The Eagles offense got its red-zone and third-down mojo back Thursday night. After converting just 5 of 13 red-zone opportunities into TDs in their previous three games, the Eagles converted four of six trips into TDs Thursday night. They also converted a season-high 56 percent of their third-down opportunities.
Carson Wentz, who led the NFL in third-down and red-zone passing last season, but had struggled in those two areas in his first three starts back from knee surgery, was a situational assassin against the Giants.
Wentz completed 13 of 14 passes on third down for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Nine of his 13 third-down completions produced first downs. That equals his career-high.
He completed five of seven attempts in the red zone, including a pair of touchdown throws to Alshon Jeffery and a third one to Zach Ertz. Last year, Jeffery and Ertz combined for 15 of the Eagles’ 23 red-zone TD catches.
Last year, Eli Manning threw for 800 yards and six touchdowns in the Giants’ two close losses to the Eagles. He likes to get the ball out quickly, which has frustrated the Eagles’ pass rush in the past.
In the previous four games against the Giants since Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, the Eagles had managed to sack Manning just two times in 205 pass plays.
This time, however, they were able to get to him repeatedly, sacking him four times and hiting him another 13 times in 47 dropbacks.
Manning, who came into the game with the league’s third best completion percentage (71.7), completed just 55.8 percent of his attempts against the Eagles.
Schwartz made some coverage adjustments that helped buy his front four some extra time to get to Manning by forcing him to hold on to the ball longer.
“Jim made some great adjustments,” defensive end Chris Long said. “It affected the margin of time we had (to rush Manning).”
According to data collector Pro Football Focus, Manning averaged 2.24 seconds from snap to attempt Thursday night. In the Giants’ two games against the Eagles last season, he averaged 2.01.
Two-tenths of a second might not sound like a lot to you, but it can make a world of difference for a pass-rusher.
This is how Odell Beckham, who had just 44 receiving yards on six catches, explained what the Eagles did to him: “Same thing every other team is doing. It’s that two-man with the safety over the top.
“When I was inside, they had the safety over there. When I ran across the field, he was cutting me off. A lot of double covers. They had a very good game plan, and they executed it very well.”
The Eagles had a plus-58 first-quarter point differential last season, which was the largest in the league. They jumped out to leads, which allowed them to maintain a balanced offense, while their defense could focus on rushing the passer.
This season, early leads have been much harder to come by. In their first five games, the Eagles were outscored 23-7 in the first quarter, and 53-33 in the first half.
They had scored just once on their first possession this season and twice on their second possession. Last year, they scored on their first possession seven times and on their second possession eight times.
They failed to score on at least one of their first two possessions just four times in the regular season and only once in the postseason (against the Falcons in the divisional round).
Against the Giants, they scored on two of their first three possession, had a 14-3 lead after the first quarter and a game-set-and-match 24-6 lead by halftime.
A team whose run-pass balance had gotten completely out of whack the last two weeks in losses to the Titans and Vikings, was back to a very reasonable 44-56 run-pass split against the Giants.
“The biggest thing is you get leads early in football games and then you can maintain the [run-pass] balance,” coach Doug Pederson said.
Another big day for Alshon
Alshon Jeffery maximized his 74 receiving yards Thursday. The 6-3 wideout with the crop-circle catch radius had eight catches which produced six first downs and two red-zone TDs.
Jeffery got the Eagles’ scoring party started three plays into their first possession when he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz to give the Eagles a 7-0 leads less than two minutes into the game.
Wentz extended the play by escaping pressure in the pocket and rolling right, then threw across his body to Jeffery in the end zone.
Jeffery did a terrific job of shaking Giants safety Landon Collins and getting open after Wentz started to scramble.
Both of Jeffery’s two touchdown catches came on third-down plays. He has six third-down receptions in the three games he’s played since returning from offseason rotator cuff surgery. All have resulted in either touchdowns or first downs.
The Eagles went into the Giants game tied for 28th in the league in turnover differential (minus-4). They had just five takeaways and nine giveaways, including a league-high seven lost fumbles, in their first five games.
That’s a far cry from last season when they had the fourth best turnover differential in the league (plus-11), including 31 takeaways.
They hadn’t won a turnover battle in any of their first five games, but snapped that streak Thursday. While they fumbled three times, they didn’t have a giveaway for the first time this season.
They forced only one takeaway, but it was a big one – an interception by linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill on the second play of the game that gave the Eagles the ball at the Giant 16 and allowed them to grab the early lead.
“We take a lot of pride in setting the town,” said linebacker Jordan Hicks, who deflected the interception to Grugier-Hill. “The defense has been up first in every game. With us coming out and having the ability to do that was huge.”
So was the fact that the Eagles didn’t turn the ball over. Wentz hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 136 attempts. In his four starts, he has eight touchdown passes and just one interception.
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