The NFC East marches to the tune of its own beat throughout the season. Just when you think one team's got it all figured out, an inter-division bullying can bring everything back down to earth. So was the case for the Giants on Sunday night, as their three-game winning streak was brought down to mirage status as the Eagles handed them a 27-0 thrashing at Lincoln Financial Field.
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Heading into this game, Philadelphia had been taking the close wins, more reliant on their excellent special teams than anything else over the last few weeks, while Big Blue appeared to have overcome a truly abysmal start to the season. But this game was everything Chip Kelly wanted to see, and all that Tom Coughlin hoped wouldn't come back. LeSean McCoy had his first 100-yard game of the season, rushing for 149 yards on 22 carries, which left the Giants in a catch-up mode that they were singularly ill-equipped to handle.
"The first thing is, a lot of credit to the offensive line," McCoy told NBC's Michele Tafoya after the game. "There was so much talk about this, about that, about McCoy's hurt... we were confident. I guess other people weren't confident, but we played our game. Everybody's talking about the running game, but we're 5-1. There were a lot of lanes, the guys up front blocked very well, we had opportunities, and we made the best of them."
Linebacker Connor Barwin certainly had his share of opportunities -- he grabbed three of Philly's eight sacks in the game, and all of his were on Eli Manning, who was taken down six times overall.
"In the last three games, Eli's been getting the ball out really quick," Barwin said. "Our corners were jamming their receivers, and they made him hold the ball. Billy Davis, our defensive coordinator, called a great game. Their offensive line couldn't get a grip on where we were lining up, so it had a lot to do with how Billy called the game."
The Eagles' first shutout since 1996 allowed them to keep pace with the Cowboys, who rattled off their fifth straight win. Now, with a bye week in front of them, Philadelphia has time to take a moment and think about where the momentum of the season can take them. Meanwhile, the 3-3 Giants have to deal with those super-hot Cowboys next Sunday, and they look anything but ready for that particular task.
Offensive regression seems to be a short trip for Big Blue.
When the Giants started the season with two straight losses, nothing was going right, certainly on offense. New coordinator Ben McAdoo's shorter and quicker passing game was going to set Manning on a new level of efficiency, but that really didn't happen. Manning was clunky in the pocket and struggled to process the new system, and first-round receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s hamstring injury that kept him out for the season's first four games robbed Manning of an estimable speed receiver and deep threat.
Then, as suddenly as things went wrong, they turned around in three straight Giants wins. Running back Rashad Jennings proved to be every bit the bellcow back the Giants hoped he'd be when they signed him in the offseason. Manning seemed to figure things out with better pass protection, and McAdoo looked like the right guy to fix a problematic offense.
But against Billy Davis' blitz-heavy defensive schemes Sunday night, everything regressed, starting with Manning, who once again started to feel pressure even when and where pressure didn't exist. He finished the day with 13 completions in 23 attempts for 151 yards before Ryan Nassib came into mop up. Of course, Philly's sacks didn't help, and right tackle Justin Pugh was a veritable turnstile. Running back Andre Williams, who replaced the injured Jennings, didn't have the movement abilities to keep that side of the offense together (58 yards on 16 carries), and the offensive balance that Tom Coughlin prefers was once again out the window.
It's not certain which team the Giants truly are -- most likely, they're a team in transition, able to show both sides of the McAdoo equation on any potentially exasperating day.
Nick Foles shows how he can be solved.
In 2013, Foles threw 27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, a rate that isn't sustainable over a full career -- or even one season to another. That's come home to roost this season, as injuries to the Eagles' offensive line have left Foles running around more and dealing aversely with pressure right in his face. In this game, when the Giants put Jason Pierre-Paul on right tackle Lane Johnson? Well, things got ugly, as Foles finished his day with 21 completions in 34 attempts for 248 yards, two touchdowns and two picks.
Foles came into this game with a lower pressure percentage than he had in 2013 (33.2 to 34.3), but when forced to leave the pocket, he simply loses the integrity of his throwing mechanics. Also, Foles no longer has DeSean Jackson to run quickly downfield and climb cornerbacks to make deep catches (something Chip Kelly ignored and failed to replace when he deemed Jackson replaceable in the offseason because he couldn't beat man coverage), and you have a recipe that demands more of Foles.
At times, Foles simply isn't equipped to give what is needed. He now leads the NFL with 10 total turnovers -- seven picks and three fumbles -- and there are times when the Eagles appear to be winning in spite of him, when he was a big reason for the team's success last year.
Both teams have some major injury issues to deal with.
The Giants already know what they're dealig with. When receiver Victor Cruz fell to the ground as he tried to catch a Manning pass in the end zone, it was obviously bad; Cruz was clearly in agony, and he broke down as he was carted off the field -- nothing short of a heartbreaking sight. And it didn't take long for the diagnosis to come across -- the team announced before the game was over that Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon, which will almost surely end his season.
As for the Eagles, they'll be monitoring the condition of running back Darren Sproles, who walked off the field on his own power after hurting his left knee. But reports say that the Eagles' doctors were testing the stability of Sproles' left ACL and MCL. No definitive diagnosis yet, but it would be a huge loss if he was out for any prolonged period of time -- Sproles has redefined Philly's offense, and the team has no healthy backs behind McCoy.