Does anyone know when we play the Giants? As much as I enjoyed beating the New Jersey Whatchamacallits on Sunday I'm really looking forward to seeing the Eagles go up against the league's best team.
What's that you say? That was the Giants on Sunday? Really? Wow.
The final score was 20-14, but the game was nowhere near that close. The Eagles controlled the entire game against the Giants. David Akers nailed a 51-yard field goal to put the Eagles up 3-0 in the first quarter and the Giants trailed the rest of the game. I'm not going to lie to you. I was nervous for most of the game. I kept thinking that some magical switch was going to flick allowing the Giants to come to life while the Eagles would fade.
The problem for the Giants was that the Eagles' front seven on defense and offensive line had control of that switch and they never let go. The Eagles won the game up front. They controlled the line of scrimmage. That was the polar opposite of the first meeting between the teams.
There is a lot of credit to go around for this win. The offense sustained drives, converted third downs and scored enough points to win. The offensive line gave Donovan McNabb time to throw when he needed it and opened running lanes for Brian Westbrook. The receivers made plays. McNabb was smart and efficient. The defense never let the Giants offense get into any kind of flow. They got some pressure on Eli Manning, but also controlled the running attack when needed. It wasn't a great defensive game, but they played well enough to frustrate the Giants all game long. Akers has to get some credit for that long field goal that opened the scoring. This game had the feel of a defensive battle. The first team to score has a hand up in that situation.
The one player who really stood out was Westbrook. He had a great game. This time of year you want to get the ball to your best players and have them carry the team. Westbrook did just that. He finished with 39 touches (33 runs and six receptions). That is unbelievably impressive. Westbrook wasn't 100 percent in terms of health, but that didn't show in the game. He was great.
Westbrook ran hard between the tackles all game long. I loved seeing him take the ball inside and fight for three yards. Those plays are the foundation of the running game and the entire offense. The line has to drive defenders off the ball and create a gap where Westbrook can get in and work for a couple of yards. That happened over and over. Then you have situations like the touchdown run. Westbrook didn't have the gap to hit. He moved behind the blockers and the defense got bottled up in trying to stop him on the inside. All of a sudden Westbrook sees daylight and takes off down the field for a 30-yard touchdown run. That run would not have been possible without the prior runs to draw the defense in tight. Just on that drive alone, Westbrook went inside on two plays before breaking off the long run.
This is one of the best games of Westbrook's career. He's run for more yards and made more big plays in other games, but this game stands out. He carried the team against the 11-1 Giants in a do-or-die type of situation. He produced a pair of long touchdowns in a game where the red zone got fewer visitors than Chernobyl. He kept Manning and the Giants offense on the bench by being the main cog in long drive after long drive. Manning is a good quarterback and is having a great year, but he's not very effective when he's standing on the sideline. You can argue that Westbrook was the offensive and defensive MVP of the game. We do need to work him into the field goal protection unit.
The coaching staff has to get credit. They made good adjustments. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg came up with a good game plan that focused on moving the chains instead of looking for big plays. The players executed the offense well and the coaches never strayed from the original plan. I think it was Plato who first uttered the phrase, ""If it ain't broke, don't fix it.""
Usually when the Eagles get into second-and-1 or second-and-2 situations, they automatically go to the play-action pass. Those are great passing downs. The problem is that you need to run on those downs most of the time to set up the times when you do throw it. The Eagles had two such situations in the first half and ran both times. That showed a commitment to running the ball and moving the chains.
Jim Johnson made some adjustments from the first game and they worked quite well. The first change was to replace Omar Gaither at weakside linebacker with Akeem Jordan. That worked very well. Gaither struggled with fullback Madison Hedgecock in the first game. He got blocked way too often. Jordan did a good job against Hedgecock. He won stalemates a few times. That is when the linebacker attacks the fullback and stuffs him or knocks him back. The running back has to change his path if the fullback is stuffed.
The backside of the defense played the run very well. They pursued, but did so under control so that if the runner wanted to cut upfield he had to beat a second wave of defenders. Quintin Mikell was very good at this. He came down quickly on the backside to make a few plays.
I thought going into the game that sustaining drives and converting third downs would be huge. For once, I was right. McNabb really has to get a lot of credit for the success in this area. He did a great job of taking what the defense gave him. He made a quick read and got the ball to Kevin Curtis for a first down. He got the ball to Westbrook after the defense had cleared out and that led to a first down. When nothing good was available he threw the ball out to L.J. Smith. At some point you have to rely on your skill players to make a play. Smith eluded the first Giants tackler and then hustled down the sideline to move the chains. McNabb executed a misdirection play and tossed a soft pass to Smith for a big first down. McNabb scrambled for a first down and moved the chains with a quarterback sneak. There wasn't a lot of flash to his game, but he made big plays when he had the chance.
I mentioned earlier that it wasn't a great defensive game. That may sound strange when you consider the Giants offense didn't score until there was less than a minute to go and they only had about 150 yards in the first 58 minutes of the game. The defense played well, but it wasn't dominant defense. If you think about the Steelers game, the third quarter against the Bears, or the fourth quarter against the Niners, those were times when the opposing offense had little to no chance to move the ball. The Giants had chances. They made a lot of mistakes. This where the success of McNabb, Westbrook and the offense comes into play. The Giants are accustomed to running a lot of plays. They average 65 offensive snaps a game. They only had 51 on Sunday. The reduced number of plays put a lot of pressure on the Giants. Completing passes isn't nearly as hard when you're scoring points and dominating a game as when you are struggling and every play has significance.
The Eagles defense had a big hand in all of this. They were aggressive. Johnson let his players attack more than the last game. He regularly moved an eighth defender down in the box to battle the run. Manning didn't get sacked, but Trent Cole was around him all game long. The Giants never really got into a good flow on offense. The Eagles had a good combination of pressure on Manning and solid coverage. Manning rarely could just stand still in the pocket. He didn't get sacked, but he was forced to move around, which is not his specialty. The coverage by linebackers and defensive backs wasn't air tight, but they stayed close enough. Giants receivers knew they were going to get hit or were going to have to fight for the ball.
This game featured more blocked field goals than any game I've ever seen. Crazy. Cole had the most impressive one. He leapfrogged a pair of blockers and got right in the path of John Carney. Easy block. Justin Tuck used a good inside move to get penetration and block David Akers' field goal attempt just before the half. That ended in disaster as it was run back for a touchdown. The last block was more of a deflection. One of the Giants' edge guys flew around the corner and got a hand on the ball. That was a great play on his part.
Big-time win for the Eagles. The record improves to 7-5-1. The playoffs are far from a certainty at this point, but at least the Eagles are playing their best football of the year at the right time. If they keep winning, there is a good chance of them getting into the postseason. That is a tall order, but at least it feels like they have some say in what happens. Last year, the team was 5-8 at this point and needed all kinds of crazy things to happen in order to even have a shot.
One game at a time, fellas, one game at a time.