Throughout Chip Kelly's tenure at Oregon, the head coach and offensive playcaller was often—and rightly—praised for his play designs and furious execution. But just as frequent, and far less heralded, were the contributions from Nick Ailotti's defense. The Ducks ran a formation-diverse defense with exceptionally aggressive and fast athletes, and Ailotti presented just as many problems for Oregon's opponents as Kelly did. So the story went for Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis in Philadelphia's 27-7 Monday night win over the Giants. Davis's defense was able to do what the 49ers were unable to do last Sunday when Eli Manning threw three should-have-been interceptions and got away with one, even grabbing NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Inserting as many as five different cornerbacks into the game depending on the coverage concepts required, Davis dialed up a dizzying array of looks to confuse Manning, and he did so safely because Philly's defensive front and linebackers absolutely clowned Big Blue's overmatched offensive line. Of particular interest to Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo when film time comes around will be the mismatches between Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin and right tackle Marshall Newhouse, and left guard Justin Pugh and end Fletcher Cox. But it didn't really matter who was rushing from where—Eagles defenders disrupted constantly, breaking double teams with simple moves and harassing Manning non-stop. Davis didn't blitz because he didn't have to.
“They rushed the passer, and they rushed the passer well, and we didn't do a very good job of protecting,” Coughlin said after the game. Succinct and accurate.
Manning finished the game with 24 completions in 38 attempts for 189 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, including a 17-yard pick-six to cornerback Nolan Carroll with 12:26 left in the first half. That broke a 7-7 tie, and the Giants were done scoring.
The Eagles weren't done, though quarterback Sam Bradford didn't help matters with several grievous underthrows and three interceptions of his own. Bradford matched Manning with the same 24 completions and 38 attempts and outdid him in total yards with 280, but the stunted drives and missed opportunities have to be hoisted on his shoulders. The way the Giants were playing, a more consistent quarterback would have designed a far more compelling rout.
Three takeaways from this game, which put the Eagles in prime position in the NFC East with a 3-3 mark:
1. DeMarco Murray may have finally found his fit in Philly
Murray rushed 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown in this game, by far his most impressive performance with his new team. The 2014 NFL rushing champ was given more opportunities to run north and south, as opposed to the delayed outside plays that left open lanes for opportunistic defenders. His 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter essentially put the game away, and he added three catches for 14 yards. This was a follow-up to his 20-carry, 83-yard performance against the Saints last week, and it's starting to look as is Kelly is actually setting things up for his high-priced free-agent back to succeed.
“I think our offensive line is really starting to come together as a group,” Kelly said. “The one thing about DeMarco is that he's a downhill, physical runner. If we can get him started at the line of scrimmage and get him to the second level, he can get through a lot of arm tackles. Obviously, it was really good to see him get going today.”
It certainly was, and with that defense stepping up, the Eagles looked very much like a playoff contender on this night. There's only one glaring issue at this point...
2. Sam Bradford is a mess
Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. To be sure, the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft was minimized by years of injuries, bad offensive line play, awful playcalling, and invisible receivers during his time in St. Louis. Though Kelly's system promised to provide Bradford with more opportunities to do what he does best, we really haven't seen what that is on a consistent basis. Bradford is capable of stunning accuracy, but he was way off on a lot of throws in this game, especially anything downfield. He came into tonight's contest with four completions in 16 attempts on throws over 20 yards in the air, and that number isn't going to improve after this. At times, it appeared that Bradford and Manning were playing a game of “Can you top this?” with mystifyingly bad throw after mystifyingly bad throw. At this point, Bradford can't throw on the run, and everything deep is an adventure. It's a shame, because throwing on the run and deep accuracy were two of Bradford's primary attributes when he came into the NFL out of Oklahoma, but now that Kelly has realized what his star running back does best, it may be time for Kelly to get another reality check together.
3. If you can rush Eli Manning, you can beat him
That was true in Manning's rookie season of 2004, and it's true today. Manning had thrown just two interceptions in his first five games before matching that total here, but as previously discussed, he was living on borrowed time against the 49ers, and he had to pay the price in this game. The idea of the Giants' offense is to combine consistent rushing gains with a quick-passing attack to counter the fact that the offensive line isn't very good. It had worked before, but the Eagles' defense was a recipe for disaster versus that thought process. Philly's secondary negated New York's receivers after an impressive opening drive (Odell Beckham Jr. was rendered invisible in the second half, which may have had something to do with a lingering hamstring injury), and with the pass rush coming as it did, holding the ball and waiting for things to happen as Manning was? That was a sure invitation to hit the ground over and over—which he did, with three sacks and seven quarterback hits. Manning was busted for a couple of intentional grounding calls—two of the 12 penalties incurred by the Giants on the night—and he could never find a rhythm. The Eagles played different deep safety looks to take away the deep posts and crossers Manning loves, and the quick passes were negated by Philly's quick outside coverage, and Manning's own increasingly shoddy accuracy. We shall see if what the Eagles were able to do, and what Davis drew up, provides a prototype for sending Manning's team to its third straight losing season. At 3-3, things don't look too good.