“Each weekend I traveled the fifty-odd miles from Glacial Falls to Watertown, where I spent Friday night and all day Saturday in some sustained whisky drinking, tapering off Sunday with a few bottles of beer at The Parrot, eyes fixed on the television screen, cheering for my team. Cheering is a paltry description. The Giants were my delight, my folly, my anodyne, my intellectual stimulation.”

–Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes

 

I.

Ok, so the Tiki orgy is over and, however difficult it may seem, it’s time to shed the accumulation of bad vibes from the past couple of months and devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the task at hand. Yes, it’s been a shitty season: Each loss these past eight weeks has felt like its own death, except that in a cruel twist of fate attributable to the astonishing shittiness of the NFC and the complexity of the tie-breaker system, we’ve been constantly revived, week after to week, only to die painful death after painful death.

But all that is a discussion for another day, because we are in the playoffs, four wins away from being Super Bowl champions. No, this doesn’t excuse or mitigate what has happened these past eight weeks, but it presents G-Men nation with an urgent obligation: As Jim Fassel once said, “Whoever wants in can get in. Whoever doesn’t can get out.” I’m in. From this point on, until we lose, it’s all business – we will not divert our attention from the task at hand. Four games. One mission. As another great leader of men, John Bluto Blutarsky, so famously and eloquently said, “Come on, who’s with me?”

II.

Ok, the game itself. As usual, the most comprehensive, analytical, and intelligent preview comes from the smart fellas at Footballoutsiders.com. Check it out, and remember this point by the inestimable Aaron Schatz: “Anyway, as much as people want to just hand this game to the Eagles, do remember that when these two teams just played a couple of weeks ago and the Giants were winning 22-21 with seven minutes left.”

A summary of Shatz’ numerous on-point points in the article:

–It’s not as if you needed the FootballOutsiders’ advanced statistics to tell you this, but Eli has been truly awful over the second half of the season. In the first eight games, Eli averaged 6.2 yards per pass and posted a DVOA of 12.0%.

(Quick tutorial on DVOA – if you want to read more, read my layman’s explanation here [third paragraph], or if you really want to read more, here’s FootballOutsiders’ fleshed-out explanation. But think of it this way: 30% is MVP caliber, 15% is pretty damn good player caliber, 0% is average, -15% is pretty damn bad player caliber, and -30% is bouncer/gas pumper caliber. On defense, the + and – are reversed, which is logical enough, so that a defense with a DVOA of -30% is historically awesome, while one of 30% is the Giants in the past two weeks.)

But over the past eight games, Eli has gained 5.0 yards per pass and posted a DVOA of -14.9%. So basically, your eyes didn’t lie. By any measure, Eli’s gone from pretty good to one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Eli’s overall DVOA is -1.1%, but if you look at his second half DVOA of -14.9, he’s worse that the yearly DVOAs of such scrubs as Joey Harrington, Jake Plummer, Rex Grossman, and Alex Smith, none of whom have anywhere near the caliber of supporting cast that Eli does.

So what accounts for Eli’s precipitous drop-off? Well, a lot of things, of course, but the loss of Amani Toomer cannot be overlooked. Toomer was lost for the season after our Week 8 win against the Texans, which coincides with Eli’s – and the Giants’ – horrendousness from that point on.

But check this out: As Schatz points out, “Manning’s worst habit is depending on the same receivers over and over.” When Toomer was healthy, Eli threw 12 passes per game to wide receivers not named Plaxico Burress. Since he’s been hurt, Eli has thrown 5 passes per game to non-Plaxican receivers.

This is obviously a considerable indictment on Eli, but it also does not speak so well of the guys that were supposed to fill Amani’s shoes: Tim Carter, David Tyree, and to a lesser extent, Sinorice Moss. After Amani got hurt, I declared it something of a blessing in disguise because it potentially gave us the opportunity to incorporate some speedy playmakers into our offense. How wrong I was. Like Ernie Accorsi, I was seduced by Tim Carter’s speed and I was unreasonably optimistic about this coaching staff’s resourcefulness to incorporate Sinorice Moss’ into the offense.

–It’s been written about ad nauseum, but our best chance of winning the game is to rely on a steady dose of Tiki. The thing we do best on offense is run; the thing the Eagles do worst on defense is stop the run (Though their run defense isn’t bad – their -4.2% DVOA actually means that they’re above average). A reason for optimism is the difficulty the Eagles had in the mid-to-late season at in stopping the run: In three out of six games spanning Week 8 and Week 14, they allowed over 200 yards three times and 183 yards another time.

–Contrary to the popular belief that the Eagles stumbled throughout the season and came alive during the last few weeks, they’ve actually been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL. In the beginning of the season, they were playing some of the best football in the league, but because of freakish losses to Tampa Bay and yes, the G-Men, their record didn’t reflect how good they actually were.

And after a two-game hiccup in the immediate aftermath of the McNabb injury – the ass-whoopings at the hands of the Titans and Colts – Philly has pretty much been playing the same quality ball as they were at the beginning of the year, albeit with different results. Think on this: Philly has posted a positive DVOA in fourteen out of their sixteen games this year.

–Throughout the Andy Reid era, Philly’s offense has been famously predicated on the short pass. But this year, according to Michael David Smith, Reid has adjusted to his personnel at wide receiver – the speedy trio of Reggie Brown, Donte’ Stallworth, and Hank Baskett – and stretched the field more than he ever.

Smith gives him a lot of props on his flexibility, and contrasts this improvisational ability to Colonel Tom’s rigidity:

“If a willingness to change defines the way Reid ran the Eagles this season, his counterpart in Sunday’s game, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, couldn’t be more different. Coughlin is infamously set in his ways, and his Giants looked paralyzed by an inability to cope with adversity down the stretch this season.”

–Either way, the Eagles new-found affinity for the deep ball spells trouble for the G-Men, who have been getting killed on deep balls all year. According to FootballOutsiders’ game charting project, Kevin Dockery and Will Demps are both among the top (or bottom — like, the point is they’re bad) ten in the NFL in allowing yards on plays on which the man in coverage. I’m skeptical of this charting project because I don’t know how it accounts for defensive schemes, but this stat is certainly something to think about.

We can all agree that the Giants safeties are bad in pass coverage (although, in Will Demps’ defense, he has looked much, much better in recent weeks), and this is reflected in the fact that we rank 31st in the league on passes intended for tight ends. LJ Smith put up a huge game the first time we saw the Eagles and burnt us on a key play the last time we saw the Eagles, so we gotta be watching out for him.

III.

Just some notes on injuries/personnel:

–Shockey practiced fully yesterday, and will almost definitely play. It’s anybody’s guess, however, how many plays he gets or how effective he will be.

–Rich Seubert is back practicing and will start at left guard, where Grey Ruegamer played last week. Dave Diehl will slide over to left tackle to replace the doghoused Bob Whitfield. Whitfield got some burn at left tackle last week – I can’t find it right now, but I remember reading that it was because someone (either Ruegamer or Diehl) sustained a minor injury. So Whitfield’s still banished, in case you were wondering.

–Corey Webster was placed on injured reserve. What a disappointing year for Webster. We needed him to step up this year, and he didn’t. Now we’re still gonna be counting on him to step up next year.