EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nick Foles isn’t getting a three-week grace period in replacing Carson Wentz as the quarterback with the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles (11-2) still have work to do in the regular season, and it begins Sunday when the 28-year-old Foles makes his first start against the reeling New York Giants (2-11) at MetLife Stadium.
The immediate goals are right there. If the Eagles win, they clinch a first-round bye. They claim the NFC’s No. 1 seed — home-field advantage throughout — with a win and a loss by Minnesota (10-3).
Foles in not an untested backup. He threw 27 TDs and two interceptions in 10 starts in 2013, and had 13 TDs and 10 interceptions in eight games the following year before breaking his collarbone.
Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson reminded his players this week that while Wentz has made a major difference in getting them to this point with 33 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in what was an MVP-type season, football is more than one outstanding player.
“… It’s about team and it’s my job to make sure that everybody understands that and as coaches and players, too, we just got to make sure this time of year that nothing gets overlooked,” he said. “We’re crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘I’ and we’re prepared each week to take on another set of challenges. We’re still playing for potential home field and that’s the exciting part about it. It’s still in our control and, yet, it’s a team sport.”
While this game appears to be a mismatch, the Eagles know winning a division game is never easy. Remember Sept. 24?
The Eagles’ recent nine-game winning streak started with a 27-24 win over the Giants in Philadelphia on a franchise-record 61-yard field goal by Jake Elliott on the final play.
The Giants haven’t forgotten the game. They are also trying to get interim coach Steve Spagnuolo a win. He replaced the fired Ben McAdoo on Dec. 4, and in his first game New York was tied with Dallas 10-10 in the fourth quarter last weekend before losing 30-10.
“With the talented group that they have, they’re at the top of the NFC as a whole, so for it to go down to a 61-yard field goal, it shows that we can compete with them. We can compete with the best,” Giants running back Orleans Darkwa.
Foles tossed two TD passes and had a 114.9 rating in his only career game at the Giants on Oct. 6, 2013.
Some things to watch Sunday:
Despite having the top-ranked run defense in the NFL, the Eagles have allowed teams to rush for more than 100 yards in three of the last four games. Todd Gurley had 96 yards for the Rams in a 43-35 loss to Philadelphia last Sunday. It was the most by one player against the Eagles this season. Poor tackling was the main problem against Gurley.
The Giants had high hopes for cornerback Eli Apple when they drafted him in the first round last year. After showing flashes in 2016, he has backtracked in his second season. He has been beaten on deep passes because he does not turn around to find the ball, and he has been hit with some big pass interference penalties. He fell into McAdoo’s doghouse and missed the last four games, the last two with hip and back problems.
Teammates say he has been bothered by off-the-field issues, an illness to his mother. He has practiced this week so he might be worth looking out for if he plays.
New QB, same offense
The Eagles don’t plan to restructure their offense for Foles. He isn’t nearly as mobile and he’s not a threat to keep the ball on run-pass option plays as was Wentz. But most of Wentz’s 299 yards rushing came on scrambles instead of designed running plays. Led by LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, the Eagles have the second-ranked rushing offense. Both guys could see more carries to neutralize New York’s aggressive defense.
The Eagles’ defense has been one of the NFL’s best, ranked fourth overall. The Giants’ offense is ranked No. 29, averaging 15.3 points. Last time the teams played, Eli Manning hit 35 of 47 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. The completions, yards and touchdown passes were all season highs, as was the 24 points. Manning had Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram as his receivers then. Only Shepard and Engram are left.
The Giants have been using defensive tackle Robert Thomas in a fullback role instead of fullback Shane Smith when they get close to the goal line. “With that goal-line group of personnel, the more beef, the bigger body that we can have there in terms of trying to punch the ball in. It’s not anything negative about Shane, but Robert is a bigger body and he has a natural ability to uncoil his hips,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said.
The other reason: New York’s defense likes it.