Studs, duds, turning point and more from Eagles-Giants

Studs, duds, turning point and more from Eagles-Giants


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles are 1-0 in the second Nick Foles Era. 

It just wasn't easy. 

The lowly Giants put up a pretty good fight Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. But Foles played pretty well, special teams came up big and the Eagles eventually made a late fourth-down stop on defense in a 34-29 win (see Roob's observations)


With the win, the Eagles improved to 12-2 on the season and clinched a first-round bye in this year's playoffs. Another goal accomplished. They didn't clinch home-field advantage this weekend because the Vikings beat the Bengals. That could come next week. 

With the loss, the Giants fell to 2-12 in their miserable season. They're just waiting out the rest of the year. 

It turns out Foles might not be the problem down the stretch. While Foles turned in a pretty efficient performance while working through rust, the Eagles' defense struggled again (see report card)

That's been a theme over the last few weeks. Jim Schwartz's unit that started the season so strong has become a liability recently. The Birds might not have to worry about Schwartz leaving for a head-coaching gig anytime soon. 

On 4th-and-goal with under a minute left, the Eagles got a huge stop to wrap up the game. Corey Graham covered Evan Engram and the pass went incomplete. The Giants wanted a flag but didn't get one. 

The Eagles came out really slow and let the Giants get up on them, 20-7, before a couple big defensive and special teams plays gave the Eagles' offense short fields. The Eagles took a 21-20 lead before the G-men kicked a field goal to go up 23-21 at halftime. 

Turning point
The Eagles just desperately needed a play and Ronald Darby provided it in the second quarter. The cornerback stepped in front of a pass from Eli Manning to pick it off, then returned it 37 yards. That set up the Eagles at the Giants' 20-yard line. They scored a touchdown to cut into their early lead and it seemed to flip momentum. Sure, the Eagles trailed at halftime, but things had turned around from a disastrous start.  

Key stat
The Eagles have gotten back-to-back four-touchdown performances from two different quarterbacks. 

According to the NFL, this is the first time teammates have thrown four touchdowns in back-to-back games since 2011, when the Packers had Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn do it.

Offensive stud
Foles missed a few passes, but he played a pretty solid game. He had three touchdown passes in the first half, making it his eighth-career three-touchdown game. He then added another TD pass in the third. 

Offensive dud
LeGarrette Blount really took a backseat Sunday to Jay Ajayi. He got a huge carry on 4th-and-1 in the first half and couldn't convert. 

Defensive stud
The entire defense didn't play great, but Brandon Graham seemed to have a good afternoon again. 

Defensive dud
Jalen Mills didn't have his best game. He was beaten badly for a touchdown and had some costly defensive holding calls go against him. Aside from his interception (which was big), Darby really struggled too. 

Key plays 
• The Eagles stopped the Giants on 4th-and-goal inside a minute to save the victory. 

• After the Malcolm Jenkins' field goal block, the Eagles put together a FG drive of their own to take a 34-29 lead with just under four minutes left in the game. 

• Jenkins got in to block a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. The field goal would have given the Giants a lead. This came after the Eagles had already blocked a punt and extra point in the game. 

• The Eagles' defense forced a three-and-out in the third quarter, but a neutral zone infraction from Najee Goode on the punt gave the Giants new life and Manning hit Tavarres King on a 57-yard touchdown pass. After the two-point conversion failed, the Eagles led 31-29. 

• Nelson Agholor made a tremendous touchdown catch over Darryl Morris in the end zone to put the Eagles up 31-23. After the score, Alshon Jeffery tossed up an alley-oop to Agholor, who threw it down. Ajayi had a big impact on that drive, rushing for a 22-yarder and catching a 32-yarder. 

• Jake Elliott kicked a 28-yarder to give the Eagles a 24-23 lead in the third quarter. Foles had a strong drive. 

• After the Eagles took a lead, the Giants converted two big third downs and drove down the field to kick a 28-yard field goal to take it back. They went up 23-21. 

• Kamu Grugier-Hill broke through the line to block a punt in the second quarter. That set the Eagles up inside the Giants' 20-yard line. A few plays later, Foles hit a wide-open Trey Burton for a 13-yard touchdown pass on third down to give the Eagles a 21-20 lead. 

• On third down, the Eagles desperately needed someone to make a play and Darby obliged. The corner stepped in front of a Manning throw to pick it off and then returned it 37 yards to set up an Eagles scoring drive. 

