After getting embarrassed last week on the road by the high-powered New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles got their act together somewhat against the surging New York Giants on Sunday.
However, unlike last Sunday’s result, the Eagles defeated New York, 25-22, thanks to a great second half and a game-winning 43-yard field goal by kicker Jake Elliott.
Philly, once again, had struggles scoring early on due to penalties but got into a rhythm late in the second quarter with quarterback Carson Wentz hitting tight end Zach Ertz for a touchdown.
Along those same lines, the defense, which has seen many of its members fall victim to injury, also made some big plays on Sunday despite giving up 346 total yards in the first half.
Late in the second quarter, safety Malcolm Jenkins intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the red zone as New York was driving down the field for another scoring opportunity. Defensive end Michael Bennett also continued his fantastic play this season, picking up his third sack in three games.
Overall, Philly’s much-maligned defense held the Giants to 56 yards of total offense in the second half.
With the victory, the Eagles have now snapped their two-game losing streak, swept the Giants, and are one game behind both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins for the lead in the NFC East.
1. First quarter struggles continue
After last week’s hapless and disappointing showing in the first quarter, where the Eagles only mustered 15 total yards (five rushing yards) and were held scoreless. Philly repeated a similar type performance on Sunday against the Giants.
In the opening frame, the Eagles only had 42 yards of total offense (seven rushing yards) and had a 52-yard touchdown run from undrafted free agent Josh Adams negated by a holding penalty courtesy of Jason Kelce.
It was the fifth-straight game that the defending Super Bowl champs were held without a first-quarter touchdown. Heading into this contest, the Eagles were ranked dead-last in first-quarter points per game with 2.1.
Then to make matters worse, in their last three games, Philly has been outgained 431-85 in the opening quarter. That statistic is obviously two-fold as the defense has not done their job either, giving up a ton of yards due to their play it safe style.
But if they want to be more competitive in the last month of the regular season, having a good opening drive/quarter would be a great start.
2. Eagles finally commit to the running game
Despite not scoring in the first quarter and only giving Adams and Corey Clement eight combined carries, head coach Doug Pederson made a radical adjustment in the third and fourth quarters to put the ball in the hands of his two young running backs.
The decision to do such a thing paid off for the Eagles as Adams racked up 80 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown in the second half. The former Notre Dame product showed once again that he can be this team’s lead back.
Adams did a great job running in the between the tackles and bouncing runs to the outside. For most of this season, the Eagles’ running game has been in a state of flux due to injuries to Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles.
But you do have to give credit to Adams, Clement, and Smallwood to an extent for doing their best when given the necessary opportunities. Furthermore, the Eagles are 5-0 when they show a commitment to the ground game.
It is not a coincidence that this team is better offensively when they do run the ball. Pederson and Co. cannot depend on Wentz to shoulder the entire load, but instead, lean on the offensive line and running backs to carry things.
3. Defense starts slow but shuts down Barkley in the second half
In the last three games, the Eagles’ run defense was completely humiliated by likes the Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II. Each of those running backs named was able to have their way against Philly’s defense.
If the Eagles wanted to have any chance of defeating their NFC East rival, it started in the trenches by containing Saquon Barkley. In their last matchup, the former Penn State standout had 229 total yards (130 yards on the ground) at MetLife Stadium.
In the first half on Sunday, it appeared that Barkley was on pace to put up a similar type of performance. He had 94 rushing yards on nine carries, including a 51-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
He also had a receiving touchdown on the Giants’ opening scoring drive. In total, he had 131 yards of total offense on 15 touches.
However, in the second half, Eagles’ defense clamped down on the Barkley, holding him to only seven rushing yards on four carries. The defending Super Bowl champs played inspired football on both sides and it helped carry them to a much-needed win.