The Philadelphia Eagles are now 12-2 in the 2017 NFL regular season schedule after defeating the New York Giants by a final score of 34 to 29 (recap here). Here’s a look at everything we learned from this game.
1 - The Eagles secured a first-round bye
It wasn’t a pretty win for the Eagles, but they got the job done and secured a first-round bye. It’s their first one since all the way back in 2004.
Philadelphia could’ve clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture if the Vikings lost on Sunday. Alas, they did not. Now the Eagles can clinch home field advantage throughout the post-season if Minnesota loses this Saturday OR the Eagles beat the Raiders on Monday Night Football.
Locking up home field is very important. The Eagles have already accomplished a lot this year but that’s the next step.
2 - Nick Foles is still capable of playing good football
You all know I’m not the biggest Foles guy. But there’s no denying he turned in a strong performance against the G-Men. Very nice of him to step up in the absence of Carson Wentz.
Foles finished the day by completing 24 of his 38 attempts (63.2%) for 237 yards (6.2 average), four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 115.8 passer rating.
Now, we have to be realistic about the Giants’ defense here. They’re very bad. New York ranked dead last in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed heading into this week’s game. The Giants were playing without Landon Collins for most of the game and they also lost middle linebacker B.J. Goodson due to injury.
But to his credit, Foles took advantage. This was an encouraging performance by him.
Moving forward, there are some things to clean up. Foles clearly wasn’t on the same page as his receivers at times. That could be a product of not having enough reps together. I also thought Foles had several interceptable passes where his accuracy/decision-making could serve to be improved. Maybe rust is a factor.
In any case, the good news for the Eagles is that Foles didn’t struggle to the point where he notably limits the team’s ceiling.
Rather, there was a much bigger concern to emerge from this game ...
3 - The defense is a serious concern
Yeah, this is the major concern coming out of Sunday’s game.
Prior to the Eagles-Game matchup, I said that I wasn’t really as concerned about the offense as much as I wanted to see the defense dominate. Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, they were the ones who got dominated.
Jim Schwartz’s unit allowed 504 yards and 29 points to a New York team that was averaging 296.2 (29th) and 15.3 (31st) per game, respectively, prior to Sunday’s matchup.
Quite frankly, that’s pathetic.
You would’ve hoped for this unit to really rally with Wentz going down for the season. But nope. It was another unsatisfactory showing for the third week in a row.
The secondary was especially bad. Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, despite notching a nice pick, were beaten in coverage way too often. The Giants just went with their Week 3 strategy of getting the ball out quick and running a Madden video game-like offense that features slants on nearly every play.
It was a pretty smart strategy for the Giants. It was pretty pathetic to see that Schwartz didn’t have an answer for any of it the second time this season, although he did make some adjustments.
From ESPN Stats & Info: The Eagles blitzed Eli Manning on over half his dropbacks the first 3 drives and Manning torched them. After that they blitzed him just 1 time.— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) December 17, 2017
The defensive failings didn’t just boil down to schematics. Discipline was also an issue. Mills got flagged multiple times. Effort was also lacking, which is inexcusable. For the second week in a row, the Eagles’ defense totally failed to prevent a short/medium gain from turning into a long one. Against the Rams, it was Cooper Kupp running for a big gain after Malcolm Jenkins whiffed on a tackle near the sideline. This week, it was Rodney McLeod on a similar kind of play. If you’re not going to fully make the tackle, at least make sure you push the guy out of bounds! Come on with that bullshit.
Now, the defense wasn’t ALL bad. Darby had the interception, as I previously mentioned. The front seven showed up to play. Brandon Graham notched the sole sack of the game and had two tackles for loss. Nigel Bradham had 11 tackles, two passes defensed, and one big tackle for loss. He could’ve had an interception if he didn’t drop a pass thrown right to him. That’s his third dropped pick in two games. Need to get at least one of those. Fletcher Cox sacked Manning on the Giants’ two-point conversion. Corey Graham had good coverage on Evan Engram in the red zone to force a turnover on downs late in the game.
I also think we need to put this performance in perspective. The Eagles were playing their third straight game on the road. That’s not easy. And here’s another good point by BGN’s Ben Natan.
For those sweating one down game against the Giants; just recall that we are less than a week removed from the Dolphins embarrassing the Patriots on national television. It happens.— navarro snowman (@TheBenNatan) December 17, 2017
With all that said, the Eagles defense simply needs to be better for this team to be able to win in the playoffs. And it’s not like that’s asking the impossible. You can’t look at Philly’s effort today and say the defense played up to their potential.
The struggles ultimately fall on Schwartz. He needs his guys to really pick it up down the stretch.
4 - Doug Pederson deserves a lot of credit
Pederson continues to build his Coach of the Year case.
Backup quarterback in and the Eagles still score 34 points and gain 341 yards. Granted, it was against a bad defense, but this showing proved Pederson is capable of having success on his own merit and not just being carried by Wentz.
