The Eagles are considered lucky to be 4-1 and will host the 3-2 Giants in a division game on Sunday night. Philadelphia hasn't been dominant, except on special teams, but has somehow found ways to win. Still, the entire fan base is waiting for the next shoe to drop and the Giants game could be it.
It's okay to be nervous heading into the match-up, as this game's results will have long-term results on the division race. The Eagles need to have a solid showing from the offense and defense in order to pull out the win. The team could be 5-1 and 2-0 in the division entering the bye week, which would be huge considering its volatile nature thus far.
Mike Kaye and Dan Klausner are looking forward to this match-up, so let's get to the weekly question:
1) A lot of Eagles fans are worried about the sustainability of this season's success? Do you think the team is worthy of the criticism they have received?
Mike Kaye: The Eagles are absolutely worthy of criticism. LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, arguably the most important players, have been mediocre at best and some believe they have held the offense back. I think the offensive line should be better despite the injuries and the secondary outside of Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Boykin has been pretty rough.
This seemed like a team that could easily repeat as division champions, but the Eagles have not played well, despite their record. I am not so much hung up on the Rams games, as Foles' fumbling is the only reason why they ended up getting into hot water at the end. My issue is the five games of work. This team has not put an entire game together and that is pretty frightening considering we are headed into Week 6.
Having said all of that, the Eagles are in a desirable position. They have won seven-straight regular season games at the Linc and are facing a division opponent at home on prime time. I think Foles and Shady will eventually turn it around, but I think this is a very winnable game for both teams. If the Eagles defense can continue to create turnovers against turnover-prone Eli Manning, Philadelphia should roll even with another pedestrian performance from the offense.
Dan Klausner: It hasn't always been pretty, but winning in the NFL isn't easy. However, it's fair to consider the process over the results and use that as the basis for your outlook for the rest of the season. Special teams and defense won't be able to consistently put up at least two touchdowns per game, and unless the offense can get on untracked, this is a team destined to struggle to win football games. Achieving four wins through the first five games of the season has been a team effort in every sense of the phrase.
2) The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants could be tied after Week 6 (with wins by the Seahawks and Giants). How close are the three teams in this race for the division?
MK: I think the Cowboys and Giants have been surprisingly fantastic on offense, but the defense for both teams hangs heavy. I do think the Eagles are the most talented on paper, but if DeMarco Murray stays healthy and continues to run the ball as he has, Philadelphia will be in a very tough spot. Based on team play alone, I'd say that Dallas is the closest to having an identity, while the Giants seem to be the best all-around team of the three.
The Eagles are interesting because they haven't played their best football and are still 4-1. If Philadelphia turns on the switch against the Giants and keep it going after the bye week, they are probably standing alone at the top. Still, that's a very big "if." Improvement is needed or the Giants and Cowboys will make it very close. Week 17 in the Meadowlands could be the difference.
DK: It's hard to tell. Three weeks ago, everyone was ready to hand the Eagles the division. Now, all of a sudden, neither the Cowboys nor Giants has lost a game since. Each team has its warts, but each has also shown glimpses of legitimacy. The NFC East was mocked mercilessly going into the season, but it's a different story through the first quarter-plus.
I came into the season thinking the Giants would pose the top threat to the Eagles to win the division and am sticking to my guns. Eli Manning has started to find his groove in Ben McAdoo's offense, and the unit has experienced success with quick routes and tempo. The offense hasn't struck for many huge yardage plays -- Victor Cruz leads the way with seven 20-yard-plus gainers but no other player on offense has more than two -- instead operating drives with a steady churn. The run game has been a steady contributor, and rookie wrecking ball Andre Williams will be replacing Rashad Jennings until the latter recovers from a sprained MCL. Now, the Giants had trouble moving the ball consistently on a porous Falcons defense and rank 27th in the NFL at 5.1 yards per play gained (while the Eagles defense ranks 15th with 5.5 yards per play allowed). Look for that average to increase now that Odell Beckham Jr., is healthy and playing. I'm already cringing thinking about what he'll do to Cary Williams and Brandon Fletcher. God forbid Brandon Boykin should end up covering the rookie dynamo. Larry Donnell has already made himself into a household name, so I'm sure Preston Parker will have a few huge catches, since it's always some bit Giants player who breaks out against us.
The Giants defense ranks tied for third in turnovers forced per game (2.0) and had a great showing on a national stage against Washington, picking off Kirk Cousins four times and forcing six turnovers in all. That performance represents more than half of their season total, however, as the unit has forced just four turnovers in the four other games. Prince Amukamara got married and had sex in the offseason, so he's taken the next step as a player now apparently. Antrel Rolle is still running his mouth. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't quit on the team yet.
