The Philadelphia Eagles are riding a two-game losing streak into their primetime matchup against the New York Giants on Thursday night football. This will be the Eagles’ first divisional game of the season, while for the Giants it will be their second NFC East game.
Just like last week, Philadelphia is in another must-win situation. After coming up short against the Minnesota Vikings at home, they cannot afford to lose on Thursday night to a hopeless Giants team and give them a leg up in the NFC East.
Here are three things to watch for in this NFC East contest:
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1. Saquon Barkley vs. Eagles defense
For a majority of this season, a lot of the focus has been on the Eagles’ secondary play. They did not do a great job against the Vikings, allowing big pass plays to wide receiver Adam Thielen.
However, Philly’s run defense has been really good this season. They’ve only allowed 66.4 yards per game on the ground, which is good for second in the NFL through five weeks. Only the Chicago Bears led by Khalil Mack have a better run defense than the Eagles (64 ypg).
With that being said, they have not faced a running back like Giants outstanding rookie Saquon Barkley this season. The Eagles must do a good job of tackling and containing the electrifying back who can not only do damage in the running game but also as a receiver.
To begin his NFL career, Barkley has achieved five games of at least 100 total yards, tying him with Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who accomplished this feat last season.
2. Who steps up at RB for the Eagles?
Speaking of running back, that is now a huge concern for the Eagles. After their loss to the Vikings, it was reported earlier this week that Ajayi will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. This is not good news for the Eagles as Ajayi played an instrumental role within the team’s running back by committee system.
Therefore, who will possibly step up in his absence?
One potential candidate is Corey Clement, who was active for last Sunday’s game, but did not play because of a quad injury.
Clement, however, is now healthy and the Eagles will be looking for him to provide a spark in both the receiving and running games. Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh is excited to have the second-year running back in the fold and believes he could fill in the void left by Ajayi.
"He's a versatile player. He's good. Really runs well between the tackles. He can be that physical style running back that we're talking about that [RB] Jay [Ajayi] is, plus he's an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. He gives us a lot of versatility back there."
Also look out for Wendell Smallwood, who has stepped up big time with two touchdowns in the last three games and don’t forget about undrafted free agent Josh Adams.
Heading into this matchup, New York has the 27th-best run defense, giving up 124.4 yards per game. This means that all three running backs could be in store for a good game.
3. Carson Wentz’s second road test
For everything that has gone wrong this season for the Eagles, there’s has been one constant positive: Carson Wentz.
Since making his regular season debut against the Indianapolis Colts, Wentz has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 914 yards, five touchdowns, and an interception.
Those are pretty good numbers for a quarterback, who is coming back from a horrific knee injury last December. The only thing that is alarming about Wentz is he has been sacked 12 times in three games.
However, that’s more of an indictment on the offensive line and not Wentz, but it still needs to be fixed ASAP.
Nevertheless, for the Eagles to get their first road win of the season, they will need Wentz to put the team on his back. In three games against the Giants, he is completing 59.8 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions.
While these stats might put some trepidation in your heart if you are an Eagles fan, the good thing is that Wentz is improving each week.
But he will be facing a New York defense that is giving up 229.4 passing yards per game, good for eighth in the NFL and six passing touchdowns, ranked within the top-five.
This season, the Giants' defense has only allowed one 300-yard passer, which was Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in Week 3.