For only the second time this season, and just the seventh time in the five years that Jim Schwartz has been the team’s defensive coordinator, the Eagles gave up back-to-back opening touchdown drives Sunday.
A 40-yard Jake Elliott field goal was sandwiched between those two drives, but the Eagles found themselves staring up out of a double-digit hole before the game was 16 minutes old.
The first time they gave up TDs to an opponent on their first two possessions this season was in Week 2 to the Rams, which seemed no great disgrace.
This time, though, it happened against the Giants, who came into the game not only with a 2-7 record, but ranked 31st in the league in scoring and total offense.
“We gave them 14 early and we can’t do that,” defensive end Brandon Graham said after the Eagles' 27-17 loss. “We have to strike first. When you’re playing a team two times, it’s all about who strikes first, who came to play. We wanted to start fast and we didn’t.”
The Giants' two game-opening touchdown drives were fueled by their ground game, including but not limited to quarterback Daniel Jones, who put the Giants ahead with a 34-yard touchdown run on a read-option.
Running back Wayne Gallman scored the second touchdown on a 2-yard dive at the end of a 13-play, 75-yard drive.
The Giants rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles. It was only the second time a team has had three rushing TDs against them since Schwartz arrived in Philadelphia. If you’re counting, that makes 14 rushing touchdowns against the Eagles this season, which equals the most given up by them under Schwartz.
A team that once had one of the league’s top run defenses has given up 152.4 rushing yards per game in the last five games.
The Giants rushed for 94 yards on 13 carries on their first two scoring drives, including 6- and 17-yard runs by Gallman on the first touchdown drive, and a 10-yard run by Alfred Morris on a second-and-1 on the second scoring drive.
The Eagles tightened things up after that, holding the Giants to 57 yards on 23 carries the rest of the game. But the damage had been done. The Eagles are 1-6 under Schwartz when they give up touchdowns to an opponent on their first two possessions.
“They kind of came out with a little tempo,” safety Jalen Mills said. "Some misdirection stuff. Moving guys all around the place and putting them in different places.
“After those first couple of drives, I thought we settled in pretty good and ended up stopping them.”
Gallman had just 16 yards on 11 carries in the second half. Morris ran the ball once for 6 yards in the final two quarters.
“It all starts up front with the offensive line,” Giants coach Joe Judge said of his team’s ability to run the ball early on the Eagles. “They did a nice job coming off the ball, playing a physical style of football and finishing blocks.”
The Eagles came into Sunday’s game ranked 24th in run defense and 16th in opponent rush average. They had done a good job against opposing running backs, holding them to 3.4 yards per carry. But they have struggled against misdirection and mobile quarterbacks. More than 40% of the rushing yards they had allowed in their first eight games had been by quarterbacks and wide receivers.
“They had a couple of big [run] plays,” Graham said. “We talk about eliminating the big plays and they made them.”
None were bigger than Jones' touchdown run that gave the Giants a 7-0 lead. He ran a zone-read to the left. Eagles right end Josh Sweat should’ve been responsible for Jones, but bit on the inside fake to Gallman, leaving a wide-open lane for the Giants quarterback.
“Honestly, I don’t know [what happened],” Graham said. "When we look at the film, maybe a guy was just out of his gap on that one. Maybe missed tackles on some of their other runs.
"We were talking about that on the sideline. We have to gang-tackle. We have to get them on the ground. But I don’t know until we watch the film specifically what was happening [on those first two drives].
“We always play hard. But it seemed like the little things were creeping in. Little stuff that we can correct.”
Corrections that will be too late to erase this loss. And maybe too little to help them in their next five games against a Murderer’s Row of opponents.
Jones finished with 64 yards on nine carries. In the Eagles' first nine games, quarterbacks are averaging 7.1 yards per carry against them. In the next two weeks, they’ll be facing two more elusive QBs — the Browns' Baker Mayfield and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson.
“We did a great job blocking it up there,” Jones said of his touchdown run. “[Wide receiver] Austin Mack came down and made a big block. It just kind of opened up for me. I just tried to stay on my feet this time and get in the end zone.”
Jones was referring to his 80-yard run against the Eagles two weeks ago when he tripped and fell at the 8-yard line.
“We knew that was coming,” Graham said of the read-option runs. “When we see the film, we’ll find out what happened. They ran a couple of things a little different. But we should’ve stopped it.”