It will be a playoff environment on Sunday when the Giants host Philadelphia in the New Meadowlands Stadium for a matchup that could determine the outcome of the NFC East and the No. 2 seed in the postseason (1 p.m., FOX).
The Giants (9-4), now without receiver Steve Smith for the rest of the season, will need to establish an early offensive rhythm against Philadelphia this weekend if they’re to avoid the need for a rally against the Eagles’ explosive offense. Last month, the G-Men rushed for a season-low 61 yards on 19 attempts, sparking the shift to Brandon Jacobs.
Philadelphia (9-4) will try to carry over last week’s devastating offensive performance in Dallas to sweep the Giants for a second straight season. Big Blue is rolling, though, outscoring its previous two opponents by a combined 52-10.
Not the same running game
Since the Giants made the switch to Jacobs from Ahmad Bradshaw, Big Blue has pounded the rock for 545 yards and six touchdowns in three games. The running duo is responsible for the Giants’ efficient and unstoppable combination of flash and smash — a concoction that the Eagles’ 11th-ranked rush defense didn’t see a month ago. Seventh-round rookie Jamar Chaney, replacing injured Eagles linebacker Bradley Stewart (elbow), will have a tough time containing the Giants’ backs.
Containing the versatile ’Seans
Running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson are a schematic nightmare for Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. The two have combined for 16 touchdowns (eight rushing, eight receiving), 1,076 rushing yards and 112 catches for 1,510 receiving yards this season — and focusing attention on one creates opportunities for the other. If Justin Tuck and his pass-rushing barbarians don’t get to Vick quickly enough, the pressure is on the secondary to shadow McCoy and Jackson’s every move while Vick scrambles.
Anchoring down the chains
The Giants still own the league’s best third-down defense, a matchup they won in Philly last month by holding the Eagles to a season-low 21 percent in third-down efficiency. Much like the last game, Big Blue’s best shot at containing the Eagles’ offense is by getting it off the field. An improved running game should net different results for the G-Men as Jacobs and Bradshaw seem poised to accomplish what they couldn’t last time: clock dominance.
Turnovers can be the difference
Discussing Eli Manning’s interceptions (league-high 19) is tiring, but so is watching them. With the Eagles robbing the ball 30 times to the Giants’ league-high 31, Manning must be wary of a duel with Vick and Philadelphia’s top-ranked offense. Vick, the NFC’s top-rated passer, is the centerpiece in the Eagles’ playmaking arsenal. If Manning has another three-interception outing, especially with Asante Samuel returning to health, the explosive Eagles could gain separation quickly.