The Giants defense is also tied for eighth in the league in sacks at 2.0, right behind the Eagles (2.2). I'll always be terrified of Jason Pierre-Paul but he only has 1.5 sacks thus far. The guy who leads the Giants in sacks? That would be second-year man Johnathan Hankins, with 2.5. One of my draft crushes in 2013, he has come on very strong as the Giants' best defensive lineman thus far and is making a significant impact from the DT spot (including 20 total tackles and two passes defended). Hankins has been key in helping the Giants run defense hold opponents to 99.0 yards per game, good for 10th-best in the NFL. However, despite the turnovers and sacks, the Giants defense ranks 18th in total yards allowed (364.0 per game), fourth-last in passing yards allowed per attempt (7.6) and tied for third-last in yards per play allowed (6.0). There will certainly be plays to be made, especially in the passing game -- but just like has been the issue all season, the offense needs to capitalize.
3) Is benching LeSean McCoy or Nick Foles the answer?
MK: Benching either McCoy or Foles at this point is not the answer. We have seen great running backs and quarterbacks go through slumps before and these guys may be no different. In McCoy's case, I would like to see more Chris Polk (if healthy) and Darren Sproles. For Foles, I liked the game plan against the Rams. He needs to increase his confidence with the short-to-medium game and let his playmakers make plays. I think you need to adjust to the way the team is playing right now with screens and deep passes not working. That's why they need to call for a lot of intermediate routes that can lead to big gains.
Foles won't be benched after the bye week unless he is ridiculously awful. That has somewhat been the problem as he has not been good, but he also hasn't been terrible either. He needs to be good moving forward for this team to make a run but is likely to get the season to start regardless. McCoy likely faces a similar situation.
DK: No, not right now. Benching implies no playing time. You can't do that with Foles unless you're done with him completely. McCoy, on the other hand, you can lessen his workload and push some of it onto a fresher player in Chris Polk (that is, if the later wasn't injured). McCoy's not right and hasn't been for weeks. The whole drama of whether he took himself out of the game or Duce Staley did on the final drive against the Rams, I think there's substance to its implications moving forward if Shady continues to sputter. If the Eagles end up with 30 non-quarterback run plays, here's the distribution of carries I'd like to see: 17 for McCoy, 7 for Sproles, 6 for Polk (Edit: who might not even play, great).
4) If you had control of the defense, how would you work the secondary to make it better?
MK: Hmmm... For one, I'd start Nolan Carroll over Cary Williams. I know some think Williams is better than Fletcher, but give me two average cornerbacks over an average cornerback and an extremely erratic one any day. I think you need to move Brandon Boykin outside depending on the matchup and perhaps have him shadow the opponent's fastest wide receiver, which is a way of dictating the matchups he can handle. There is no way you can convince me that Fletcher or Williams covering DeSean Jackson is a better option than putting Boykin on him. Carroll also has plenty of starting and slot experience (so does Fletcher) so that trio could be moved around for matchup purposes.
With Nate Allen, I know there is a lot of love for Wolff, but the veteran is better right now. Allen is better against the run and probably with the pass too, so I keep him out there. I think having better cornerbacks out there will help him with Carroll and Boykin possibly playing outside. In my opinion, Williams is the weak link in the starting lineup and you need to find a way to upgrade over him. He is one of the most targeted defensive players in the league for a reason.
DK: Easy, Boykin replaces one of Williams or Fletcher outside full-time in base and moves to the slot when an extra wide receiver is put on the field. I don't even care about getting Carroll on the field, it's all about maximizing the snaps of your best playmaker on defense. Allen, who has played fine for the most part but offers no true game-changing impact, remains a wholly uninspiring safety partner for Jenkins, and it's disappointing that Wolff was unable to usurp his spot.
5) The Giants have played reasonably well as of late, do you think the Eagles should be favored in this matchup?
MK: I am very, very uncomfortable heading into this game because it is huge. As I said before, it's a very winnable match-up for both teams. If Foles and McCoy play like they have the last few weeks, the Giants are going to look very good. If the offense turns on the juice, the Giants could get blown out on national television. This is really a toss up for me as I think it has the makings of a 23-20 game in either direction. For some reason these games are always close, and the Eagles lack of standout performances really worries me in a tight game.
The Eagles need to attack early and often, and I am not sure they will...
DK: The Eagles are at home and with a better record -- that team should and will be favored 99 percent of the time, and Sunday's game is no different. The Giants have been talking smack all week and the national media is dogging the Eagles as pretenders. I'm nervous about the game, but I'm not terrified of the Giants at all. It wouldn't surprise me if the Eagles put on a "F*** You" effort on national TV -- ala Week 16 against the Chicago Bears last season -- going into the bye and shut the Giants up. We keep waiting for that one game where everything comes together and we get a glimpse of what could be, I'm starting to think it's Sunday. Of course, the Eagles could continue to look shitty and lose by multiple touchdowns. Everything's on the table given the Jekyll and Hyde act we've witnessed so far. Going with the same result I predicted last week: 31-24, Eagles win.