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8 things to watch when the Eagles play the Giants in Week 17

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Kind of an important game.

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles will face off against the New York Giants this Sunday for the second time in 20 days. It took overtime for the Eagles to beat the Giants in the previous matchup so one can’t just assume this will be a walk in the park.

Let’s run through some of the most important things to watch as the Eagles try to officially clinch the NFC East in Week 17.

1 - No more Eli Manning: time for Daniel Jones’ first game against the Eagles

The Eagles benefited from facing a washed up Eli Manning back in Week 14. The 38-year-old threw two touchdowns in the first half of that game, yeah, but then he led the Giants to a mere 29 yards of offense in the second half. Abysmal!

With the Giants losing, Manning dropped to 4-19 in his last 23 games against the Eagles. To further put that ineptitude into context, Donovan McNabb also has four wins in that span. (I will never not bring up that stat.)

The Giants will hope Manning’s replacement — Daniel Jones — isn’t similarly dominated by the Eagles. The first-round rookie quarterback has shown promise this season. Jones has finished four of his 11 starts this season with a passer rating of 112.7 or higher. One of those four games includes a season-high passer rating of 132.1 that came with his five touchdowns to zero interceptions performance in Washington last weekend.

Whereas Manning grew a reputation for getting the ball out quick and checking down into oblivion, Jones is a more aggressive passer. In fact, Jones ranks third among quarterbacks in NFL Next Gen Stat’s “aggressiveness percentage.” Jones isn’t afraid to take shots.

Jones’ fearlessness can — and has — worked against him. His 2.72 second average time to throw ranks 31st out of 39 quarterbacks this season, per Pro Football Focus. Jones’ tendency to hold on to the ball leaves him vulnerable to getting hit and losing control of the ball (sound familiar?), as evidenced by his 24 sacks and 13 fumbles over his last seven starts. Dating back to college, Jones has fumbled 38 times in his last 52 games played.

Jones has ultimately had more lows than highs in 2019. His overall 88.9 passer rating consists of some real stinkers, including a one touchdown to three interception performance against the Green Bay Packers as recently as Week 13.

Still, the feeling here is that Jones will find success against the Eagles’ defense. Especially when one considers Jim Schwartz’s unit is allowing 29 points per game on the road this season — as opposed to 16.9 at home.

The key will be capitalizing on the rookie mistakes that Jones is bound to make at some point. A recovered fumble or two could be the difference in the game.

2 - Saquon Barkley rounding back into form

Barkley returned from an early season ankle injury in Week 7 and averaged a mere 3.2 yards per carry in the next seven games.

The No. 2 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft is suddenly looking a lot more healthy and effective. In the Giants’ past two games, Barkley has logged 46 carries for 301 yards (6.5 average) and three rushing touchdowns. Oh, and he also has eight receptions for 121 yards and one receiving score. So, that’s 422 total yards from scrimmage. Dang.

It probably helped that the Giants were facing the Miami Dolphins and Washington. Still, the Eagles will have to prevent Barkley from going off on them. Schwartz’s unit did a good job of keeping him in check a couple weeks back. Barkley had 17 carries for 66 yards (3.9 average) and three receptions for ONE yard in his last trip to Philly.

3 - Carson Wentz staying hot against an awful Giants pass defense

The Giants have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. New York ranks 31st in pass defense DVOA and 29th in opponent yards per pass attempt.

It’s no surprise they’re this bad when you look at their personnel. The Giants are essentially starting three rookies at cornerbacks: Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, and Corey Ballentine (nickel). Here’s how those rank out of 131 corners graded by PFF: 124th, 107th, and 130th. The Giants are starting another rookie in the secondary with Julian Love lining up across from the 35-year-old Antoine Bethea.

Carson Wentz has been hot in the month of December with a passer rating of 101.7 in his last four starts. The Eagles’ quarterback should continue to have success against this Giants secondary despite the fact he’s working with a wide receiver corps of Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Robert Davis, and Deontay Burnett.

While the Giants’ pass defense is poor, their run defense is not. The G-Men rank eighth in run defense DVOA and 5th in opponent yards per rush attempt. This shouldn’t be a “Why isn’t Doug Pederson running the ball more?!” game.

