1 - The performance we needed to see from Carson Wentz
The story of Wentz’s first half was all too familiar. He wasn’t the biggest problem with the offense and he wasn’t getting any help from a depleted group of skill players. But he also wasn’t playing his best football independent of his supporting cast.
Wentz ultimately broke out of a slump in a big way by delivering when it mattered most. The $128 million man put the team on his back and helped bring the Eagles out of a 17 to 3 hole.
Wentz finished the game with 33 completions on 50 attempts for a season-high 325 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 97.5 passer rating. His combined fourth quarter and overtime numbers: 17 completions on 23 attempts for 195 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 122.7 passer rating.
Sure, “it was only the Giants.” New York’s pass defense clearly isn’t good; they rank 30th in opponent yards per attempt and 30th in DVOA.
But even so, Wentz was down to just ONE healthy wide receiver in Greg Ward. You know, a player with 11 career NFL receptions who was only called up from the practice squad a few weeks ago. Wentz was also playing without Lane Johnson — arguably the team’s most indispensable player — at right tackle.
Doug Pederson called Wentz’s performance against the Giants the best of the quarterback’s career. It obviously wasn’t Wentz’s most dominant statistical performance but it was a pretty critical outcome. Wentz ultimately saved the Eagles’ season and proved that he could deliver in a crucial situation despite facing a lot of adversity. That was important to see.
Screw losing for improved positioning in the 2020 NFL Draft. Wentz potentially dragging this short-handed Eagles team to the playoffs is the best possible outcome. That’s why he’s making the big bucks.
2 - Three bonuses to beating the Giants
1 — For the first time since these two teams first met back in 1933, the Eagles have a lead over the Giants in the all-time series. The record is now 87-86-2 in Philly’s favor. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to you but I think that’s pretty cool. It really underscores the Eagles’ dominance over the Giants for a long time now. The Eagles going 19-4 in their last 23 games against New York hasn’t been awful to watch.
2 — The Eagles dropped Eli Manning’s career starting record to below .500. He’s now 116-117. In other words, he’s a loser, and that’s the only thing he’ll ever be remembered for. It’s really too bad.
3 — The Eagles caused the Giants to lose their ninth game in a row. That’s their longest losing streak in franchise history.
3 - Some credit and some blame for Doug Pederson
Saw a good deal of complaints about Pederson’s lack of creativity when the Eagles were struggling early on against New York. Seemed kind of silly to me considering what little the Eagles were working with on offense.
But maybe not so ridiculous because Pederson ultimately did find a way to get the offense going in the second half. The Eagles’ head coach pointed to an increased use of tempo. He also generally put players in a position to succeed — a classic Andy Reidism — and they executed. That typically helps make a coach look better, huh?
This game was also just another example of how Eagles players fail to quit on Pederson. It was looking like they may have quit early in the game but, alas, they very much did not in the end. They fought back to keep the season alive.
Of course, you’d like to see the Eagles be in a spot where they don’t need to rally from behind to beat a very bad Giants team. And part of the reason the Eagles were in a hole was because Pederson did not have his best game.
One notable issue with the play-calling was Pederson’s insistence on running the ball in long situations. That’s been a problem for the team all year, which is hard to reconcile for a team that’s supposedly so analytics-friendly. As Michael Kist has pointed out on BGN Radio’s Kist & Solak Show, the Eagles have the second highest run frequency on 2nd-and-long situations and they’re the second worst team in terms of success rate. The series where the Eagles first got into scoring position really stood out. They finally move the ball into the red zone thanks to some chunk gains through the air and then they run on 1st-and-19 after a bad holding call wipes out a Ward touchdown. Why?!
Putting the nit-picking aside and looking at the big picture, this game helps to justify why Pederson shouldn’t be replaced just yet. He’s obviously not going anywhere anyway with the good will he built up from winning Super Bowl LII. But he’s not merely skating by on that reputation. He’s showing why he’s the right head coach to lead this team.
4 - Don’t fire Jim Schwartz just yet
It wasn’t hard to be frustrated with Schwartz’s defense after watching the Eagles surrender 37 points to the Dolphins last week and then 17 more to the Giants in the first half of this week’s game.
But Schwartz adjusted and shut the Giants down in a big way for the remainder of the game.
The Giants' offense had 29 total yards in the second half. That's the second-lowest total for any offense in a second half this season. Only the Dolphins (28 yards) in Week 1 were worse.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) December 10, 2019
The Eagles have now held their opponents to 17 points or fewer in five of their last six games. That’s a pretty good bottom line.
The defense is far from flawless, as we know from Ronald Darby getting torched by a fifth-round for two touchdowns. Communication issues continues to be a problem this late into the season:
Graham said Ronald Darby didn’t hear the coverage call on the second TD. Rodney McLeod confirmed, said he needed to do a better job communicating the call. Darby ignored an attempt at an interview— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) December 10, 2019
Despite their struggles, the Eagles’ defense is competent enough to where the team would be winning more games if their offense was as good as it needs to be. We’ll see how the final three weeks go but I’d be surprised if Schwartz isn’t back again in 2019.
5 - Boston Scott has the juice
10 carries for 59 yards and one touchdown. Six receptions for 69 yards (nice). That total of 128 yards from scrimmage is the third highest single-game total of any Eagles player this year.
Think about that!
Scott essentially began the season as the team’s fifth string running back whilst on the practice squad. He was stuck behind Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement. Heck, he was even taking a backseat to Jay Ajayi prior to this week.
But the Eagles finally unleashed Scott and it paid off. On a team that’s desperately lacking explosive/dynamic players, Scott showed he has the ability to make some plays with the ball in his hands. The offense just looked better when Sanders had to come out and Scott got more involved. Pederson even admitted as much.
