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Thursday Night Football: Can the Eagles Figure Things Out?

Following a tough loss to the Minnesota Vikings last week, the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles now sit at 2-3 this season, log-jammed in a very murky NFC East picture.

With that loss, the Eagles have fallen to 16th in our power rankings, and they will face the New York Giants, who rank 21st in those same rankings.

Without any one team taking over the division, this is a big game to determine the future state of the division winner. Can the Giants hold serve at home, or will the Eagles get a pivotal road win?

Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

Carson Wentz has worked his way back from a major injury last season, and he has been so-so to date this season. Among the 28 quarterbacks with 125 or more drop backs, Wentz stacks up at the bottom of the group, checking in 25th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.03), and in terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in positive NEP -- Wentz has been significantly better (17th) with a mark of 47.76%.

While we will discuss the injury to Jay Ajayi more below, it is interesting to note that Wentz has performed pretty admirably with him out of the lineup, per the RotoViz Game Split's App.

As below-average as Wentz has been, Eli Manning hasn't been much better in 2018. In terms of Passing NEP per drop back, Manning clocks in 21st (0.06) and also ranks 21st in Passing Success Rate (46.80%).

The dink-and-dunk strategy does not appear to be working for either passer, as neither one seems to be intent on airing it out too much. In looking at Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) -- the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts -- Wentz has been slightly better, posting a mark of 8.0 IAY, while Manning slides down the leaderboard at 7.2 IAY.

While the Giants ranked second in pace last season, both offenses rank in the bottom of the league in 2018, with the Eagles ranking 23rd (28.54 seconds per play), and the Giants 27th (29.23).

With pretty poor play so far this year by both quarterbacks, how do the running games stack up?

Running Back Play

The Eagles backfield is a bit confusing at this point, as regular starter Ajayi has been placed on Injured Reserve due to a devastating knee injury.

In trying to figure out who the next person up is for the Eagles, it looks like it could be Wendell Smallwood over Corey Clement.

Smallwood certainly hasn't had the biggest workload this season, with only 150 rushing yards, but if he is indeed the lead back tonight, he could be in position to shine. Among running backs with 20 carries or more, he leads the group with a 0.30 Rushing NEP per rush mark. We do know that Darren Sproles has already been ruled out for Week 6. Clement may mix in at some point to create more of a running back by committee, but expect Smallwood to see the bulk of it.

Saquon Barkley has been the lead dog in the Giants backfield. Among the running backs with 30 carries or more (46), Barkley has been just average this year, ranking 21st in Rushing NEP per attempt with a mark of -0.02. In terms of Rushing Success Rate, Barkley has performed slightly better, ranking 19th (42.25%). From a pass-catching perspective, Barkley has also been a beast, ranking second among running backs in targets (27).

With both offenses still working their way into form, can these defenses wreak havoc tonight?

Defensive Matchup

Neither offense is exactly humming right now, but the two defenses have certainly been performing. In peeking at the Eagles first, who rank 10th overall in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, they have been fantastic against the pass (8th) and respectable against the to run (14th).

The Giants defense, meanwhile, has been decent, ranking 14th overall by numberFire's metrics, 15th against the pass and 22nd against the run. In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks plus intentional grounding penalties, it's interesting how solid these defenses have been given their absolute lack of pass pressure. The Eagles have been mildly better, ranking 19th (6.5%), and the Giants are dead last (3.6%).

However, Philadelphia has been solid in getting the ball back to the offense, as they rank 11th in yards allowed per drive (31.33), while New York slides a bit back at 22nd (35.12).

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