A Giant Beatdown ... And the Best Is Yet To Come

Tuesday October 14th, 2014

PHILADELPHIA — The zero on the scoreboard was something to celebrate. Philadelphia hadn’t shut a team out since 1996, nine years before Trent Cole, the Eagles’ longest-tenured defender, entered the NFL. But the linebacker wasn’t looking at Philly’s 27-0 win over the Giants in the context of history by the time he got back to his locker late Sunday night.

Forward-thinking, the 10-year veteran was already considering how that night’s performance would pay off when the Eagles travel to MetLife Stadium to play the Giants in the regular-season finale, a game that could have playoff implications. Philadelphia’s defense had, finally, played like a dominant unit, and it did so without digging deep into coordinator Bill Davis’ bag of tricks.

“It worked out for us in the long run,” said Cole, who had one sack and two quarterback hits. “We just showed more of getting after it. We’re setting ourselves up for the next game.”

Grinning, he added, “They didn’t see some of our blitzes, so…”

Eight sacks, seven quarterback hits. Ten tackles for loss. Three forced fumbles (one recovered). The Eagles’ stifling defense held the Giants to a season-low 253 yards and 12 first downs, while allowing just two of 14 third-down conversions. They did it rather simply, relying on players to win one-on-one matchups. On five of the six times they sacked Eli Manning, the Eagles sent only four rushers (backup Ryan Nassib was sacked twice).

“I think Eli was confused,” Barwin said. “He didn’t know who was coming and who was dropping back.”

Unrelenting pressure up front and tight coverage on the backend, this was the kind of defensive harmony that had eluded the Eagles through the first five weeks of the season. Philadelphia had allowed more than 400 yards in each of its previous three games, and the Rams nearly pulled off a comeback at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 5. The Eagles will need to maintain the defensive synergy they showcased Sunday night in order to navigate a tough NFC East. Philadelphia and Dallas are now tied for first with 5-1 records (they’ll face off in Week 13 and again in Week 15).

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The Eagles twice brought Manning down with coverage sacks, forcing him to hold on to the ball for more than 4.5 seconds in both instances—far above his season average of 2.38 seconds from snap to throw, which is the NFL’s fourth-best time, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Giants’ new offense is rhythm-based, so Eagles defensive backs focused on jamming receivers and disrupting the timing of their routes. “I ain’t never seen Eli hold the ball like he did. That’s a first for me,” said Cole, who has played 21 games against Manning.

The Eagles held the Giants to 85 yards on 23 carries. (Al Tielemans/SI/The MMQB) The Eagles held the Giants to 85 rushing yards on 23 carries. (Al Tielemans/SI/The MMQB)

The other four sacks of Manning were generated by quick wins up front. On each play, a defender took less than three seconds to break through the Giants’ protection and engulf a virtually helpless quarterback. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who finished with three sacks, used right offensive tackle Justin Pugh’s aggressiveness against him, twice beating the second-year player by waiting for Pugh to make a punch move. Cole also beat Pugh with an inside pass rush move for another sack.

“I feel like at one point, [Manning] was more concerned with the pass rush than he was looking at his receivers,” said cornerback Brandon Boykin, “and that’s kind of what helped us.”

Davis did call some blitzes—the coordinator sent five rushers on the first sack of Manning—but his real creativity was moving players around the front seven. Cole and Barwin sometimes lined up on the same side of the formation. On some passing downs, Barwin stood up and roamed around pre-snap. Davis also set up A-gap pressures, lining up Cole and Barwin on either side of Giants center J.D. Walton (Cole jumped too soon out of this look once and was flagged for a neutral zone infraction).

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“I think Eli was confused,” Barwin said. “He’s been in this league a long time and faced a lot of great defenses, but Billy Davis had us moving around. It made him a little hesitant before every play, because he didn’t know who was coming and who was dropping back.”

Philadelphia also snuffed out the Giants’ ground game, allowing just 85 yards on 23 carries, setting up the obvious throwing situations in which the pass rushers could tee off. The Eagles now have 16 sacks over the past three games, six of them by Barwin. Before putting the pieces together on Sunday night, they were a 4-1 team with a defense that was a bit of wild card. Now 5-1 and going into a bye week, this team has a defense that just played like an ace.

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