Welcome back to the Eagles Film Room. Jonny Page and myself have decided that, going forward, I will do the defense full-time while he takes the offense. Wentz reports from myself will continue to be a weekly analysis for those curious.
The Eagles were handed some unfortunate circumstances that every team has to deal with, as injuries forced them to play without four starters in this game. Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Rodney McLeod and Ronald Darby — each the best players at their respective positions, with McLeod possibly being the exception — were all hurt at some point in this game and never returned. Darby and McLeod were ruled out coming in and Hicks and Cox sustained first half injuries that left a depleted unit almost barren. Fortunately, the Eagles’ spirit didn't break and despite a few late bumps in the road the Eagles were able to force turnovers and put an offense that struggled to capitalize for a portion of the day in position to win the game.
As we expected, coming into the game the Giants needed to scheme to mask the deficiencies of one of the worst offensive lines in football. As a result, the Eagles weren't able to sack Eli Manning even once on Sunday. Plays like the one above were a constant as the plan was to get the ball out of Eli’s hands as quickly as possible. As much as I disagree with some of Pro Football Focus’ charting, time to get the ball out of the hand isn't necessarily subjective and is a good statistic when you can provide context. The following to throws were a wide receiver screen and another quick throw to Brandon Marshall who ran a curl route.
Conventional wisdom says that if the Giants are trying to get rid of the ball quickly, why not press or jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage to buy the pass rush time? The play above is an example of why Jim Schwartz had his hands tied. In addition to the absence of Rodney McLeod, the Eagles backup safeties Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham were also out, which left special teams ace Chris Maragos to start alongside Malcolm Jenkins. Maragos takes a bad angle on the receiver, as the Eagles are in what appears to be a Cover 3 zone. In an ideal world, the Eagles would've been able to stay in Cover 2 as they did last December when they hosted the Giants, but again, personnel issues really forced the Eagles’ hand schematically.
The Eagles defense may not have shown up on the stat sheet with sacks, but the defensive line did force the Giants to game-plan around them. The thing about the short passing game is that it consistently forces a team to put together long drives of 10 plus plays and that becomes unsustainable. Just because the Giants tried to scheme around and neutralize the Eagles’ pass rush, doesn't mean they were 100 percent successful. On plays like the one above, it’s important to keep in mind that the rush is still super talented and when given chances, will disrupt throwing lanes and windows. Above Brandon Graham is left unblocked on the edge and does an excellent job of keeping backside contain on Manning on the bootleg. Pressure throws Eli off his spot and forces an incompletion.
As mentioned above, the Eagles were forced to play a lot of off-coverage and the Giants attacked it well. In the play above the Giants call an RPO and Manning takes the pass option. The offensive lineman come out run blocking which draws the linebackers up. With off coverage, Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepherd runs a slant with the opened throwing lane and secures a first down for the Giants.
This was the first interception of the day for Manning and the first of Rasul Douglas’ career. I didn't think this was a good throw by any means from Eli. The Eagles are again going with a single-high safety look pre-snap and Douglas is left alone on an island with Brandon Marshall. Marshall has done an excellent job throughout his career of winning at the catch-point, which is probably what leads Manning to heave what he believes to be a 50/50 ball to Marshall. Marshall doesn't have top end speed so Douglas doesn't have to worry about him getting behind him down the field. Some of the positives for Rasul Douglas coming out of West Virginia were his ball skills and length. Both helped out here, and the Eagles defense stepped up when the team needed them.
I thought Douglas played this well, but a corner route is always going to beat man coverage. Factor in a well thrown ball from Eli Manning and this is a play you have to tip your hat to. Fortunately, the NFL doesn't know how to define a catch so the touchdown was nullified.
It wouldn't be fair if I didn't mention Mychal Kendricks and his admirable job filling in for Jordan Hicks on Sunday. Kendricks was all over the place, as he has been in limited time all season, making plays. With the quick passing game, defensive players know that the ball is coming out quick — obviously. A quarterback’s drop tells you how quickly the ball is supposed to come out of their hands. Here, Eli takes a quick drop and opens up right. Kendricks sees Manning’s eyes and drives on that passing window. I’ve been critical of Kendricks’ instincts, as I believed that was the biggest part of his game that’s prevented him from becoming an Pro Bowl caliber linebacker, but his instincts appear sharper than they've ever been. Kendricks closes the window, tips the ball for the interception. My only complaint here is if Kendricks had caught this — it hit him right in the hands — it’s likely a pick six with his athleticism.
Again, another RPO that the Giants used to draw in the linebackers to open a window for Manning. The run blocking linemen bring up Nigel Bradham and vacate a throwing lane for Odell Beckham Jr. on the slant. Fortunately Beckham dropped it, as he’s better than anybody in the game when it comes to turning slants into touchdowns.
This was where the coverage and pass rush work in perfect synchronization. On fourth down, Manning has nowhere to go with the ball and the pass rush forces the ball out of his hands before he has to take a sack. The offensive player running towards the corner has been mentioned as being open, but Manning was never going to be able to make it to that progression for the touchdown. Excellent coverage and a good pass rush.
It looks like Jalen Mills got caught peeking in the backfield at Eli Manning and OBJ just hit him with a sluggo. To be fair OBJ is one of the most insanely athletic players in the league as evidenced by his ability to catch the ball and toe tap in the back of the end zone. I can't tell though if Mills was just really slow to react to OBJ breaking off the slant or if Manning’s eyes insinuated he was going to the other inside receiver before moving them last second.
There’s not really a lot to say for the run defense other than they were stellar against a team that struggles to run the ball and they made play when it counted. Two plays come to mind when recalling their performance on Sunday. This first, was the silly play call above. On 3rd and 1 the Giants decided to run a toss play to Orleans Darkwa. The Eagles clearly had numbers to the outside and snuffed the play from the snap. More importantly, what this play did was force the Giants out of field goal range, and they punted.
This isn't the second play that I mentioned a moment ago, but it is my weekly Timmy Jernigan highlight. Playing three-tech for Fletcher Cox, Jernigan shoots the gap before the right tackle can block down on him. Once the ball is handed off to Paul Perkins, Jernigan is right there to greet him him and drop him for a loss. We’ve seen the explosiveness and burst from Jernigan in just three weeks that takes this defensive line to the next level. This is my weekly #Re-signJernigan play.
This was the biggest play against the run game that the Eagles made all afternoon. With seconds left in the half and after just barely keeping Sterling Shepherd out of the end zone on the previous play, the Eagles had to stuff stop the Giants on fourth down. If the Giants get in the end zone, the Eagles are likely tied going into the half with the Giants getting the ball to start the half. Vinny Curry bursts outside the left guard and crashes on Darkwa who has nowhere to go. The Eagles get a huge stop and head into the locker room with a lead.
This was all I had for the defense that stood out. I know the 24 fourth quarter points are a lot, but what this defense was able to do for three quarters — forcing two turnovers and two additional turnover on downs without four of their best players — speaks volumes to the job the coaching staff was able to do and how they adapted. Mychal Kendricks and Rasul Douglas answered the call when the Eagles needed them to step up and a win is always sweet, especially when it ends a division rival’s season.