All it took was a division game against the Giants for the Eagles to look like a Super Bowl contender again. At the half, the Birds are leading New York, 24-6. Here's what we saw in the first half of action:
- Fast start. It's no secret the Eagles have struggled early in games this year, but not tonight. Even after the fumble on the opening kickoff was called back, Kamu Grugier-Hill picked off Eli Manning and Carson Wentz made an impressive throw on the run to Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown. After all of the questions about the team's talent this week, a fast start to calm the nerves was just what the doctor ordered.
- Welcome back, Mr. Clement. Corey Clement missed the past few weeks with an injury, but he was instrumental in the Eagles' second touchdown drive. The second-year back rushed for 14 yards and a first down, then pushed the ball across the goal line two plays later. With Jay Ajayi lost for the season and Darren Sproles still nursing a hamstring injury, having a pair of capable backs in Clement and Wendell Smallwood is a huge help to a struggling offense.
- Return of the big play. Nelson Agholor was the Eagles big-play threat last year, but he struggled to produce explosive plays in 2018 before tonight. Agholor has just two catches, but they've gone for 32 and 58 yards. With Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz both entrenched back in their roles from a year ago, it's about time for Agholor to start looking like the guy we saw in 2017.
- Blocking troubles. Lane Johnson and Jason Peters are laboring through injuries tonight, but the two tackles are really struggling against the Giants pass rush. Johnson's availability was in question tonight when it was announced he was dealing with a high ankle sprain, but the right tackle is toughing it out with mixed results. Peters has been worse on the opposite side of the line, allowing Olivier Vernon to bully him around. It's startling to see these two stalwarts give up consistent pressure, but Doug Pederson isn't doing them any favors by abandoning the rushing game.
- Rough ref. It's easy to criticize the referees with the advantage of replay, but Michael Bennett's roughing the passer penalty in the second quarter was outrageous. This has been a huge storyline all season, and the penalty didn't cost the Eagles any points, but to penalize a guy for following the rules of physics is just silly.
The Eagles don't have much to tweak during intermission after a dominant first half. The defensive line is making life miserable for Manning and the offense is moving the ball fairly easily. As long as Wentz takes care of the ball and the defense doesn't allow big plays to Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, this should be a relatively easy half of football.
Second Half X-Factor: Jordan Hicks
The Eagles' middle linebacker did tip a pass that resulted in an interception, but the Birds' biggest issue on defense--outside of ridiculous roughing the passer penalties--is stopping Barkley. Obviously, that is easier said than done, but if Hicks can occupy the middle of the defense and limit the Penn State product's big plays, it'll make life a lot easier on the rest of the defense.