NFC East Reporter
The Giants have already shocked the NFL this season. They were never expected to compete for the playoffs, let alone win a first-round game.
Here, though, is where their improbable dream is supposed to end: in Philadelphia, where they haven’t won in nine years, against the best team in the NFC. And it’s not just that the Giants have lost nine in a row in Philly, or that the Eagles, with quarterback Jalen Hurts, pounded them 48-22 in New Jersey in mid-December.
It’s just that the Eagles are an all-star team, with eight Pro Bowlers, six All-Pros, an MVP candidate and a potential Coach of the Year. The Giants are a talented bunch who have played above their collective talent level.
So of course, heading into their divisional playoff game Saturday night (8:15 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), few expect them to win.
“Just keep doing that,” Giants safety Julian Love said. “It’s been all season. That’s nothing new. Maybe a few more eyes on us and a few more eyes doubting us. That’s OK. You guys have seen it all year; we’ve got a confident group in the building.
“Let’s go out there and play our brand of football and let the results speak for themselves.”
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Colin Cowherd reacts to the Giants’ win over Minnesota, crediting first-year coach Brian Daboll for creating an identity early on.
It may take the Giants (10-7-1) their biggest effort of the season to get the result they want against the Eagles (13-4) and advance to the NFC Championship Game. It’s a lot to ask, but maybe not impossible.
It could all depend on the answers to these key questions about this game:
Is Jalen Hurts really okay?
This may be the most important question. He missed two of the last three games with a sprained shoulder, and when he returned for the finale — a 22-16 victory over the Giants’ backs — the Eagles protected that shoulder by refusing to let- run it
But this Eagles offense doesn’t function well if Hurts isn’t the two-way threat he usually is. The Giants are wary of what he can do with both his arm and legs, and how he keeps defenses off balance and guessing.
“He’s got a lot of tools in the bag,” Love said. “He’s been a threat or a problem for everyone he’s played this year.”
Is Jalen Hurts’ shoulder a question mark?
Mark Schlereth tells Craig Carton if he thinks Jalen Hurts is healthy enough to be productive against the Giants on Saturday.
Hurts swept the Giants through the air in the first half of their first meeting, then tortured them on the ground in the second half. They know what kind of “trouble” it can be and are preparing for Saturday night to be a full one.
“I expect Jalen Hurts, the MVP candidate,” Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said.
Which defense can stop the run?
The Eagles’ defense fared much better during the regular season, giving up 121.6 yards per game, compared to 144.2 by the Giants, who had one of the worst defenses in the league. And neither team was particularly good down the stretch, which was really surprising for the Eagles considering they brought back rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis and signed a pair of veteran DTs in Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh.
The problem for the two teams, however, has been the second level matchup. The Giants have had linebacker issues all year, while for the Eagles it has come down to hitting. But it will be a particular problem for someone in this game because both teams want to run more than anything, with both running backs and their mobile quarterbacks. The Giants, especially, can’t win without the on-field production of Jones and Saquon Barkley.
The team that limits the run game the best will likely win.
Can the Giants’ offensive line withstand the Eagles’ relentless pressure?
New York’s injury-riddled patchwork lineup came together down the stretch and was even a force in the wild-card win at Minnesota. Left tackle Andrew Thomas might even be the best left tackle in the league right now.
But the Giants have worrisome holes, including rookie right tackle Evan Neal and left guard Nick Gates, who could be a real problem against an Eagles team that had an absurd 70 sacks this season. That includes four players with double-digit sacks. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones certainly won’t get the kind of time in the pocket he did last week.
“We’re going to have a plan for these guys,” Jones said. “And we have a lot of confidence in our guys up front.”
Giants can do it AJ Brown i DeVonta Smith what did they do Justin Jefferson?
Martindale entered the wild-card round determined not to let Vikings star wide receiver Jefferson beat the Giants, and his mission was accomplished. He helped top corner Adoree’ Jackson return. It also helped that Martindale dialed back the blitz and went into a zone that made sure Jefferson was bracketed at all times. The result was that he had seven catches for just 47 yards and was barely a factor in the game.
Now Martindale has to figure out how to stop two receivers like that while not losing track of dangerous Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert (who must have noticed the 10 catches for 129 yards from Vikings tight end TJ Hockenson had against the Giants last Sunday). In the first meeting, when Goedert did not play, Brown and Smith finished with a combined nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns, most of which came in the first half as the Eagles built a big lead. Of course, Jackson didn’t play in that game for the Giants, and neither did New York safety Xavier McKinney or linebacker Landon Collins.
Even with those three, though, it’s a tall order to find a way to keep all of Philly’s pass-catching weapons in check while also making sure Hurts doesn’t kill the Giants out of the backfield.
Will the Giants avoid the big mistake?
One of the uncomfortable truths about this Giants team is that they generally aren’t good enough to overcome a big mistake. In most of their losses this year, they were killed by bad penalties and big point drops, and they won because they rarely turned it over. To illustrate, they almost lost to the Vikings last week when Darius Slayton had a big drop in the fourth quarter on what could have been a game-clinching first down.
Now they face an Eagles team built to create mistakes. They have a ferocious front with 70 sacks, and their secondary has 17 interceptions. That includes a league-leading six safety CJ Gardner-Johnson, who missed five games with a lacerated kidney. Overall, the Eagles are among the league leaders with 27 total takeaways.
Perhaps the No. 1 key in this game for the Giants will be playing mistake-free football and not turning the ball over. Doing so would be a huge trick against this dangerous Eagles team.
New York Giants
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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