• Foles hit Zach Ertz for a 10-yard touchdown pass to cut into the lead, 20-14. 

• On 4th-and-1 from the Giants' 44-yard line in the second quarter, Blount was stuffed for no gain to turn the ball back over the Giants. 

• Early in the second quarter, Sterling Shepard got open with a rub play on 3rd-and-2 and went for a 67-yard touchdown to put the Giants up 20-7. Rodney McLeod made a poor attempt at a tackle near the sideline. Shepard has caught two of the three longest passes against the Eagles this season. 

• Jalen Mills was crushed on a double move in the red zone. He bit hard on a 13-yard touchdown catch by King to give the Giants a 13-6 lead. 

• The Eagles responded with a 75-yard drive of their own. The big play came when Foles avoided pressure to throw the ball deep to Torrey Smith. Smith couldn't catch it but drew a pass interference call and the Eagles scored a few plays later to go up 7-6.

• The Giants marched down the field on the first drive of the game. The big play came when Darby was beaten on a double move by Roger Lewis Jr. for a gain of 18. The drive went 75 yards. Derek Barnett blocked the extra point to make it 6-0 Giants. 

Stefen Wisniewski (ankle) missed the game. Chance Warmack started in his place. Robinson left in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion. 

Up next
The Eagles return home for the last two weeks of the season. They play the Raiders on Christmas Day and then the Cowboys to finish the regular season. 

Of all players, Big V could be key to Eagles' victory

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Of all players, Big V could be key to Eagles' victory

Halapoulivaati Vaitai is already a huge reason why the Eagles are playing for the NFC Championship. Now, he might be the key to reaching the Super Bowl.

The Eagles couldn’t have made it this far without Vaitai, who took over at left tackle way back in Week 7 when Jason Peters was lost for the season. But on Sunday, Peters’ replacement faces one of his stiffest tests to date in Vikings right defensive end Everson Griffen.

“He's a game-wrecker,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Griffen this week.

Recently named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, Griffen set career highs with 13.0 sacks in 2017, finishing tied for fourth in the NFL. It was the third time in four seasons the eighth-year veteran went into double digits, and he’s still going strong, getting to the quarterback once more in the Vikings’ divisional round playoff win over the Saints.

Griffen is one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league. Vaitai was a minimally experienced backup until mid-October. On paper, the matchup looks like a serious concern.

“Fast, strong guy,” Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks said of Griffen. “He’s played in this league for years now, got experience.

“But V is big and strong too. He has not as much experience, but got more experience than a lot of younger guys his age with the games he started last year and games he’s playing this year, so I know V is up to the challenge.”

A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Vaitai has 17 NFL starts under his belt and 11 this season, including playoffs. The results are somewhat mixed, though the Eagles have an 8-2 record since the 24-year-old stepped in at left tackle.

Vaitai hasn’t made anybody forget about Peters — a future Hall of Famer — but the second-year player is holding his own and improving steadily.

“He’s got a lot better, especially from last year to this year,” left guard Stefen Wisniewski said. “His technique has improved greatly. I think his football IQ has gone up. He’s really worked hard to get better every day, and his pass blocking has improved tremendously.”

This week perhaps more than any other, the Eagles can’t afford a liability at the tackle position.

The gravity of the situation is obvious, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Plus, in addition to Griffen, the Vikings boast the league’s No. 1 defense both in scoring and yardage. Points and positive drives will be hard enough to come by for the Eagles without consistent disruption at the line of scrimmage (see story).

Naturally, Pederson plans to provide assistance for Vaitai. However, the Vikings are also known for using exotic double A-gap blitzes up the middle and other overload pressure packages, and the Eagles can’t double-team one guy the entire game.

There will be occasions when Griffen is one-on-one, and it’s on Vaitai to shut him down.

“It's a lot of respect for him,” Pederson said of Griffen. “He can change the ballgame.

“He knows that tight ends are going to help over there, backs are going to help over there, slide protection. It’s not rocket science. But Big V has had a challenge all season. We've faced some tremendous defensive ends all season long, and this will be his greatest challenge in this game. I have a lot of confidence in V and what he's done this season.”

Whether out of comfort or necessity or resignation, at this point, the Eagles seem fine with the idea of Vaitai versus Griffen. Right tackle Lane Johnson doesn’t see the potential mismatch as a big deal at all.

