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January 08, 2023

First half observations: Eagles 16, Giants 0

The Eagles cruised through the first half of their Week 18 matchup with the Giants, coasting to a 16-0 lead over New York at halftime.

Here's what I saw in the first 30 minutes of football.

The Good

• The first play from scrimmage for Jalen Hurts on offense was a look we've seen all season — A.J. Brown going across the middle on a slant, with time and space ahead of him to pick up extra yards. Only this time, it was Brown running right into first place in the Eagles' record books, passing Mike Quick for the most receiving yards in a single season. Yes, the obvious caveat is that Brown had an extra game to get it done, but since the NFL is going to count these records, we will too. Hell, he also had to play a pair of games with Gardner Minshew, so that's basically handicapping his production, anyway.

More importantly, Hurts came out of the game looking mostly like himself, spreading the football around without putting his body in harm's way. We'll see how he holds up physically over the course of the game, but all's well so far. 

• On the second offensive series of the day, Philadelphia didn't exactly change their approach to the game, relying on a steady diet of pass plays after eschewing the run on their first possession. The first running play of the game was greeted with sarcastic cheers from the home crowd, which got a chuckle out of this writer.

The good news: Hurts was throwing the ball well enough to justify that strategy. And after putting together a big play with Brown on the opening series, Hurts hooked up with his top target on another big one, going deep down the sideline for a one-on-one matchup Brown would win. 

Brown's mid-air tracking is downright special, as we've seen him make a ton of these plays this season, catches where he waits until the last possible moment to reveal to the defender that he's going to make a play on the ball. By that point, it's almost always too late for his opponent to make a play.

After that big gainer from Brown, the Eagles finally decided to get down to business and pound the rock. Miles Sanders was overqualified for the job of beating up a team of Giants backups, and he showed a nice blend of shiftiness and acceleration between the tackles, dancing between tacklers and chewing up some yards in New York territory. Eventually, he would make way for the Giant-killer himself, Boston Scott, who built up a head of steam and bulldozed his way into the endzone for six points.

Hurts is back like he never left, and the Eagles are rolling. Big surprise.

• James Bradberry made an absolutely ridiculous pass breakup to kill off New York's most threatening drive of the first quarter, offering a full extension and a swat of his arm to prevent the Giants from picking up a first down. He hasn't flashed as often lately as he did in the early stages of this season, but this has been a heck of a season for Bradberry, who stands out as one of the best moves of the last offseason for Howie Roseman. 

• C.J. Gardner-Johnson being back on the field for the finale is a great thing to see. Just in time to get some reps before the playoffs. On the first drive of the game for New York, CJGJ lined up as both a safety and a slot corner, showing off the versatility that endeared him to the city early this season.

• It feels like Milton Williams is one of the unsung heroes of this defense. He's not putting up the monster numbers of guys like Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham, but has been a factor lately. In fact, he was the guy who blew up the fake field goal the Giants attempted at the end of the first quarter, jumping outside and cutting off their options with a nice piece of heads-up football.

While we're on the subject, hey, a good special teams play! We kill the special teams around here, so good on them for diagnosing the fake, and ensuring this game kept marching toward blowout territory. The last thing this game needed was hope for a bunch of Giants backups.

• In most cases, you can throw out what you see in preseason and training camp, as the league has trended toward sitting every meaningful player in those games. But Reed Blankenship feels like a good example of someone whose preseason efforts we should have zeroed in on, as he was a standout then and at least looks like a contributor now.

At the very least, Blankenship's instincts and tackling give him a good chance to stick as a depth guy, and he made a couple of nice plays early in the second quarter of this one, wrapping up Davis Webb on a run before getting a nice coverage stop on third down. There are plays and matchups where you'll feel the pain of his subpar speed, but by and large, he comes out on the winning end due to strong instincts good and physicality when he does get in a player's airspace.

• Hurts was clearly being instructed to protect his body over trying to be a hero, and weirdly enough, watching him slide short of the sticks on second-and-one was an encouraging sign. Nobody expected him to try to be a hero and Hurts managed to look good without putting himself in real danger. 

The only tough hit Hurts had to take in this game came on a cheap shot, with Nick McCloud coming in late for a shot to Hurts' back in the dying moments of the second quarter. The officials immediately threw a flag, pushing the Eagles deeper into the Giants' territory. 

Hurts didn't get touched much and the Eagles are cruising. Ideal outcome through 30 minutes of football.

• Haason Reddick probably won't win Defensive Player of the Year, but his final game of the season is showing just how dominant of a year he has had. The Giants spent a lot of the first half playing out of third-and-long, and it felt like Reddick got into the backfield on roughly 3/4 of those plays, chasing Webb around the field until he could only offer a panicked throw that fell harmlessly to the turf.

The real shame is that Reddick couldn't turn a couple of those plays into actual sacks, as the Eagles are still within reach of the all-time sacks record for a single season, 17 game asterisk notwithstanding. Webb picked up a grounding penalty on a play where Reddick was right on the verge of hauling him down, robbing Philadelphia of a takedown to help their cause. For shame.

The Bad

• Not a single run play on Philadelphia's first drive of the game? These guys are just asking for the natives to get upset. Philadelphia's only touchdown drive of the half featured a running focus once the Eagles crossed midfield, and perhaps that's something the coaching staff should take note of while they figure out a plan for the second half.

• I understood the logic behind punting on Philadelphia's fourth-and-two in the first half, perfectly reasonable with the Eagles already up 10-0, but I sort of lean toward aggression in that scenario. This version of the Giants is one you should be able to beat up and put away early, and the longer you let them have any sort of false hope, the more dangerous this game becomes for you. Impose your will with the offense and leave no doubt. Sweep the leg, to borrow from the Cobra Kai gang.

• The Eagles are going to have to be a bit more ruthless in Giants territory because this game should already be put away at this point. New York has nothing going on offense, and the Eagles had to settle for field goals on three different possessions. It feels mostly over, but there's work left to do. 

• I counted at least two dropped interceptions for the Eagles in the first half. Obligatory, "That's why they play defense" joke here, but come on, fellas. 

The Ugly

• Boy, Davis Webb stinks.

• Braindead penalty on T.J. Edwards toward the end of the first quarter. I get that he pulled up, but he pulled up when he was already reasonably far out of bounds. Too late, broski.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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