EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saturday night's Eagles-Giants game had everything, it seemed, except for tackling.
Even though they would go on to claim a season sweep over their NFC East rivals, and move into sole possession of the division lead, the Eagles will not count last night's 45-38 win as one of their better defensive efforts.
Indeed, it was probably the unit's worst outing of the season, one in which they surrended over 500 yards to the Giants offense.
The pass rush was non-existent, the pass coverage was porous and the run defense was inconsistent. But it was the tackling that marred defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's game plan. The only saving grace was that New York's defense was equally as inept.
Two long Giants' touchdowns were aided by missed tackles.
In the second quarter, New York cut into a 14-3 lead when wide receiver Hakeem Nicks caught a 68-yard pass from Eli Manning. On the play, cornerback Asante Samuel bit early when Manning cocked to throw and Nicks caught the pass high and turned to find safety Quintin Mikell in his path. He spun out of Mikell's attempt and raced the rest of the way for the score.
However, the most glaring example of poor tackling occurred in the third quarter when Manning and Domenik Hixon hooked up for a 61-yard strike.
Manning found the receiver running a route underneath. Eagles linebacker Will Witherspoon was on the coverage, but he whiffed on the first attempt to bring Hixon down. When safety Sean Jones gave a half-hearted effort to bring down Hixon, the receiver had nothing but open space between him and the end zone and the Giants had their first lead, 31-30.
Fortunately for the Eagles, the offense answered quickly when Donovan McNabb hit DeSean Jackson on a 60-yard TD pass and the Eagles never relinquished the lead.
Mikell was among the Eagle defenders who had a rough night. He was whistled for two illegal contact penalties on successive plays during the drive that produced Nicks' second-quarter score. And he drew a personal foul flag early in the fourth quarter when he hit Giants tight end Kevin Boss out of bounds.
Mikell, one of the Eagles' more reliable tacklers, was asked last week if the defense was a better tackling group than under former coordinator Jim Johnson.
"Earlier in the year we weren't doing a great job," Mikell said. "It's usually when we key on it and we focus on it during the week, so hopefully we're focusing on it enough this week because this is a running team. This is what [the Giants] want to do."
But it wasn't the run defense's tackling that was the problem, although defensive tackle Mike Patterson did fail to wrap up running back Ahmad Bradshaw on a 17-yard scoot in the second quarter.
Still, the defense did provide seven points when Sheldon Brown returned a fumble 60 yards in the first quarter for a touchdown and it did summon up two fourth-quarter stops after the Eagles regained the lead with Jackson's 60-yard touchdown reception.
The Eagles blitzed Manning much more last night than they had in the previous meeting between the two teams. They couldn't apply much pressure on the 28-year-old quarterback through most of the first three quarters, though.
They finally got to him when it counted most. With the Eagles clinging to a 37-31 lead and the Giants facing third-and-6 at their own 33-yard line, Joselio Hanson, back after a four-game banned-substance suspension, came on a corner blitz and met defensive end Trent Cole at Manning. Cole has ten sacks on the season.