It was good to see Boston get in the game and do the things he did, honestly. It just gave us as an offense a change of pace, there’s a quickness there, and that’s just Boston. It takes nothing away from the other guys. Something we’ll continue to implement into our game plan and find ways to utilize him in the offense.
Scott only had three offensive snaps and zero touches in the two games leading up to Week 14. The Eagles need to get him more involved down the stretch.
On a related note, it’s time for even less Ajayi.
Jay Ajayi so far this #Eagles season: 10 carries for 30 yards (3.0 avg). Dropped a pass while wide open in the flat against the Giants. Blew pass protection that led to a Wentz sack and then a missed field goal in Miami. https://t.co/dVBcpQM2ZT— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 10, 2019
6 - Unlikely heroes emerge
In addition to Scott, the Eagles also got unlikely contributions from some other former practice squad members like Ward and Joshua Perkins.
Ward only had four receptions for 34 yards and he dropped a touchdown but he’s still bringing some level of competency to the wide receiver position. That’s more than what could be said about Nelson Agholor, who’s mostly been an abject disaster this season. Should also be noted that Ward also had a solid 16-yard punt return.
Perkins didn’t light the world on fire or anything, either, but he caught all five of his targets for 37 yards and a couple first down conversions. Again, it’s kinda sad that mere competency is celebrated at this point, but here we are.
And let us not forget about Sidney Jones, who somehow went from being the seventh corner on the depth chart to coming up with a huge pass breakup after injuries forced him to play a single defensive snap. That play probably doesn’t change much for Jones’ outlook this season but maybe it’ll serve as a confidence booster in the long run. Or maybe it’s just a one-off. Either way, Jones helped the Eagles win on Monday night. Kudos.
A team obviously can’t count on these type of players making key contributions every week. But sometimes you just need lesser guys to step up and that’s what happened here.
7 - Personnel issues persist
ESPN’s Tim McManus recently wrote about Howie Roseman’s role in the Eagles’ struggles as it relates to poor personnel decisions. Some of those issues were on display against the Giants.
- The Eagles only went into the game with THREE WIDE RECEIVERS on the 53-man roster: Alshon Jeffery, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Greg Ward. And one of those receivers — Jeffery — had only returned to the starting lineup in Week 13 after previously missing multiple games. What kind of planning is that? Pederson said the Eagles were hoping Nelson Agholor could play but that’s pretty ridiculous since he had missed the entire week of practice. It’s very rare for Eagles players to not practice at all before then suiting up in a game. It’s not like the Eagles had a lack of options considering they have three receivers on their practice squad. It’s also not like the Eagles had a lack of time to prepare; they had even MORE time since they played on Monday instead of Sunday. Again, the Eagles reached a point where they were down to just Ward late in this game. They were literally preparing 40-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown to play receiver. That’s a fun trivia note coming out of a win but that would’ve been viewed as much more insane if he had to play and they lost.
- The Eagles are using a lot of roster spots on developmental players. That might not be the worst idea for an aging team but a balance needs to be struck. You can’t be entering a game with three receivers while in the meantime you’re so heavy at other spots where guys aren’t even active. The Eagles are carrying 10 offensive linemen, seven defensive ends, seven cornerbacks, and six linebackers.
- On the defensive end position, Roseman traded a 2021 fourth-round pick so Genard Avery could play zero defensive snaps against the Giants. In a game where the Eagles were without a starting defensive end in Derek Barnett. Why?
- Watching Scott and Ward make contributions should serve as a lesson to not always be so reliant on former players. Those guys originally couldn’t get playing time because the Eagles thought it’d be better to go with Darren Sproles, Jay Ajayi, and Jordan Matthews. At some point it’s time to stop relying on washed up veterans and instead give chances to young players who are hungry for opportunities.
- Egregiously poor drafting: the Eagles selected Clayton Thorson (No. 167) several picks before the Giants selected Darius Slayton (No. 171). But hey, you’ve just gotta draft a player you ideally hope never plays for you over a speedy receiver who could actually be useful as soon as his rookie year. Slayton torched the Eagles for 154 yards and two touchdowns on a mere five receptions. Meanwhile, Thorson is making the minimum salary on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. Every team has misses in the draft but this wasn’t about bad luck. Drafting Thorson was an awful decision-making process considering his uninspiring college stats, his injury history, and his age. Really, what was there to like about the guy? You can’t even see what the selling point was, other than that he has NFL quarterback size, which doesn’t mean jack if the player totally sucks.
Bad decisions from the front office contributed to the Eagles needing overtime to beat a bad Giants team.
8 - Can the Eagles really make a playoff push?
The Eagles are still very much alive in the NFC East. If they can win their final three games, they’re in the playoffs. Heck, it might only take two more consecutive wins if the Cowboys lose to the Los Angeles Rams this weekend.
Can the Eagles really beat the Cowboys, though? Hard to say it’s impossible when you look at how Dallas is falling apart. But the Eagles aren’t in great shape coming out of the Giants game. Jeffery is done for the year. Johnson is “week-to-week” and will likely miss at least one game, if not more. It’s not clear when Jordan Howard or Nelson Agholor will return.
The Eagles are going to have to find a way to win short-handed. They were able to do that against a bad Giants team. Wentz is pretty much going to have to find a way to carry the team on his back. Some more contributions from unlikely heroes would also help. It won’t be easy but it seems like this team just might be up to the task.
Before Dallas week gets here, though, the Eagles must take care of business against Washington. Come watch the game with BGN!