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Lawlor: Battle-Tested Teams Are Better Prepared For The Playoffs

Posted Dec 21, 2017

The last two weeks have been incredibly nerve-wracking for Eagles fans, players, and coaches. The games have gone right down to the wire with the Eagles managing to come away with a pair of tough wins. Games like these can be torturous to watch. Every play feels like life and death, especially in the fourth quarter.

While close games aren't nearly as fun as a blowout, they can help the team when the playoffs come around. You just aren't going to win many postseason games by 20 or 30 points. Playoff football usually means close games. Every play and every possession matters. Seasons are on the line.

It was frustrating to watch the Eagles struggle with a bad Giants team on Sunday, but that experience can help them. They didn't panic when the Giants drove down the field late in the game. The Giants were able to get in scoring position, but they weren't able to get in the end zone. Ideally, you would stop that drive well before then. The Eagles weren't able to do that, but they got a stop when the make-or-break fourth down came up. Coaches will tell you to forget about style points. Winning is all that matters.

Nick Foles has led the team on a field goal drive late in each of the two last games. Both times those points mattered quite a bit. The pressure was on and the Eagles needed to get points. Those points helped cut into a lead in Los Angeles. In New York, the drive extended a small lead. Without Foles making some clutch throws and moving the team down the field, the Eagles might not win either of those games.

Think about kicker Jake Elliott. He hit a field goal late on Sunday to move the lead from 31-29 to 34-29. It was a short kick, but that was pressure. If he misses, the door would have been wide open for the Giants to win with a field goal of their own. A week ago, Elliott hit a pair of clutch kicks that moved the Eagles from down 35-31 to ahead 37-35.

The Eagles have spent most of the 2017 season playing with the lead. The last two weeks were back-and-forth games. The Rams led by seven points early, but the Eagles wiped that out and surged ahead. The Rams took a four-point lead a couple of times in the second half, but could never build on that.

The Giants raced out to a 20-7 lead. The Eagles stormed back to go up 21-20 and it was a see-saw game the rest of the way.

You hate that the team fell behind in those games, but you love the way the team responded. That's something that will serve them well in January (and hopefully February). You can't expect to have the lead and be in control when going against the best teams in the league.

There are going to be rough sequences. Momentum will shift from team to team. The best teams can weather the storm and regroup. The Patriots were down 28-3 in the Super Bowl and still found a way to come back and win that game. That's the ultimate example of never giving up in the postseason.

The Eagles still have some regular-season work to do and they need to play better in the final two games. The defense was sloppy in New York and gave up too many yards and points. Jim Schwartz and his staff have more than a few issues to clean up with the players.

Penalties really hurt. There were multiple penalties on cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby. There were multiple offsides calls on the defensive line. Nigel Bradham drew a flag for shoving a Giants runner after the play. Bradham didn't start the incident, but you have to be smart and walk away there. Instead, he gave 15 yards to the Giants.

Rodney McLeod missed a key tackle, which turned an intermediate pass play into a 67-yard touchdown. You cannot have that happen, especially along the sideline. Just get the player out of bounds. It shouldn't be that hard, but that is two weeks in a row the Eagles have missed a tackle along the sideline and it cost them a touchdown.

The pass coverage must be better. Eli Manning threw for 434 yards. It took him 57 attempts to do that, but he moved the Giants up and down the field. That's a concern moving forward.

The defense also has to make plays. Bradham had a pass hit him in the hands but he dropped it. He did a great job to get in position. He has to finish that play. There was no one in front of him. It would have been an easy pick-six and the game would have been over. McLeod failed to catch a pass in the end zone. That was a tougher play, but you need guys to make some of those.

Darby picked off a pass in the second quarter and it may have been the play of the game. He set the offense up in great position and the Eagles scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-14. Momentum was suddenly green instead of blue.

Foles threw four touchdown passes and played really well. He missed some throws here and there, but made the key plays. The team put up 34 points with the backup quarterback starting. That tells you the offense did its job.

Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, and Zach Ertz combined for 17 catches and three touchdowns. Foles didn't have to do anything special. He just needed to get the ball to his playmakers. Those guys came through in a big way.

You also have to give some credit to the offensive line. Foles is a pocket passer. He needs good protection. They gave him time to throw. Jason Kelce had a great game. Lane Johnson continues to play at an elite level. Chance Warmack got the start at left guard and played his best game of the year.

The Eagles' special teams were, well, special. The unit has been a bit quiet this season in terms of big plays, but that changed on Sunday.

Rookie Derek Barnett got loose up the middle and blocked the extra point after the Giants' first score. That proved to be huge. They later went for two after a score and didn't get that. If they just have a pair of extra points there, the late-game situation would have been very different.

Kamu Grugier-Hill came free up the middle and blocked a punt in the second quarter. That set the offense up in the red zone and it scored a touchdown to give the Eagles their first lead of the game. That was a huge play.

Malcolm Jenkins came free off the edge to block a field goal in the fourth quarter. That was another huge play.

When it comes to the Eagles and Giants, expect the unexpected. Five hundred and four yards for the Giants. Three blocked kicks for the Eagles. Crazy things happen when these teams meet in the swamps of New Jersey. Thankfully, as usual, the Eagles came out on top.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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