Eagles

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Giants

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5 key Eagles matchups vs. Giants

Even with Nick Foles, the Eagles should probably crush the Giants this weekend. After all, what's been going on in North Jersey has been a disaster all season. 

The head coach and GM have already been fired. The franchise quarterback was benched and then brought back. Oh yeah, and the Giants have just two wins all season. 

It's a mess up there. 

But this is probably a good time to remind you that the Giants had a three-point lead on the Eagles until the final minute of regulation in Week 3. And had it not been for a 61-yard field goal from unknown rookie kicker Jake Elliott, the game would have gone to overtime and then who knows what happens. 

Sure, it's been a long time since Week 3, but the Eagles can't overlook any team, especially after losing Carson Wentz for the season. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Sterling Shepard vs. Patrick Robinson 
In the first meeting between these two teams, Shepard had a really good game. He caught seven passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. The big play was a 77-yarder. Believe it or not, that was the only touchdown of the season for Shepard. 

On that 77-yard touchdown, Robinson let Shepard catch the ball, but Chris Maragos took a bad angle toward Shepard that allowed him to go the distance. Maragos actually took out Robinson on the play. 

In that game, Robinson played pretty well and had an interception. Really, he's been solid all season. He's been one of the more pleasant surprises this year. 

Evan Engram vs. Malcolm Jenkins
While Robinson will be dealing with Shepard, Jenkins will have his hands full with Engram, who has become the team's top receiving threat with Odell Beckham Jr. on IR. Engram, the rookie tight end, has 55 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns this season. He's already become a threat for the Giants. 

The good news for the Eagles is they've been decent against opposing tight ends, giving up 59 catches for 597 yards and five touchdowns. Eleven teams have given up fewer receiving yards to opposing tight ends. Jenkins is their best shot against Engram. 

Chad Wheeler vs. Brandon Graham 
On a line that still features Ereck Flowers at left tackle, it's worth noting that the Giants are down to rookie Wheeler at right tackle. Wheeler went undrafted out of USC, but has become the Giants' third right tackle this year. Bobby Hart began the season, then Justin Pugh got his turn, now it's on Wheeler. 

Wheeler has started the last three games at right tackle. During those three games, he's given up four sacks and 11 quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus. 

This weekend, he'll see Brandon Graham, who has been an absolute force all season. Graham leads the team with a career-high 8 1/2 sacks and has been even more disruptive than that. 

Nick Foles. vs. Steve Spagnuolo
You might have heard that the Eagles have a new quarterback this week. Carson Wentz is out for the season after tearing his ACL, which means Foles will get the start against the Giants. It'll be up to defensive coordinator and interim head coach Spagnuolo to try to rattle him. 

All week the Eagles have said nothing changes with the quarterback switch. Sure, Wentz is just a more athletic player than Foles, so they'll miss that. But they claim they're just going to run their offense. That seems to be what the Giants are preparing to see. 

"We're going to play to defend the scheme," Spagnuolo said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. "They're just a well-oiled machine right now." 

Eagles receivers vs. Giants cornerbacks
With a backup quarterback, it would make sense to see the Eagles come out and run the ball a ton on Sunday afternoon. But there will be the opportunity to pass against the Giants and their messy cornerback situation. Now, the Eagles should be able to run, too. The Giants are the 31st-ranked run and pass defense, so they stink in both areas. 

But what better opportunity for Foles to get a chance to work with his new receivers. Running the ball is probably going to be a key for the Eagles the rest of the way. They should absolutely run the ball. But running the ball alone won't be enough to win a championship. They'll need Foles to play well too. This could be a chance for him to build that confidence and have his teammates grow their confidence in him. 

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

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USA Today Images

For dominant Lane Johnson, 'bar set for many years to come'

A year ago, he was coming off a 10-game suspension, playing for a losing team, unsure about his future, unsure about his career.

Today, Lane Johnson is on top of the world.

He's a first-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro, he just played in his first career postseason victory, his team has won 13 of its last 14 games that the starters played in and is now one home win from the Super Bowl.

He's still one positive test away from a two-year ban, but in his fifth NFL season, Johnson has finally backed up all his talk about being one of the NFL's best offensive linemen.

He proved he can be a dominating force without the help of banned substances, and he proved he can be out there for a full season as an anchor of one of the NFL's best offensive lines.

"I had a long offseason to ponder it, to think about it," Johnson said. "I knew physically what I could do on the football field, it was just a matter of being responsible, not making any bonehead mistakes and being part of the team.

"I've envisioned this for a long time, so it feels good to see it come to life."

Johnson is the Eagles' first right tackle named first-team All-Pro since Hall of Famer Bob Brown in 1968.

After a four-game suspension in 2014 and the 10-game suspension last year, Johnson was flat-out dominating this year.

With no help from any substances.

"Anything would be better than where I was last year," he said. "I always had confidence in what I could do. The coaches have seen what I could do, the other guys could see what I could do. It was just a matter of getting on the field and showing what I could do.

"Now the bar is set for many years to come. The world's there for the taking."

The Eagles face the Vikings Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc, and Johnson said that as happy as he is for himself, he feels for veteran teammates Jason Peters and Darren Sproles, two all-time great Eagles who suffered season-ending injuries.

"It's not about me, I'm just happy for all the veteran guys," he said. "J.P., he's heartbroken he can't be out there playing. Sproles, those guys. I like winning for the other guys, the veterans. (Brent) Celek's been here 11 years, this will be his second NFC Championship Game.

