Good morning. Remember this feeling? The Eagles dominated the New York Giants in a 34-13 win that offered reminders of how the Eagles looked during their Super Bowl campaign. They're now 3-3 with extended rest before next week's game against the Carolina Panthers. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference today. The players have the weekend off and return to work on Monday.
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— Zach Berman
Ertz is aware of how the Eagles looked through the first five weeks of the season. He knows that they eked out two wins, played poorly in three losses, and failed to meet the standard they set for themselves after winning the Super Bowl last season. The Eagles didn't look like Super Bowl contenders in September. They looked like a contender on Thursday, albeit against the reeling 1-5 Giants.
It's too soon to say to whether Thursday will be viewed as a turning point for the season, but it's safe to say it offered the template for how the Eagles want to play. It's the way they played last year. It's the way they haven't played through the first five weeks this year. And if the Eagles can consistently be the team that dominated the Giants, there's even more reason to be optimistic about what's ahead.
The key, of course, is Carson Wentz. The reason franchise quarterbacks are so coveted is that they can lift teams. The Eagles played a complete game on Thursday — all three phases had a role in the win — but Wentz was a difference-maker. His first touchdown pass was a game-changing play. It might be a season-changing play, if the Eagles go on a run from here. (For more on Wentz's performance, check out Jeff McLane's story.) The defense forced a turnover to give the Eagles momentum. But the offense, which scored only seven first-quarter points in the first four games, faced a third-and-long. If they went three and out, it would have seemed like the same problems on a different night. Except Wentz bought time and threw a touchdown across his body to Alshon Jeffery. You can argue that a quarterback shouldn't throw across his body. Then again, there aren't many quarterbacks like Wentz. (What did the coaches say to him? "Nothing," Wentz said. " 'Good play.' ")
That gave the Eagles the lead, which was critical. I've written before how the Eagles are built to play from ahead. They spent most of last season with a lead. It seems obvious, but it allows the Eagles' pass rushers to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. That's exactly what they did, with 13 quarterback hits and four sacks. And though the Eagles gave up a lot of yards (401), Jim Schwartz cares most about scoring defense. The Birds held the Giants to 13 points and played outstanding situational football. Look at third down (the Giants were 4 of 14) and the red zone (the Giants were 0 for 3).
There are always areas to clean up after games, and the Eagles need to get healthier during their next few days. They missed five players because of injury, and Lane Johnson gutted through a hurt ankle. The status of Jason Peters and Sidney Jones will be important to monitor after they left the game with injuries, too.
"Obviously being 3-3 is a heck of a lot better than being 2-4. Being 1-0 in the division," Wentz said. "There's definitely things we can work on and kind of use it as momentum now and point to some things and say, 'Hey, this is who we are, don't forget that,' and then build from here."
A critic can point to all three of the Eagles' victories coming against one-win teams. That's valid. But the Eagles often talk about the concept of a "faceless opponent," and what stood out on Thursday was the way they played more than the Giants' dreadful outing. The Eagles looked like they did last season. If Ertz and Wentz are correct and the Eagles can say, "That's the Philadelphia Eagles," then this is going to be a familiar feeling in Philadelphia during the next three months — and likely longer, too.
Good question. I don't think so. Wendell Smallwood fell down the depth chart last year. The Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi and played Corey Clement, then an undrafted rookie, ahead of Smallwood. Whether he couldn't stay healthy or couldn't be trusted, he was the odd man out. And he clearly needed to earn a roster spot this summer. To his credit, he's earned the confidence of the coaching staff with the way he played during the summer. Doug Pederson said the heat on Smallwood might have been a good thing.
"I think it's a great motivator for any athlete and player," Pederson said, "and he responded."
I haven't gone back and watched the game over again, but what stood out to me was that Ronald Darby played at a high level on Thursday and the pass rush pressured Eli Manning. Four sacks and 13 quarterback hits makes a big difference. They knew where Odell Beckham Jr. was at all times it seemed. The Giants didn't challenge the Eagles deep early in the game, which surprised me. But I think the Eagles defensive backs are better than they've gotten credit for in recent weeks. This is a passing league, and there's going to be plays made against them. They've given up too many, and they know that. But they responded well on Thursday.
I can't see the Eagles making that move unless an injury forces them to. Jason Peters has earned too much respect and has played at too high of a level for them to consider anything like that. When Peters can play, he will play. I think the Eagles go into the games understanding that Peters could miss some snaps. Halapoulivaati Vaitai started in the Super Bowl; they're confident he can step in. But the only way Peters isn't on the field is if he physically can't play. I don't think the Eagles will make the decision to go with Vaitai because Peters is on and off the field, and I don't think they'd be better going to Vaitai on a full-time basis, either.