Carson Wentz can be playoff equalizer, and other observations from Eagles’ 34-17 win over the Giants | David Murphy
Observations from the Eagles' playoff-clinching win over the Giants, including Carson Wentz playing at an elite level.
Wentz can put this team on his back
There are a heck of a lot of reasons to doubt that the Eagles’ late-season surge will prove to be a harbinger of things to come in the playoffs. From their dilapidated roster (Brandon Brooks joined the wounded when he was carted off the field with what appeared to be a significant shoulder injury), to their overmatched cornerbacks (Rasul Douglas had another rough afternoon), it can be awfully difficult to envision a scenario in which they end up winning three consecutive games over quality opponents to advance to the Super Bowl.
That being said. . .
The one scenario that does give off a feint whiff of reality is the one where Carson Wentz puts this team on his shoulders and proves to be the sort of equalizer that an elite quarterback can be. Wentz might not be operating at exactly that level right now, but he is in the vicinity. Against the Giants, he completed 23-of-40 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown while coaxing another impressive day at the office out of his patchwork corps of skill position players. Boston Scott may have been the statistical star with three touchdowns and 130 yards from scrimmage. But everything flowed from Wentz’s ability to stand tall in the pocket and pick up big chunks of yardage on throw after throw.
Clearly, there are some quality-of-opponent considerations that need to be weighted into his late-season performance. Like his Giants counterpart, Wentz spent the afternoon taking advantage of some of the worst pass coverage technique you will find at the NFL level. His sideline throw to Dallas Goedert for a first down late in the third quarter was a beauty, but it came against a shoddy piece of man coverage by Giants safety Michael Thomas, who was unable to contest the catch despite running stride for stride with Goedert. The play gave the Eagles a new set of downs on a drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by Boston Scott that gave the Eagles a 17-10 lead.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the ineptitude of the Giants’ secondary came on the Eagles first touchdown, a beauty of a 24-yard throw by Carson Wentz to Josh Perkins in the second quarter. With Wentz rolling right, Perkins worked himself open by running a simple deep crossing patter that somehow stumped the three Giants defensive backs who were playing an over-the-top zone. DeAndre Baker somehow ended up out of position and could not get himself recorrected before Wentz’s cross-field dart arrived and gave the Eagles a 10-3 lead.
Still, it’s inarguable that, over these last four games, Wentz has looked more like the 2017 version of himself than the guy whose uneven performances were causing a considerable degree of restlessness within the fan base. His numbers during this four-game winning streak: 116 of 173 (67.1%), 1,199 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions. For the season, Wentz completed 388 of 607 passes (63.9%) for 4,089 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards without a 500-yard wide receiver.
Jones made several throws that made you perk up and take notice, none more impressive than his 20-yard pass to Golden Tate in the back corner of the end zone that tied the game at 10-10 with 9:41 remaining in the third quarter. While it probably would have behooved Rasul Douglas to turn his head to look for the ball on the play, Jones placed it in a near-perfect location to take advantage of the flailing coverage. Jones also had an impressive an 18-yard throw to Kaden Smith that he threaded through the Eagles zone to give the Giants a first down on the Eagles’ 47-yard-line with under a minute remaining in the first half. Earlier in the quarter, he completed a 25-yard pass to Smith just before getting decked by a blitzing Douglas to help move New York into position for a field goal. Late in the third quarter, Jones completed a 33-yard pass to Darius Slayton just before taking a huge hit from a blitzing Malcolm Jenkins (though Jones did badly under throw an open receiver deep down the field later in the drive, which ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down).
Giants have a quarterback too
It’s going to be an interesting offseason in New York. The sense here at MetLife Stadium is that the Giants are likely to move on from head coach Pat Shurmur, and that general manager Dave Gettelman could follow him out the door. That being said, the Giants at least have some reason for hope at the quarterback position, where Daniel Jones looks like, at the very least, a serviceable starting quarterback in the vein of Alex Smith. And there were times on Sunday afternoon when he looked like he has the wherewithal to be something even greater.
Jones made several throws against the Eagles that made you perk up and take notice, none more impressive than his 20-yard pass to Golden Tate in the back corner of the end zone that tied the game at 10-10 with 9:41 remaining in the third quarter. While it probably would have behooved Rasul Douglas to turn his head to look for the ball on the play, Jones placed it in a near-perfect location to take advantage of the flailing coverage. Jones also had an impressive an 18-yard throw to Kaden Smith that he threaded through the Eagles zone to give the Giants a first down on the Eagles’ 47-yard-line with under a minute remaining in the first half. Earlier in the quarter, he completed a 25-yard pass to Smith just before getting decked by a blitzing Douglas to help move New York into position for a field goal. Late in the third quarter, Jones completed a 33-yard pass to Darius Slayton just before taking a huge hit from a blitzing Malcolm Jenkins (though Jones did badly under throw an open receiver deep down the field later in the drive, which ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down).
