Saquon Barkley had a 68-yard touchdown run Sunday against the Eagles. But that was his one and only moment of success. His day also included nine carries that gained nothing or lost yards.
My five top reasons why the Eagles beat the Giants and won the NFC East:
While Barkley’s raw numbers might suggest otherwise, the Eagles did an outstanding job on the Giants running back. Barkley had 92 yards on 17 carries against the Eagles defense.
But his success Sunday was basically limited to one carry: his game-tying 68-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. On his other 16 carries, Barkley managed just 24 yards.
He had just two rushing first downs, including the TD run. Nine of his 17 carries gained zero or minus yards. In his 12 other starts this season, he had 37.
Barkley converted just one of five “and-1” situations. He was dropped for 3-yard losses on a pair of second-and-1s. On a fourth-and-2 at the Giants’ 39 midway through the fourth quarter when the Eagles were only up by 10, Barkley tried to get to the perimeter, but cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc cut him down for no gain.
To borrow Malcolm Jenkins’ phrase, the defense “got population to the ball,” making sure there almost always were multiple defenders around the 6-0, 232-pounder when he had the ball, so that if he managed to slip away from one tackler, there’d be others to finish the job. The Eagles also did a good job of neutralizing Barkley in the passing game. He had just three catches for 25 yards.
One of the negatives of this Eagles defense has been its inability to create turnovers. It finished 21st in takeaways this season with 20. Last year, it finished 24th with only 17.
But with a little help from the Giants, it got a huge one Sunday in the fourth quarter that changed the entire momentum of the game.
With the Giants facing a second-and-8 at their own 27, quarterback Daniel Jones dropped a low snap from center Jon Halapio. He picked the ball up, but before he could totally secure it, Jenkins, who had slipped through the “A" gap untouched on a blitz, knocked the ball out of his hand.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox recovered the bouncing fumble at the Giants 2-yard line. One play later, Boston Scott used a nice block by left guard Isaac Seumalo to score the second of his three rushing touchdowns to put the Eagles up by 10 points, 27-17.
Schwartz has been using Jenkins a lot as a blitzer this season. On the fumble play, he and linebacker Nigel Bradham both snuck up to the "A" gaps just before the snap. Bradham also almost got to Jones, but was cut down by Barkley as he tried to swat at the ball. Giants left guard Will Hernandez reacted too late to stop Jenkins.
Boston to the rescue
Scott spent the first five weeks of the season on the Eagles’ practice squad. Sunday, he was instrumental in their playoff-clinching win over the Giants.
Rookie phenom Miles Sanders injured his ankle early in the second quarter and didn’t play another snap. Jordan Howard, who had missed the previous six games with a neck/shoulder injury, finally was back in uniform, but played only one snap.
The Eagles needed the 5-6, 203-pound Scott to pick up the slack for Sanders and he did, amassing 138 yards from scrimmage and running for three touchdowns. The last Eagles running back to rush for three or more touchdowns in a game was LeSean McCoy in 2011.
Scott’s overall rushing numbers — 54 yards on 19 carries — hardly were spectacular. But he picked his spots, gaining 15 yards on a third-quarter run up the middle behind excellent blocks by Seumalo and center Jason Kelce. One play later, he took it back up the middle again for a 7-yard score that put the Eagles ahead, 17-10.
His 2-yard touchdown following Jones’ fumble made it a 10-point game, 27-17. He set up his third touchdown run with a 39-yard gain on a beautifully executed screen from Carson Wentz. Scott had four catches for 84 yards in addition to his 59 rushing yards.
The pass rush
With both of their starting corners out with injuries, the Eagles needed their front four to have a big day against the Giants’ rookie quarterback.
The Eagles had 29 pressures — sacks, hits and hurries — on Jones. They sacked him four times and used "A" gap blitz pressure from Jenkins and Bradham to cause Jones’ game-changing, fourth-quarter fumble.
Derek Barnett had his best game of the season, recording two sacks, two hits and seven total pressures on Jones. Vinny Curry had another solid game, collecting five pressures. Even defensive tackle Anthony Rush, who is mainly a run-stuffer, had some pressures.
Jones, who threw for 352 yards and five touchdowns a week earlier in the Giants’ win over Washington, had 301 yards against the Eagles, but just one TD. He completed just 5 of 12 third-down passes, and he was sacked twice on a pair of third-and-longs.
Next man up
The Eagles’ resiliency has been nothing short of remarkable. They keep suffering devastating injuries, and yet find a way to carry on. This is a tribute to Doug Pederson and his coaches, to the team’s veteran leaders, and to the players who have stepped in and played well.
Sunday, they lost Sanders early in the second quarter, and Scott stepped in and scored three touchdowns. Already without Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson, they lost Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks late in the second quarter when he separated his shoulder on an extra-point attempt, of all things.
But Matt Pryor, who stepped in against Seattle in Week 12 when Brooks got ill, held his own Sunday. Tight end Josh Perkins, who replaced injured Zach Ertz, caught a 24-yard touchdown pass. Wide receiver Deontay Burnett, promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week, had a 41-yard catch from Wentz early in the fourth quarter that put the Eagles in position for a 50-yard field goal by Jake Elliott that gave the Eagles a 20-17 lead at the time.
The trust Wentz has shown in his new cast of receivers has been impressive. Greg Ward, promoted from the practice squad late last month, had six catches Sunday, five for first downs. In the last three games, he has 17 receptions, 15 for first downs.