Eagles Can’t Let Saquon ‘Get Started’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The New York Giants are just scary enough to concern an Eagles team that has some significant negative home/road splits when it comes to defense.
With Sunday's Week 17 play-in game set for MetLife Stadium, Philadelphia can't start thinking ahead about a postseason home game especially now that rookie Daniel Jones is back at quarterback for the Giants and running back Saquon Barkey, one of the most explosive playmakers in the entire NFL is completely healthy.
Three weeks ago the aging and limited Eli Manning started a two-week swan song against the Eagles by performing well in the first half before faltering in what turned into a 23-17 Philadelphia overtime win, a result which kicked off a three-game division-winning streak for the Birds that will clinch the NFC East is they turn it into four up the Jersey Turnpike.
Manning is far more limited than Jones from a physical perspective and the Eagles have owned the former, winning nine of the last 10 against the NYG with Eli under center. Conversely, Jones can be a turnover machine especially when it comes to putting the football on the turf but the Duke product can also make plays the aging Manning can only dream of at this stage of his career.
Jones had his best game as a professional last week against the Washington Redskins, tossing for five touchdowns en route to an overtime win.
“Like a lot of rookie players he has his ups and downs, but he’s playing his best late in the season,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this week.
Schwartz also noted Jones' movement skills vs. the stationary target Manning gave his pass rushers earlier this month.
“[He] has good mobility. He runs a little bit more zone reads and option stuff than obviously Eli Manning, and also can scramble, so we have to take care of that," Schwartz explained. "And I think he’s making an effort to get the ball out of his hand a little bit quicker. I think you saw that against Washington last week ... He certainly gets your attention. He threw for a bunch of yards. He scored a lot of points. He had a lot of touchdown passes last week."
The Giants offense starts with Barkley, though, a rare talent who can take it the distance at any moment in both the running and passing games. The Eagles did a solid job against Barkley, who hadn't been himself for much of the season due to an ankle injury, at Lincoln Financial Field -- limiting him to 66 yards on 17 carries and just a yard through the air despite three receptions.
Since then Barkley has found the groove, amassing a gaudy 422 scrimmage yards over his last two games with four TDs.
“I thought last time we played him, we treated him like he was 100 percent and I thought he was,” Schwartz said. "He is a guy that if you give him an inch, he can go the distance. I think you saw that [last week], he caught a wide receiver screen, did a seam route out of the backfield, made some of those big plays. He has that ability."
And that ability means the Eagles defense has to be aware of where Barkley is lining up at all times while Pat Shurmur tried to play a bit of "Where's Waldo."
"He is a guy you always need to know where he is, you need to account for him both in the run game and pass game," Schwartz admitted. "And in the run game, you have to account for all of your gaps. He is a guy that can spin. He is a really good spin move guy and can break contain, so it’s not just your interior guys. Your edges have to hold up well against him.
“A guy that can make a big play, and it’s up to us to keep him from getting started.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen