The Eagles game worked out the right way, leaving the Birds in first place in the miserable NFC East weeks before I thought they’d be able to claw their way into that position. It was an ugly game, obviously, but it broke a lot of popular theories about this team and the Giants. That’s at least interesting. Here are a few of the failed stories:
1) Sam Bradford was rusty, he’ll get better.
Nope, he’s getting worse. It was intolerable when Bradford threw two interceptions in each of the first two games. Then he kept his slate clean against the Jets and Washington, leading to false optimism. Now he has has returned to Sanchezian double-INT games, and upped the ante with a third tonight.
I’m not going to advocate benching Sam because people forget all of the problems that Sanchez had: besides interceptions, he failed to see wide open receivers (e.g. the Seattle game), and never threw downfield or even outside the numbers. And while he could theoretically run with the ball, the fact that he never did — and his success the one time he did, in the first Dallas game — made his refusal to do so even more painful.
But Bradford was just bad tonight. His long throws have been routinely short all year, and his three interceptions tonight were made worse by the fact that he wasn’t even under any pressure. The Eagles had a hefty lead. It was a battle of wills between Sam trying to let the Giants back into the game, and their stubborn refusal to accept his gift. In the end, New York “won” that epic crap-off.
A lot of you wondered earlier in the year why Bradford didn’t take shots down the field. Well, tonight Sam showed you!
I suppose Bradford could still turn this season around and prove that he’s a legitimate franchise quarterback, but right now, the best thing you can say for him is that he helped the team a lot by not signing a long-term contract when they asked him to.
2. Eli Manning is awesome in Ben McAdoo’s offense.
The praise for Eli and McAdoo was totally out of hand before this game, and up through the first drive which in fact was a thing of beauty for New York. The MNF crew were even going on about Tom Coughlin’s “New Age West Coast offense,” which, yeah, is cutting edge 1985 stuff.
What that offense mostly is, is predictable. The Eagles destroyed it last year in a humiliating shutout, and only allowed one TD drive tonight before they got New York’s number. Sure, the Giants are executing better and improved their offensive line somewhat — Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t even playing well yet last October when the Eagles faced him — but the Eagles have figured a couple of things out since then, too.
Against the Eagles tonight, Eli Manning was the same old Eli, looking nervous and getting picked off a lot. The short-passing game undoubtedly did reduce the margin of victory, though, since the Eagles’ run defense was a steely-eyed monster and any alternative was was bound to do better. Even the Colts’ Swinging Gate play.
3. Kicker Caleb Sturgis sucks.
Chip gets one point for sticking with Sturgis, not that he had much choice given how desperate NFL teams are for kickers this year. But after starting shaky with a missed FG and PAT in his first game, Cody Parkey’s emergency replacement was perfect on two field goals and three extra points. The kicks were all pretty much dead center, too, which might even encourage Chip to let him try one as far as 43 yards after a couple more good games.
4. Riley Cooper sucks.
He’s still a long way from justifying his $4.8 million salary this year, much less making up for his worthlessness last year and the first four games of 2015, but Cooper earned his keep tonight with three receptions for 76 yards and a TD. He rediscovered his ability to find wildly thrown balls in the sky, which helped him jump start the Eagles offense in the 2013 Snow Bowl against Detroit, and with Bradford playing the way he is, this is a crucial skill.
Riley even added a great tackle on punt coverage that, together with a penalty, pinned the Giants inside their five yard line. And Miles Austin joined the list of “hated receivers doing well,” nabbing three passes for 60 yards.
5. Chip over-invested in inside linebackers.
When he re-signed Demeco Ryans, 20 days after trading for Kiko Alonso, everyone figured Chip wanted to trade Mychal Kendricks. They were stunned when he kept all three and went on to draft ILB Jordan Hicks in the 3rd round.
Now it looks like Chip could see the future and still may not have signed enough ILBs. Alonso and Kendricks are out injured, and DeMeco left the game tonight for good in the second quarter after recovering a fumble and nabbing an interception that turned the momentum of the game.
The Giants had scored on their first drive, held the Eagles to a three-and-out and were carving up the field again when Ryans simply ripped the ball out of Larry Donnell’s arms. Donnell caught the ball just fine; it should have been called a fumble or simply a “takeaway” instead of an interception. As in “MY BALL!!”
Now Jordan Hicks is a serious candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and it’s a good thing that Chip re-signed Najee Goode on September 21st after dropping him in the final cutdown. Until we hear what DeMeco’s status is, those are the team’s two starters.
6. Ryan Mathews fits this offense, and DeMarco Murray doesn’t.
He’s had a disappointing year, perhaps due to the lingering effects of his hamstring injury, and Murray certainly has looked a step slow, while Mathews and Darren Sproles have had much better results with the exact same offensive line.
But tonight was DeMarco’s night, and he helped Chip Kelly do something he hasn’t done successfully in five years, since the 2010 Oregon – California game: grind out a long drive on the ground to put away a game. Despite Bradford’s desperate heaves into the arms of New York DBs, the Eagles managed three separate drives of four minutes or more in the second half, plus the final six plays for the clinching 3:33, and it was all centered around runs by Murray. On the last three drives, he ran on 12 of the 23 plays that weren’t kicks or kneel-downs.
DeMarco finished with 109 yards (5.0 YPC) and a touchdown while helping destroy another myth that I addressed earlier this evening — that New York was strong against the run and weak against the pass, so Philly would throw all night.
7. Eagles Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis sucks.
I don’t get why anybody ever said this, but they still do, and it’s increasingly ridiculous. The D is gaining strength and confidence every week. This is clearly a team with a bad offense rescued by a great D, sort of a Denver-lite. Chip does not focus on offense as exclusively as some imagine, and Cory Undlin deserves a lot of credit for turning around the league’s worst secondary, but Billy Davis the guy in charge of an awesome defense and he deserves a lot of credit for designing and coaching it.
Sunday the Eagles face a very tough game, traveling to Carolina to face the undefeated Panthers, led by an actual good quarterback (Cam Newton) who defeated Chip Kelly’s Ducks in the biggest college game either guy was ever part of — the 2010 National Championship Game. The obvious narrative is that the Eagles will get massacred in that game, which means they probably have a good chance of winning in this crazy year.
Meanwhile, the Giants will face off against the much-injured, 2-3 Cowboys, and that game would be expected to be a violent, ugly shitshow. That’s one narrative I’m confident will come true.