2011 Philadelphia Eagles: Season Saved... Again

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 20: Riley Cooper #14 and DeSean Jackson #10 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrate after Riley scored an 8-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on November 20, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

You had a feeling they'd do this. The Eagles, once again with their backs against the wall, showed serious resilience as they fought and clawed their way to a 17-10 victory over a divisional rival. The recently friendly confines of the New Meadowlands breathed life into this team that had been left for dead. A daunting task awaits in the form of the venerable Patriots, as the Eagles look to continue their climb back into the playoff race.

Ugh, what a bunch of a-holes. Now there is a sliver of hope for another week of football. The Eagles had a chance to definitively put us out of our misery but instead went and managed to grind out a gritty, gutsy win that belied everything they have been about in their losses. People say this team lacks an identity, but that's not true. The Eagles' identity so far this season is a team that only comes together and plays inspired football with its back against the wall and season on the line. Unfortunately, this isn't exactly a sustainable trend.

Listen, I'm not going to lie to you. One week after the Eagles made me ashamed to be a fan, this embattled squad inspired some pride. I watched Sunday night's game and thought, Now THAT is something I can get on board with. It featured a team that made a concentrated effort to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Eagles defensive line looked like the Giants defensive line normally does, and the Eagles offensive line looked like the Giants offensive line normally does. It was just a really weird game, with an eerie twilight zone feel to it. At the end you were left sitting there, trying to process what happened. Does this win mean anything? Does the way the Eagles played mean anything? We'll find out against the Patriots.

The Good

1) Juan Castillo and the Eagles defense. Well, there's the defense that showed up against the Redskins and Cowboys. Need more of that and less what's been happening in most games. We've seen flashes, now there needs to be consistency. Anyway, with the season on the line, it was the Eagles defense that came to play. Juan Castillo's band of spineless sieves didn't look spineless at all. In fact, that was a swarming, hard-hitting defense with a nasty disposition that physically dominated and punished the Giants. The run defense was impenetrable and pass rush ferocious (despite only blitzing a few times), sacking Eli Manning thrice, hitting him ten other times, and generally just harassing him all game. Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson were forces to be reckoned with, and Jenkins even delivered the most devastating hit of the night when he hustled twenty yards downfield to pop an unsuspecting Danny (D.J.) Ware and knocked him out cold. Darryl Tapp had easily his best game of the season, while Jason Babin ended any threat of a Giants' comeback when he dislodged the ball from Manning's grasp on a jarring hit; Derek Landri, who needs to play more, fell on the fumble. The much-maligned linebackers were making plays against the run and the pass. Jamar Chaney, though he didn't have a strong game overall, recorded his second interception of the season, while Brian Rolle continued to solidify his status as an impact player and even came up with his own morally objectionable totally awesome celebration, the Tommy gun. Every week it becomes more clear that the personnel department found a gem in the sixth round. Rolle is legit.

Edit: Forgot to include Joselio Hanson, who was superb in the slot. It's amazing what can happen when a player has extensive experience at a certain position, right? After Asante Samuel is cut in the offseason, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should move to the outside, and Hanson should return to his role as the primary nickel corner.

It must also be noted that the defense didn't magically fix all of its problems in one game. There were still too many missed tackles and blown coverages, and those mistakes aren't going to go unpunished. In fact, it's exactly what has cost this team in the fourth quarter in past games. That said, I was most encouraged to see that this time said mistakes didn't send the players into a downward spiral and influence future downs. The fourth quarter is still a problem, however, as the Giants offense gained 153 of its 278 total yards on a mere ten plays (135 yards on the 45 other plays). Save for Babin's huge sack/strip, the defense once again looked soft during the game's biggest moments. I don't know what the deal is, but that unit goes into full-on suck mode in those final fifteen minutes. It's mystifying and, of course, very concerning. Something tells me every Eagles fan expects at least, what, two more blown fourth quarter leads before the season is over?

The defense's most important accomplishment of the night, however, was battering Eli Manning into making this face once he realized he wouldn't be getting the ball back. It shall be added to the "Manning Face" collection.

Eli_face_medium

2) Eagles offensive line. Vince Young had pretty much all day to throw and experienced nary a hint of pressure from a Giants defensive line that many regard as the best in the league. The offensive line on Sunday night looked like the one we saw against the Redskins and Cowboys. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans silenced Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul, which is why Young was able to sit in the pocket and pick apart the Giants defense the entire second half. The interior of the offensive line was equally stellar in pass protection, though Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, and Danny Watkins had their issues as run blockers.

3) 18 plays, 80 yards (91 gained total after factoring in penalties), 8:51 elapsed. Not a single drive has made me happier all season, and it didn't even involve running the ball effectively! Again, what a weird game -- the Eagles are normally the ones allowing the other team to convert all their third downs in crucial situations. Let's take a look at each:

First: Ronnie Brown up the middle for six yards on a nicely designed fullback trap out of the near set (thank you, Madden). RONNIE BROWN ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING POSITIVE! But it was Todd Herremans -- of course -- who made the block to spring him.

