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December 17, 2017

First half observations: Giants 23, Eagles 21

After Philadelphia lost Carson Wentz to an ACL injury, the expectation was for Philadelphia's run game and defense to make up for the loss of their MVP candidate. The jury is still out on that one, and the Giants kicked the Eagles' butts up and down the field for a decent chunk of the first half. But Philadelphia rallied behind some big plays and punched the ball in when handed good field position, and they enter halftime down just 23-21 after a brutal start.

The Good

• It took exactly one series for Nick Foles to lead the Eagles down the field and pick up a touchdown. Not a bad way to handle your return to the starting lineup.

It didn't always look pretty — he threw a hospital ball to Nelson Agholor that left the wideout injured, and probably could have thrown a TD to Torrey Smith on the PI penalty that brought the Eagles into the red zone — but he got the job done. Thanks to some excellent pocket protection from the boys in the trenches, Foles had plenty of time to find Alshon Jeffery in the back of the end zone.

If you're among those who believed the offensive weaponry would minimize the drop off from one quarterback to the next, you had to be feeling pretty good about your beliefs after one series.

• Just when it looked like the Eagles' defense was about to pack it in for the day, it came up with a huge turnover halfway through the second quarter. Ronald Darby made a great break on the ball on a third-down throw from Manning, and the subsequent return (which probably gave a few fans a panic attack) brought the Eagles deep into Giants territory.

Philadelphia's offense made the Giants pay for handing it the ball without much ground to cover. Foles made use of one of Wentz's favorite targets when it mattered most, hooking up with Zach Ertz in the end zone to bring the Eagles within striking distance.

The Eagles weren't done making impact plays in Giants territory. After forcing New York to punt late in the first half, linebacker and emergency kicker extraordinaire Kamu Grugier-Hill burst through New York's line to block a punt and give the ball back to Philadelphia in the red zone.

Once again, the offense made the Giants pay for their lack of execution, and blown coverage led to Trey Burton jogging into the end zone for an easy touchdown.

This is the recipe for Philadelphia success the rest of the way. The expectation shouldn't be for Foles to come in and sling the ball all over the field, even if he has had some dominant stretches in the past. That would be unfair pressure for any backup quarterback to deal with, especially for a guy who is filling in for an MVP candidate.

What Foles and the offense have to do is play opportunistic football and capitalize when they're handed good field position. So far, so good on that front.

The Bad

• Philadelphia's recent trend of starting slow did not let up against one of the worst teams in the NFL. Eli Manning, who was unceremoniously dumped out of his starting job just a few weeks ago, came out in the opening series and dinked and dunked his way to six points.

Manning didn't have to throw almost anything down the field, burning the middle of the Eagles defense with slant after slant. What's worse is this was an obvious setup for double moves, and yet Ronald Darby still got burned on the outside for a play that should have been a touchdown if the Giants had something better than an aging Manning at quarterback.

Even when the Eagles did make plays, they shot themselves in the foot with penalties. They were drawn offsides twice on the opening possession, and a Jalen Mills hold in the end zone extended New York's possession after the Eagles looked to have picked up a third-down stop. The Giants scored three plays later, and an offense without its star QB already had to start in a hole.

It did not get any better on the second series. The Eagles continued to get burned on slant patterns, and just when they appeared to adapt to it, the Giants flipped the script and used the threat of a slant to create separation in the red zone. Mills got absolutely torched on the outside for New York's second touchdown.

And if you were expecting it to get better in the third series, well, I've got some bad news for you, friends. The Giants got away with an obvious pick play in the middle of the field, but that didn't account for Philadelphia's poor excuse for tackling on the sideline on Sterling Shepard's 67-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Giants had 20 points in the first half with almost the entire second quarter left to play.

This Giants offense sucks, and the defense has to do better. Usually, when a star player goes down, you expect a team to rally the troops and make up for the absence. Getting scored on at will by a piss-poor Giants team is the exact opposite of that.

• Out of fairness to Foles, the new starter was put in just about the worst situation a quarterback could be in to start the game. But what you saw in half one is that the margin for error at quarterback is very small, and can be the difference between stopping the bleeding and allowing an opponent to keep running up the score.

On a third-down play with the Eagles down 20-7, Foles had Ertz with room to work in the flat and a potential first down in front of him. But the quarterback threw it a bit high and wide, and Ertz wasn't able to come down with it as a result.

Foles had Agholor on a different play on the very next series, and though Agholor was able to get a single hand on the ball, it was another play he would have wished to have back. And as Fox's crew was kind enough to show from an overhead view, Foles straight up did not see Agholor on another play later in the series, wide open in the middle of New York's defense.

No quarterback is going to have a perfect game, and Wentz missed plenty of plays throughout the year. This is more of a long-term concern than a short-term concern because Foles has been more than good enough to beat the Giants, and it's the defense who shoulders the blame for the halftime deficit.

But with the way this defense has been playing over the last month or so, Foles is probably going to have to be sharper in order for the Eagles to win games. No pressure, pal.

• Doug Pederson's challenge of a Torrey Smith non-catch on the sideline was a head-scratcher. The upside of the ruling was not that great regardless, and it looked like a low-odds play even if it had gone in Philadelphia's favor.

This is becoming something of a consistent storyline for Pederson of late. Pederson and the staff responsible for aiding in these decisions have been bad, and something has to change here, whether it's in the chain-of-command or just straight up having better football awareness when it comes to the use of the red flag.

The Ugly

• The Eagles have succeeded in part because they're a tight-knit group who plays together in every sense of the word. They didn't look like they were having a whole lot of fun early on.

There's no reason to be alarmist about this, and getting fired up on the sideline could get the rest of the guys around you going. But it is a pretty big departure from what we've seen on the Philadelphia sideline most of this season, the team whooping and hollering and Electric Sliding their way to the best record in football.

Let's hope they have some more reasons to enjoy themselves in the second half.

• Do you think we can make it a single week without talking about the officials? Sunday's ref crew handed the Giants 15 huge yards toward the end of the half, penalizing Nigel Bradham for responding after being hit in the head by Giants RB Shane Vereen.

Look, I know they always get the second guy and you coach your players to keep that in mind. But it was a garbage call and was likely the difference between the Eagles leading or trailing at halftime. This stuff matters.