“We’ll have some chip pros and some slams tied in, but other than that though, I think he’ll be alright,” Johnson said. “Just another guy in there.”

Vaitai has often looked like “just another guy” this season, in varying senses of the phrase. He’s experienced his share of struggles, then been able to quietly blend in with a strong offensive line for long periods.

Whichever Vaitai the Eagles get on Sunday could go a long way toward determining the outcome on Sunday.

Corey Clement adding element Eagles didn't expect

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Corey Clement adding element Eagles didn't expect

Corey Clement corrected himself.

His initial answer, when asked how far he's come as a receiver this year, was, "I think I've really come a long way."

Then he stopped, smiled and reconsidered.

“I think in a funny way I don’t think I made that big a leap," he said. "Because I always knew I could catch."

Clement never caught the ball at Glassboro High. Never caught the ball at Wisconsin. Never caught the ball during the regular season.

So guess who the Eagles' leading receiver was in their playoff win over the Falcons.

Who else?

"Five catches … that's not just a career high, it's probably my highest in life," Clement said laughing. "My lifetime high."

Clement caught five passes for 31 yards in the Eagles' 15-10 win over the Falcons at the Linc. The numbers may seem modest, but considering that Clement had only 29 catches in 39 games in four years in Madison and caught just 10 passes during the regular season, it's eye-opening.

Clement became the first undrafted rookie running back in NFL history to catch five passes in a playoff game and became only the ninth running back in Eagles postseason history to catch five passes in a game.

“[He's come] really far," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "We've said it all year, that's been a surprise, a running back from Wisconsin who is running power [in college]. You’re not thinking he's going to come in here and be your third-down back. But he's worked very hard at it and really made a role for himself."

Clement is a very good ball carrier — he averaged 4.3 yards per carry during the regular season — but on a team with Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, he's not going to get very many carries. He had just one for five yards last Saturday, on one of the Eagles' last plays of the game.

But none of the Eagles' other backs are much in the way of receivers. In fact, this was the first year since 1956 the Eagles didn't have a running back with at least 15 catches. And they were the only NFL team without a back catching 15 passes.

Wendell Smallwood is probably their best receiving back, but he's been inactive since the Eagles acquired Ajayi.
"I know in college I had one season (junior year) where I had only two catches," Clement said. "It just shows you that some of the college coaches got to give you an opportunity to catch.

"But I knew the opportunity I was walking into. It’s a running school and that’s the offense we ran, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch much.

"I’m happy with where I came from and I wouldn’t want it to be any different, but I know what I can do. I know I can catch the ball, but at the same time I know I can get a lot better at it as well.”

Clement never caught more than three passes in a game in college and had only three catches in the Eagles' first 10 games (two for touchdowns) before recording seven in the last six regular-season games.

A functioning screen game can be a terrific tool to offset an aggressive, pursuing defense like the Vikings' highly regarded unit. It's something the Eagles have been missing much of the year.

So Clement's emergence as a legitimate receiving back is timely on an offense that's lacked punch since Carson Wentz got hurt.

"First of all, he's getting better in route running," Doug Pederson said. "We've got to be smart as a staff on how we use our running backs. People can start keying in on certain guys and certain personnel groups, so we've got to make sure that we mix things up.

"He's one of those guys that I feel like we're getting more comfortable with throwing him the football whether it's a screen or down the field, and you saw a couple out of the backfield to him and one big third-down play there. He catches well and he's done a nice job."

Still, this is all new to Clement.

And he's learning as he goes.

"I’m getting a lot of help from (Nick) Foles and the other receivers on how to pinpoint a ball at a better location, so I think the ball is slowed down a lot for me in the air as far as looking it in and keeping it secure once I get it," he said.

"There’s so many fine points that I can keep working on, but I think as far as making a tremendous leap, I think I’m in a good position to keep excelling, especially going into the offseason."

Clement's five catches last Saturday are the fourth-most in Eagles history by a rookie in a playoff game, behind Keith Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (seven) and DeSean Jackson (six). 

The previous record, believe it or not, was two, shared by Heath Sherman, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook.

“I think it helps me stay on the field, just to show them I can run after the catch as well and not basically be a rock out there catching the ball," Clement said.

"Just showing versatility and staying calm out there is big, because I know I can catch, but if you make the game bigger than what it is, you’ll start doing weird crap. So I kind of just stay to the fundamentals and just play fast."