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November 25, 2018

Final observations: Eagles 25, Giants 22

Just when all looked to be lost after a brutal first half of football, the Eagles rose from the dead on Sunday and knocked off the Giants in a home win, 25-22. The playoffs are still a real possibility, somehow, some way.

Here's what I saw during the closing stages of Sunday's game.

The Good

• Going to keep saying this until I'm blue in the face — if you give Josh Adams the ball between the tackles, good things happen. The Eagles fed Adams throughout the third and fourth quarter, and to the surprise of no one who has watched the Eagles recently, he helped Philadelphia get things rolling.

The Eagles do not need a true feature back in order to get their offense going. As long as they have somebody in the backfield that has to be accounted for, everything becomes easier for Carson Wentz and Co. When they can credibly sell play-action fakes, the world opens up, and their lack of a true deep threat becomes a little less painful.

I don't think playing ground-and-pound is the way to win in the NFL in 2018. But the Eagles certainly stand to benefit from balancing the attack a little bit, as they did when Pederson turned to Adams on Sunday. This group might be struggling to pass block, but they relish the opportunity to lower their shoulders and drive defensive fronts backward.

(As an added note: give credit to the offensive line for absolutely brutalizing New York's front on the drive that put Philly up 22-19. That was smashmouth football at its finest.)

• Michael Bennett was the guy who finished off the play, but this sack was made possible by the oft-maligned secondary buying the defensive line time.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the front seven and the guys chasing receivers through the secondary. If the pass rush doesn't get there quick enough, the secondary can only hold on so long. If the secondary can't cover long enough, the pass rush doesn't have an earnest chance to get there.

That said, the front four was the reason for a big turnaround for Philadelphia out of halftime. Between Bennett, Fletcher Cox, Chris Long, and the rest of the gang, the Eagles closed off holes for the Giants' rushing attack and finally started getting to Eli Manning in the pocket. Manning is no different than most quarterbacks — get pressure on him, and he's in trouble.

After getting gashed in the first half, the defense stepped up and showed some pride in the second half. If nothing else, that's a step in the right direction.

• Give credit to this entire team for not just coming out of halftime ready to go, but finishing off the first half well enough to keep them in striking distance in the second half. We can probably drop the "heart of a champion" stuff given the state of this team, but they showed up big time with their season on the line.

That did not look like a given as the first half was winding down. When Saquon Barkley busted off a long touchdown run to put the Giants up 19-3, the Eagles were visibly frustrated on the sideline and looked on the verge of totally shutting down. Rallying from that point, on both sides of the ball, is a testament to the guys in that locker room, regardless of the quality of their opponent.

For as much heat as they all took in the first half, both sides of the ball showed up in winning time. The Giants managed just three points in the second half, with Schwartz's unit stifling them on all fronts and shutting them down on the few drives that managed to make any progress toward the end zone.

For a secondary patched together on the fly, they deserve a mountain of credit for their performance in the final 24 minutes.

• Doug Pederson's stones went missing for most of the game, but he decided to put it all on the line on a fourth and one in the game's final minutes. The result: a reward for putting faith in his franchise quarterback, and a first down that effectively killed off the game.

I just think this stuff goes so far beyond the X's and O's and the math that people will show you about the value of going for it on fourth down. You have to empower your players and show them you trust them to get the job done early and often. That response you saw from the Eagles out of halftime? That's directly tied to a self-belief within the group, and one of the primary ways a coach can foster that is by letting them decide the game, not field position.

And kudos to the offense for getting it done in this spot, too. Wentz was fairly unremarkable on Sunday (as we can discuss below), but he stepped up and got this offense down into Giants territory when it mattered. The game tilted toward the run on Sunday, and once it was time to take the game back in his hands, Wentz delivered. There will be times for dominant Wentz, but the Eagles will be quite content with a Wentz who walks away a winner Sunday.

• Jake Elliott's crunch-time kick was never in doubt. It sure is nice to have a kicker on hand who you trust to get it done in big spots.

The Bad

• We can place some blame on Mike Groh and Co. for not getting Golden Tate more involved. But if Carson Wentz hits you right in the hands with room to run, you have to haul that in, brother.

The more time we get with Tate on the Eagles, the more it seems clear that the Eagles made a mistake in prioritizing him over other potential moves at the deadline. It's not even really his fault — the Eagles simply needed a different skill set than Tate offers, because they inspire no fear in teams over the top. Tate does excellent work underneath and in the intermediate range, but the Eagles already have enough guys who do that.

This just isn't a well-balanced group of wideouts.

• Speaking of Wentz, I wouldn't put the blame for the season on him, certainly. He had stretches of brilliance before things started really going off the rails for the offense, and the offensive line play in front of him has been erratic from the get-go.

But there's just something missing from his game this year, and it has led to far too many underwhelming drives for the Eagles over the last few weeks. I'm not exactly sure what's causing it, but his decisiveness in the pocket just isn't there.

Maybe that's a product of his lack of confidence in his legs. The old Wentz had the ability (and the willingness) to burst out of there and make plays with his legs if he wasn't feeling his reads. This year, there are times when he's just hanging in the pocket against all better judgment, eventually taking sacks or delivering the ball too late to complete the throw.

I'm open to the idea of this being a mix of different factors, including a lack of separation from his wideouts and unimaginative playcalling from Pederson. But the "it factor" has gone missing, and with the defense needing the offense to pick them up right now, Wentz's unit has been too hot and cold.

• All that being said, the offensive line hasn't been good enough either. They've allowed Wentz to take too many sacks in big spots, often taking the option to go for it on fourth down out of the hands of Doug Pederson.

This problem isn't going away, and I'm not exactly sure how you fix it unless you believe the insertion of Jordan Mailata is a cure-all. There are miscues across the line week after week, so I don't think one guy being inserted into the rotation is going to do a whole lot. Upgrading the line and building some cohesion before next season should be a big priority.

A quietly big part of this — finding a three-down back. The Eagles don't have anyone they can really trust to run, catch, and reliably pick up blitzes when duty calls, and that's a problem.

The Ugly

• If Eagles fans are doing "The Wave" in the middle of a division rivalry game, something has gone wildly wrong.

• I have no idea what Pat Shurmur was thinking going away from Saquon Barkley in this game. I'm not sure Pat Shurmur has any idea what Pat Shurmur is thinking, honestly. Can't imagine they could have used the timeout they called on 3rd and 18 in the third quarter late in the game!

• When Deiondre Hall is asked to contribute on defense, your team might be pretty banged up.

• Goodness were the officials terrible for both teams on Sunday. The Eagles got a gift when holds on Odell Beckham Jr. went uncalled late in the fourth, which was only topped by the refs picking up a flag for an obvious facemask on Corey Clement on Philadelphia's previous drive.

Just horrific stuff. It would be nice to watch a game without constantly rolling your eyes at the latest terrible decision from the officials.

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