Sunday's game against the New York Giants was a tale of two halves for the Eagles' defense.
Though they got off to a slow start in the first half, the defense buckled down and made key plays when it mattered most, helping lead the way to a dramatic come-from-behind 25-22 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles entered the game shorthanded in the secondary, particularly at corner, as Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones were both out with injuries while Rasul Douglas was coming off a knee injury, leaving the Eagles with a trio of De'Vante Bausby, Chandon Sullivan, and Cre'Von LeBlanc for most of the afternoon. The Giants jumped out to a quick lead on a Saquon Barkley touchdown catch, and they rode the No. 2 overall pick to a 19-3 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first half.
When the clock hit all zeroes at the half, the Giants had accumulated 346 yards of offense, but in the second quarter's final seconds, the Eagles found the big play they'd been looking for, as Malcolm Jenkins intercepted an Eli Manning pass, keeping the score at 19-11 and building momentum in the Eagles' favor.
"I think the biggest turning point for our defense was that pick by Malcolm before the end of the half," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said after the game.
"I think at the end of the day, there were a ton of small plays here and there that when you look at them in (the game's) totality, we needed every one of them to keep points off the board," Jenkins said.
In recent weeks, the Eagles' defense struggled to come up with any game-changing plays. On Sunday, Jenkins answered that call.
"Malcolm is a great leader. One of the things that I've talked to our leaders on the football team and just challenged them (is) just we have to find a way to make plays in big situations," said head coach Doug Pederson. "I think you saw that from time to time today, and that was one of them. That really sparked the defense going into the second half, and then obviously the offense."
According to Jenkins, the Eagles needed a way to adjust to New York's fast-paced tempo, a tactic that limited communication in the secondary. At Jenkins' request, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz simplified the game plan, which allowed the defense to round back into form in the second half, holding the Giants to just 56 total yards and three points in the game's final 30 minutes.
"The biggest thing is we were kind of on our heels the whole first half," Jenkins explained. "It just got to the point where we knew we had guys in the back end scrambling a little bit. The Giants are going hurry-up offense and putting us in a little bit of bind in terms of communicating. It's loud, so just give us something simple, and we'll put the pressure on our D-line to take over.
"Once we did that, we were able to settle down on the outside, stop the run a little bit, and that allowed our front four to pass rush and they started hitting the quarterback, and then all of a sudden those third-and-3s started turning into third-and-7-plus and we were off the field and the momentum starts to change and we were able to get the ball rolling.
"Hats off to our D-Line and to Jim Schwartz for settling down the game plan and giving us an opportunity to go play fast."
When the scoreboard read 19-3 with just a few minutes to play in the first half, the rest of the game, and perhaps even the rest of the Eagles' season, could have gone one of two ways. The team could have packed it in and fell to 4-7, or they could come together, find the answers, and come up with their largest comeback win of the season.
The latter option won out.
"We didn't accept it," Jenkins said. "I think that was a turning point especially in the game and who knows about our season, where that could have just continued to snowball out of control, but we weren't going to allow that. That took guys in the secondary being able to communicate and get settled down. That took more emphasis and more pressure on our front four to kind of take over the game. That took judgment from Jim Schwartz to change the game plan and put us in calls that would allow us to play fast and at least get lined up. We were having a tough time there.
"So all of those things together, we were able to get back to the style of defense that we like playing. It wasn't perfect by any means or any stretch, but we just have guys that continue to believe and continue to fight, and that's what we take pride in."
"We're just doing simple, better," said Cox. "I think that was the biggest thing for us. Everybody just calmed down. At the end of the day, it's just a football game, and everybody, like I said, just calmed down and played our type of football."
The next task for the Eagles' defense will be another run-focused attack, as Adrian Peterson and the Washington Redskins come to Lincoln Financial Field for a Monday night showdown.
Take a look at the best photos from the Eagles' NFC East clash against the New York Giants.