Birds Stamp Return Ticket To Playoffs With Destruction Of Big Blew
When they took the field Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it marked the first time in more than six years that both the Eagles and New York Giants entered with a winning record.
A few hours later, after the Eagles exited the Giants’ home venue with a 48-22 win that clinched them a playoff berth for the second time in two years, nobody could really argue that the Giants, despite their strides in 2022, are anywhere near the Eagles’ echelon or caliber.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, perhaps now the front-runner for NFL MVP, totaled three more touchdowns – two by air, one by ground – and both wide receiver A.J. Brown and running back Miles Sanders found the end zone as each eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season in the romp that produced the team’s fourth consecutive win and 12th overall.
The 34-23 loss by the Minnesota Vikings to the Detroit Lions put the Birds two games ahead of the Vikings (10-3) for the top overall seed with just four games remaining in the regular season, with the Eagles (12-1) owning a tiebreaker from their 24-8 win over Minnesota in Week 2.
Hurts and the Birds also exorcised some demons, winning for the first time at MetLife Stadium since the 2019 season.
On with the observations:
1. The Eagles reminded you they’re a passing team. Even against one of the league’s worst run defenses, the Eagles weren’t looking to establish their run game early. They came out throwing, which is what they’ve typically done all season, and it’s a plan that made a lot of sense given Giants injuries in the secondary and the Giants’ limited ability to score. Get an early lead through the air, run in the second half – a very familiar blueprint from the Andy Reid days. But so far under Nick Sirianni, the Eagles are more willing to change, if needed, and shift to a ground game.
2. How’s this for encouraging: The Eagles are hoping to see the return of tight end Dallas Goedert for Sunday’s game against the Bears. Goedert missed his fourth and final game since going on Injured Reserve following the Week 10 loss to Washington. It appeared the offense missed Goedert when the Eagles squeezed by the Indianapolis Colts, 17-16, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 11, but the Eagles have since scored 40 or more in two of their past three games and have totaled 123 points in those games, averaging more than 40 points per game. The rich are about to get richer.
3. Seven more sacks for the Eagles – three by Brandon Graham – and, once again, no need for defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon to release the hounds. Gannon still gets criticized for an apparent lack of killer instinct – mainly because he doesn’t blitz when the Eagles are up by double digits – but those who gripe that his defense is stagnant aren’t watching. The Eagles have been running a ton of games up front, using stunts and athleticism from Haason Reddick to create confusion for offensive lines. There’s more than one way to attack a protection scheme.
4. Brilliant pitch-and-catch from Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith on the first third down of the opening drive against a Cover Zero blitz, which means no deep safety and man coverage across the board . Hurts perfectly wedged a quick throw to Smith’s outside shoulder on a square-out to the right side, inches away from the defender. The Eagles came out throwing – as they typically do – even against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses. Hurts attempted 10 passes and scrambled once for nine yards just on the opening drive as opposed to just three runs by Sanders. Don’t let the rushing total – another 250-plus on the ground – fool you. The Eagles are an excellent passing team and excellent running teams that blends both concepts well, but wants to start the game getting yards and points through the air.
5. If the game plan was to target Devonta Smith as much as possible early, it seemed to work, although Giants corner Darney Holmes sure made Smith work for his yardage. Smith’s 41-yard touchdown on the second drive agains the blitz was a risky throw by Hurts – safety Julian Love came within inches of an interception – but it was also the seventh time Smith was targeted on Hurts’ 20th attempt. The play before, Holmes blew up a screen to drop Smith behind scrimmage to set up 4th-and-7 at the Giants’ 41-yard-line. Reminded me of 2017, when Doug Pederson also elected to keep his offense on the field in the same area against the same team. The Eagles didn’t convert that time, though, and Pederson came under criticism for the decision.
6. Miles Sanders and Saquon Barkley were teammates at Penn State, where Sanders was one of the most recruited running backs in the country out of Pittsburgh but sat for years behind the lesser-recruited Barkley, who changed his commitment from Rutgers and then emerged as one of college football’s most dynamic weapons in the sport’s history. All these years later, though, and Sanders has improved his overall skill-set more than Barkley has. Don’t get me wrong, Barkley has tremendous burst and explosion, but as Greg Cosell pointed out on “Inside The Birds Pregame Live,” Barkley’s physical traits haven’t translated into elite production. He goes down too easily and the Giants frequently have to run from multi-tight end formations. His explosion is tempered by what appears to be OK running vision and average contact balance. Maybe the injuries have taken some away from him. Sanders, on the flip side, has shown major improvement in vision, blitz pickup, hands, patience and other important areas of his game that’s led to his first 1,000-yard rushing season and first season of 10 or more rushing touchdowns. Interestingly, both running backs are on the last years of their deals and could be free agents.
7. Josh Sweat has quietly become the Eagles’ best edge defenders. He doesn’t have Reddick’s explosion and might be a little less bendy than Graham, but he plays the run and pass extremely well and is a constant supplier of pressure with bull rushes, jab steps, and a refined pass-rush arsenal. He now has four sacks in his last three games and five in his last five.
8. It appears the nice debut for Reed Blankenship against the Packers and Titans wasn’t in the cards once Avonte Maddox was ready to return. Josiah Scott, imstead, moved from Maddox’s replacement in the slot to safety, where he had cross-trained in the summer, to replace C.J. Gardner-Johnson, whose spot Blankenship had previously been filling. It made sense as the move allowed Blankenship to go back to special teams, where he really belongs for now and where the Eagles still needed his help. Unfortunately for Blankenship, he sustained an injury during the game that didn’t look good. We’ll find out more about the severity this week.
9. On that note, the move to elevate Christian Elliss against the Titans, and against the Giants, continued to provide its desired outcome as Elliss again made a tackle and helped on kickoff coverage. He has one elevation remaining before the Eagles have to sign him to the 53 in order to keep playing him. Special teams really came through for the Eagles again, as Britain Covey produced two nice punt returns and was asked to fill in for injured punter Arryn Siposs as the holder for field goals while kicker Jake Elliott filled in for Siposs at punter.
10. Also – and who didn’t see this coming – Boston Scott killed the Giants with 117 yards of kickoff returns, including a 66-yarder that to set up Jake Elliott’s 29-yard field goal before the half. Scott also gave some the Giants his typical nightmares, rushing for 33 yards on six carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run in garbage time. I’m still amazed the Giants didn’t sign him in free agency just to keep him from killing them.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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