Eagles-Giants preview

Posted: September 28, 2007

Recent history: The Eagles defeated the Giants, 23-20, in a wild-card playoff game at the Linc last January. The Giants lead the series, 79-68-2

OFFENSE

Eagles

386.3 yards per game (7th)

Giants

359.3 yards per game (10th)

Quarterback

Eagles: Donovan McNabb shed his knee brace last week and had the best game of his career. In his last four games vs. the Giants, McNabb has a 68.8 completion percentage, has averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions in 138 attempts.

Giants: The Giants seem to be using a lot more shotgun this season, which gives Eli Manning a chance to see the field better. He's a streaky passer who can pick you apart if you don't get pressure on him. Eagles will try to lay some licks on him early.

PICK: EAGLES

Running back

Eagles: Brian Westbrook has accounted for an astounding 44 percent of the Eagles' net offensive yards in the first three games. Last week, he played through a knee strain. This week it's an abdominal strain, which could have an impact on his change-of-direction ability.

Giants: With Brandon Jacobs out since Week 1 with an MCL sprain, Derrick Ward has been the Giants' feature back and has played very well, averaging 5.1 yards. Ward has decent size (5-11, 228), but doesn't really play big. Reuben Droughns has been used mainly in short-yardage situations.

PICK: EAGLES

Receiver

Eagles: Opposing tight ends have taken advantage of Giants SLB Mathias Kiwanuka's inexperience in coverage. But the Eagles' best pass-catching TE, L.J. Smith, is on the shelf. Reggie Brown has just five catches in the first three games, but had 11 for 150 yards in the last two meetings with the Giants.

Giants: Plaxico Burress has played through a sore ankle and already has caught five touchdowns. He victimized the Eagles last season, utilizing his size vs. their small corners to catch 17 passes for 323 yards and three TDs in the three meetings.

PICK: GIANTS

Offensive line

Eagles: After subpar performances in the first two games, this unit played well last week as the Eagles notched 536 yards and 29 first downs vs. Lions. LT William Thomas is nursing an MCL knee sprain, which could force the Eagles to give him blocking help on cat-quick end Osi Umenyiora.

Giants: The Giants have moved guard David Diehl out to LT, and the jury's still out on whether he can get the job done in space against speedy NFL edge-rushers. He got burned by Redskins DE Andre Carter for a sack last week that resulted in an Eli Manning fumble.

PICK: EAGLES

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DEFENSE

Eagles

328 yards per game (18th)

Giants

368.7 yards per game (25th)

Defensive line

Eagles: The Eagles have an NFL-best 14 sacks, and this unit has racked up 13 of them, including five by high-motor DE Trent Cole. DT Brodrick Bunkley has become an unstoppable inside force who is going to require constant double-teams and will free things up for the DEs.

Giants: DE Michael Strahan spent the first two games trying to get back into football shape after missing the entire preseason. At 35, he's not the player he once was. Even though he's playing linebacker, Mathias Kiwanuka has been been lining up as a d-lineman in the nickel.

PICK: EAGLES

Linebacker

Eagles: Eagles have held their first three opponents to 3.5 yards per carry, and this unit's aggressive but disciplined play has been a big reason. SLB Chris Gocong will get his sternest coverage test when he takes on TE Jeremy Shockey, who has 15 receptions.

Giants: Mathias Kiwanuka has had some serious growing pains in trying to make the transition from DE to SLB. He plays the run fine, but has struggled in coverage. Opposing TEs already have 17 receptions vs. Giants, including four for touchdowns.

PICK: EAGLES

Secondary

Eagles: The Eagles' undersized corners have struggled against 6-5 Plaxico Burress. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson probably will have 6-footer Will James shadow Burress most of the game, even if Lito Sheppard plays.

Giants: This unit is at the heart of the Giants' defensive problems. CBs Sam Madison, Corey Webster and R.W. McQuarters all have been picked on pretty good. Rookie first-rounder Aaron Ross replaced Webster in the second half vs. Washington last week and held his own.

PICK: EAGLES

Special teams

Eagles: Eagles are ranked sixth in the league in punt coverage (4.5), but 21st in kickoff coverage (25.3). PR Reno Mahe had a solid game vs. Lions, averaging 10.3 yards. P Sav Rocca is 20th in average (42.0) and 17th in net average (38.3).

Giants: Both of the Giants' coverage units are shaky. They're 17th in punt coverage (8.4) and 27th in kickoff coverage (27.0). RB Reuben Droughns has handled kickoff returns the last two games, averaging 23.3 yards per return.

PICK: EAGLES

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Each week in the Eagles Playbook, Daily News football writer Paul Domowitch provides five keys that fans should be keeping their eyes on:

1. Plaxico's production: The Giants' wide receiver is off to a sensational start. He already has five TD receptions and is averaging 17.5 yards per catch. His size was a problem for the Eagles' munchkin corners last year. In three games against them, he had 17 grabs, 323 yards and three TDs. One of the main reasons the Eagles signed Will James last season was to give them a taller corner to match up against Burress.

2. Throwing to Brian: Westbrook has a team-high 19 catches and is averaging 11.7 yards per catch. He had two 40-plus yard catch-and-runs against the Lions last week, and he is facing a defense that is even less equipped to defend against him in the passing game than the Lions were. Million dollar question is how much his abdominal strain will affect his ability to cut.

3. Let's make a Diehl. The Giants released veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout in the offseason and moved guard David Diehl outside to replace him. Diehl was the Giants' left tackle in their playoff loss to the Eagles last January and held his own vs. Trent Cole. But Cole was running on fumes at that point. He's fresh as a daisy now and leads the NFL with five sacks.

4. Conversion SAMs. Both the Eagles and Giants have former defensive ends starting at strongside linebacker. The Eagles' Chris Gocong has had a little more time to make the transition than the Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka, who has been an effective blitzer, but has struggled in a big way in coverage. Opposing TEs have 17 receptions and four TDs vs. Giants. Problem for Eagles is their best-catching TE, L.J. Smith, won't be playing.

5. Eagles' red-zone offense. The Eagles scored TDs on four of five trips into the red zone against the Lions, which was considerably better than the 1-for-6 they were in their first two games.

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HOT AND NOT

Hot

Eagles: WR Kevin Curtis. Had 11 receptions for 221 yards and three TDs vs. Lions.

Giants: WR Plaxico Burress. Has 15 catches and five TDs in first three games.

Not

Eagles: WR Reggie Brown. Has just five catches and 0 TDs in first 3 games.

Giants: DE Michael Strahan. Has 0 sacks in first three games.

DOMO'S PICK: EAGLES 24, GIANTS 17

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