The Eagles absolutely did need to find better offensive balance, not just to beat the Giants on Sunday, but to give their misfiring attack some momentum and pace going forward.
Coach Doug Pederson basked a bit in the glow of that success Monday, talking about how the successful teams around the league have balance, and how it isn't a new concept for his group, just one that hasn't always been attainable.
"I think [the running game is] something that has always been there. We've seen glimpses of that this season when we've rushed the ball for close to 30 times a game. That's been a good recipe," Pederson said. "If you go back and look at the wins, we've been pretty successful doing that. The games that get lopsided, obviously it's a different story, because you have to rethink your plan just a little bit."
Maybe we shouldn't look too far beyond that – it's a good thing that Pederson is committing more to the run. Maybe Carson Wentz won't be as harried and frustrated. The offensive line seems capable of sustaining success there. Josh Adams was impressive Sunday in getting more than 10 touches for the first time in his young career; maybe he takes off from here.
Long-term, though, leaning as heavily on the run as they did against the Giants – 32 called passes and 28 called runs? That level of balance might be hard to maintain for a team whose remaining opponents all currently have winning records. Much work remains to get this offense to where it can take the team back to the playoffs, in the high-scoring NFL of 2018.
At some point, it seems likely the Eagles will have to throw the ball downfield with success. (Wentz's longest completion Sunday was a 24-yarder to Zach Ertz.) At some point, they will need to score in the first quarter again (opponents have a 51-21 edge, the Eagles not having scored in the first 15 minutes since their Oct. 11 victory over the Giants).
The Eagles' two highest-scoring games this season are their meetings with the Giants, in which they put up 31 and 25. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to schedule a third meeting this season. Now they will have to score points against teams that didn't start the year 1-7. There is nobody ahead who seems a likely candidate for blowing a 19-3 second-quarter lead.
Offensively, Sunday was like getting a push-start for a car. The push worked, the engine sputtered to life, but the uphill climb to the playoffs will require all cylinders to fire a lot more consistently.
The victory would have been more reassuring had there been any sign of progress in offensive coordinator Mike Groh's "challenging" task of integrating Golden Tate into the attack. Tate was targeted eight times, catching four passes for 30 yards. Ertz remained the focus of the passing game, with seven catches on eight targets, for 91 yards and a touchdown. No wide receiver accounted for more than Alshon Jeffery's 39 yards (three catches, three targets).
"We're trying to get everybody the ball. There is only one football," Pederson said. "You think about the four, five receiver positions that we have, and you have two tight ends. … Sometimes you just don't know where the ball is going. You put a certain personnel group out there, but we have a certain progression, too."
Where the ball isn't going is deep downfield. Only four Wentz passes Sunday traveled more than 10 yards in the air, a season-low, by far, the previous low being 11 passes. Wentz recorded his second-lowest passing yardage total of the season (236). The only game with a lower total was the New Orleans blowout loss (156).
On the Fox broadcast, analyst Chris Spielman noted the Eagles' lack of "receivers that can stretch the field." Maybe they inch along for another few weeks, beat the Redskins and Cowboys, then get Mike Wallace back from IR before they have to travel to face the high-flying Rams. But rediscovering the run game, in and of itself, seems unlikely to save the season.
Developing story lines
*Sunday might have been 37-year-old Eli Manning's final start against the Eagles, given the way the 3-8 Giants' season has gone. He is 10-20 against the Birds, according to Pro Football Reference, the first loss coming in the first game of Manning's career, back on Sept. 12, 2004, a mopup appearance in relief of Kurt Warner. Manning has more losses to the Eagles than any other team, and is 0-2 against them in the playoffs. He denied Sunday that there was any psychological factor to the Eagles having won five in a row and nine of 10 against the Giants. "No, I wouldn't know it if you didn't say that. So it's not a thought," Manning said.
*Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks missed four snaps while getting an ankle injury evaluated, but returned as soon as he got extra taping. "The biggest thing was that I didn't want to leave my teammates hanging out to dry," Brooks said afterward. "We've got guys playing through stuff – JP, Kelce, Lane, obviously." Jason Peters is playing with a torn biceps tendon, Jason Kelce with elbow and knee injuries, and Lane Johnson with an MCL sprain, his high ankle sprain having apparently healed. By the way, Brooks said he did not think he moved on that third-quarter, third-down false-start penalty levied against him, which forced the Eagles to settle for a 28-yard Jake Elliott field goal.
*Doug Pederson didn't want to be real specific, with the Eagles not practicing until Thursday for Monday night's game against Washington, but Pederson indicated that he thinks he'll get some members of his battered secondary back this week. Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, and Sidney Jones all are "day-to-day" for now, he said. It did not seem likely that middle linebacker Jordan Hicks would return that soon from his calf injury, however.
*The Giants converted four of six third-down opportunities in the first half, one of six in the second half.
That Pat Shurmur, after beating the Giants for the Eagles as the Birds' interim head coach on Jan. 3, 2016, would help them win the matchup again nearly three years later?
Shurmur probably wouldn't have given Saquon Barkley that third-quarter series off had the Giants' coach known his offense would get only 21 second-half snaps, but, also, chicken/egg. The bottom line: 15 first-half touches for Barkley, accounting for a combined 131 yards. Five second-half touches for a combined 11 yards.
Corey Clement's 32-yard run Sunday was the Eagles' longest run of the season.
Everyone noticed the game-turning interception Malcolm Jenkins plucked at the end of the first half, but Jenkins, the last man left standing in the Eagles' secondary, did so much more.
Start with the fact that he clocked all 62 defensive snaps, plus 10 special-teams snaps, 72 total, tops for either team. Jenkins hasn't missed a game since coming to the Eagles as a free agent from the Saints in 2014, starting 58 of them in a row, plus all three playoff games. Last season, he played 92 percent of the defensive snaps, the only year he hasn't been at 99 percent.
Jenkins' coverage of Barkley on third-and-goal forced the Giants to settle for a field goal on their second series, after they effortlessly scored a touchdown on their first series. The Giants went for two after their opening touchdown, but Jenkins broke up the pass.
And, of course, after Barkley's 51-yard touchdown run, Jenkins helped convince defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to simplify the game plan, because the Giants weren't giving the Eagles' inexperienced injury replacements time at the line of scrimmage to decipher what they were facing.
"Their tempo was just so fast, so it was pretty tough," corner De'Vante Bausby said, after his second game as an Eagle, his sixth in the NFL. "And you know, the Eagles' stadium is pretty loud, so it's kind of hard to make adjustments and make checks when they're going fast and it's loud. We said, 'Forget all that,' in the second half and just stuck to our basics and got the job done."