Eagles-Giants: What Did We Learn?
The Eagles finally won a close one and for the first time in seven games were victorious in a one-score game. Here's what we learned in their 24-19 upset over the New York Giants:
1. Carson Wentz is tough (nuts?). This being the NFL and Philadelphia, Wentz's return after briefly leaving the game will probably be inflated somewhat out of proportion. I don't think I mythologized the quarterback in my column for the newspaper. You be the judge. But Wentz did add to his burgeoning fame with a gutsy effort that included various feats with no apparent regard for his body. He has increasingly added an Aaron Rodgers-, Tony Romo-like spin move to his repertoire. While it can be effective, it can also turn Wentz into a reckless gunslinger. On two occasions, he was able to extend plays with his legs, but rather than throw the ball away or check down, he unleashed deep passes into dangerous spots. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted the first heave. Could receiver Bryce Treggs have done a better job of coming back on the ball? Certainly. But Wentz made a poor decision and threw it a touch short. Considering the circumstances (third and eight) and the distance of the throw (41 yard) it wasn't an egregious mistake and was, in essence, a glorified punt. Wentz got away with another Brett Favreian fling under similar circumstances early in the third quarter. He escaped, rolled right and chucked the ball downfield to a seemingly open Nelson Agholor. Wentz's pass was underthrown, but linebacker Jonathan Casillas dropped a would-be interception. The Eagles don't want Wentz to be shy about throwing downfield or taking chances, but I'm not sure I agreed with his decision to throw on third and five with 1:42 left in the game. Doug Pederson called for a run-pass option play. Wentz liked the matchup on the outside with Jordan Matthews vs. cornerback Trevin Wade. He threw deep, but Matthews didn't have separation and the pass was short. A completed pass there and the game was over. But the odds have to be weighed and running one more time would have forced the Giants to use their last timeout. It didn't matter in the end, but I think a more conservative play there would have made more sense.
2. Wentz is tough (nuts?), part 2. Zach Ertz was asked after the game whether players are better using discretion in situations like the one Wentz faced after he cleared concussion protocol and had the option to lead block on a reverse end around. "Not in this city," Ertz quipped. The Eagles tight end knows a little about having effort questioned. He dodged an opportunity to block Vontaze Burfict a few weeks back and rightfully got roasted for it. Ertz, it can be said, has played much more aggressively the last several weeks. Say what you want about Philadelphia fans, they hold players accountable and can help weed out the imposters. Maybe Wentz should have tailed off rather than block Eli Apple – who ended up injured on the play – but that just isn't his nature. When he got up after the Olivier Vernon hit, he wobbled and had to be helped to the bench. "I was taken to the ground pretty hard and landed on my head," Wentz said. "I got up and was a little dizzy. I got my bell rung a little bit, but then I got to the bench and I was feeling good." He had to go inside to pass the concussion protocol. Wentz jogged to the tunnel. You don't usually see that, but he clearly wanted to get back out on the field as soon as possible. He missed only one drive and when he returned he was back to his old self, shucking and ducking and scrambling to extend plays. "He can make things happen when plays break down," center Jason Kelce said.
3. Doug Pederson is aggressive (nuts?). For some reason, some people have criticized Pederson for allowing Wentz to return. I don't understand that (lack of?) logic. He passed his baseline testing. Say what you want about whether "getting your bell rung" constitutes as a concussion, but in this case it didn't. The Eagles aren't thwarting policy. They have no reason to risk further harm to their franchise quarterback. He was cleared, so why not play him? Could you imagine the criticism he would have faced if he didn't return even though he had been cleared? I do think you can second-guess Pederson's decision to go for it on fourth down and goal at the 1-yard line late in the third quarter. The Eagles were up, 21-16, at the time. A touchdown there doesn't come close to putting the Giants away, but an 8-point lead vs. a 5-point is a pretty significant difference. My biggest issue was rolling the dice there with Chase Daniel at quarterback. "Those are tough situations, of course, a new quarterback, and cadence was a little different," Pederson said in trying to explain why the Giants were able to get so much penetration against Ryan Mathews on the failed run. Maybe he should have thought of that before gambling. Pederson did very well with his two challenges, though. He was successful in reversing a throw to Agholor that was originally ruled incomplete. The 7-yard gain moved Caleb Sturgis' field goal attempt from 48 to 41 yards. He nailed it and gave the Eagles a 24-16 lead. Pederson was also right when he challenged an Odell Beckham Jr. catch that was originally ruled a first down. The officials got the spot wrong and the Giants were forced to go for it on fourth down. They had a false start and subsequently failed to convert on fourth and six with two minutes left.
