The Eagles lost a tough game on Sunday, falling to the Vikings 23-21. Fans and the media have spent the past few days dissecting the loss and figuring out who is to blame.
Eagles players and coaches didn't have time to do that. This is a short week, so they had to quickly move on from the Vikings and focus on the upcoming game against the Giants. This is actually a good thing. The Eagles don't need another week of searching for answers. They need action. They need to get right back on the field.
The Eagles lost to the Ravens, 36-7, back in 2008. The game was 12-7 after three quarters, but Baltimore just exploded and ran away with the game. That loss dropped the Eagles to 5-5-1 and critics went nuts. Was Andy Reid the right coach? Was Donovan McNabb the right quarterback? What was wrong with the defense?
That was thankfully a short week. The Eagles hosted the Cardinals for a Thursday night game, Thanksgiving no less. Reid and the players responded in a big way, with the Eagles dominating Arizona and winning 48-20. The game wasn't even that close; if you can believe it. Things got so out of hand that Kyle Eckel (remember him?) had six carries to help eat the clock in the fourth quarter.
Sometimes the best way to get over a tough loss is to get right back on the field.
There are two difficult aspects to a short week. First, getting ready physically. NFL games take a serious toll on players. It takes time to recover and be physically prepared for the next game. As Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday, players can handle this for one game. They can fight through fatigue and be ready to go.
The other challenge is studying your opponent's schemes and getting players prepared for what they are going to see. The Eagles faced Pat Shurmur's offense last year when he was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. The Eagles faced James Bettcher's defense last year when he was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.
While that's not the same thing as having a full week of preparation, that does lessen the blow. The coaches have ideas on what they want to do schematically.
Although the Eagles have had a lot of success against Eli Manning over the years, beating him is rarely easy. He seems to play his best against his hated rival. Manning knows the Eagles’ defense well. This game won't be won on surprise plays. This game will be all about execution.
The Giants are going to throw a lot of short, quick passes. They did this last year against the Eagles and had success with it. The real key is to tackle well and limit those plays to short gains. In the December game, the Giants turned short or intermediate passes into two touchdowns of 57 or more yards. That cannot happen again. You must make them drive the long field.
This is going to be a big challenge for the Eagles’ secondary. New York has talented receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Eagles corners have been up and down this year so facing Beckham and Shepard is going to be tough.
The Giants have a new weapon this year, former Penn State star Saquon Barkley. He can deliver big plays in the run and pass game. Barkley has a 68-yard touchdown on the ground and a 57-yard score in the air. He is dynamic.
The good news for the Eagles' defense is that Barkley likes to dance. He moves laterally more than his coaches would like. That allows defenders to close on the ball and get him for a loss. Barkley is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball, but he can also lose yardage more than the average runner.
Tackling him won't be easy for the linebackers or secondary. They must rally to the ball and wrap him up. If you try to arm-tackle Barkley, he'll run through that and deliver a big play.
The Giants’ offensive line remains vulnerable. New York knows that, just like last year, and that's why it will focus on short, quick passes. That makes it easier to pass block. Manning will take some shots downfield. He's not going to dink and dunk all game long.
Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and the rest of the Eagles’ defensive line must get pressure. With quick throws, there will be limited sack attempts. Still, they can affect Manning and force him to dump the ball short or make errant throws.
The Eagles’ offense got hot in the second half last week. It would be great to see that carry over. One big mystery will be how the team uses the running backs now that Jay Ajayi is out for the season. The Eagles have talented backs, but they've all dealt with injuries this summer or fall.
The Giants have a mediocre run defense, so this would be the week to run the ball more. Spread the ball around until you find the hot hand and then feed that guy. Wendell Smallwood has stepped his game up recently. This could be a big opportunity for him. It certainly helps that Corey Clement is able to play.
New York blitzes as much as any team in the league. That will put pressure on the offensive line, Carson Wentz, the running backs, and the receivers. The Eagles must see the blitz, block well, and adjust routes accordingly. You can burn this defense, but players must be on the same page. Doing all of that on a short week is less than ideal.
Back in 2003, the 2-3 Eagles went on the road to play the Giants. It turned out to be one of the Miracle games, with the Eagles winning due to a long punt return by Brian Westbrook for a touchdown late in the game. It was an ugly win, but it helped the Eagles turn around their season. They won eight in a row after that.
I'm not trying to sell you the idea that the Eagles will win this and go on a long streak, but it is important to remember the season is still early. The 2008 team won its game on a short week and made it all the way to the NFC Championship. The 2003 team got a big win in New York and ended up in the NFC title game as well.
Teams can overcome slow starts. The key is that the Eagles have to stop making mistakes and start making plays. That didn't happen last Sunday. Now the team is ready to play a key rival in a pivotal game. Maybe this is the situation that will finally get the players to wake up and get going.