All of the playoff attention, understandably, has been focused on the Eagles’ offense and Jalen Hurts’ injured shoulder. Eagles news that has been overlooked, to a degree, is the Eagles’ second-ranked defense.
When the offense isn’t clicking, or you can’t rely on the offense clicking, it’s nice to have a sturdy, forceful defense to fall back on. That’s exactly where the Eagles are, a day away from hosting the Giants in the NFC divisional playoff game.
The Eagles’ defense could bear most of the pressure in the season’s most important game. The Giants come into the game riding high after upsetting the Vikings in the wild-card round, 31-24.
The Giants’ offense was led by quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and the receiving corps.
The Eagles’ secondary will face this revitalized offense without injured nickel back Avonte Maddox, who was ruled out of the game.
“I know last week, he played really, really well,” cornerback James Bradberry said about Jones. “He took care of the ball and made some plays when he had to and they won the game.”
Since he has his own mobile quarterback in Hurts, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni understands the peril of playing against one. Jones is effective on the move, gaining 78 yards on the ground, plus 301 yards through the air against Minnesota.
“Well, the good thing is they’ve [Eagles defense] got a lot of reps versus a guy like Hurts, so Daniel Jones is dangerous in the pocket and when he gets out of the pocket,” Sirianni said.
“He’s really playing really good football. He’s continuing to get better.
“We feel like we got a lot of good reps at it, but we know also that he obviously — how dangerous he is and how good we’re going to have to be to do the things we need to do to be successful … against Daniel.”
The Eagles defeated the Giants twice in the regular season, which means little now. Before the first meeting, cornerback Darius Slay addressed the team and stressed the importance of the game to Bradberry, a former Giant.
“That’s the type of dude Slay is,” Bradberry said. “He’s a team player. He’s about his teammates. He’s been a great teammate since I’ve been here.
“It meant a lot to me that he thought about me and he mentioned me in a team speech. I just try to go out there and win the game, no matter who it is.
“Of course, it’s my old team and I know some guys over there. But at this point, it’s win or go home.
“It definitely would be pretty sweet [to beat the Giants]. First of all, because we’re going onto the next round. I know some guys over there, I know some coaches over there. It’s like back in Little League … when you’re playing a team across the city and you got some friends over there.”
Slay and Bradberry have become one of the league’s top cornerback duos. Slay made second team All-Pro and Bradberry not named to the Pro Bowl was a major snub.
“I think those guys, both of those guys have played at a high level for a long time, and all players want is to know how you can improve them as a coach,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said.
“[Defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach] Dennard [Wilson] holds a very high standard in that room, and they want to be held accountable because they know if the coach holds them accountable, they’re going to improve.
“Those guys are high-football-character guys that want to be coached and want to do things the right way. That’s why you see them playing at a high level because they continually improve.”
THIS GAME MEANS EVERYTHING
Saturday’s third meeting is the one that counts. The winner advances to the NFC title game against either Dallas or San Francisco.
- “Of course, we’re in the same division, we know each pretty well, so it should make for a good game,” Bradberry said.
- “They have a new offensive coordinator, so I’ve really just been studying the games from this year, picking up on the tendencies from this year. It’s pretty much a totally different offense.”
If the Eagles contain Jones, they still have to deal with Pro Bowl running back Barkley. In the first meeting, the Eagles held him to 28 yards on nine carries. He didn’t play in the second meeting as the Giants rested their starters.
So, the Eagles either have him figured out, or he’s overdue for a huge game.
- “We understand he’s going to make some plays because he’s a really unique player, and he’s a really good player,” Gannon said about Barkley.
- “We have to do a good job. It’s not one or two guys, it’s all 11 guys being on the same page doing their job at a high level to be able to hold a player of that caliber down to where we need it to be to win the game.”