Carson Wentz threw two touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery on Thursday night in a 34-13 victory at MetLife Stadium, and together, the two plays demonstrated just how far ahead the Eagles are of the Giants, the rest of the division, and most of the NFC.
Take the first touchdown, in which Wentz put all his athletic gifts on full display. He evaded the Giants' pass rushers and, though he committed the cardinal quarterbacking sin of throwing the football across his body, arrowed a pass to Jeffery for a 13-yard score. Now, take the second touchdown, on a 1-yard pass that you or I could have completed. Jeffery came in motion toward Wentz, who tossed him the ball and, thanks to a line of Eagles in front of Jeffery, allowed him to sashay across the goal line. It was a well-designed and well-executed play, made more impressive because Jeffery's teammates didn't block any Giants defenders and weren't supposed to. What were they supposed to do?
"Dance with them," offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters Monday.
What did Groh mean?
"Exactly that," he said, "to try to create a little bit of a wall there and not get flagged for a penalty in tight quarters like that, just to kind of dance with them a little bit and try not to knock them back in the end zone and get a penalty. We're obviously creating a little bit of a wall there and giving [Jeffery] a seam to get into the end zone."
Here's why those two plays are so revealing: Eli Manning, Wentz's counterpart in that game, can't throw that first touchdown pass. He could shed a defensive end or two and heave the ball desperately to David Tyree back when he was 27, but he can't do it now that he's 37. More, neither of the other starting quarterbacks in the NFC East, the Redskins' Alex Smith and the Cowboys' Dak Prescott, can make that throw. They might have the mobility, but they don't have Wentz's arm strength. How many quarterbacks in the league possess both qualities? The marrying of those two skills, and others, are what make Wentz an MVP candidate.
As for the second touchdown, it showed more creativity and intricacy than any play the Giants ran Thursday night. In Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants have two of the most talented skill-position players in the league, yet designing a scheme to free them seems too great a chore for the coaching staff, especially with an aging, immobile quarterback in Manning. Similarly, the Redskins and Cowboys have been at their best this season when they've been grounding-and-pounding their opponents. Each won Sunday in that style. The Redskins beat the Panthers. The Cowboys routed the Jaguars. And, well, that's a fine strategy on a day when Cam Newton is spraying the ball around the yard like a malfunctioning JUGS machine or when Blake Bortles is starting against your defense, but it's unlikely to be successful over the long haul in today's NFL.
Why? Because today's NFL is about placing the right quarterback in the right system to take advantage of the tilting of rules toward offense. Teams are averaging more points per game this season than ever, and if your team doesn't have the quarterback and/or the scheme to keep up on a week-to-week basis, your team doesn't have much of a chance of competing for, let alone winning, a Super Bowl.
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For the latest evidence of that trend, look beyond those two Wentz-to-Jeffery touchdowns and consider the final two games from this past weekend's NFL schedule. In leading two late scoring drives Monday night to beat the 49ers, 33-30, Aaron Rodgers reminded everyone that he is the best, and maybe the only, reason to think that the Packers can reach the postseason and, if they get there, win a game or two. And based on that 43-40 laser-gun battle Sunday night between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, based on the men who coach them — a couple of forward-thinking football minds in Bill Belichick and Andy Reid — it will be a shock if the Patriots and Chiefs don't meet again in the AFC playoffs, if not the conference's championship game.
The Giants, the Cowboys, and the Redskins, with their coaches and quarterbacks, aren't cut out for that kind of football, the kind of football that matters now. Even at 3-3, the Eagles, with Wentz and Doug Pederson, are. They proved it last season, and they reaffirmed it Thursday night. In this NFL, they can dance with anyone.