Where were you on December 1, 1996?
As you may have heard by now, that was the last time the Eagles shut out an opponent prior to Sunday night's glorious 27-0 win over the Giants. It just so happens that the last time the Eagles forced an opponent into a big, fat goose egg on the scoreboard it was also against the Giants.
"It was great. When we saw the zero up there going into the half, we knew we just had to keep it," said linebacker Trent Cole, the team's longest-tenured player on defense. "It's great going into this bye week knowing that we accomplished something and we improved. We found out what we needed to clean up during the week. In the past weeks, I have always said we always have time to improve. During this week in practice, everyone was focused and we knew coming into this game what we had to do to put us in the position to win the game. We as players have to go out there and execute, and make sound decisions."
The Eagles' defense entered this game ranked in the bottom third of all major statistical categories on defense - points allowed, total yards allowed, passing yards and rushing yards. The Giants were no slouches on offense. Their offense was red hot during the team's three-game win streak as quarterback Eli Manning threw eight touchdowns against just one interception during that span.
How exactly did this defense become the one to post a shutout? On prime time? Against the Giants?
First, they made quarterback Eli Manning hold onto the ball. In the Giants' new West Coast offense, the primary emphasis is on timing and rhythm. Manning wants to find where he's delivering the ball in the first two seconds of the snap. The Eagles played press coverage to prevent that from happening.
"From a secondary standpoint, we knew we had to do a good job on the line of scrimmage pressing the receivers, taking away his first read," said safety Malcolm Jenkins. "With their offense, they do a good job of getting rid of the ball quick. If you get those open windows early in the down, then your rush never has a chance to get there. We wanted to be aggressive and take away those early windows in the first two seconds of the down and when we're able to do that our d-line got home."
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis relied on the four-man rush to generate pressure and it worked. Manning went down six times and backup Ryan Nassib was sacked twice giving the Eagles eight total quarterback takedowns on the night. Linebacker Connor Barwin led the way with three. Defensive end Vinny Curry had two and Cole, linebacker Brandon Graham and defensive end Brandon Bair rounded out the list.
"There weren't that many blitzes. I mean the coverages were pretty special tonight, because I know my first sack was purely a coverage sack and then the rest of the time like I said Eli was holding onto the ball," Barwin said.
The only time the Giants truly threatened to score was early in the second half after cornerback Zack Bowman intercepted quarterback Nick Foles and returned it to the Eagles' 21-yard line. The Giants got to the 3-yard line before facing fourth-and-goal. Trailing 20-0, the Giants went for the touchdown and Manning's pass to wide receiver Victor Cruz was incomplete. On that play, Cruz ruptured his patellar tendon ending his season.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin, who covered Cruz on that play, noticed that the constant onslaught of pressure had gotten to Manning.
"I felt like at one point he was more concerned with the pass rush than with looking at his receivers," Boykin said. "That's what helped us."
All week long, that was the plan. Hit Manning. And then hit him some more.
"I knew if we could get after Eli early we could really control the game," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "That was our goal and we started to hit him early."
Manning finished 13-of-23 for 151 yards. Rookie running back Andre Williams led the attack on the ground, but only gained 58 yards on 16 carries.
The end result was something that had not happened in nearly 18 years.
"It's very hard to do in the NFL," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "It's rare, and, it's a team shutout. It takes everybody to get one."