Fresh off a Week Six romp over the rival Giants, the Eagles head into a tough matchup against an undefeated Carolina Panthers team Sunday night.
Much like their Week Six meeting of a year ago, the New York Giants rode into Philadelphia on a three-game winning streak for a primetime matchup on Monday Night Football, and again took a lonely trip up the turnpike with nothing to show for their efforts.
When the Eagles trounced the Giants last year, the New Yorkers never recovered. They were dead on their feet and just played out the string the final ten games of the season. It remains to be seen if they can recover from this beating, but it was just as brutal.
The atmosphere was electrifying as the Eagles had a chance to vanquish their nightmarish 0-2 start by pulling even to a .500 record and a share of first place in the woeful NFC East. Yet things started inauspiciously for the home team, as the Giants scored an easy touchdown, never even facing a third down on their opening drive.
After reeling in the touchdown pass from Eli Manning, wideout Odell Beckham, Jr. held his forefinger up to his facemask in a classic gesture silencing-the-crowd gesture. That crowd got louder as the game progressed, while the play of the Giants barely rose above a whisper the rest of the game.
After that opening touchdown, the Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage, physically pummeling the Giants on both sides of the ball. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham, and Demeco Ryans bullied and battered the Giants offense all game long, holding them scoreless for the remainder of the game. Ryans, the unquestioned leader of the defense, returned to his old form, wresting a pass from the grip of tight end Larry Donnell, recovering a fumble, and delivering punishing hits for the entire first half before exiting early with an injured hamstring.
The Eagles running game looked the best it has the entire season, with Demarco Murray and Ryan Mathews producing better than 150 yards between them, including Murray’s first 100-yard rushing game as an Eagle. Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly has done an excellent job of revamping the running game. It is far from perfect, but they are producing yards with it, keeping drives alive and avoiding the third and longs that are a recipe for disaster.
However, as productive as the run game is (Eagles running backs doubled the output of their Giants counterparts Monday night) and as stout as the defense had become, winning games the way the Eagles have been is unsustainable if the quarterback continues to throw two or three interceptions a game and misses open receivers all over the field.
The Eagles have improved as the season has progressed and the new faces have gotten more accustomed to playing alongside one another. The only one who has not yet joined in is the one occupying the most important position. If the Eagles are to succeed, Sam Bradford simply has to play better. Whether or not he is capable of doing so will likely determine how far the Eagles can go this season.
Bradford was not pressured all game, at least not by defenders anyone else could see. He clearly is still tentative. His lack of confidence in the health of his knee is keeping him from stepping into his throws, which accounts for erratic inaccuracy and his league-leading nine interceptions. Even Bradford’s one touchdown pass was badly underthrown. A streaking Riley Cooper had to stop and adjust to the ball, which reached him just before a Giant defender could break up the play.
But when a team beats its rival by 3 touchdowns on a Monday Night stage to take over first place in the division by virtue of an overpowering defense, that should get the headlines, at least for a few days.
Next up is another primetime matchup with the undefeated Carolina Panthers in Carolina. A win there would cement the Eagles’ revival. If the Eagles play a complete game and Bradford shows improvement, they may really be on their way to something positive.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a different animal than the previous two quarterbacks the Eagles have faced and beaten. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles’ ferocious front seven can fare as well against a big mobile quarterback as it has against Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Eli Manning.
After that game is a trip to Dallas, but this team cannot afford to give any games away with miscues. If they continue to win games, they will give themselves a chance.