Editor’s Note: Staff writer Steve Fini checks in with his weekly look at five players who will play big roles on Sunday night.
Hakeem Nicks (WR/Giants) – For the third straight week the Eagles are facing a very different type of passing game. The Rams employ an attack similar to the spread college system–no huddle, very short, quick passes. The Rams’ offense, at its best, moves the ball down the field with a high volume of completions.
In week two, they faced a pro-style system that is reliant on the play action pass and speedy receivers to open up a vertical game that features Roddy White and Julio Jones. Despite allowing four touchdown passes by Matt Ryan, they essentially shutdown the Falcons’ dynamic receiving tandem. Ironic, I know.
In week three, however, they will face their toughest task to date against the Giants. Hakeem Nicks is a big, physical receiver who runs great routes and uses his huge hands to catch passes. He isn’t going to burn the Eagles’ secondary deep, but can he is capable of using his strength to win matchups. The Eagles have to be concerned about Nicks’ presence in the red zone. Fades to Nicks are a staple of the Giants’ offense and he’s proven he can deliver. While Nnamdi Asomugha is a physical cornerback, it’s going to be a real test to see how he handles this matchup.
Eli Manning (QB/Giants) – Despite Manning’s early season struggles, everyone knows that he has the ability to make plays. He did it for the Giants during their Super Bowl run in 2008. He’s done it sporadically throughout his career. He is the ultimate Jekyll and Hide player.
He knows who his playmakers are and tries to get them the ball as much as possible, but that is also where he is most vulnerable. Too often, he keys in on certain receivers, leading to bad throws, bad sacks, and costly interceptions. He will force passes to Hakeem Nicks when pressured. The Eagles know this and need to exploit these tendencies.
Through two weeks, Manning has looked extremely uncomfortable and unconfident in the picket. If the Eagles build an early lead and take away the Giants’ run game, things could get ugly for the 2004 first-round draft pick from Ole Miss.
The question for Manning is this—who the Hell is he going to throw to? With Mario Manningham unlikely to play and Dominic Hixon out for the season after suffering a torn ACL last week, he will likely rely upon Ahmad Bradshaw as a compliment to Nicks. As such, the Eagles have to pressure early and not let Nicks settle into his routes.
On paper, this is an absolutely terrible matchup for Manning. He could be in for a very, very long day.
Trent Cole (DE/Eagles) – The game Cole had against the Falcons can only be described in one word–dominant. He consistently bull-rushed his way into Matt Ryan’s face throughout game.
Sam Baker, the Falcons tackle who was “blocking” Cole, looked more like a blocking sled. William Beatty, the Giants very young, very inexperienced left tackle, will be assigned the unenviable task of stopping Cole on Sunday. Beatty, a 2009 second-round draft pick from UConn, has not lived up to expectations. He’s started only a total of eight games in his career, a particularly low number considering New York’s offensive line woes in recent years. He’s unpolished, so you can be sure Juan Castillo will attempt to exploit what appears to be a very favorable matchup for the Eagles’ defense.
Brent Celek (TE/Eagles) – Over the past two seasons, Celek has been called upon more as a blocking tight end. To his credit, he has greatly improved in that area during that time. His impact as a receiver, though, has suffered–particularly in the red zone. The Eagles’ dismal performance in that area is clear, and they need Celek to re-emerge as a threat around the goal line. If you recall, the tight end had a huge 65-yard touchdown in last year’s 35-31 comeback win. But he only had two catches in that game. What’s more, he was only targeted three times.
While Celek will certainly have to help contain defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants’ back seven has been hampered by injuries and poor signings. This should allow him opportunities to make plays over the middle.
Jamar Chaney (MLB/Eagles) – Through the season’s first two weeks it became painfully obvious the Eagles needed to make changes at linebacker. Well, they’ve done that–sort of. Jamar Chaney is now the man in the middle. He’s both bigger and faster than Casey Matthews, who will now play his more natural position on the weak side. Chaney was effective in the middle in a limited role last season.
While the Eagles hope the switch produces a change in results, it won’t change much in regards to schemes and blitzes. Chaney will likely remain responsible for tight end coverage, but he provides better tackling with better instincts in the middle. Instincts is the key word. Much was made of Matthews’ instincts coming in to the season, but that didn’t prove to be the case.
The Eagles don’t shift their linebackers to match up with the strong side of the offense. So maybe this works. Maybe getting Matthews out of the middle where all the “junk” to let him roam outside and sniff out a play will help him. Maybe this move pays immediate dividends, or maybe this is just an even larger sign that the coaches have no clue who they want at linebacker. Here’s hoping it’s the former.