"It's really about those guys. We've got a lot of confidence right now. We're guaranteed one game left. I'm happy where we're at. Everybody's excited. Let's get back to work Monday and keep this going."

Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

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Eagles' underrated blocking machine vs. Falcons

Toward the end of the regular season, the Eagles' offensive line just didn't seem to be hitting its stride. 

That all changed on Saturday against the Falcons. 

The Eagles' O-line dominated in the trenches and helped guide the Birds to a 15-10 win to advance to the NFC Championship Game. What was the line missing down the stretch? Stefen Wisniewski. 

The starting left guard missed a couple games with an ankle sprain but returned for the regular-season finale. Then, he just happened to have his best game as an Eagle in the divisional round game. It also happened to be the very first playoff game of his career. 

The 27-year-old Wisniewski had played in 107 regular-season games without getting to the postseason — more than any other player on the active roster. When he got his first shot, he certainly made it count. 

Because Wisniewski didn't just do his job against the Falcons. He was dominant and made things happen all afternoon. 

Here's a closer look at some of his impressive plays against Atlanta: 

This first play came on the Eagles' second drive of the game. It's 2nd-and-3 and Jay Ajayi is about to break off an 11-yard gain right behind the hole Wiz opens up. Wisniewski is about to get to the second level after the snap and find linebacker Deion Jones, who is a dynamic player but is also just 222 pounds. 

At the mesh point, Trey Burton has come across to take care of the defensive lineman while Wiz is getting out in front on Jones. He doesn't just block him, he's about to push him back. 

Ajayi finishes the run strong, picking up 11 yards. He rode on the back of Wisniewski the whole way. 

Here's a different angle on the block to get an idea of how far Wisniewski drove Jones back. 

 

•••

These next three plays happened on consecutive downs. They were the last two plays of the first quarter and the first play of the second. Wiz got in a zone. 

On this one, Wiz is about to take on big Ahtyba Rubin, who weighs 310 pounds. 


On this zone read play, Ajayi sweeps left, so the entire defensive line shifts that way. Rubin goes with the play, but you can see where Wisniewski opens the hole. He makes it pretty easy on Ajayi. 

•••

The very next play is a screen, which has been a big part of the Eagles' offense when it gets clicking. 

"The screen game has been something we've worked on the last couple of weeks," head coach Doug Pederson said, "and it had to get better as the season wore on for us." 

On this play, Nelson Agholor is at the bottom of the screen. He's about to come in motion to create some space at the bottom of the screen. That's where Wisniewski is going to get out in front to clear a path for Ajayi. 

Ajayi is working through the line and is about to settle in his spot to catch the pass from Nick Foles. Meanwhile, Wisniewski gets to the second level to find a hat to block. 

Then, Wiz just bullies Jones again. He really used that size and strength edge to his advantage and didn't let the quicker Jones get around him. 

This was an important play because it showed just how big of a key the screen game could be. A little later, you'll get to see Wiz's most impressive play. It came on a screen later in the game. 

This is the first play of the second quarter. After Ajayi picked up nearly 50 yards in the first quarter, he's on the sideline getting a breather so LeGarrette Blount is on the field. He's gonna run right behind Wiz. 

Just after the snap, Wiz lends some help to Jason Kelce, who is blocking big 346-pound tackle Dontari Poe. He then turns his attention to Jones, who has become his whipping boy at this point in the game. 

At this point, Wisniewski has picked up his second block on the play and you can see where Blount is going to find the room to sneak ahead for an 8-yard gain. 

••• 

This next play comes about a minute later in the second quarter. The Eagles were running all over the Falcons but Foles was having trouble getting into a rhythm. Pederson is going to find a way to get the ball into one of his playmaker's hands anyway. Agholor will take the ball on an end-around and Wisniewski is going to make it happen.

Lane Johnson swings around to get out in front of Agholor to provide a lead block, but it's Wisniewski who opens the hole. 

The Eagles gained 21 yards on this play to get them down to the 3-yard line. This led to their only touchdown of the game. 

We went in chronological order, which allowed us to save the best for last. Wiz was incredible on this 32-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter. He actually blocks three guys on one play and forces one away from a tackle. 

Pederson caught the Falcons off guard by running a screen pass to the same side on two consecutive plays. He knew they wouldn't be expecting it. But it was still gutsy to run it on a key 3rd-and-7. 

Just after the snap, Wisniewski gets enough of a block on Adrian Clayborn to give Foles plenty of time to deliver the ball. It's Wiz's job to let Clayborn through, but if he doesn't get a piece of him, the talented pass-rusher might have been able to blow up the play before it ever got a chance to develop. 


After getting the block at the line of scrimmage, Wiz gets out in front and takes care of the two defenders that get in his way. It's hard to see it with the photos, so take a look at his incredible play here: 

Pretty impressive, huh? This 32-yard screen pass got the Eagles across midfield, and they eventually got close enough for Jake Elliott to kick a 21-yard field goal to put them up 15-10. It was a huge score because then the Falcons needed a touchdown instead of a field goal. 

"I'll tell you, it was just set up perfectly for us and well-executed to have Wiz downfield and block one," Pederson said, "but take out two, obviously helps the play."

It took Wisniewski a while to prove himself this season. Even though he signed an extension this offseason, the Eagles seemed hesitant to give him the starting left guard spot. Isaac Seumalo was the starter going into the season and Chance Warmack was given the first shot to replace him when he struggled. 

Eventually, though, Wisniewski got the nod and has been playing at a really high level all season. The Eagles have three Pro Bowl or All-Pro linemen, but without Wisniewski, this line just didn't seem to work. With him, they were dominant on Saturday.