The Eagles played their best game of the year on Thursday night against the over-matched New York Football Giants. Despite there being concerns about the Eagles potential as Super Bowl contenders, the win represents what they are capable of and where they are headed:
There were a lot of concerns for both teams heading into the Eagles-Giants Thursday Night Football matchup. The banged-up, defending Super Bowl champions were looking to avoid losing their third-straight game, while New York was interested in simply not imploding before the game was over. The former was successful, and the latter... not so much.
The Eagles raced out to a 34-13 victory over their division rival, quelling their fans worries for the next 10 days. Clearly, the Giants were the worst opponent the Birds faced in 2018, but the Eagles still took care of their business and looked the best they have all season. If it wasn't already obvious, the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles aren't a bad team. Banged up? Sure. Unlucky? Possibly. But not star-wide-receiver-criticizing-the-whole-team-including-the-washed-up-quarterback bad.
The Giants even received a historic performance from Saquon Barkley, but Eli Manning's uninspired performance and New York's inability to block any of the Eagles' pass-rushers rendered the rookie running back's big plays irrelevant as the Giants scored just two field goals and turned the ball over on downs in their three trips to the red zone. In April, the Giants held the second-overall pick in the draft and took a running back instead of replacing their 37-year-old quarterback or trading back in an effort to build a young core out of high picks.
Perhaps the best thing Giants fans have to look forward to is next year's draft when they will be picking in the top-5 once again and have another shot at drafting their quarterback of the future.
For the Eagles, Thursday night's victory gave fans a chance to finally breathe easy. Carson Wentz looked like an MVP again. The defensive line made Manning's night miserable, recording 4 team sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Even the secondary limited the big plays in the Giants' passing game, allowing just three completions over 20 yards, although one of them was a screen pass Barkley took 55 yards.
Despite sitting at 3-3 after six weeks, the Eagles aren't too much different than the team that won the Super Bowl a year ago. Maybe the confetti and parade clouded fans' vision, but the Eagles were not a dominant team early last season. It took a 61-yard field goal to beat the Giants in Week 3 and six-minute, game-ending drive to stave off the 0-4 Los Angeles Chargers one week later.
Despite being just 3-3, the Eagles still could find themselves alone at the top of the division if the Redskins fall to 2-3 on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Considering the Birds started the season without Wentz and Alshon Jeffery and have lost both Rodney McLeod and Jay Ajayi for the rest of the season, that has to be considered a win. The Eagles struggling for the early part of the season wasn't unfathomable, but for them to still be tied for the division's lead without playing their best football for the first six games of the season has to be considered a win.
Did not play: Darren Sproles (hamstring); Haloti Ngata (calf); Nate Gerry (ankle); Corey Graham (hamstring); DJ Alexander (quad)
Sidney Jones: The second-year cornerback played well early, but was ruled out of the game in the first quarter after suffering a hamstring injury. In his absence, Avante Maddox slid down from safety to the slot and Rasul Douglas became the Eagles new free safety.
Jason Peters: Peters was dealing with a quad injury heading into Thursday's game, but exited the contest early in the second half with a bicep injury. The veteran left tackle said after the game he was fine and will be ready to go next week. That's nothing new for Peters, who has subbed himself out of blowouts early to preserve his long-term health.
Lane Johnson: Johnson was a game-time decision with a high ankle sprain on Thursday, but he was able to suit up and played three quarters before suffering a lower body injury and giving way to Isaac Seumalo, who shifted from left guard to right tackle. I would assume Johnson's injury was just an aggravation of his pre-existing condition and nothing new. The Eagles offensive line did play relatively well late in the game without both starting tackles.
3: Barkley became the third player to pick up 120+ rushing yards and 80+ receiving yards in a game against the Eagles, joining the Redskins' Larry Brown and Dallas's Herschel Walker. The rookie's 130 yards on 13 carries and 99 receiving yards on 9 catches may seem impressive, but they pale in comparison to the stats Walker put up against the Birds in 1986.
Walker ran for 122 yards on just 6 carries and caught 9 passes for 170 receiving yards. That's over 20 yards per carry, but just a measly 18.89 yards per reception. Putting up 392 yards on just 15 touches is simply absurd.
15: The Eagles' victory on Thursday night marked the team's 15th-straight win when scoring 24 or more points. The last time the Birds lost while scoring 24 or more points was in Week 15 of the 2016 season against the Baltimore Ravens. You may remember the game because Doug Pederson decided to go for two in the closing seconds of the game, despite trailing by just one point.
