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October 11, 2018

Final observations: Eagles 34, Giants 13

Staring down a fork in the road, the Eagles ran over the median, launched off of an Eli Manning shaped ramp and landed cleanly on the other side. The Eagles scored a dominant, comprehensive win over the division rival Giants, bringing their record to an even 3-3 with a 34-13 victory in New Jersey on Thursday night.

Here's what I saw from the Eagles against the Giants, and unlike in past weeks, there's a whole lot more good than bad.

The Good

• If there was something that stood out from Thursday's game above all else, results aside, it was the variety of looks Doug Pederson threw at his opponent. The Eagles lined up with different personnel groupings, they used delayed screens and quick throws, they threw just about everything they could at their division rival in an effort to get themselves back in gear.

It worked to great effect. The Eagles will probably come out and tell you after the game this was all about execution, and that rings true to some extent, but there's no denying the higher level of creativity they flashed. For at least one night, it looked like Doug Pederson had his swagger back.

Take a look at this play, as one example. The Eagles use pre-snap motion to draw New York's attention, fake the handoff in the process of rolling Wentz out to his right, only to throw back to Clement on the left side of the line. It only took a couple blocks to spring Clement for a sizable pickup.

Some of the credit there goes to Carson Wentz, of course, who manipulated the game as well as you could expect in rainy conditions. He made great reads on RPO plays, checked the Eagles down into runs that produced solid gains, and carved the Giants up something fierce in the red zone. 

Remember the chemistry concerns some had about him and Alshon Jeffery early last season? Man do they feel like a thing of the past.

The Eagles are going to play much better opponents in the weeks and months to come, but sometimes a good run can start with a simple ass-kicking of an overmatched foe. This was definitely that, and we could look back at a game against the Giants as a turning point for their season — just like we did a year ago.

• Philadelphia spread the ball all around the field against New York, and the production the Eagles got out of their skill position guys should lift this group moving forward. Jeffery dominated his matchups, Nelson Agholor looked like he was playing backyard football, and even Jordan Matthews came through with a couple big pickups on third downs in the second half, reestablishing that old connection with Wentz.

There's still a chance Howie Roseman pulls the trigger on acquiring another receiver before the trade deadline, and this group still probably needs that lift. Carving up the Giants and carving up good teams are two different things.

Gotta start somewhere, though. 

• How much of the improvement to the offensive line over the course of the game do you credit to the group, and how much do you credit to New York all but quitting down the stretch? That's hard to figure out, but for all the criticism they've taken through the first six weeks of the season, they deserve a little love when they keep Wentz clean and open things up for the run game.

They did this in spite of losses at the tackle spots on both sides, and some of this circles back to Pederson's more creative approach playcalling. The availability of Corey Clement led the Eagles to attack the edges more on swing passes and screens, and that allows them to best utilize the athleticism of guys like Jason Kelce.

• The most dominant unit in this game? I think there's a strong case to be made for the defensive line, who took advantage of a Charmin soft opponent in the trenches and made life miserable for Giants players in the backfield.

Derek Barnett may not have had a huge night of his own, but getting him back in the rotation gave the Eagles a needed lift in the trenches, and it showed in the burst these guys had coming off the edges from the opening whistle until the final snap. Michael Bennett was borderline unblockable at times, Fletcher Cox was an absolute force, there were highlights all up and down the line.

A lot of their best plays won't show up as highlights, because they turned into rushed throws for Manning rather than sacks. But make no mistake — these guys controlled the game, and are almost wholly responsible for a great performance out of trhe defense.

• Since he always gets ripped, I feel it's only right to acknowledge that outside of a long completion he gave up at the end of the first half, Jalen Mills did a pretty dang good job against New York. There, it has been said. Moving on...

Only kidding. Credit belongs to the secondary across the board, frankly, even if Manning is terrible at this stage of his career. They were a walking MASH unit by the end of the game, but with some help from their better cover linebackers like Nigel Bradham, they held down the fort and helped the Eagles close out a comfortable win.

• Like the hat and glasses look from Doug tonight. Strong combo, might have to ride it out until it doesn't work anymore.

• Big shout out to all the Eagles fans who showed up to the road game, especially the diehards who stuck it out until the end to unleash some loud "E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!" chants that rang loud enough to make it on the broadcast. No better fans in the world.

The Bad

• Wendell Smallwood has exceeded expectations after being a mild surprise to make the roster, but there has always been some nervousness watching him carry the ball because of his history of ball security issues. Only a replay review was able to save him when it luckily showed he got back on top of the football before the Giants could pounce on his fumble in the third quarter.

The Eagles don't need their running backs to be home-run hitters — the passing attack is always going to be the star of the show here. Smallwood simply needs to hold onto the football and keep it clean.

• I was going to make a comment about the play the Eagles got out of their left tackles on Thursday night, but Olivier Vernon sacked me at my desk before I could complete the thought. Hard to complain too much with the injuries this group had to deal with.

• A non-Eagles take related to one of the overarching storylines of this game — it sort of sucks that you can watch a player like Saquon Barkley and see that from a pure talent standpoint he is worthy of the No. 2 pick of the draft, while also understanding that picking a player at his position that high is almost certainly dooming yourself to fail.

It is true that you need certain types of stars to win in most sports, but the extreme degree to which you need an elite (or at least sub-elite) quarterback to be relevant in the modern NFL takes away some of the joy of watching young talent at other positions, at least for me. Barkley is just bashing his head against the wall trying to do what he can, and he just has no chance in this arrangement.

Of course, it's easier to live with this when it's a division rival of the Eagles dealing with that problem. I just think it's a bit of a shame that so much of the conversation about a guy like Barkley ends up centering around factors outside his control.

• Is it nitpicking to say Wentz should have been out of the game with it clearly out of reach late? If it is, too bad, I'm going to complain about it anyway. Protect the franchise.

The Ugly

• Joining Sidney Jones on the injury report is Jason Peters, who was ruled out for the game early in the third quarter and will have to be monitored moving forward. In a blowout like this you'd like to assume it's just a cautionary measure, but with Peters getting up there in age you can never be sure.

• Not often you see a team quit six weeks into a season, but this is just pathetic:

Thankfully the Giants have master motivator Pat Shurmur running the show. I'm sure he'll get them going.

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