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Eagles-Giants analysis: Jalen Hurts overcomes sloppy start, DeVonta Smith stars, defense reigns

The Eagles hold the No. 7 spot for the playoffs with two regular season games remaining after routing the Giants.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts yells after officials ruled wide receiver DeVonta Smith did catch a third quarter touchdown against the New York Giants on Sunday, December 26, 2021 in Philadelphia.  Game officials overturned the original review that the touchdown did not count.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts yells after officials ruled wide receiver DeVonta Smith did catch a third quarter touchdown against the New York Giants on Sunday, December 26, 2021 in Philadelphia. Game officials overturned the original review that the touchdown did not count.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

At least initially, everything seemed bleak and ugly in South Philadelphia.

With their eyes set on securing a playoff spot, the Eagles came out lackadaisical against the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon. During their first five possessions, they punted four times and kicker Jake Elliott had a rare miss on a 41-yard field-goal attempt. The game was tied at 3 at halftime.

But similar to DeVonta Smith’s ability to change directions on a dime, the Eagles revived themselves with an explosive effort in the second half and blew out their division rivals in a 34-10 victory.

Paired with the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Eagles climbed into the No. 7 and final playoff seed in the NFC. The Eagles (8-7) now control their playoff destiny with two regular-season games remaining.

Smith reliable for Hurts

One of the main knocks on second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts has been his difficulty to diagnose his progressions in real time. There have been many times this season when it seems Hurts locks onto one target and his eyes fail to go through his other reads. That occurred again Sunday afternoon.

The most glaring example came just before the two-minute warning in the first half when Hurts missed a wide-open Dallas Goedert in the end zone on third-and-goal from the Giants’ 5. Hurts faced pressure and he quickly settled for an underneath completion that fell short of the pylon. Meanwhile, Goedert had run an out route to the right side and had no one within 10 yards of him.

Asked exactly what he saw on the play, Hurts detailed his vantage point in a thorough one-minute answer:

Hurts eventually overcame those early mishaps, and Nick Sirianni’s play-calling also improved as the game progressed. Hurts completed 17-of-29 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Hurts set the club record last week for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season when he scored Nos. 9 and 10, but he didn’t create much with his legs against the Giants. He finished with just two rushes for 7 yards.

“He definitely missed some throws in the first half that he’ll want back,” Sirianni said of Hurts. “He didn’t play his best first half, but when he plays [well], the offense rolls. It’s a credit to Jalen rebounding and playing a good second half.”

On multiple passes, receivers made smart in-air adjustments on deep shots that were underthrown by Hurts. Smith slowed down to haul in a jump ball over safety Julian Love for a 46-yard reception; Quez Watkins tracked down another underthrown pass and snagged a 31-yard catch with Love again in coverage.

Smith posted game-highs of 80 yards and five catches, including a touchdown in the third quarter. Smith upped his season total to 821 receiving yards. He now needs just 92 more yards to break DeSean Jackson’s franchise record for most receiving yards by a rookie wideout.

“That’s two weeks in a row [Smith] has made big-time toe-tapping plays, dragging that foot,” Hurts said. “It’s something we practice all the time. DeVonta may be in his first year, but he’s a true pro in how he prepares with the different things that might come up in a game.”

Stout defense

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has been reluctant to blitz early in games. He often relies on disguises with more players ending up in coverage rather than straight-up pressure. However, Gannon was quick to dial up the pressure against Giants quarterback Jake Fromm, who was making his first career start. It turned out to be a wise decision.

Facing an active defensive front, Fromm looked like a lost puppy in the pocket. Before he was benched in the second half in favor of Mike Glennon, Fromm completed just 6-of-17 passes for 25 yards and one interception, by safety Rodney McLeod on the second play of the third quarter. Fromm was sacked twice and hit four times.

“We hit them right from the beginning,” Sirianni said. “Our defense was outstanding. If we had to be grimy and let the defense carry the way, we’ll do it that way.”

Kicker Graham Gano converted a 54-yard field goal early in the second quarter and the Giants added a touchdown in garbage time, but for a majority of the contest, the defense stood tall.

“Coming out in the second half and to be able to put our team in position I was able to, it created a lot of momentum,” McLeod said. “Our message at halftime was coming out and really showing who wanted it more. I think we responded the right way and we kept rolling from there.”

RB report

Following Tuesday’s win over Washington, Miles Sanders stepped to the podium for the postgame press conference. Showing a slight limp, Sanders began the session by taking a deep breath before mumbling: “Man, being a running back is hard,” alluding to the injuries he’s faced in recent months.

Unfortunately for Sanders, he suffered another setback — this time it was his hand that forced him out of the game before the end of the first half. Ahead of the Giants game, Sanders was listed as a nonparticipant in practice with a quadriceps injury.

The health of the backfield will be worth monitoring over the final two weeks. Jordan Howard suffered a stinger and did not return. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell also needed to enter the medical tent, but he remained on the sideline.

But fourth-year running back Boston Scott came on and continued to build on his impressive resume against the Giants.

Early in the second half, Scott scampered 3 yards into the end zone to break the 3-3 tie, thanks to an incredible push from the left side of the offensive line. It was Scott’s 12th career touchdown — and his eighth against the Giants. Scott, who had a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter of the team’s loss to the Giants in early December, finished with 12 carries for 41 rushing yards and one score.

“We stayed calm,” Scott said. “We didn’t want to get emotional or think we had to do anything over the top.

“We’ve had undisciplined losses, and it can be hard to focus. But we’re continuing to push each other. Being in the game, if I got my opportunity, I just wanted to focus on my fundamentals.”