8: Last night's win was also the Birds' 8th-straight win against the New York Football Giants in primetime. In fact, in the 19 primetime games between the two rivals, the Eagles hold a 15-4 advantage over the Giants. The Eagles still trail the all-time series by just one game, but under the lights, they really shine against New York.
The Eagles seemed to be off to a great start when Jawill Davis fumbled the opening kickoff, but it was called back when replays revealed he was down before losing the ball. Undeterred, the Eagles defense was able to set their offense up with a short field just two plays later when Kamu Grugier-Hill picked off Manning at the 40-yard-line and returned the ball to the Giants' 16.
Credit Jordan Hicks for making a great play on the ball and deflecting the pass into the hands of Grugier-Hill, who raced 24 yards on the return. The Eagles would take the lead just three plays later and never looked back. For a team that has struggled to get off to good starts and failed to convert in the red zone opportunities, the Eagles' opening 90 seconds set the tone for the Birds' most dominant performance of the season.
Up: Nelson Agholor
Like many of his teammates, Agholor looked like he rediscovered his 2017 form and was the big-play threat for the Birds, averaging over 30 yards per catch. His first snag on a tipped pass took tremendous concentration and he looked to be on the same page of the improvising Wentz on his 58-yard catch and run. The Eagles offense was struggling to generate big plays, but if Agholor can remain on the same page as Wentz when the QB is extending plays, it could put a lot of stress on opposing defenses.
Down: Jason Peters
Peters did leave the game early, but watching him try to will his way through this season is hard to watch. He got schooled by Olivier Vernon on a pair of snaps, getting flagged for a hold, then allowing a quarterback hit on the very next play. Like I've said a few times in the past couple weeks, Peters has been dealing with injuries and he could use these 10 days off as much as anyone, but it is clear the left tackle just isn't the same player he once was.
Up: Fletcher Cox
Does Cox get this spot every week? It sure seems like it. Even without much talent playing next to him at defensive tackle, (my apologies to Destiny Vaeao, who is probably still celebrating his first-career sack), Cox is dominating opposing offensive lines and punishing opposing quarterbacks. He finished last night's game with 6 tackles, 3 quarterback hits and a sack. It's hard to believe that at 27 years old, Cox is still getting better, but this is the best he's looked in his seven-year career.
Down: Nigel Bradham
Yes, Bradham did record a sack last night and also recorded a pass deflection, but the linebacker was a liability in the run game, missing a couple tackles on Barkley. Now, tackling the Penn State product is much easier said than done, but Bradham's missed tackles led to a couple big plays that could've affected the game, had it not been for the Giants' inability to score in the red zone. On a night where the defense was dominant, Bradham wasn't bad, but he was the worst of the bunch.
1. The Giants' decision to draft Barkley second overall was certainly a questionable one, considering the state of their quarterbacks. However, that's not to say Barkley isn't a generational talent. He proved that more than once last night. But, despite his tremendous performance last night, the Giants still lost by 19. In the modern NFL, having a dominant running back just doesn't translate to consistently winning.
2. Speaking of running backs, the Eagles duo of Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood played very well last night. The pair certainly isn't flashy, but Clement had a pair of big plays and Smallwood picked up some tough yards.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding the Eagles needing a back to replace Jay Ajayi, but Clement reportedly told Howie Roseman on Thursday, the team would be fine rolling with him, Smallwood and Sproles. If the Eagles can spread the ball around and keep the offense ahead of the sticks, there won't be a need for Le'Veon Bell or LeSean McCoy.
3. It's been a tough few weeks for Jalen Mills, so it seems appropriate I throw some praise his way after a solid performance last night. Mills had 2 pass breakups and was second on the team with 9 tackles. Mills did allow one big play, but for the most part, he looked the part of a solid, NFL cornerback.
That holds true for the rest of the Birds secondary too, even as they were down to just two healthy cornerbacks in garbage time. Ronald Darby put together his best performance of 2018 as well and the Eagles held Beckham to just 6 catches and 44 yards on his 10 targets. If the secondary can continue to play like this, things will be alright on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles will get a much-needed 10-day break before they host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday. Last year, the two teams met on Thursday Night Football, with the Eagles winning, 28-23, and intercepting Cam Newton 3 times, while holding the Panthers running backs to just 9 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Last night's win certainly calmed a lot of nerves about this 2018 Eagles' squad and if they can build on it with a win over the 3-1 Panthers at home, things will be back on track. Carolina will travel to Landover, Md, on Sunday to play the Washington Redskins.