The Eagles and their fans entered Sunday’s game against the Giants with concerns about whether the team—which was 11-2 and sat atop the NFC—could contend for the Super Bowl. With Carson Wentz out for the year with an ACL tear and Nick Foles at the helm, questions lingered about the team’s offense and the unit’s ability to compete in January.
Concerns remain after the game—but not about the offense. In the Eagles’ 34-29 win over the Giants, who fell to 2-12, Foles more than held his own. But the other side of the ball was frighteningly shaky against a banged-up New York squad that’s been terrible on offense this season. The Eagles’ defense is healthy, and there’s little reason to think the lethargic performance against the Giants is the start of a trend. Instead, Sunday’s showing represented a new reality for Philly: Without Wentz to work his magic, the margin for error is much smaller.
Foles was about as good as fans could have hoped for in the win, completing 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns, and he brought the team back from an early 13-point deficit to clinch a first-round bye for Philadelphia.
If Foles’s yardage total seems out of sync with his touchdowns, it’s because he was often given short fields to work with. The Eagles’ offense had one free red zone trip gifted to them on a Ronald Darby interception:
And another after a blocked punt:
Both of those led to Foles touchdowns. And though Philly’s offense looked solid, the Eagles’ special teams unit was the star of the game. In addition to the blocked punt, Philly also blocked a field goal and an extra point—welcome help for the offense as their defense had the team in a hole early.
The Giants scored touchdowns on their first three drives, each of which went for at least 75 yards. Philadelphia has been one of the better defensive teams in the NFL this year, ranking third in defensive DVOA coming into this week, but the unit melted early on Sunday. It allowed 504 yards to the Giants, by far the highest total it’s given up all year. It was also the lowly Giants’ best performance of the season in both points and yards.
It’s not an encouraging sign when a defense gives up a 67-yard touchdown to Sterling Shepard:
Or a 57-yard one to Tavarres King:
MUST WATCH!! Eli to King for a 57-yard Touchdown. (2-pt conversion miss). Eagles 31, Giants 29 pic.twitter.com/e0aosmoWI4— New York Giants (@Giants) December 17, 2017
The defense clamped down after halftime, allowing just six points in the second half. That half is probably more indicative of the Philly defense than the first one, but it still represents the way the game changes for the Eagles without Wentz. Foles may have been flawless in the red zone, but the Eagles still went three-and-out three times, adding another punt and a turnover on downs. With Wentz, maybe one of those failed drives ends in points instead, and the Eagles put away with Giants by more than a single score. With Foles, the team can still get the job done, but the margins—as was evident against a team that has been horrific and already fired its head coach—appear to be much slimmer.