What a weird and frustrating win.
This was a game of extremes. It was not so much good things and bad things, as great things and terrible things.
1. The four minute offense
Finally, the Eagles showed the ability to put away a game when they had a big lead. This is something that has eluded Chip Kelly over the years. In college, he kept the pedal to the
meddle metal and (usually) ran away from foes, but that's not something you can count on in the NFL. His teams have uncorked the rare 9 minute drive to close out a game, in the 2013 Packers game, and 3 years earlier against a Cal team featuring Shane Vereen.
But in the NFL, you want to be able to grind out 4-6 minute, run-based drives on the regular, and that's what the Eagles did behind a suddenly steady offensive line and DeMarco Murray's first 100-yard game for Philadelphia. In the second half, with a large lead, the Birds ran off drives of 4:00, 5:16 (resulting in a field goal), and 4:36 (for a TD). The game ended 3:33 into another drive that had already picked up 36 yards before it was time for victory formation.
This is a huge development for any team, but especially this one with a great defense and a shaky but sometimes powerful offense.
The Giants only had three turnovers in their first 328 offensive plays over five games. Philadelphia took the ball away three times in a stretch of just 14 plays, starting with 5:24 left in the first quarter, and I do mean took it away.
These were not flubs by New York. DeMeco Ryans literally ripped the ball out of Larry Donnell's arms after a completion. Billy Davis carefully schemed Nolan Carroll's pick six (more on that in a second), and then Malcolm Jenkins carefully went for the strip rather than tackling Rashad Jennings on a screen. The Giants executed each of those plays perfectly; there were no drops, bobbles or passes bouncing off fingers. The Eagles just had a better game plan each time and executed it perfectly.
3. The defensive front line
Everybody knows about this. It's still awesome, though. In that 14-play stretch that broke the Giants' spirit, the 3 turnovers sandwiched an amazing defensive stand. On 2nd and 1, the Eagles stuffed New York three plays in a row and the Eagles took over on downs at their own 43 yard line.
That left New York as a one-dimensional pass team for the rest of the game. ProFootballFocus had said that the Giants had one of the best interior lines (once you remove their two crappy tackles from the equation). Whatever. They were all repeatedly abused by Cox, Logan and Thornton, resulting in three sacks, seven tackles for loss and seven QB hits.
4. Pass defense
The run stuffers are no secret, but word has not gotten out yet that the Eagles are approximately 8 billion million billion times better in the secondary this year, after being horrible for years. With a harried Eli needing to pass, the Eagles stayed in their nickel and dime subpackages, especially in the second half; Chris Maragos, who doesn't play in the base defense, was in for 71% of the defensive snaps. And according to Walter Thurmond, they mixed in some Cover 2 which they hadn't run all year.
The results were excellent. Odell Beckham Jr., fighting a hamstring injury, was double-teamed and targeted only once in the second half (incomplete). The Giants totaled just 55 net yards after the break. And Eli Manning, having the best statistical year of his career, was barely better than Sam Bradford. That's not good at all.
The Eagles held Manning to a season-low 189 yards and intercepted him twice, including Nolan Carroll's pick six (which came in Cover 2). Jimmy Kempski wrote an excellent breakdown of how the Eagles fooled Eli into thinking they were still in man coverage to sucker him in to that throw.
The unit should start to get more recognition. PFF recently said that both Eagles safeties were among the NFL's top 5.
5. Throwing deep
Admit it, during the first four games of this year, you were demanding that the Eagles take more shots down field. The offense was all short passes and failed runs. Well, you got your wish. Bradford threw eight long passes against Washington, completing half of them, and hucked up ten against the Giants, including an amazing 3 out of four plays in one sequence at the end of the 3rd period (with the Birds up 24-7).
The TD to Cooper was a great play design that left the WR wide open in the end zone, the tendency breaker that you kind of knew was coming. The Eagles had run on 37 of their previous 38 center snaps this year, and it didn't take Chris Brown of Smart Football to guess that a play-action pass on a center snap might be coming up pretty soon. But it burned the Giants.
1. Not throwing deep enough
Maybe people should have specified completing deep passes, not just throwing them? Under no pressure at all, either from the game situation or the Giants' pass rush, Bradford hucked it up again and again without waiting for, I don't know, an open receiver?
Here are the results of those ten long throws: a 32-yard touchdown, two other completions for 43 and 37 yards, four incompletions, and three interceptions. The touchdown could easily have been another interception as it was way short, forcing Riley Cooper to come back for it as two defenders closed in on him.
Pat Shurmur didn't agree with the idea that Bradford threw a lot of his passes short, and it's true that many of his shorter throws were simply off-target or even high. But when you watch the tape, a lot of Sam's bombs have fallen short, exactly where defensive backs tend to hang out. This was true both against New Orleans (e.g. the two red zone INTs) and again this week: two and maybe all three of the interceptions, plus a long pass that Cooper got injured on, and that first TD he caught.
2. Inaccurate throws
But that's not all! Bradford overthrew other passes, especially at shorter range, and was just wild on still more. It was the kind of game that made you happy Sam didn't sign the extension that the Eagles offered him.
Lot of season left but re-watching MNF I think Bradford should've taken extension Eagles offered. No matter what $ it was.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) October 21, 2015
3. Miscommunication between receivers and Bradford
Have you detected my theme yet? (Spoiler: Bradford sucked.)
On the first drive, Sproles ran a wheel, while Bradford threw to the flat route Darren faked. Sam's first interception was right in between Cooper and Ertz; it's hard to know if that was a) underthrown, b) overthrown, or c) just confused. I'm guessing c).
On his second INT, Chip has said that it was an option play where Riley Cooper could run a post or a curl if the DBs were playing deep. He did turn around, but later than the time where he was supposed to decide. Bradford threw long despite seeing two defenders there. Call it shared responsibility.
After 6 games though, miscommunication becomes more and more the QB's responsibility. He's the boss and needs to make sure receivers are on the same page.
I didn't see as many drops in this game as before, thank heavens. Jordan Matthews dropped two passes but only after getting blasted by DBs. I suppose he could have tucked the ball in tighter on the second one and perhaps avoided the helmet-to-ball hit that knocked it out, but it's pretty easy for those of us who only watch to criticize a guy for not hanging on when taking a hit that would have put us in the hospital.
4. Jason Kelce
The Eagles Pro Bowl center continues to make mistakes, from a penalty that negated a seven yard run to missed blocks and a too-early snap that whistled past Bradford's ear for an 18 yard loss that could have been a lot worse. I have no idea what the problem is, but it's concerning.
5. Missing Open Receivers
You didn't think I was done with Sam Bradford's mistakes, did you? Discussing the first interception, Josh Paunil of Birds 24/7 wrote:
On Sam Bradford's first interception against the Giants, all four of his receivers were open. pic.twitter.com/tU41whfgX6— Josh Paunil (@JoshPaunil) October 21, 2015
I'm not sure I agree Ertz was open, or at least not by much. But that makes it even worse, since he was the nearest receiver. Cooper, Huff and Sproles were all open by a mile.
After all that, it's hard to be too pessimistic about this team. The defense is excellent and doesn't need that much offensive help. Meanwhile, there are tons of offensive playmakers who can break a play on their own, and Chip's schemes continue to get less-than-elite receivers open. There are some very tough games on the schedule even before any hypothetical playoffs though, including the Patriots, Dallas with most of its stars likely back, and undefeated Carolina on Sunday.
Bradford is going to have to play at the very least competently and mistake-free to beat those teams.