4. Jim Schwartz's defense can still ball. The Eagles weren't dominant by any means, but they came up with stop after stop – whether it was forcing field goals or thwarting two late Giants drives to reach the end zone – in the second half. The Eagles were on the field for a whopping 88 plays - 45 after the break. They bent, but they hardly broke. And they, most important, forced three turnovers. Malcolm Jenkins had two. He returned the first interception for an early six points and picked off a dying Eli Manning quail early in the fourth. Reserve safety Terrence Brooks clinched the game when the Giants quarterback threw an ill-fated toss with 14 seconds left. Schwartz drew up a defense in the dirt for the final drive. Beckham had toasted the Eagles with 11 catches for 150 yards up until that point. So Schwartz had the Eagles secondary play what was essentially a basketball box-and-one. Jalen Mills covered Beckham man-to-man, while the rest of the secondary played a Cover 2 umbrella zone. It worked. Beckham didn't have a single catch on the final drive. The Eagles cornerbacks have had a poor season. And Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Mills got roasted a number of times Thursday night. But each had strong moments in the second half. Did Carroll get away with holding Sterling Shepherd on the earlier fourth down stop? It sure looked it. But, as I said earlier in the season when it appeared as if officials had it in for the Eagles, penalties, in the long run, mostly even out. The Eagles were flagged only once; the Giants five times.
5. Malcolm Jenkins can catch. Jenkins has had problems holding onto would-be interceptions over his Eagles career, but he hung on to both Manning passes that he made plays on. Aside from the Steelers game, though, he hasn't dropped many chances this season. Of course, he hasn't been around the ball as much. "I think this year, I hadn't had as many opportunities as I did last year," Jenkins conceded. "I think I've done a better job of kind of capitalizing on those." Jenkins has three interceptions on the season and is tied for the team lead with Rodney McLeod and Jordan Hicks. He wasn't perfect last night. He had trouble staying with Shepherd out of the slot when the Giants receiver caught a 13-yard touchdown just before the half. But Jenkins has been a jack of many trades for the Eagles, and apparently was the one that suggested to Schwartz that Brooks be on the field late in the game.
6. Lane Johnson isn't the lone reason why the Eagles didn't make the playoffs, but he certainly makes the team better. Johnson was playing very well before he had to serve his 10-game suspension. He looked a little rusty on Thursday night, understandably, but also made a difference, in particular on the Eagles' opening drive. The first play from scrimmage had Mathews running to Johnson's side. The right tackle used his athleticism to seal the edge and the running back picked up 17 yards. Later, Darren Sproles ran behind Johnson as he gobbled up safety Landon Collins and scored from 25 yards out. You could see Johnson pumping his arms after the score. "We started off the game with a boom," he said. It wasn't clean living for the offensive line the rest of the way. Allen Barbre re-injured his hamstring and had to be replaced by Stefen Wisniewski. And there were a host of breakdowns in both pass protection and run blocking. But with Johnson and Jason Peters, the Eagles have a solid 1-2 punch on the edges. They may try to get another season out of Peters.
7. Nelson Agholor is … well, uh, not the worst receiver of all time. Agholor had a nice moment when he scored a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He ran a clean route and got behind the Giants secondary on a blown coverage and, most important, caught Wentz's pass. It was a gimme grab, but we're talking about Agholor here. Nothing is guaranteed. He dropped another ball that hit him square in the hands in the first quarter. To his credit, he rebounded and later made a diving grab on the play Pederson had reversed. Agholor's touchdown was his first since Week 1. He has only three scores over two seasons. He still doesn't have a game with more than four catches or more than 57 yards receiving this season. He is what he is. But for a receiver that is playing the most amount of skill position snaps on the team – he played 96 percent on Thursday night – he needs to do more. The Eagles will try and upgrade at outside receiver this offseason.
8. And some leftovers … Brandon Graham may be the most productive edge rusher that doesn't record a lot of sacks. He had multiple pressures against Manning and disrupted a bunch of throws, but he failed to notch a QB takedown. He wasn't the only one on the Eagles. Graham has 5 1/2 sacks on the season. … Sproles didn't miss a beat after missing last week with a concussion. He rushed 7 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 23 yards. … Sturgis tied a franchise mark (David Akers) for field goals made in a season with 33. … Jordan Hicks left briefly with an ankle sprain, but returned. He has managed to stay mostly healthy all season. … Brent Celek led the Eagles with three catches. It was his most number of receptions since Week 3.