It's been a disappointing two weeks, there's no question about it. Two home games against two of the team's biggest rivals with first place in the division within a fingertip's grasp; and no wins. The offense has produced three points in eight quarters, and fans are wondering who or what is to blame, which is understandable. This week, however, I implore you to take a look at the big picture. Take the entire season into perspective and not just what we've seen the past couple of weeks.
Since the season has started, we've seen an offense move the ball at a record-setting rate with production through the roof in the first six games. This defense has improved more than anyone outside the NovaCare Complex would have imagined at this point in the season. They've yet to allow a 100-yard rusher in 2013, and haven't given up more than 21 points in a month (only one other team in the NFL can say that). Does all of this excuse what happened at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday against the Giants or the previous week against the Cowboys? No. But at the same time, there is reason for optimism moving forward, and the proof is on the tape.
Head coach Chip Kelly met the media on Monday and touched on a myriad of topics, but I want to talk about what he discussed in his very last statement - the defense. Up front, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, DeMeco Ryans and the rest of the front seven continued their outstanding play. Kelly mentioned that it may have been Mychal Kendricks' best game of the season. What about the back end? Last year, the much maligned Eagles secondary took its lumps week in and week out, and they continued to come under fire early in 2013. Over the last few weeks though, the play by the corners and safeties has stepped up a notch, and one of the main examples is that is safety Nate Allen.
It's first-and-10 early in the second quarter, and the Giants are driving. The Eagles defense is backed up deep in their own end, and will be looking to make yet another red zone stop. On this play, we're going to see a man coverage concept, with the defense putting two defenders on both receiver Victor Cruz in the slot, as well as tight end Brandon Myers. At the top of the screen, you see Cary Williams manned up on Hakeem Nicks one-on-one, and at the bottom, we have Allen matched up against second-year receiver Rueben Randle.
Randle will be running an in-breaking route, something that we know the Giants do with plenty of success. This will be a tough assignment for Allen in coverage.
You can see that the Giants' vertical routes on the opposite side of the field create a lot of space for Randle to run into. Allen will have to do a good job tackling after the catch to keep Randle out of the end zone on this play.
Allen times it up perfectly, and is in great position to not only make the stop, but dislodges the ball from Randle's grasp. It's an incomplete pass, and the Eagles defense forces a field goal two plays later. These are the types of plays, simple as they may seem, that haven't been made in this secondary the past two years.
This play came a little later in the game. It's third-and-4, and the Giants again will be running three vertical routes on one side of the field, with Nicks running an in-breaking route underneath into the void. You remember plays like this being completed against the Eagles in the beginng of the season, let's see how it pans out now ...
Before Manning even reaches the top of his drop, Allen sees exactly what is going to happen. He breaks on the route early and gets downhill quick.
As Manning releases the football, look at Allen accelerate and meet Nicks at the catch point.
Allen reaches Nicks just as he catches the ball, and brings him down for a 1-yard gain. It's fourth down, and the Giants will be forced to punt. This was a great play by Allen, and another example of how he has improved as the season has progressed.
WHY CHIP KELLY PRAISED CLIFTON GEATHERS
Heading into this week's game, defensive end Cedric Thornton was listed as questionable on the injury report (knee), so it was very likely that the coaches would lean more heavily on Clifton Geathers in this game. Geathers, who has seen a fair share of snaps thus far this season as a backup, didn't have to start, but came through in a big way when he did make it onto the field, earning praise from Kelly on Monday afternoon.
It's second-and-4, and the Giants have crossed midfield late in the third quarter. New York will be running one of their staple run plays, the Iso Lead, which we broke down last week. You'll see fullback John Conner lead the way for running back Peyton Hillis through the "C Gap" off the right tackle's outside hip. Geathers (circled) will have none of it.
Geathers shocks rookie Justin Pugh right at the snap, and wins with his hands inside. He uses his length to keep Pugh off of him, as he waits for the opportunity to shed and make a play.
Geathers disengages and brings Hillis down for a short gain. The young veteran has quietly played well in a reserve role throughout 2013, and is a key cog in the rotation on the defensive line.
WAIT?! WHERE DID FLETCHER COX LINE UP?
It seems like every week in this space we're talking about a new wrinkle in Bill Davis' pressure scheme on defense. Often times, it's been the illusion of pressure that has forced opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. Well this week, we saw a new way in which Davis brought the heat on Eli Manning.
It's third-and-long midway through the third quarter, and the Eagles come out in a front that from the jump shows just one down lineman (Vinny Curry). The Giants come out with a bunch formation to the left, and lined over top of those three receivers are (from left to right) Fletcher Cox, Trent Cole and Brandon Boykin. The Eagles have yet to show this look on tape, and the Giants have to adjust. They know someone is coming, but who, and from where, is a whole different question.
Turns out, all three of those players will indeed be pressuring Manning. Cox, Cole and Boykin all blitz on the play, coming from Manning's blind side.
Curry, who was lined up over center, is going to take two offensive linemen at the snap. That leaves two blockers, Kevin Boothe (the left guard) and Will Beatty (the left tackle) to block three Eagles blitzers.
This time, it will be Cox who gets through and pressures Manning to leave the pocket. Rolling to his right, Manning completes a pass short of the first down, and the Giants will be forced to punt.