The play-calling was creative, as usual, and the offense was relatively balanced. One could nitpick and say the Eagles should’ve ran more but getting down early didn’t help them in that regard.
I can’t help but feel Sean McVay will get the CotY votes. People seem to be enamored by him. But Pederson beat McVay last week and overcame lower expectations to lead the Eagles to the sole best record in the NFL right now at 12-2. Plus the Eagles have had to deal with way more injuries than the Rams, including at the most important position.
Doug is the Coach of the Year. Not anyone else.
5 - Special teams looks special again
Dave Fipp’s special teams unit hadn’t been looking so great in previous weeks. But the Eagles really showed up big on Sunday.
They had not one. Not two. But THREE blocked kicks.
Derek Barnett blocked the Giants’ first extra point attempt. Barnett blocked (and recovered) a field goal in the 49ers game earlier this season.
Kamu Grugier-Hill, who is a Pro Bowl-worthy special teams player, notched his first career block on a Brad Wing punt attempt. Kudos to the recently re-signed Bryan Braman on the assist.
Having Bryan Braman back mattered on special teams today. Darian Thompson was so aware of Braman that he missed Kamu Grugier-Hill coming in to block the punt. pic.twitter.com/pH3a0FZA15— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) December 18, 2017
And then Malcolm Jenkins came up big with a blocked 48-yard field goal that would’ve given New York a one-point lead with 11:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
By doing what they did today, the Eagles became the first team to block a PAT, field goal, and punt in the same game since the Buffalo Bills in 1991.
Now, while Fipp’s unit played mostly well, there are a couple issues to address.
First of all, the Najee Goode neutral zone infraction penalty was INCREDIBLY dumb. Not only did it immediately cancel a punt; it allowed the Giants to drive down for a touchdown that made it a two-point game. Had New York not screwed up their two-point conversion attempt, it could’ve been tied.
I’d argue that penalty is so inexcusable that it wouldn’t be outrageous for the Eagles to cut Goode this week. To be clear, I don’t think that will happen. The Eagles need linebacker depth and losing Goode would probably only hurt Fipp’s ST unit. But that penalty just can’t happen. The coaches gotta make him do some extra sprints this practice or something.
The other special teams issue: Donnie Jones. Jones is usually solid, but this was a shaky outing for him. On 4th-and-11 from the Giants’ 49-yard line, Jones booted a punt that didn’t even really have a chance to be downed inside the 20. Instead it went straight for a touchback. That’s only a 29 yard net for Philly. Jones also bobbled a snap, which could’ve led to it being blocked. And then his very last punt of the game was low as well. I don’t know if that was by design, but if it was, it was very risky given the low trajectory.
Jones had a punt blocked last week. He needs to be better like we know he’s capable of being.
6 - Can’t say enough nice things about Nelson Agholor
I don’t think I’ll ever get over Agholor actually being legitimately good now after being so bad in his first two seasons. He’s been great!
Agholor led the Eagles in receiving with seven catches for 59 yards and one touchdown. He totally Moss’d the defender on his score, too.
Agholor had a really bad drop in this game. Foles threw a perfect pass to him and he just couldn’t handle it. But he bounced back on the next play with a tough third down conversion. Gotta love that resiliency. Good job by Foles, too, to show trust in his receiver.
Nelly wasn’t the only receiver who showed up. Alshon Jeffery made a few clutch catches, including his touchdown reception early in the game. That’s a No. 1 WR catch with the way he controlled his feet and body.
Alshon leads the Eagles with nine receiving touchdowns this season. Seven have come in the last seven games. (He also has two 2-point conversions scored in that span.)
Alshon Jeffery leads the Eagles with 9 receiving TDs. Most by an Eagles WR since Jeremy Maclin in 2014 (10 TDs).— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 17, 2017
Zach Ertz had a nice game after missing last week. The starting tight end finished with six receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown. His eight scores this season double his previous career high of four. Ertz’s most impressive play was the one where he actually broke a tackle (!) on a pass short of the sticks on third down to move the chains. Great job, YAC Ertz.
Here’s a fun stat:
Alshon Jeffery (9), Zach Ertz (8) & Nelson Agholor (8) are the first trio in Eagles history to each have 8+ receiving TDs in the same season— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 17, 2017
7 - The Eagles need new booth review people
According to Pederson, Eagles director of football compliance Jon Ferrari and coaching assistant/linebackers Ryan Paganetti are the guys in booth who help him to decide to challenge plays based on the broadcast feed.
Pederson seemingly got some real bad advice during Sunday’s game. On a play where it looked obvious Torrey Smith was out of bounds, Pederson threw his red flag. The ruling was unsurprisingly upheld, so it cost the Eagles a challenge and a timeout.
The bad challenge didn’t end up costing the Eagles in this game, but it could be an issue moving forward. Pederson is now 2 for 6 on challenges this season. Just not good enough. He’s 8 for 16 in his 30 games with Philly so far.