Does he have a strong enough arm to be an elite NFL starter? Perhaps not. But unlike a lot of young quarterbacks across the league -- cough, cough, Mitch Trubisky, cough, cough -- the final verdict is far from in.
Schwartz shows he will blitz
This was an aggressive defensive game plan by Jim Schwartz, and while there were some hiccups, the philosophy ultimately paid dividends. On the game’s a fumble by Jones that set up a touchdown that put the Eagles ahead by two scores in the fourth quarter, both Malcolm Jenkins and Nigel Bradham were coming on the blitz, as they had several times throughout the game. After Jones momentarily regained possession of a low shotgun snap, Jenkins was there to hit him and dislodge the ball, which Fletcher Cox recovered at the two-yard-line to set up Boston Scott’s decisive touchdown run.
To the naked eye, at least, this was a departure from Schwartz’s usual reliance on his front four to generate pressure. Throughout the game, he utilized not only Jenkins and his linebackers, but a rotating cast of cornerbacks to generate heat from different angles on Jones. On the Giants’ second possession, they went from a 2nd-and-4 to a 3rd-and-8 to a 4th-and-19 thanks to a couple of exotic calls up front. First, a blitzing Rodney McLeod met Saquon Barkley a split second after the Giants running back took a handoff from Daniel Jones. Then, a stunt by Brandon Graham allowed the defensive end to pounce on Jones before the quarterback even realized he had pressure in his face, the resulting sack going for a loss of 11 and bringing up fourth down. Late in the second quarter, Jenkins pressured Jones into an incompletion that forced the Giants to settle for a field goal.
The Eagles weren’t perfect. Far from it. While the blitz gaveth, it also tooketh away. Earlier in that field goal drive in the second quarter, Rasul Douglas was flagged for a roughing the passer call after getting a clean look at Jones off a blitz from the edge. Just before getting decked, Jones made a great throw to tight end Kaden Smith for a 25-yard gain. With the 15-yard penalty tacked on, the Giants had a first down at the Eagles’ 40-yard-line. Late in the third quarter, Saquon Barkley gashed the Eagles defense for a 68-yard touchdown run that he began to celebrate with 48 yards of it still remaining, which momentarily tied the game at 17-17.
All in all, though, the Eagles made the best of their situation. Aside from that one long touchdown run, Barkley gained just 24 yards on 16 carries. And while Jones had his moments, he ultimately withered in the fourth quarter in the face of the Eagles’ relentless pressure.
It can’t be a good sign that Andre Dillard remained on the sideline despite the Eagles playing without two of their five starting offensive linemen. Dillard had already seen Halapoulivaati Vaitai supplant him as the replacement for the injured Lane Johnson. But after Brandon Brooks went out with a serious shoulder injury in the first half, the Eagles had an opportunity to bring their rookie first round draft pick into the action by moving Vaitai to guard and putting Dillard at right tackle. Instead, they decided they were better off with Vaitai remaining at right tackle and Matt Pryor replacing Brooks at right guard, limiting Dillard to filling the Big V role in the Eagles’ heavy package. The Eagles will have to hope that Dillard really is that much better on the left side than the right.
Credit Jake Elliott for knocking home a 50-yard field goal in a steady rain with 13:58 remaining to give the Eagles a 20-17 lead. Elliott entered the game having missed two of his three attempts from 50+ yards on the season. Since going 5-for-6 from 50+ as a rookie in 2017, Elliott was just 3-for-8 from that distance before his fourth quarter kick against the Giants.
On 3rd-and-24 from near midfield early in the second quarter Pederson threw in the towel with a draw rather than letting Wentz attempt to test the Giants secondary down the field. Heading into the day, NFL teams were 1-for-115 on 3rd-and-24 or longer, with the only conversion coming from the Packers courtesy of a personal foul penalty on the tail end of an eight-yard Jamaal Williams run. So Pederson clearly had math at his disposal. In the end, he also had results, as Miles Sanders’ 11-yard run put the Eagles in position to down the ball on the Giants’ three-yard-line after a 43-yard punt by Cameron Johnston.