Eli Manning congratulates Steve Smith on his monster season after the Giants' Week 3 win in Philly.

5 Players to Watch: Eagles-Giants

Editor’s note: Staff writer Steve Fini breaks down five key players in this weekend’s Eagles-Giants showdown.

Eli Manning (QB/Giants) – What a difference a year makes. Last year, Manning was throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and his team missed the playoffs.

Manning followed his disappointing season by telling reporters that he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Fans, coaches and fellow players should their heads and laughed. Fast forward a few months–now his team leads the NFC East with a 6-3, highlighted by wins in Philadelphia and a comeback win in Foxboro two weeks ago. In his first meeting with the Eagles, Manning went 16 of 23 for 254 yards and four touchdowns. If the Eagles want to have any chance in this game, that cannot happen again.

I don’t how good the Giants are. And I’m not sure how good Manning is, but if he can continue to play at his current level the Giants are going to win the NFC East.

Victor Cruz (WR/Giants) – He torched the Eagles last time they played because let’s face it–the Eagles don’t know what type of defense they want to run. They continue to force players (Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) to play the slot receiver which is an obvious mistake. DRC is hurt and won’t play, so that means Joselio Hanson will be the starting slot corner.

This could be a good thing. He’s smaller and quicker out of his breaks than DRC and he’s much more experienced in that spot. For his part, Cruz has proven to be more than a fluke, providing the Giants with consistent play and unexpected depth at wide receiver. He has 29 receptions and two touchdowns in his last five games.

He drops balls from time to time, but then manages to come up with a big play. I think Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will be quiet, but Cruz should have a fine game.

Jason Pierre-Paul (DE/Giants) – Eagles defense end Brandon Graham will be compared to JPP for the rest of his career. The Eagles moved up in the draft but instead of selecting Pierre-Paul, they chose Graham in what many at the time considered to be a perplexing move. I didn’t want JPP, but he has proven to be the athletic freak he was billed as. He torments quarterbacks along with the rest of the New York defensive line and when motivated, can beat almost any tackle in the league. Given Todd Herreman’s play has fallen off recently, Pierre-Paul could be poised for a big day.

Nnamdi Asomugha (CB/Eagles) – With every baffling penalty and blown coverage Asomugha finds himself closer to earning himself labeled a bust. But he’s still the same play he was in Oakland. What he did well there he has done well here. So what’s the problem?

Asomugha is a case study in the ineptitude of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. People who have never coached a down in the NFL can watch games and plainly see Asomugha is a star corner capable of shutting down any receiver in the league.

Last year, Larry Fitzgerald was held to two catches for 26 yards against Oakland. Asomugha was lined up on him in press-man coverage the entire game. Last week? Different story.

So it’s a bit perplexing that someone who gets paid to watch film and tailor a defense to his players’ strengths fails to do this week after week. I’m starting to believe that Asomugha, as smart as he is, should freelance and dictate to Castillo how he will be used. God knows Castillo needs all the help he can get.

LeSean McCoy (RB/Eagles) – He is one of few bright spots this season. It’s a shame to see McCoy’s great individual achievements go to waste because his teammates can’t execute, think, block, catch the football, or make the proper reads in critical situations. But that’s the reality here. McCoy has emerged as a superstar, but the Eagles are somehow no better for it. Ironically, Brian Westbrook’s best statistical season with the Eagles game in 2007—the last time the Eagles failed to reach the postseason.

With Michael Vick questionable to play Sunday night, McCoy should (should is the key word here) carry the workload. If nothing else, I’d like to see McCoy explode on the national stage for the second time in four weeks.

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Tags: Eli Manning Jason Pierre-Paul LeSean McCoy Victor Cruz

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