Thursday Night Football Preview
Last Week: Welcome back to the Gridiron Experts Thursday Night Football Preview! Last week, I had the Patriots to win the game by 13, therefore taking the Pats straight-up and -10. In the end, New England had too much firepower for the Colts, taking the game 38-24. I was correct in taking the Patriots -10, and had some solid insights on the James White/Sony Michel workload split. Another successful week! Let’s move on to Week 6.
Brad’s TNF Picks Season Record: 4-1 Straight-Up | Against the Spread: 3-1-1
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Spread: Eagles -3 | Over/Under:
On Thursday Night, the Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) will visit the New York Giants (1-4) in an NFC East battle. The Eagles are currently (-3) favorites on the road.
Both these teams are coming off tough losses. The Vikings knocked off the Eagles in a rematch of the NFC Championship game, 23-21. In Charlotte, Graham Gano shocked the Giants with a record-tying 63-yard field goal as time expired, handing the G-Men their 4th loss of the year.
Through 5 games, the Eagles’ season has been a mixed bag. They have been competitive in every game, with each game one decided by a TD or less. This is a pivotal week for the defending Super Bowl champs though, after playing the GMEN, they will face off against the Panthers at home, before heading to England to play the Jaguars. Needless to say, this will be their easiest game until after their Bye week.
In a very surprising twist, Jay Ajayi will miss the rest of the season, after the RB tore his ACL during Sunday’s contest. Therefore, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement will lead the backfield for the foreseeable future. The Eagles also signed rookie Josh Adams off their practice squad to add depth.
While the loss of Ajayi is surely a blow, Smallwood has been effective in limited work this year, logging 7 yards per touch. It remains to be seen how much he’ll be used, and while he’s surely due for some regression, he could be a viable fill-in for Ajayi. Clement, on the other hand, brings a different dynamic to the team, with immense receiving upside. Coach Doug Pederson confirmed Clement was “good to go” for TNF this week after Clement missed the past two games. It’ll be interesting to watch how the Eagles will use these two backs’ strengths moving forward. Darren Sproles will not play this week due to a hamstring injury.
Carson Wentz took control of the team in Week 3 and has since gone 1-2. Wentz, coming off of a season-ending knee injury in 2017, has been steadily ramping up his play. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 3, while he’s tossed 4 TDs in that time. He’s also beginning to run the ball again. Last week against Minnesota, Wentz ran the ball 5 times for 26 yards, and added 311 passing yards & 2 TD. His dual-threat nature will surely be something to monitor moving forward. If Wentz can continue to be a threat to break off timely runs, and is throwing the ball effectively, it certainly makes the offense more dynamic.
Wentz is surely glad to have his WR1 back from injury, as Alshon Jeffery made his debut in Week 4 against the Titans. In that game, Jeffery showed no signs of the absence affecting him, torching the Tennessee secondary for 8/105/1. Last week, Jeffery wasn’t as effective, as the strong Vikings secondary held him to 39 yards on 2 catches. In any event, Jeffery is a welcome addition to an otherwise shaky WR corps.
With Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace going on Injured Reserve earlier this season, the onus falls on Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to produce. Agholor hasn’t been fantastic in the early going, logging 29 catches for 212 yards. Despite flashing in Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay, Agholor has left a lot to be desired. Tight End Zach Ertz has been the bright spot on this offense all year. Ertz leads all TEs in receptions, yards, YPG, and 1st downs gained. His 41 catches actually rank 3rd in the entire NFL, proving that Ertz is one of the elite pass-catchers in the game.
Let’s not forget one of the Eagles’ greatest assets—their big men up front. The Eagles’ offensive line is anchored by LT Jason Peters, C Jason Kelce, and RT Lane Johnson. I expect the big boys to do their job, give Wentz plenty of time to throw, and clear some holes for the new RB committee.
Now for Big Blue. The Giants’ 1-4 record doesn’t tell the whole story. Three of their four losses have been decided by a touchdown or less. Two of those one-score losses were to the Jaguars and the Panthers, both quality opponents.
Saquon Barkley has been as dynamic as advertised for the G-Men. The rookie RB out of Penn State made his mark early, as he’s now one of only 3 players with 100+ scrimmage yards in his first 5 career games. Barkley has averaged 5.7 yards per touch this season, adding 308 rushing yards and 274 receiving yards. He’s truly been a dual-threat, as he ranks 2nd among all RB in receiving yards. Barkley’s ascent to stardom has begun, but he’s limited by the offensive line that New York puts in front of him. The Giants waived tackle Ereck Flowers on Tuesday, in a move that was universally approved by Giants fans. However, finding replacement linemen is never easy, and the G-Men will have to address the offensive front in the offseason. Until then, they can only hope for the best.
