to DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. And if the Giants aren’t able to get enough pressure without the blitz, Hurts has the ability to pick them apart. That's why it would make some sense for the Giants to find ways to add pressure with the blitz.

Keep in mind that Jackson and safety Xavier McKinney are both healthy now after missing that Week 14 game. That's a big boost for New York.

Of course, the biggest question for the Eagles entering the playoffs is about the health of Hurts. In that Week 18 game, the Eagles kept their offensive plan very vanilla and really aimed to limit any exposure and risk of further injury to Hurts. That can’t be the plan in the playoffs. Hurts ran for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Giants in Week 14 so even if there aren't designed runs, the scramble game could be important.

Eagles iOL vs. Dexter Lawrence

So why didn’t the Giants need to blitz on Sunday to get pressure on Kirk Cousins? Because Dexter Lawrence was a one-man wrecking crew. The Giants have a great interior with Lawrence and Leonard Williams but it was Lawrence on Sunday who was just so impressive. The first-time Pro Bowler lined up over the center and wreaked havoc.

In Week 14 against the Eagles, Lawrence lined up all over the interior of the line and ended up with 4 pressures so it’ll be a group effort against him. The combination of Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce and Isaac Seumalo have to be ready for Lawrence on Saturday. But it's a particularly tough matchup for undersized centers. We saw that Garrett Bradbury on Sunday. As good as Kelce is, he's not the biggest guy either.

Dallas Goedert vs. Giants coverage

When the Eagles played the Giants in Week 14, Goedert was still out with his shoulder injury. In the regular season finale, he had 6 catches on 7 targets for 46 yards against the G-men. This could end up being a big game for Goedert in the playoffs, especially if the Giants try to cover him with linebackers.

Because the Giants did a nice job of minimizing Jefferson on Sunday but tight end T.J. Hockenson had a huge game. He caught 10 passes on 11 targets for 129 yards. The only other tight end in the last five years to have 120+ receiving yards in a playoff game is Travis Kelce, who did it twice.

On the season, the Giants gave up pretty big numbers to opposing tight ends: 88 catches, 922 yards, 6 TDs. Those 922 yards ranked 23rd in the NFL. Just nine teams gave up more.

Daniel Jones vs. Eagles’ rush

The Giants scored 31 points against the Vikings and Daniel Jones turned in a really impressive performance. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. And he also added 78 yards on the ground, making him their leading rusher in the game.

In Year 4, Jones is a legitimate weapon and is coming off a great game.

While you don’t think about Jones’ running ability the same way you might about Hurts or Lamar Jackson, it’s a huge threat. And a big part of the Eagles’ plan will be to keep him in the pocket and not let him beat them with his legs. That starts with discipline up front. He's also 6-5, 221 pounds, so it's not easy to bring him down.

“Players executing the plan, because you can't be selfish when you play quarterbacks with that type of skill set,” Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon explained in December. “It's really everyone has to rush together, whether you're rushing four, five or six. You have to stay disciplined, and you have to be where you're supposed to be, and I thought they did a good job of that.

“They know the value of that, of the rush plan I'm talking, and executed at a high level. Then going to this next upcoming game, this guy is electric, so we're going to have to have some tools that we use and we're going to have to do basically the same thing because the way that they move the ball down the field is all through the quarterback. Got a big-time challenge with that.”

Saquon Barkley vs. Eagles’ defense

Barkley against the Vikings had 9 carries for 53 yards and 2 touchdowns and he also caught 5 passes for 56 more yards. Barkley looks healthy and fresh in the playoffs. He showed off his speed and power in the win on Sunday.

The Eagles did a great job in Week 14 against Barkley, holding him to 9 carries for 28 yards and 2 catches for 20 ... but he wasn't really healthy then. And anytime they face a running back like this, they have to be concerned with stopping him. The Eagles finished the season as the No. 16-ranked run defense in the NFL but they gave up an average of 4.6 yards per carry, which ranked 24th.

Evan Neal vs. Haason Reddick

Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas was named to the All-Pro second team this year and has been solid all season.

“He’s obviously been one of our best players,” Giants head coach Brian Daboll said on Monday about Thomas.

The good news is that the Eagles’ best pass rusher Haason Reddick mostly lines up on the defensive left, which means he won’t have to worry about Thomas. Instead, he’ll see right tackle Evan Neal, which is a much bigger mismatch. Neal this season was ranked as the 81st best tackle in the NFL out of 82, according to ProFootballFocus. And in the Week 14 matchup against the Eagles, Neal gave up a season-high 8 pressures.

It’ll be Reddick facing Neal as the starter but then expect the Eagles to seek out this matchup for Brandon Graham throughout the game too. Graham had 3 sacks in that earlier matchup and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

But the Eagles' pass rush is good enough to get after Jones from everywhere, even against Thomas. Josh Sweat should be back for this game and he did a great job against Thomas in that first matchup. And the Giants rotate left guards Ben Bredson and Nick Gates. So keep an eye on Javon Hargrave; could be a big one for him.

Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast

Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube