Eagles hold off Giants to earn first-round bye

Courtesy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com

The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants yesterday to improve to 12-2 on the season. The victory, a five point triumph with the score 34-29, secured the Eagles’ first first-round bye since 2004. However, the victory did little to mask the ineptitude from the defense yesterday.

Before diving into the bad, let’s discuss the good. First, Nick Foles.  Foles was good, not great, yesterday. Foles finished 24/38 with 237 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Foles missed on a few throws that would have been easy completions, but that can be attributed to rust and chemistry issues as the game was his first start with the Eagles this year. Foles also showed some never-before-seen mobility in the pocket, as he escaped a few pass rushers to complete some throws. Foles definitely put to rest any questions about his ability to lead the Eagles. If the Eagles are to fall early in the playoffs, it most likely will not be because of quarterback play. Second, the special teams came to play. According to Marc Ernay of 1010 WINS and confirmed by the Elias Sports Bureau, they became the first team since 1979 to perform a special teams “hat trick” (a blocked extra point, blocked field goal and blocked punt). The blocked field goal came at a crucial time in the game as the score could have been 32-31 Giants but stayed 31-29 Eagles. The special teams unit saved four points from those blocks and with the Giants missing on an earlier two point conversion, the score could have been 35-34 Giants. The Eagles also continued to dominate the run game, although not as dominant as previous weeks, by dispersing 108 rush yards between their four running backs – Jay Ajayi 49 yards, LeGarrette Blount 21 yards, Kenjon Barner 21 yards and Corey Clement 17 yards.
Now for the bad. To accurately depict yesterday’s defensive effort, this picture would be best:

Via Vox.com
For the majority of the season, the Eagles have shown that they can bend but will not break. However, the Giants broke the defense at will during the first half, scoring 20 points seemingly at will on the Eagles. Ronald Darby had a second quarter interception that set up one of Foles’ four touchdowns on the day, but that was the only highlight of the defense. Eli Manning was able to pick apart the Eagles’ secondary, passing for 429 yards after averaging 206 yards passing in the previous 13 games. Despite allowing a first drive rushing touchdown, the Eagles were able to keep the Giants’ rushing in check, only allowing 75 yards on 3.3 yards per carry. However, despite the stout rushing defense, the Giants were able to convert 56% of their third down attempts (10 of 18) with most conversions coming from rushing attempts. Nigel Bradham, linebacker, knows that the defense needs to step up if they want to have a deep playoff run, telling Aaron Kasinitz of PennLive “That’s one thing about this defense, man: We don’t need nobody to tell us we gotta do better. We know. We see it, just like everybody else.”  Not only does the defense needs to step up if it looks to go far in January into February, the offensive line too.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai had a rough game yesterday. Vaitai was responsible for the Olivier Vernon strip sack of Foles, which the Eagles recovered, and looked overmatched for most of the game.  The Eagles also missed Steven Wisniewski, who did not play due to an ankle injury. With Wisniewski out, the Eagles turned to Chance Warmack to help the left side of the line. The Giants consistently beat Vaitai and Warmack, making Foles scramble more than he wanted to and plugging up rushing lanes. The offensive line and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will no doubt watch the tape of yesterday’s game to address the concerns that arose from the game.

The Eagles now head home to face the Oakland Raiders, who are coming off a 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The game will be played on Christmas night and televised via ESPN at 8:30 pm.