Sunday night's win gave the Eagles a regular season sweep over the Giants. The first meeting was a 40-17 blowout that was fun to watch. The most recent game was a 45-38 nail-biter. That wasn't as much fun for the fans, but it was a much better win for the team.
We're now at the point of the season where winning is critical. Each game is very important and that means the pressure is on. Both teams on Sunday night responded well to the pressure of the situation. The Giants fell behind 14-0, but didn't panic. Think back to last year's season finale when we blew out Dallas. The Cowboys wilted when the pressure got turned up. That was fun to watch, but it didn't really help us to become a better team. The Giants withstood the early scores and got right back in it. That put the pressure back on us to respond to them. We scored a touchdown late in the half to take a 30-17 lead and I wondered if that would prove to be the back breaker. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning both had looks of disbelief on their faces.
The Giants came out in the second half as focused as ever. They took the lead 31-30 in the third quarter and I wondered how we would respond. In past years, we didn't handle situations like that well. Donovan McNabb hit DeSean Jackson for a 60-yard score on the next play and we re-took the lead. That was a pretty good response. We took complete control of the game in the fourth quarter when we methodically marched 91 yards for our final touchdown. That drive was a thing of beauty. We ran the ball well. We threw when needed. We controlled the line of scrimmage. There was a great combination of playcalling and execution.
We've had a lot of offensive highlights this year. The big pass plays and long runs are a lot of fun to watch, but that long, methodical drive was probably my favorite offensive sequence of the year. We had key drives against Washington and Chicago that won games for us. This drive came against a tough Giants team playing for their playoff lives. We had a chance to get the division lead. McNabb led the offense coolly and calmly. He was confident. That's the guy I remember from the old days. He knew we would go score. That was missing the last few years, but I'm very glad that confidence has returned. We played clutch football in the fourth quarter and that's the reason we won.
I can't stress enough the importance of winning close games. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl last year. They won five games by 10 or more points in the regular season. Those wins didn't mean a whole lot in the playoffs. Pittsburgh's 11-10 win over San Diego, their 20-13 win over Dallas and a pair of tight wins over Baltimore were the kinds of games that got them ready for the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh had faced pressure-packed situations. They lost some games, but had enough success that Mike Tomlin and his players didn't panic when things got tough. They had experienced success and knew it was just a matter of execution.
</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He's followed the team for almost 20 years. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation and runs www.scoutsnotebook.com.</td> </tr> </tbody>
We won a pair of playoff games last year, but mostly played with the lead. We didn't blow away the Vikings or the Giants, but also never had to mount that late drive to win or come up with that huge defensive stand to prevent a game-winning score. We got to the NFC title game and things changed entirely. We got behind early. We were able to make a furious comeback and took the lead. We weren't able to protect the lead on defense or re-gain it on offense. I think the lack of success in close games hurt us. Our guys didn't have confidence at those moments because we had struggled in similar situations during the regular season.
We aren't guaranteed a playoff berth this year, but we're getting closer each week. This team is better prepared to handle postseason pressure because of tough wins against Chicago, Washington and the Giants. Blowouts are fun for everyone, but they don't help you get ready for the playoffs. We've now played in several close games and had good success. That's very encouraging. I can't guarantee you we'll win in the postseason because so often those games boil down to matchups and who is healthy. I do know that I like what I'm seeing from the team right now. There was a lot on the line in Sunday night's game. Andy Reid, his coaches and the players all came through in a big way.
One subject that has us all a bit nervous is the defense. We gave up 512 yards of offense and 38 points. Those aren't bad totals. They are terrible. You have to give the Giants some credit. Eli Manning played great and made some terrific throws. He avoided two sacks with last second dump-off passes. One turned into a 31-yard gain for Ahmad Bradshaw. The other was a short gain for Kevin Boss. Those plays drove me crazy. By all rights he should have been down on the ground. We had players in the process of getting Manning to the turf. He threw the ball at the last possible second. Manning has got to make defenders go nuts when he does that.
Schematically, the Giants did something that really hurt us. They had one drive where they stayed mostly in a three-receiver look. This kept our nickel defense on the field. They ran Bradshaw several times and we could not stop him. They blocked us well and we didn't rally to the ball and tackle well.
The Giants passing attack should have been much better controlled than it was. We did a terrible job of tackling. Maybe as many as half of Manning passing yards came after the catch. That is insane. The Giants offense isn't built that way. They don't have guys that are made to catch slants and go for 50 yards. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had a sound plan. He had guys in place to make tackles. He had other defenders in place in case the first guy missed his tackle. Occasionally, there was a third player in place to clean up if both missed. McDermott didn't have enough safety nets unfortunately. Our tackling was atrocious. Sometimes guys made a decent effort, but failed. Too many times our guys were far too casual. They didn't get into proper position. We had multiple players reaching for tackles. That is a no-no. A defender must get in good position. He then needs to see his target and wrap-up as he drives through the target. None of that was happening.
I know some people are now worried that the defense will play like this again and prove to be the Achilles heel of the team. I watched and re-watched the game. I didn't see a lack of talent. I saw mistakes. You can fix mistakes. I'm sure McDermott and the position coaches will be all over the defense this week. They can't fix all our problems. We do have some concerns on defense. We are making far too many coverage errors. Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel are jumping too many passes. I hope the coaches can get them to play with better situational awareness. Brown let Mario Manningham get behind him late in the game on Sunday. I don't know what Brown was thinking about. He's got to stay deeper at that moment.
The lack of a consistent pass rush is hurting us. The good news is that we were able to turn up the heat late in the game and pressure Manning when it counted. Darren Howard had a pair of sacks. He's been quiet for much of the year.
My biggest concern is the hole at middle linebacker. I didn't think Jeremiah Trotter played all that well against the Giants. He tackled well when he got to the ball, but seemed to get stuck on blocks too often. I hope Akeem Jordan is able to get healthy and play more in the middle. He could be our best hope.
Reid and McDermott have three weeks to work on the defense. You can bet they will do everything possible to get the group back to playing good football. Simply tackling better on Sunday would have made a huge difference. We're lucky that we have a good enough offense that we don't have to shut people completely down in order to win. The defense has to cover better, tackle better, eliminate mistakes and continue to make plays. We aren't going to add anyone that will make a difference personnel wise. We must make improvements based on execution. San Francisco will be a good test next Sunday. They are tough to tackle and have some good athletes. We must step up and do a better job against them than we did against the Giants. I feel pretty confident the guys will play with a real sense of purpose. The Giants game is all the motivation they need.