The Eagles won on Thursday Night, ending a losing streak, beating a division rival, and winning a one score game. A trifecta of accomplishments. And we learned a few things along the way.
1 Thursday Night Football: Actually good!
All year long both fans and players have not been happy with Thursday Night Football. And they were right to be. The games are usually bad match ups (Jaguars-Titans has been a TNF game for three straight years) or just plain bad games. Not this week, and not for Eagles fans. Beating the Giants is always fun, and picking off Eli three times, once for a touchdown and to end the game, is a cherry on top. And objectively, it was an entertaining game: big plays on the ground and air, and it came down to the wire. What was all the complaining about?
2 The Eagles found their hot start swing
When the Eagles lose, they usually play poorly in the first quarter, either turning the ball over a few times or getting behind quickly, and then they can’t get out of their own quicksand. When they’ve won, they’ve usually gotten off to a good start, mixing up the run and the pass and holding on to an early lead. Against the Giants, the defense forced a three and out, then the offense scored a touchdown, then the defense scored a touchdown of their own. It quickly gave them a lead they never gave up, just like before.
3 Doug Pederson is not going to stop taking risks
Ron Rivera got the nickname “Riverboat Ron” after he went for it time and time again on fourth down. (Why didn’t they call him “Ron Riveraboat”? Opportunity missed.) But then he went away from it and he’s just plain Ron Rivera now. The same happened with former Falcons coach Mike Smith early in his career, he went for it more than the next guy, then he suddenly stopped (and right about that time he stopped winning). Maybe that will happen with Doug Pederson, who’s not afraid to call the high leverage play, but for now he needs a nickname that conveys how often he will go for it on fourth down. Daring Doug? Dice rollin’ Doug? Okay those are bad but you get the idea.
4 Maybe he should be more calculating
On one hand, going for it on fourth and goal when you need just inches is the right call, especially when you have nothing to lose at this point in the season. Trusting in your offense is good, and when you just came off a game where you went for two at the end, consistency is good too.
But on the other hand, it can be argued that the situation called for a field goal attempt. Carson Wentz had just left the game, so the Giants knew the Eagles were almost certainly going to run it. But Chase Daniel wasn’t the only backup on the field. Allen Barbre had also left the game, forcing Stefen Wisniewski into action at left guard. You’re handcuffed at QB and you’re downgraded with your blocking. Lane Johnson was coming off a ten week suspension, he played fine but sharpness and fatigue have to be taken into consideration.
In Week 16 for a last place team, it’s nothing to get bothered about. But file it away in the back of your mind if a similar situation occurs in a game with higher stakes.
5 Lane Johnson isn’t a savior
Johnson played well, and he was a boost to the Eagles offense, particularly on the first drive when the Eagles ran the ball well. But any hopes that his return to the lineup would mean a big turnaround to an efficient, high scoring offense weren’t realized. Johnson was having a really good season and establishing himself as a top tier right tackle, and it’s fair to wonder how many games the Eagles would have won if he hadn’t gotten suspended. But the performance of the offense showed that while the Eagles probably would have won at least one more game with him, he wasn’t the reason why the team went 2-8 after starting 3-1. And like we’ve said before here about the same problems with the offense every week being a good thing because the needs are clear cut, the silver lining with Johnson’s return not being a huge swing in performance is that the Eagles can’t, or shouldn’t, feel that they were just a right tackle away from being in the hunt for the playoffs. More work is needed.
6 Officials don’t hate the Eagles
Every team gets bad calls, but it seems like this year the Eagles have gotten a few too many. Not on Thursday. Eli Manning and the Giants threw the ball 63 times and not once was an Eagles defender called for pass interference, which is pretty absurd. If that happened to the Eagles, we’d be livid. But it didn’t, even though Nolan Carroll sure looked like he committed PI on Sterling Shepard. But the Eagles are owed a few. It all evens out eventually.
7 Nelson Agholor ain’t dead yet
He’s been one of, if not the worst wide receiver in the league during his two year career, but Agholor’s 40 yard touchdown was something we hadn’t seen in a while: a completed deep pass, and for a touchdown. Agholor made a nice adjustment on the ball to catch it in stride and gain some confidence with his second touchdown of the season. Just when you thought he couldn’t do anything, he gives you a big play. Don’t count him out yet?
8 Jalen Mills seems to have found his role
The coaching staff loves Jalen Mills, maybe a little too much. He doesn’t have the speed to be an outside corner, but Jim Schwartz (and Cory Undlin) kept putting him out there, and he wasn’t getting results. But as the season has progressed, he’s worked the inside of the field more, where he’s better suited, and started to renew the faith the staff had in him.
On the last drive against the Giants, the coaches put all their faith in him. Jim Schwartz gave his defense a coverage they hadn’t really practiced: zone for everyone but Jalen Mills, who shadowed Odell Beckham. On ten attempts, Beckham was targeted just once, an incompletion. It won’t reach “Bill Walsh draws a play in the dirt for Joe Montana during a playoff game” level of apocryphal NFL lore, but drawing that kind of assignment against one of the best and most elusive wide receivers in the game is a tall task, and Mills was up for it.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this seemed to be a season low for his trademark finger wags.
9 Carson Wentz needs to improve
It wasn’t Wentz’s best game, but it was far from his worst game too. You want your QB to believe in the players he’s leading, but he has maybe a little too much faith in his wide receivers. After scrambles, if no one is immediately open he needs to throw the ball away where no one can get it rather than chuck it deep, where defenders have time to close on the ball. And get Jeff Stoutland to show him a thing or two about blocking. (Or don’t have him block.)
10 Carson Wentz can improve
The throws off the back foot that resulted in ugly interceptions? Gone. The fumbles from holding on the ball too long during scrambles? None. As we’ve seen with this before, and with his habit of getting hit too many times in the first few games of the season, Carson Wentz can fix his mistakes from week to week. It’s just a matter of him doing it permanently.
11 It will be a happy holiday
It’s a holiday weekend, and it’s going to be a good one because you have the entire weekend and all of next week to enjoy the Eagles beating the Giants. If you have a family member who is a Giants fan that you will see this weekend you can taunt him or her. Though really you shouldn’t have them over or go their house. You can’t chose your family but we can make exceptions.