One of the most hopeful souls out there is QB Eli Manning, who has been sacked 16 times already this year, combining for -127 yards lost. When he’s not flat on his back, he’s constantly under pressure. When he has time to get a pass off, Eli has been mediocre in 2018, averaging 276 yards per game, and tossing 6 TD to 3 INT. It’s clear that the Eli experience is coming to a close in New York, and that the team will have to move on from him at some point in the near future. I can’t help but wonder if the man under center matters that much right now, with how ineffective the blocking has been.
This production has been frustrating to many, most notably WR Odell Beckham who has criticized the Giants’ play calling, and lack of big play attempts so far this season. In an interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson (and Lil Wayne), when Beckham was directly asked if the team had “an issue at quarterback,” he responded, “I don’t know.” Clearly, he wasn’t the first to defend Eli, and wants more opportunities to display his game-breaking talent.
Despite all of the noise, Beckham has logged 462 receiving yards (5th in the NFL) on 39 catches (4th in the NFL). Surely, he’d like to score more touchdowns as he’s only caught one this year (last week vs. Carolina). Although, he did throw for one last week as well, on a trick-play 57-yard TD pass to Barkley. If Eli can continue to get the ball to Odell and mix in some longer shots, the Giants will surely improve.
Although at times, it may seem so, Beckham isn’t the only pass-catcher on the Giants. Sterling Shepard has been a strong WR2 for the Giants in the early going, grabbing 28 balls for 304 yards and 2 TD. Hauling in approximately 6 balls per game, Shepard has made the most of his targets and has produced significantly. Unfortunately for New York, Evan Engram will not play with his sprained MCL.
In any event, the Giants will have to be much better on 3rd down moving forward, or they won’t be able to compete consistently. Against the Panthers, Big Blue was 0/7 on 3rd down conversions. Certainly, they’ll have to do better in this rivalry game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles front is one of the league’s best. With the Giants’ offensive line woes, standouts Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Michael Bennett will look to have huge games. Should they be able to clog up the middle, it will force Eli to throw the ball more, and will limit Saquon Barkley’s impact. Additionally, if Bennett and Graham are able to win on the edge, Manning could find himself on the ground repeatedly on Thursday night.
As a unit, the Eagles have been effective defensively, ranking 7th in points per game allowed (20.8), and top 10 in yards per game allowed. Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, lead a secondary that will aim to contain Beckham. Jordan Hicks & Nigel Bradham will lead a linebacker corps that will have to keep track of Barkley, be it on ground, or through the air. In the grand scheme of things, if the Eagles play to their potential up front, they have the chance to dominate the line of scrimmage. It’s likely that Manning could have a long night.
The Giants’ Achilles Heel in recent years has been covering tight ends. Surely, they’ll have their hands full when Zach Ertz comes to town this week. However, Giants safety Landon Collins is one of the game’s best, and I’d imagine he’ll have his eye on Ertz for most of the evening.
New York’s defense would certainly benefit from the return of Olivier Vernon, who’s been mending a high ankle sprain since late August. He was removed from the injury report on Wednesday and will lace up on Thursday Night. Vernon’s presence would certainly put more pressure on the Eagles’ tackles. Lane Johnson and Jason Peters are both less than 100%, which could exacerbate things if Vernon returns. Fortunately for Philadelphia, both tackles have practiced this week, with Peters even getting a full session in on Tuesday. In any event, Vernon’s return can’t come soon enough, as the team only has 6 sacks this year (last in the NFL.)
Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple will have to shut down Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. The Giants’ secondary has been formidable at times this year, as they’re top 10 in pass defense (yardage), and 3rd in fewest TD allowed. If Collins, Jenkins, and Apple are at the top of their game, it could be a more difficult night than expected for Wentz.
We’ve got an NFC Divisional rivalry game, so no result would shock me here. To me, though, this game will come down to the battle of the trenches. I think that the Eagles have a distinct advantage on both sides of the ball in this regard and that they’ll be able to exploit the Giants’ weaknesses accordingly. Look for Cox, Graham, and Barnett (if healthy) to dominate up front and get to Eli Manning early and often. On the other side of the ball, I think that the Eagles’ offensive line has the capacity to dominate in this matchup. Again, the Giants are currently last in the NFL with 6 sacks this year, and Philly’s line is among the NFL’s elite. I expect Wentz to have all the time he needs to make effective throws and challenge the Giants secondary to keep up their string of strong play.
The Giants’ struggles against the TE will bite them again, as I believe Zach Ertz will continue to produce at an elite level. Ertz has logged 10+ catches in 3 of his last 4 games, and I think he’ll continue the trend on Thursday. I see the Giants’ playmakers keeping the game close enough, and believe Odell Beckham has the chance to do some damage here. In the end, though, I think this is a pivotal point in the Eagles’ season, and that they’ll rise to the occasion.
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