Eagles overcome third-down woes in win over Giants
Third down has not been their place to shine, but they did enough to win on Monday night.
THIRD DOWN has been a bumpy ride for the Eagles this season.
Their defense hasn't been able to get off the field on third down, and their offense hasn't been able to stay on it.
They entered Monday night's important NFC East showdown with the Giants ranked 31st in the league in third-down offense and 27th in third-down defense.
The offense had converted only 28.3 percent of its third-down opportunities in the first five games (17 of 60). Only 17 of those 60 third downs were 4 yards or less.
Quarterback Sam Bradford was ranked 30th in third-down passing. He was dead last in third-down completion percentage (44.4) and yards per attempt (4.07).
The Eagles' defense? Well, in the previous two games against the Redskins (a loss) and the Saints (a win), Washington and New Orleans converted 17 of 33 third-down opportunities, including 12 of 23 third downs of 5 yards or more.
All of this didn't bode well for Chip Kelly's 2-3 backs-to-the-wall team heading into Monday's game against a smooth-running Giants offense that was second in the league in third-down efficiency (44.4).
Giants quarterback Eli Manning came into the game ranked eighth in third-down passing, with a 107.2 passer rating. The new-and-improved Eli had completed 62.3 percent of his third-down attempts and was averaging 8.62 yards per attempt on third down.
And yet, that's why they play the games. Because what happened last week, and the week before that, and the week before that, doesn't necessarily mean it will happen again.
Bill Davis' defense decided enough was enough on third down. The Eagles shut down the Giants' run game and teed off on Manning, who had been sacked only four times in the first five games, as the Eagles rolled to a 27-7 win.
They sacked Eli three times, all before the fourth quarter, including twice on third down. That's one more third-down sack than they had in the first five games.
The Giants converted only four of 13 third-down opportunities
Things started out a little rough on third down for the Eagles' defense. The Giants drove 80 yards on eight plays on their first possession and scored on a 13-yard pass from Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. to go up, 7-0.
The Giants didn't even have a third down on their first scoring drive, and converted three straight third-down opportunities on their second possession, including one when Connor Barwin was called for offsides on a third-and-5. But a heads-up interception by linebacker DeMeco Ryans made all of that moot.
"After that first drive, I was just hoping they wouldn't score a hundred on us," Davis said. "They made it look so easy. We had to settle down, and we did, and made some adjustments.
After that, third down belonged to the Eagles' defense. The Giants converted only two more third downs the rest of the game.
Vinny Curry dropped Manning for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-7. Fletcher Cox stoned Rashad Jennings for no gain on a third-and-1 that was followed by another big stop by Brandon Graham on fourth-and-1.
The Eagles put the Giants in a ton of third-and-longs, and, unlike the previous two weeks, they didn't let their opponent turn them into big plays. In the first three quarters, six of the Giants' third-down situations were 7 yards or more. They converted only one of them.
"We had some tools and some techniques they hadn't seen, to try and give Eli something different to look at," Davis said. "When a guy has a playbook on the line of scrimmage like he does, you have to give him something he hasn't seen before. That's all we did. Gave him a couple new looks and the guys executed it."
The Giants' lone third-and-long conversion came late in the first half when Manning hit Beckham for a 17-yard gain. But the Eagles held them later in the drive on third-and-7 and forced them to punt. Beckham, who had four catches for 30 yards in the first quarter, had only three more for 31 yards the rest of the night. He averaged only 8.7 yards per attempt.
"We had him doubled a lot of the night," Davis said. "The touchdown was the only breakdown we had. We put a lot of attention on him."
Things didn't go quite as smoothly for the Eagles' offense on third down, but they did convert six of 16 third-down opportunities (38 percent), their highest third-down success rate this season.
"We did enough to win, and it's fun to win," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "But it's pretty obvious that we made some mistakes and that we need to get a lot of things cleaned up before we're cooking the way we want to be."
They had an inexcusable false start on a third-and-2 that killed one drive. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who dropped his fifth pass of the season earlier in the game, lost a fumble after a 6-yard gain on a third-and-8 play.
Bradford was sacked in the end zone on a third-and-10 play for what would have been a safety. But the Giants had 12 men on the field on the play.
Bradford had only three completions for first downs on third down in the first three quarters. He had only nine in the first five games.
The good news for the offense is it didn't find itself in as many third-and-longs as it usually does, although there were a third-and-28, a third-and-20 and a couple of third-and-10s.
"We had a couple of series there where we didn't give ourselves a chance," Shurmur said.
"We just need to relax and go play. Sometimes I watch, especially some of our young guys, they get in there and they press. They want to be so perfect sometimes. They just have to relax and play."
On Twitter: @Pdomo