Second: Riley Cooper gets open and makes an 18-yard reception at the Eagles' 49. Sunshine will get his own section in a bit.

Third: Vince Young somehow sidearm flings a pass to Clay Harbor for six yards and a first down at the Giants' 36. On the replay you can see that Young was a millisecond away from getting his arm hit by a lunging Mark Herzlich. One play earlier, Jason Avant somehow caught a pass that was one inch away from hitting the ground with his fingernails. Luck, skill, it's all good.

Fourth: Vince Young surges forward on a sneak and is initially stopped, but he plows past the line of scrimmage on his second effort.

Fifth: Vince Young hits DeSean Jackson on a three-yard out route on 3rd and 4. With his momentum carrying him out of bounds and Corey Webster bearing down to make the tackle, DeSean summoned his preternatural athletic ability and, all in one motion, stopped himself right before the sideline and deftly spun out of Webster's grasp. Silky smooth. Seven yards later, Jackson was pushed out of bounds at the Giants' 10. First down.

Sixth: Riley Cooper, back of the endzone, blown coverage, touchdown.

4) Offensive philosophy. Balance! WOOHOO! No, the run game didn't really do anything of note until Shady's 60-yard run at the end, but at least Andy/Marty stuck with it throughout. Normally when the run isn't working immediately, it's abandoned. Not this time. In addition, Andy/Marty committed to a strategy that utilized short-to-intermediate passes. It looked like a real West Coast offense. When I talk about running the ball ad nauseum, it's more that I wish to see this offense methodically move down the field and control the clock. If that is achieved with the pass -- see: not looking for the deep ball all the time -- then so be it. I just want it to happen someway, somehow.

5) Second half Vince Young. He bounced back from a bad first half by going 15/18 for 169 yards and two touchdowns (and one pick, which came in the endzone on an awful throw). Young was the catalyst for the offense and came up big with the game on the line. An Eagles quarterback making clutch plays? Huh?

6) Riley Cooper. We saw it in the preseason -- Riley Cooper's a solid wide receiver who can play in this league. He's also the Eagles' number one option when it comes to making plays on jump balls. After a forgettable first half, Cooper, like his quarterback, came up huge against the Giants down the stretch. He was especially pertinent on the last drive, when he made that 18-yard catch for a first down and then the eight-yard catch for the game-winning touchdown. Hopefully Sunshine gets increased playing time down the stretch because he certainly deserves it. Final stat line: five catches (on twelve targets) for 75 yards and a touchdown.

7) DeSean Jackson. Say what you will about the selfish antics and unforgivable foolishness that cost his team a 50-yard gain, but there's no denying DeSean's enormous impact on this game. He set up the Eagles' first touchdown on a punt return that I think should have been a touchdown itself because I'm still not convinced he stepped out of bounds. Then he made a slick spin move to get away from Corey Webster and convert a crucial third down a few plays before the Eagles scored the go-ahead touchdown. All in all, Jackson finished with six catches for 88 yards and 142 total yards when you factor in the punt returns. He probably could have doubled his amount of receiving yards based on how often he was open.

Incredible talent who far too often has shit for brains on the field. If DeSean ever hopes to actually become the player he already thinks he is, he needs to grow up and understand that the game and his team are both much, much bigger than himself.

8) Andy Reid. Big Red gets skewered whenever he's soundly outcoached, like last Sunday against Ken Wisenhunt's Cardinals, so it's only fair that he be praised when he does it to an opponent. Tom Coughlin had the same confused, pissed off, what-the-hell's-going-on-out-here? look on his face all game. Much like Rob Ryan did during the 34-7 shellacking.

9) Brent Celek. Another yeoman effort from the admirable tight end, who quietly racked up 60 yards on six catches and was his usual effective self when asked to stay in and block.

First five games: Nine catches for 73 yards, zero touchdowns.

Last five games: 28 catches, 309 yards, two touchdowns.

Seeing as how the Eagles started 1-4 and have since gone 3-2 and we all know correlation implies causation, we can only conclude that this offense needs more Celek.

10) Jake Ballard. I'd like to use this space to thank the Giants tight end's usually reliable hands for taking the night off and helping the Eagles emerge victorious.

Honorable mention: Steve Smith, for his first meaningful catch of the season. Of course it comes against the Giants.

The Bad

1) First half Vince Young. Aside from that easy pitch-and-catch touchdown pass to Steve Smith after the DeSean Jackson punt return, Young was pretty bad in that first half. He made some really poor throws and was difficult to watch. But that's all okay, since he was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half.