With that said, the Eagles still need to get their running backs involved in the offense. Miles Sanders has been sensational lately. The combination of him and Boston Scott accounted for 10 receptions and 93 receiving yards against the Giants in Week 14.

4 - Another career game for Dallas Goedert?

Goedert had a career game against Dallas (see what I did there?) in Week 16 with nine receptions for 91 yards and one touchdown. With Zach Ertz’s status up in the air for Week 17, it could be up to Goedert to deliver another big game. And there’s reason to feel good about him doing just that.

Ertz was targeted 13 times for nine receptions, 91 yards, and two touchdowns when the Eagles last played the Giants. Goedert should see a lot of opportunities at MetLife Stadium.

5 - The return of Jordan Howard

Howard hasn’t played since Week 9 but he might finally be back on the field this weekend. Howard was the Eagles’ leading rusher before he got hurt but Sanders has really stepped up during his absence. And then there’s the Scott factor. So, what will the running back rotation look like?

Pederson’s comments from Thursday:

Q. Jordan had a pretty significant role before the injury, RB Miles Sanders has been playing well recently. How do you navigate that?

DOUG PEDERSON: I honestly don’t think much has to change. I think Jordan is a piece to the puzzle. I think he can obviously add depth, but Miles has been sort of the hot hand lately and we want to keep that going.

Q. You mentioned Jordan is obviously getting closer. If everything goes well and he’s back in the mix, has RB Boston Scott done enough to still be involved?

DOUG PEDERSON: Oh, yeah. Boston Scott has done enough to still be involved. I think you still go in with Miles and Boston. Again, it goes back to Jordan just getting caught up, and I think more so physically getting back to game shape.

The read here is that Howard will not have a big role upon immediately upon returning. He could naturally figure in to short-yardage and goal line situations. And/or be utilized if the Eagles have the luxury of salting away a lead late in the game.

But Sanders and Scott have played well recently. No need to go away from them and force touches to Howard.

6 - Need a big day from Brandon Graham

The pass rush as a whole could afford to step up but I’m singling out Graham for a few reasons.

First, Graham hasn’t had a sack since Week 12. He’s due.

Second, Graham is potentially facing a backup. Starting right tackle Mike Remmers is dealing with a concussion so it could be 2018 undrafted rookie free agent signing Nick Gates playing in place of Remmers. Gates (shoulder) is limited on the injury report so he might be playing at less than 100%.

Third, Graham said his goal was double digit sacks in his 10th NFL season. He’s at 7.5 right now so he’d need a big game ... but it’s not impossible! He did have three sacks against the New York Jets earlier this season.

With Jones prone to holding on to the ball and fumbling, it’s the perfect time for BLG to step up and make some plays.

7 - Will Rasul Douglas be a weak point?

The Eagles placed Ronald Darby on injured reserve earlier this week. Pederson noted that Douglas will start in his place.

Darby got torched by Giants rookie Darius Slayton the last time these two teams played. Can Douglas — who was burned by Tavon Austin but bailed out by a Dak Prescott overthrow last week — avoid a similar fate?

It’s worth noting that Slayton (knee) was limited in Wednesday’s practice. Our enemies over at Big Blue View also said that Slayton “limped his way through much of last Sunday’s game.”

One must wonder if Douglas will have a short leash if he struggles. The Eagles could look to turn back to Sidney Jones following his big plays against the Giants and Cowboys.

8 - Avoiding the letdown

Some have expressed worry about the Eagles having a letdown game against the Giants following the high of beating the Cowboys.

Though the 2019 Eagles are no strangers to disappointment, I tend to think this isn’t a likely outcome.

First of all, the Eagles were down 17 to 3 and only beat this Giants squad in overtime less than three weeks ago. Are they really thinking that beating this team less than three weeks later — and on the road this time — is going to be easy? The messaging following Sunday’s win over Dallas makes me think not.

The Giants certainly don’t have playoff implications to play for but they do have motivation to win this game. Pat Shurmur is trying to save his job. Jones is trying to prove himself as a franchise quarterback. The team as a whole is probably tired of always losing to the Eagles.

I do like the Eagles to win this game ... but it might not be so easy.