Thu, 09 Feb 2023

Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow in Round 3 of Eagles-Giants

Philadelphia Eagles
21 Jan 2023, 18:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

In this Round 3 between the Eagles and Giants, what are the numbers that matter?

Turnovers, of course, probably take the highest level of importance, and that's something we've discussed all season and something the Eagles have been among the league's best with their margins, producing a plus-8 through the course of 17 regular-season games. What else? How about red zone efficiency? The Eagles led the NFL for much of the season in this category offensively - as they did for turnover differential - and then tailed off in Week 18. It certainly matters on Saturday night.

Heck, everything matters on Saturday night. If last weekend's Wild Card Round reminded us of anything about this postseason, it was that truly every single thing matters. With that, let's dive into some numbers and how much of the statistical projections come to fruition in this NFC Divisional Round Game.

1. The Turnover Ratio

You see at the top of the NFL list the top three teams - San Francisco (+13), Dallas (+10), and Philadelphia (+8) - and you can better grasp the importance of this statistic. Obviously, it's been a daily talking point for Head Coach Nick Sirianni since he arrived and the Eagles have embraced the mentality.

New York was a plus-3 in the regular season (11th in the league), and in Sunday's win over Minnesota, the Giants recovered their own lone fumble and quarterback Daniel Jones played an error-free game. Teams that win the turnover battle historically win the game and teams that have a plus-2 in the turnover ratio department statistically win more than 75 percent of the time. The Eagles at one point this season had a plus-15 in the giveaway/takeaway department and then the takeaways dipped - in large part because there were injuries in the secondary - and there were a few games, notably Washington, at Dallas, and New Orleans - where giveaways really hurt the team. The Eagles have safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson back in the lineup and in Week 18 he played safety in base personnel and slid to the inside cornerback position when the team went to nickel personnel. His presence is huge.

2. Touchdowns in the red zone

Philadelphia went 1 for 5 in Week 18 against New York, dropping from first in the league in touchdown efficiency in the red zone to third in the NFL in this category. Having quarterback Jalen Hurts ready to go and to be a threat running the football is an important piece in this offense, so that's a big-time positive for the Eagles. The Giants are ranked seventh defensively in the red zone in terms of touchdown efficiency, so this is going to be a terrific battle. The Giants are so stout inside with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, so the interior of the Eagles' offensive line will have its hands full.

New York's offense is ranked seventh in the league in this category, while the Eagles' defense, ranked 11th, understands the challenge of keeping Jones from gaining traction with his legs. Expect this to be a battle of extremely physical football.

3. What does playing a team for the third time mean?

The Eagles have never beaten a team three times in a single season, but it isn't a daunting task. Since the NFL merger in 1970, in the 24 third meetings between the same teams, the team with two regular-season wins has gone 15-9 in the playoffs. When the team that swept the regular-season meetings is at home, the team that swept the regular season is 13-6 in the playoffs. What does that mean? History is history, but at the very least, it dispels the notion of how difficult it is to beat a team for a third time in a season. So, let's go ...

4. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are both No. 1 WR, with each going over 1,000 yards this season

New York concentrated its efforts last week on slowing down Vikings wide receivers Justin Jefferson, who finished with 7 receptions for 47 yards, and Adam Thielen, who had 3 catches and 50 yards. Job well done.

But the Giants had to give up something, and that something was a big game by the Minnesota tight ends, who combined for 12 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. Is that the approach the Giants will take on Saturday night? It's easier said than done, of course, because both Brown and Smith are dominating receivers who are matchup nightmares for opposing teams. Brown had 11 catches for 165 yards and a score in two games against New York this season and Smith had 12 receptions for 131 yards in the two wins. If Hurts wants to go deep, he's had great success this season: Hurts on passes of 25-plus air yards this year is 19-of-38 (50 percent) for 758 yards with 10 TD and 1 INT for a 124.5 rating. He is the only QB to complete 50 percent of passes and throw for 10 TD on passes of 25-plus yards.

New York has a healthy situation in the secondary with cornerback Adoree Jackson back on the field along with safety Xavier McKinney. Oh, and if the Giants look to slow Brown and Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert is primed for some opportunities and that's always a good thing, too.

5. Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh are here to stop the run

New York has a run-based offense, of course, with running back Saquon Barkley having gained more than 1,300 ground yards this season. He's a threat every time he has the football in his hands. Great, great player. But the Eagles are equipped to stop the run. When Linval Joseph has been on the field this season, the Eagles have allowed an average of 3.62 yards per carry. Without him, the average is 5 yards per attempt. He and Ndamukong Suh have made a difference, and the Eagles are deep and will play in waves up front against Barkley and the running talents of Jones.

There isn't going to be anything fancy about what the Giants do offensively: They are going to try to get Jones on the move and they are going to get the ball in Barkley's hands as a running back and as a receiver. The Eagles have worked on schemes to slow both of them all week.

6. The sack factor

Having right tackle Lane Johnson, who has not allowed a quarterback sack all season, back on the field is a huge plus against a New York defense that leads the NFL in blitzing - 48.1 percent of the time on pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus. New York has backed off the blitz quite a bit in recent games, likely because they knew they could generate pressure against weaker offensive lines. The Eagles are great up front, so Hurts may see more of the blitz and the offense will have to be smart about how to respond.

In the Week 14 win, the Eagles sacked Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor seven times. They attacked the offensive line and won. That's the goal for this game as well. Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon will mix up his looks and bring some pressure from time to time, but he really wants the Eagles to win with their four- and five-man lines. New York surrendered 49 quarterback sacks this season, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. The Eagles, of course, led the league with 70 quarterback takedowns.

Pressure Jones, keep him in the pocket, block his throwing lanes, and that's a good formula for the Eagles' defense.

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