Eagles hoping to slow Giants' ground game, avoid 3-game sweep

Philly also looks to end 8-game losing streak against NFC East rival

NFL Playoffs


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Only one team has scored more than 30 points against the Philadelphia Eagles this season. Only one team has avoided making a turnover against Philadelphia's aggressive defense. And only one team has controlled the ball against Philadelphia's defense for more than 40 minutes in a game.

The New York Giants (12-4) are that team, and unless Philadelphia's defense has a solid performance in today's divisional playoff game at Giants Stadium, the Eagles (12-5) will have difficulty winning against their NFC East rivals.

Much of the pre-game focus has centered on the big-play ability of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, but the best way to stop any offensive player is to keep him off the field. The Giants have done that to McNabb - twice.

In New York's 33-18 victory at Philadelphia on Sept. 10, the Giants' time of possession was 38 minutes, 44 seconds. And in New York's 24-7 victory on Oct. 29, the Giants kept the ball for 43:17, turning McNabb into a spectator for most of the game.

Philadelphia has a proud defense with three Pro Bowl players - defensive end Hugh Douglas, middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and cornerback Troy Vincent. Yet the Giants have made solving Philadelphia's defense look easier than first-grade math. As a result, the Eagles spent sleepless hours last week trying to devise a defensive game plan that will work.

After looking at videotapes of this season's two meetings against the Giants, the Eagles admit they have been outplayed badly.

"They took it to us, point-blank," said Bobby Taylor, the veteran cornerback. "We were out on the field defensively entirely too long. When they needed a big third-down play, they came up with it. From an offensive standpoint, they had their way."

What will the Eagles do differently? The Eagles' defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, would not give specifics, but containing New York's running game figures to be the priority.

The Giants have dominated the line of scrimmage and have run the ball more effectively against Philadelphia than any other team. In September, Tiki Barber, who will be playing today with a cast on a fractured left forearm, rushed for 96 yards against the Eagles, and Ron Dayne rushed for 50. Then in October, Dayne pounded for 93 yards against Philadelphia, and Barber added 52.

Today, in winter weather with the potential for swirling winds, running the ball effectively would give the Giants a huge advantage. While Dayne's production has tailed off late in the season, Giants coach Jim Fassel - who's 8-0 against the Eagles - has hinted that Dayne's role could increase today.

Who can blame Fassel? Until the Eagles prove they can control the one-two punch of Barber and Dayne, there is no reason for the Giants to change.

To stop the run, the Eagles may put seven or eight men on the line of scrimmage, hoping to clog the running lanes and gang tackle New York's ball carriers. Expect the Eagles to key on Barber, who has been a major problem for them. Barber had a 31-yard touchdown run against Philadelphia in September, and he has also caught seven passes for 100 yards in the two games against the Eagles.

"He's a dangerous guy," Johnson said of Barber. "He's probably a better receiver than he is a runner, and he's a darn good runner.

"I probably wouldn't put him in that Marshall Faulk category, but he's pretty darn close," Johnson added, referring to the St. Louis Rams' star running back. "Tiki's a weapon back there. We're going to have to take him away."

If the Eagles were to contain Barber and Dayne, it would force Giants quarterback Kerry Collins and his receivers to make big plays. In both games against the Eagles, New York's running game gave Collins the luxury of throwing when he wanted to, not when he had to. And Collins took full advantage.

In September, he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard. In the October rematch, Collins and Toomer connected for a 25-yard touchdown that gave New York a 14-0 lead, setting the tone for another one-sided victory.

Collins has not thrown an interception against the Eagles, and the Giants have not lost a fumble against Philadelphia. But the Eagles thrive on takeaways, and in last Sunday's 21-3 playoff victory over Tampa Bay, the Eagles dominated after Douglas sacked Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King, causing a fumble that led to Philadelphia's first touchdown.

Philadelphia bottled up Tampa's Bay's offense, but this weekend, the Eagles face a team that has beaten them eight consecutive times, including two convincing victories this year.

The Eagles are 7-1 since they last faced New York, and they are clearly an improved team. But have they improved enough to beat the Giants? The play of Philadelphia's defense may determine the answer to that question.

"I feel like we're a different team," Taylor said. "We have the defensive players to establish a physical presence on the field, but in the first two games, we weren't able to deliver. They beat us, point-blank. Hopefully, we'll show up and make it a lot more interesting."

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