Let's take a look at another example of this play. It's the same situation. It's third down, and the Giants come out with a bunch formation to the left. The same three players are lined up over top of them in Cox, Cole and Boykin.
Again, all three players come on a blitz, with Boykin twisting around over top of Cole's path to the quarterback.
Just like last time, the lone down lineman (in this case Cedric Thornton) takes two Giants blockers with him, leaving two New York blockers on three blitzers. Boykin splits the gap between the two, and has a free lane to Eli Manning.
Boykin wraps him up and spins him around, and while he didn't bring him down for the sack, he forces an ill-advised throw from Manning, who is targeting Peyton Hillis.
DeMeco Ryans is right on top of it, as he knocks the ball away and forces an incomplete pass. For good measure, Cox wraps Hillis up and throws him to the ground (thinking he had the ball). Keep in mind, this is a 300-pound defensive lineman coming from across the field to finish the play. It's pretty crazy to think that a man that size can line up outside the hash and run that far to make a play on the football, but that's one of the reasons why Cox was a high first-round pick in 2012 NFL Draft.
NOW THAT'S SOME PROTECTION ...
Cox wasn't the only 300-pound high first-round pick who lined up on the outside to make a play on Sunday. Take a look at this play ...
It's the third series of the game, and on second down the Eagles come out in a formation that features tight end James Casey lined up outside flanking Jeff Maehl and Lane Johnson (yes, Lane Johnson), who are lined up on the numbers. You'll see that the Giants are confused by this look, one the Eagles have yet to show on tape, and have two defenders lined over top of them.
This will be a simple bubble screen, with Johnson and Maehl blocking the two defensive backs in front of them.
The Eagles run play-action to the right, and you can see that has the attention of some of the Giants defenders at the second level. Vick doesn't even bother with the fake to McCoy, seeing that he has the numbers he wants to Casey at the top, decides to pull the trigger immediately.
Casey catches the ball, and Maehl and Lane Johnson secure their blocks long enough for an 11-yard gain on second down. We hadn't seen a look like this in a couple of weeks from the Eagles offense, but it worked to perfection, netting a first down on the play.
BARKLEY SHOWS PROMISE
For the second straight week, we've seen rookie quarterback Matt Barkley in live action. Granted, it's been two tough situations for a young player to be put in, and he's had his share of mistakes, but there are some good things to take from his performance this Sunday.
It's first-and-10, and the Eagles are lined up in 11 personnel. You see DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper will be running post-corner routes on the outside, while Jason Avant will be running a skinny post down the seam. The two underneath routes will be integral to this play's success.
The Giants are in quarters coverage, with four deep defenders and three underneath. With the play Chip Kelly has called, the Mike Linebacker (in this case Jacquian Williams) will be put in a huge bind, and Barkley knows it after the snap.
Zach Ertz has already run his underneath route, and LeSean McCoy is about to cut to the outside. With Avant running past Williams, the linebacker's initial step will let Barkley know where the window will be. Will he back pedal to take away the post, or drift towards the out route by McCoy?
Williams takes one step, and Barkley releases the football on time with good velocity right into Avant's hands. It was a 15-yard gain on first down, and a great example of Barkley getting the ball out and into the hands of his playmakers.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
Chip Kelly explained how the "little things" have come back to hurt the Eagles offense in recent weeks. Very minute details can derail a single play, and can be the difference in a huge gain or a tackle for loss. We gave an example last week in the run game, but these kinds of things pop up in the passing game as well.
It's second-and-13 early in the second quarter, and the Eagles come out in 11 personnel, with one running back (LeSean McCoy) and a tight end (Brent Celek). This will be a bubble screen to the left to DeSean Jackson, a play we see numerous times over the course of each game week in and week out in some way, shape or form. Jason Avant and Riley Cooper will serve as blockers on this play, and are responsible for the defenders in front of them.
Vick puts the ball in the right spot for Jackson, who has blocks in front of him. The way the play is designed, Avant and Cooper are blocking outside-in. You see the back of Avant's jersey from this angle, and Cooper attempts a cut block downfield on his man. If DeSean slips this outside at full speed, it could be a first down or more.
Instead, DeSean hesitates and surveys the defense, looking for the right lane to take as he makes his way downfield. He ends up with a 3-yard gain on the play, one that could've gone for longer.
Let's take a look at another play. Same personnel grouping, as the Eagles will be employing a split-zone run to the right. You'll see the lane open up between right guard Todd Herremans and tackle Lane Johnson.
There's the lane (blue arrow), with tight end Brent Celek sifting up to the second level to the safety, with a lot of running room for McCoy. LeSean, unfortunately, didn't see it, and decided to cut back against the grain for a 4-yard run.
Kelly made a great point in regards to McCoy that I believe applies to DeSean as well. You have two playmakers who are incredibly gifted at making plays with the ball in their hands. Both are responsible for some of the most amazing plays in recent team history, and at times are plays where they create outside of the construct of the play. Sometimes that style works, and sometimes it doesn't. It's what makes McCoy and Jackson great. It's only a matter of time until both players, and this offense, get back on track, and when they do I expect this team to be right in the thick of the hunt for a division title.
For a more thorough breakdown of the Eagles matchup against the Giants, be sure to tune into Eagles Game Plan this weekend, and later this week I'll be back to break down the West Coast trip to Oakland.