2) Nnamdi Asomugha. Alright, Asomugha wasn't horrendous, but he was outplayed by Victor Cruz. Again. He shouldn't feel as bad this time because Cruz is the real deal, but he also should have had a better idea how to defend against him. Instead, Nnamdi was beaten repeatedly by the breakout wide receiver, including letting Cruz get behind him on the Giants' only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. While Asomugha hasn't been a disaster, he's hardly been the star everyone anticipated. Just a "meh" player far too often this season, and he's certainly not being paid $12 million to be "meh." I think Castillo is still figuring out how to use him and that's part of the problem, but it's been a fairly disappointing experiment thus far.

3) LeSean McCoy. Just kidding. In fact, during the second quarter, it looked like the Eagles were genuinely trying to establish the ground game. While I think Shady actually played well, the Giants were just determined not to let him beat them and he didn't have his usual tangible impact on the game (until the very end). They stacked the box and the interior of the defensive line -- led by Chris Canty and Linval Joseph -- was consistently able to penetrate into the backfield, thus allowing the likes of Mathias Kiwanuka (holy shit, I forgot that he's a monster when healthy) to make plays against McCoy behind the line of scrimmage. Shady's 113 rushing yards is misleading because of his 60-yard run to ice the game. Otherwise, the Giants run defense was able to hold him in check, to the tune of 53 yards on 22 carries (2.4 yards per carry). As soon as McCoy shook one tackler and looked to bounce outside, two or three more defenders were there to keep containment and corral him. The Giants have a front seven, much like the Bears, that is athletic enough to restrict Shady's open space (and that of Michael Vick, when he's playing). Twelve of Shady's 23 carries went for two yards or less, but, you know what, Andy/Marty stuck with him. In other games, they probably would have gotten away from the run. This time they kept plugging away, and McCoy was able to gain chunks of yardage here and there.

The Ugly

1) DeSean Jackson's taunting penalty that negated a 50-yard completion which had taken the Eagles out of the shadow of their own goal line. Regardless of the fact that the offsetting penalties call was stupid (even if correct by rule), this is something that just can't happen. DeSean and his teammates can say whatever they want, but that play shows me he's still all about DeSean. Flip the ball to the referee, dickhead, not in the face of the opponent's defensive coordinator RIGHT IN FRONT of said referee. At this point, though, Jackson's puerile antics are an inseparable part of the package, and there's a high likelihood he'll cost the Eagles a game later in the season with that look-at-me nonsense. Either way, he won't be getting top-five wide receiver money from anyone, much less this front office.

Make no mistake, though, the worst part about this whole ordeal is that it started one of those embarrassingly lame Twitter wars that makes me weep for the future of our species.

2) Vince Young's three interceptions. The first was badly underthrown, the second bounced off Clay Harbor's helmet (not entirely Young's fault and should have been pass interference on Aaron Ross anyway), and the third was just a terrible decision compounded by an equally terrible throw (and Riley Cooper falling down). Yet Young was able to shake off those mistakes, persevere, and make plays when he had to. At the end of the day, that's really all that matters.

3) What the hell happened to Brandon Jacobs? He sucks. This is a guy who used to put the fear of God into defenders when he came running at them with a head of steam. It was like trying to tackle a linebacker. A fucking HUGE linebacker. I was simultaneously enraptured and, as an Eagles fan, terrified to see what he'd do every time he got the ball. Jacobs was a unique breed of running back, the likes of which I'd never seen in my years of watching football. Now he looks washed up and plays like a pussy. Oh well, at least he has fast-ass cars waiting for him at home.

I still don't know what to make of this game. On one hand, it's always gratifying to beat the hated Giants, especially in the Meadowlands. On the other, why should we believe Sunday night's performance was anything more than a mirage? This is just the third game all season where we've seen the Eagles take it to their opponent and just beat the living crap out of them. Is it a coincidence that all three instances have come against division rivals with whom the coaching staff and team are most familiar? I don't know. What I do know is that the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this team is as confounding as it is infuriating. For now, this was a nice win on national television that temporarily saved the season (again) and made a 4-6 record seem a little less shitty for a week. That's all. I'm sure my negativity can get overbearing and downright annoying (don't care; screw you, dear reader), but the Eagles' season, for me, still ended last Sunday afternoon against Arizona. I think I feel that way because I saw it in person. Anyway, that doesn't mean I don't know they're only two games out of first and currently hold a commanding 3-1 divisional record. I know I've said it's over, but the reality is the NFC East title has not yet been decided, and the Eagles could be getting ready to toy with you again. The players are already talking about running the table. Of course... they have to. We'll see what Tom Brady and the Patriots have to say about that. Speaking of Brady, you know he's licking his chops for the opportunity to send his dynamic duo of young tight ends up against our linebackers and safeties. As for Andy Reid matching wits with Bill Belichick? Oh, crap.

Hope everyone has a happy, football-filled, and scrumptious Thanksgiving.

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