By DAVID MURPHY
Five thoughts on last night’s Eagles’ victory:
1. The Eagles’ defensive tackles deserve a game ball. Or a Tur-duck-en. This Eagles defensive line just might feature the best defensive tackle rotation since the early days of the Jim Johnson empire. Cullen Jenkins has been an absolute beast, while Trevor Laws appears to have finally developed into the tackle the Eagles envisioned when they drafted him. But the biggest surprise might be Derek Landri, who has been playing far bigger than his listed 290 pounds. The defining series for the DTs came midway through the second quarter, when the Giants had a first down on the Eagles 44-yard line after an errant Vince Young pass was tipped up in the air and then intercepted by Kenny Phillips. On first down, Landry occupied a double team, freeing up Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney to stuff a run for no gain. On second down, Laws single-handedly blew up a Danny Ware run, knocking his man into the backfield to free up Akeem Jordan on the near side and Rolle on the far side to converge for a five-yard loss. Then, on 3rd-and-15, Jenkins blew up a double team and teamed with Patterson for the sack. Jenkins dominated on the Giants next possession as well, stuffing Jacobs and forcing two poor Eli Manning throws. He and Patterson also had a big contribution on a 3rd-and-inches earlier in the quarter. If you re-watch the Cardinals game last week, you’ll see similar production out of the defensive tackles.
2. Andy Reid out-coached Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell. Maybe the Giants took a look at the Eagles’ line-up and assumed they were playing in an exhibition game. Or maybe the Giants downfall was the same as it always is: uninventive schemes that fail to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. For as much heat as the Eagles’ offensive line has taken this season, the front five has performed relatively well once the point of attack has been established. On Sunday, Jason Peters and Todd Heremens dominated the Giants’ vaunted fleet of defensive ends. The interior of the line wasn’t great, but they did an adequate job in pass protection.
The Giants clearly were determined to bottle up the Eagles’ running game and force Vince Young to beat them with his arm. We’ve heard a lot about how deep safeties have to play against Desean Jackson, but Mike Vick apparently is a significant part of that equation as well, because the Giants routinely kept their safeties in or close to the box, leaving Jackson with one-on-one coverage. Young failed to take advantage of most of these match-ups in the first half, but did a better job in the second. Still, the Giants gave Lesean McCoy little in the way of running room until the Eagles’ last possession of the game. And, frankly, if it wasn’t for the performance of the Eagles’ defense, the strategy probably would have resulted in a win.
At the same time, the Giant defense could have taken matters into its own hands by giving Young and the offensive line more to think about before the snap. Teams who have given the Eagles’ offense trouble this season are the teams who have blitzed the bejesus out of Mike Vick. Vick has posted a 57.7 quarterback rating against the blitz, according to Stats, Inc. Nine of his 11 interceptions and 11 of his 15 sacks have come against blitzing fronts. Part of that is Vick’s fault, obviously. But the offensive line also has struggled to pick up the pressure. Last week, the Cardinals had a ton of success with overloaded fronts, particularly from the right side, which resulted in several missed blocking assignments by either Peters, the left guard or the running back. Linebacker Darryl Washington was in the Eagles backfield all game, most of the time blitzing over Peters or a tight end.
The Giants were much more conservative last night. When they did blitz, it was usually up the middle, and most of the time their blitz schemes appeared to be focused on stopping the run. Again, that makes some sense — McCoy can gash a blitzing defense that gets too far upfield, and the Giants had every reason to believe that they could beat Young and the Eagles’ receiving corps in coverage. But Reid stuck with a relatively conservative game plan. He did not abandon the running game even though the Giants were largely successful in stopping it. Fewell, meanwhile, kept his pass-blitzing to a minimum. Combined, those two decisions helped Young and the Eagles’ offensive line find something of a comfort zone, which is what eventually led to that impressive game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Young had not started a game in a calendar year, and he was erratic in the early going. Rather than forcing him to make complex decisions under pressure, the Giants seemed content to sit back and let him beat himself. Problem is, they did not score enough points.
3. Jamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman are still the weakest links. If an opponent gets a big gainer over the middle, chances are you’ll see Chaney out of position or Coleman reacting late or some combination of the two. Chaney really seems to struggle with his responsibilities in zone coverage. On a touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald last week, he appeared to get lured toward the flat by a couple of clearing tight ends, which left Brian Rolle alone on Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is going to win that match-up every time.
Another example came last night in the second quarter on a nine-yard reception by Da’Rel Scott. The Giants had a balanced single back formation with tight ends flanking both tackles and a receiver split wide on both sides. The two tight ends ran clearing routes to the flat, while the wide receivers ran deep. I played around with a GIF animation to try to demonstrate what happened. It might not make any sense, but give me a point for effort. It looks like Chaney dropped a little too deep in the middle of the field, allowing an easy completion to Scott after he made his break to Rolle’s right. Maybe this was Rolle’s responsibility, but on TV it looked like Chaney should have played a little shallower to give himself a play on the ball instead of settling for the chase-down tackle.
…click on image to animate…
4. You call this a recession? I wonder what a visitor to our country would think when, in the midst of all the news about our economic decline, he watched a football broadcast that featured commercials encouraging people to give Christmas gifts like an 80-inch television and a Lexus.
5. Finally, can we show a little love for the epic flat-top that Giants rookie DB Prince Amukamara was rocking last night? Apparently there are two Fresh Princes in town.