PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles won’t be gracious hosts Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Giants don’t expect their fans will be, either.
“I told my mom she can’t come to the game,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said this week, “because she’ll go back at them. I’m excited.”
If the Giants are eliminated in the NFC’s Divisional playoff round, however, it won’t be the fans to blame.
It will be because Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia’s dynamic quarterback, used the Eagles’ bye week to get his sprained right shoulder healthy.
That is the key to this fifth all-time meeting of these NFC East rivals, with the series tied 2-2: whether Hurts is still limited or closer to full strength.
“He’s off the injury report, so I’m expecting Jalen Hurts the MVP candidate,” Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “I think if you expect anything less, you’re kidding yourself. The guy’s a competitor.”
This Giants team is different from the one that lost, 48-22, to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium in early December, of course.
The primary difference is that Daniel Jones has stormed onto the national scene with back to back explosive offensive performances:
He went for 177 passing yards, 91 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in a 38-10 shellacking of the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17.
Then, after sitting out the regular season finale against the Eagles, he became the first NFL QB in postseason history to throw for 300+ yards, rush for 70+ yards and throw two TD passes in a 31-24 road Wild Card playoff win at Minnesota.
In the process, Jones has converted doubters to believers, and he is aware.
“I don’t think I’ve spent a whole lot of time thinking about that,” Jones said this week. “I think if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s about what you do the next week, so I’m focused on that … You hear some of [the outside noise] for sure and notice some of it. [But] I can’t control how people respond positively or negatively. I just control how I play, and that’s my focus.”
While Jones has carried the Giants’ offense lately, though, he is going to need Saquon Barkley’s help on Saturday.
Barkley is going to need to be the Giants’ best offensive player if they want to win this game.
The Eagles went 14-1 this season in the 15 games Hurts started and played. The only game he lost, 32-21 at home to Washington on Nov. 14, was due to the Commanders’ 40:24 time of possession advantage.
That was created by Washington’s 49 carries for 152 yards and two TDs and four Philly turnovers (one Hurts interception and three skill player fumbles).
Barkley has been used more as a red zone and fourth-quarter closer lately. He has had 15 or more carries only once in his last five games.
He’ll have to do more on Saturday, and he said he’s ready.
“I’m just locked in,” Barkley said.
The game really only comes down to Hurts, though, and if he’s healthy.
He racked up 3,701 passing yards with 66.5% completion, rushed for 760, and scored 35 total TDs to only eight turnovers. And that included a 294-yard, three-TD demolition of the Giants in Week 14 when coach Nick Sirianni left Hurts and the starters in the game deep into the blowout.
Could that have had anything to do with Giants coach Brian Daboll benching Hurts at halftime of Alabama’s national championship win over Georgia on Jan. 8, 2018, when he was Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, in favor of Tua Tagovailoa?
It certainly had the feel of a player putting a special hurting on a foe.
Daboll has gone out of his way to praise Hurts’ stellar season and character. When asked this week how Jones’ dual-threat ability can prepare the Giants’ defense for Hurts, Daboll wouldn’t even entertain the idea.
“Well, I think it’s hard,” he said. “There’s only one Jalen … I’m expecting his best. And that’s what he’s given every time I’ve been around him.”
Word out of Philadelphia is that Hurts looked like himself at practice. The Eagles’ quarterback said he expects the Giants to target his shoulder, and he’s not concerned.
“It’s football,” Hurts said this week. “I’ve got a bounty on me every week I go out there on the field, so I’m going to go out there and just play my game. Whatever happens, happens.”
Giants inside linebacker Jaylon Smith said facing the Eagles’ offense, with Hurts’ running ability, is difficult because the defense has to account for an extra blocker.
“A lot of it comes down to shedding a blocker and then making a play,” Smith said. “But it’s all about mentality and having great eyes.”
He also said Hurts’ shoulder, injured or not, doesn’t make him any less dangerous in the Giants’ minds.
“He’s a dynamic player,” he said. “So the game plan is the same. You gotta give it your all when you’re playing against top talent.”
The Giants will give it their all and hope that it’s enough for their run to continue. They’ll need Barkley to star and Jones to play efficiently.
Unless Hurts is healthy and at his MVP level. Then, well, the Giants’ encouraging season would come to an end.