And those numbers don’t include bad non-challenges, such as the Eagles’ decision to not review Russell Wilson’s “lateral” — which was really a forward pass — in the Seattle game.
Seems like the Eagles need people with better judgement giving Pederson advice on the sideline.
8 - Philadelphia’s offensive line held up well for the most part
There were some concerns about the Eagles’ offensive line heading into this matchup with Stefen Wisniewski ruled out and Chance Warmack starting.
As a group, though, the unit seemed to fare pretty well. Foles obviously had a good day throwing the ball. He only got sacked once (a blindside strip sack) and was hit seven times on 38 pass attempts. The running backs combined for 108 yards on 25 carries, which comes out to a respectable 4.32 average.
Warmack didn’t seem to be a total disaster in relief of Wis. I don’t know that he necessarily played well but at least he didn’t appear to be egregiously horrible. Low bar here.
Jason Kelce deserves to be singled out for having a great game. Time and time again he got out in the open field and made some key blocks. His athleticism has always been a great asset for him in that regard. Kelce’s been having such a strong season after two straight down years. Kudos to Howie Roseman for keeping him around.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai was the one who gave up a strip sack to Foles. The Eagles were fortunate that Kenjon Barner recovered it. According to PFF, Big V actually had a really bad game:
Vaitai was not kind to Nick Foles and recorded the lowest game grade (28.8) of his season thus far while allowing 1 sack, 3 QB hits, and a hurry on 40 pass block snaps.
In his last five starts at left tackle, Vaitai has allowed an NFL-high 26 total pressures. Yikes. I’m not sure that Will Beatty would be much better, and I’m not sure the Eagles would even give him a chance if Vaitai is healthy, but that might be a change to consider. At the very least, the Eagles should look to get Beatty some snaps in the final two weeks, especially if the games are meaningless. If he plays well, the Eagles should consider a swap.
Also wanted to mention here that Lane Johnson completely shut down Jason Pierre-Paul. You might’ve forgotten that JPP was even playing.
9 - The Eagles own the Giants
The Eagles are 16-4 in their last 20 games against the Giants. They just always seem to have New York’s number.
The all-time Eagles-Giants regular season series is now at 82-84-2 for Philadelphia. If the Eagles can continue their winning ways in future seasons, they’ll finally have an all-time winning record against an NFC East opponent. Note that the Eagles are 51-62 against the Dallas Cowboy and 76-85-6 against the Washington Redskins.
In fairness to the G-Men, they’ve been able to keep games competitively lately.
D been on downswing then fully imploded against an O that, regardless of how inept it is, gives them fits. In fact, Giants have topped 400 yds just 2x - Wk 3 vs. Eagles & today (500+). First time Giants scored 4 TDs since Wk 17 of ‘15 against, yep, Eagles. https://t.co/MPMJpRBEoe— Dan (@dklausner) December 18, 2017
10 - Eagles fans played a part in the win
Down five points, the Giants faced 4th-and-goal from the Eagles’ 6-yard line with 48 seconds remaining. And then New York right tackle Bobby Hart got flagged for a false start.
Eli Manning himself attributed that penalty to the impact the Eagles fans had on the game.
“There’s not a whole lot of great fourth-and-goal from the 12 plays,” Manning said. “Obviously you have more options from the five. From the five, we had a different play called where you get four guys in the end zone, five guys in the end zone with a back, possibly. From the 10, it’s just tough to get everybody in the end zone with routes and things going. So, yeah, it’s unfortunate. I had the false start. It’s a tough situation, I don’t blame Bobby [Hart]. At home, it’s loud. (Center) Brett Jones couldn’t hear me call the cadence. You don’t think having that [at home], but I guess when you’ve only won two games, there’s a lot of Eagles fans and they were loud and we couldn’t hear the cadence, that’s why we jumped offsides.”
Great work by the Philly faithful who made the trip to MetLife.
There’s no denying the fans have helped the team this season. It’s moments like this. It’s the takeovers in the L.A. road games against the Chargers and Rams. It’s the fact that the Eagles are 12-2 at Lincoln Financial Field in the Doug Pederson era.
Eagles fans make a difference.
That’s why it’s so imperative that the Eagles lock up the No. 1 seed to ensure home field advantage in the playoffs. Philly needs every edge they can get. Get in the stands and make the Linc rock.
11- The Eagles need to play better to beat good teams
Speaking of playoffs, Doug Pederson said it best.
“You can’t play like this and win in the postseason obviously. Can’t play like this and expect to win every week. You have to come prepared and when I say prepared I mean from a mental standpoint, that emotion, that sort of sense of urgency and that dominating swagger that you want to see your team come out of the dressing room with and that was kind of the message today.”
I’m not trying to diminish the Eagles’ win. They ultimately fought hard and got the W. That matters. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement with this team. They’re not necessarily going to be able to get down like this in the playoffs and bounce back. The margin for error is going to be much smaller.
Playing at home in the playoffs should help the guys get juiced up. Hopefully the effort is more consistent when the games matter most.