By Kevin McGuire
A win’s a win, no matter how ugly it may be. That is the good news for the Philadelphia Eagles, who have now officially hit the reset button on the NFC East race with a Monday night victory over the New York Giants. The 27-7 victory over the Giants moved the Eagles into first place in the NFC East, although the Dallas Cowboys still have a game in hand with a head-to-head tiebreaker. There was nothing pretty about the win, with seven combined turnovers between the two division rivals. There have been some gritty NFC East battles over the years, but few in recent memory have been this poorly played by each team. But hey, a win’s a win.
The good: Running back DeMarco Murray ran for 109 yards and a touchdown as the game’s leading rusher and Ryan Matthews added 40 yards on the ground. Veteran receiver Miles Austin caught all three passes thrown his way for 60 yards and Jordan Matthews caught six passes for 59 yards. As a team, the Eagles put together 425 yards of total offense on their NFC East rivals, averaging 5,6 yards per play. The Eagles also held a slight edge in time of possession, which was given a boost by going into clock management mode later in the game. The Eagles moved the first down markers a total of 24 times.
The bad: The Eagles offense was about as sloppy as any team winning by 20 points may ever be. The Eagles had four turnovers in the game, three coming on intercepted passes thrown by Sam Bradford. Riley Cooper had a long touchdown catch but also stopped running on what turned out to be a bit of an arm punt from Bradford later in the game. Bradford was also picked off in the red zone (technically from the 23-yard line) for his fourth red zone interception this season. No other quarterback in the NFL has more than one. An average grade seems pretty kind to the Eagles, but they did win by 20 points.
The Giants also played a sloppy game on offense, and the Eagles defense was a big reason why. The Birds picked off two passes by Eli Manning, including one returned for a touchdown by Nolan Carroll II (DeMeco Ryans picked off a pass earlier in the game which led to the first Eagles touchdown). The Giants actually marched right down field on the Eagles to open the game, but that was all the Giants would do against Philadelphia in this one. The Eagles sacked Manning three times and had seven tackles for a loss. Vinny Curry made some noise with 1.5 sacks and Brandon Graham had three tackles for a loss. The Giants managed to get just 247 yards of total offense, and 80 of those yards came on the game’s opening possession.
Special Teams: B-
The kicking game was once again reliable for the Eagles between kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Donnie Jones. Sturgis connected on all five of his kicking attempts Monday night, with two field goals and three extra-point attempts. Jones was called on to punt four times, with one flying into the end zone and another landing inside the 20-yard line.
The Eagles did not get much out of the return game. Darren Sproles fielded four punts for a total of just 25 yards, and he took a hard hit to the head against the ground on one (he later returned). Josh Huff and Riley Cooper each returned one kickoff from the Giants, and they combined for 33 yards. On a night the Eagles honored Brian Westbrook, he who once left Giants Stadium in a state of shock with a game-changing punt return, there would be no special teams highlights to be remembered for years to come.
This much we know after that Monday night game; Chip Kelly and his coaching staff have plenty to address in a short week. The Eagles have to cut down on miscommunication and turnovers on offense, and that begins with Kelly cracking down on the execution with the offense. The offense has to get cleaner in a hurry. The defense, though, has played well and is playing with good energy. The Eagles also lacked discipline against the Giants, being called for nine penalties on the night (fortunately, the Giants had 12 penalty flags). That goes into the sloppy play on both sides of the football.
If the Eagles can get the offense to perform more consistently and efficiently, and the defense continues to play at this level, the Eagles should be able to stay in first place in the NFC East the rest of the way. Next up for the Eagles will be another primetime matchup on Sunday night. The Eagles travel to Charlotte to face the undefeated Carolina Panthers (5-0). The Eagles defense will look to slow down Cam Newton and hand the Panthers their first loss of the season.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.