To many people's surprise, the Eagles' defense didn't register a single sack against the Giants.
And yet the squad's gritty, hard-nosed display on defense culminated into a signature win. The Eagles entered Sunday's home opener without No. 1 cornerback Ronald Darby, safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham, and versatile defensive back Jaylen Watkins, who started at cornerback last week in Kansas City. To make things more challenging, the defense took a huge hit when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox headed to the locker room with a calf injury. The unit took yet another dousing blow when linebacker Jordan Hicks also left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. And still, the Eagles were able to hold the Giants scoreless through three quarters.
"It just shows you the depth we have. There were a lot of guys that were already out, and then there were a lot of guys that got hurt during the game," said defensive end Brandon Graham. "Like Big Fletch (Fletcher Cox), that's a big loss. Then we had a couple defensive tackles that came in and filled that void and we still stopped the run the same way. We made them one-dimensional and they were just getting the ball out fast. But overall, I think the guys in the back in stepped up."
The Eagles had two fourth-down stops inside their own 20-yard line, with one at the goal-line. The first came at the first half and the other was in the third to leave the Giants scoreless heading into the final quarter.
The depleted cornerback position even found ways to make big-time plays on the outside. Rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas improved upon his performance last weekend against the Chiefs and snatched down his first career interception when he picked off a pass intended for veteran Brandon Marshall at the Philadelphia 5-yard line. Cornerback Patrick Robinson later recorded his first interception as an Eagle off a tipped pass by linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Robinson was instrumental in the fourth-down stop late in the third quarter when he knocked away a pass intended for Sterling Shepard in the red zone.
"I think it's just great communication. It always goes back to practice. Whether it's the ones out there, or the twos, or the threes, guys are always competing," said cornerback Jalen Mills, who paced the defense with 12 tackles. "Guys are communicating. Guys are always playing fast so regardless of whatever happens, when we have the next guy up, the guy is going to be ready."
The defense has made it a point to set the tone against opposing offenses from the jump. In three games, the Eagles have just allowed three points in the first quarter. And while the Giants rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the defense forced a three-and-out on the final drive to give the offense a chance to get in position for Jake Elliott's historic 61-yard field goal. Head coach Doug Pederson couldn't have been more delighted with his team's defensive effort given how the team has been hammered with injuries.
"I can't tell you how well and how proud I am of that group. They hung in there with, as you mentioned, the four defensive starters - and we lost two big starters again today in this game, and the way these guys stepped up and stepped in and filled in, Rasul had a big interception, and Patrick Robinson, another turnover," Pederson said.
"These guys just battled and battled and battled and kept us in there, big goal-line stand today. Can't be any more proud of the way our defense played and the way these guys stepped in and filled in. Great job."
The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants, 27-24, thanks to a historic Jake Elliott field goal.