Worst might be over for Eagles' defense

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Worst might be over for Eagles' defense

8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eagles -9.5

The 12-2 Eagles can check off the final box on their holiday season wish list and clinch the top playoff seed in the NFC Monday night. All they need to do is contain a 6-8 Oakland Raiders squad with nothing left to play for.

The Raiders were eliminated from postseason contention Sunday, so if they look listless after flying across the country to Lincoln Financial Field for Christmas Day, holiday travel is probably the least of their issues.

The Eagles already received most of their gifts for 2017 — a division championship and a first-round bye in the playoffs — but there’s still one more present waiting, and it’s the best of them all. A win puts a bow on the season, which will make for some happy holidays across the Delaware Valley.

The worst might be over
The Eagles’ defense has taken its share of criticism after the past few contests, and particularly Sunday’s performance against the Giants, and justifiably so. This team isn’t going to last very long in January surrendering 29.3 points per game the way it has the last three weeks.

To many, the Giants' hanging 29 points on the Eagles, with 434 yards of passing and three touchdowns from Eli Manning, was a sign the defense, specifically the secondary is broken. That was one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and a quarterback who was benched just two weeks prior.

Yet upon closer inspection, things may not be as bad as they seem. Manning now owns the two most prolific passing performances against the Eagles this season and is one of only three signal callers to throw for three scores against this unit. In other words, the Eagles may have an Eli problem, not a defense problem.

Manning completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 400.0 yards and 3.0 touchdowns per game in two meetings. All other QBs have completed 59.3 percent for 210.5 yards and 1.1 touchdowns.

It’s possible the Giants simply had the Eagles’ number this season. Good thing they’re finished.

To put it Blount-ly …
As the weeks go by, the Eagles look smarter and smarter for pulling off the trade for Jay Ajayi. Not only has Ajayi brought a different dimension to the running game, averaging 6.4 yards per carry since his arrival, but so-called starting running back LeGarrette Blount has begun to fade.

Blount still leads the team with 717 yards rushing on the season. However, his effectiveness has rapidly decreased since the calendar rolled over to December. The 31-year-old running back has just 59 yards on 22 carries over the Eagles’ last three games, for a meager 2.7 average per carry.

Considered a “volume back,” Blount has an issue that could be a decrease in attempts, from 12.5 per game over the first 11 to 7.3 since. Then again, the decline was also predictable. Age aside, Blount averaged 3.4 yards per carry in December and January for the Patriots in 2016.

Ajayi has emerged as the Eagles’ primary back in recent weeks, and with good reason. He’s seven years younger than Blount and looks it based on the way the two are playing.

Blount looked ineffective for stretches early in this season, too, so it might be unwise to write him off after two or three quiet games. Regardless, the addition of Ajayi may have solved a potential leak before the flood.

Extra Cole in your stocking
Nice to see Trent Cole signing a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Eagles. Though the news seemingly came out of nowhere, and right in the thick of the holiday season, it’s a well-deserved honor that deserves more attention.

Cole spent 10 seasons with the Eagles, and his 85.5 sacks during that span are second only to Reggie White in franchise history. He only earned two trips to the Pro Bowl, yet Cole was one of the most consistent pass rushers in the league from 2006 through 2011 with 63.0 sacks — only DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen had more during that span.

Though he became a cap casualty in 2015 and spent his final two years in the NFL with the Colts, Cole made good with the Eagles and his career is well worth remembering. He’ll serve as the honorary captain on Monday and will be recognized on the field at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Consider it a little holiday bonus.

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, record-setting third-down conversions, and Vince and Mike Lombardi highlight Monday's edition of 10 random Super Bowl observations, which will appear every day between today and Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

That should be 140 total random Super Bowl observations! 

1. You could just sense Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffery building up their chemistry over the past few weeks, and in these two playoff games Jeffery has played like the star the Eagles hoped they were getting when they signed him. Jeffery was 4 for 61 against the Falcons and 5 for 85 with two TDs against the Vikings. Foles targeted him five times and he caught every one, including that 53-yard TD on a scramble drill. Jeffery needs 66 yards in the Super Bowl to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a single postseason (211 in 2008 by none other than Kevin Curtis). Jeffery is just blossoming now. His two TDs Sunday give him 11 this year, and only Harold Carmichael, Tommy McDonald, Terrell Owens and Mike Quick have had more in a season in franchise history. He just looks more and more comfortable each week, especially in the red zone, where he has a real flair for going up and getting the ball. I have a hunch he's going to have a big game in Minneapolis.

2. The Eagles have allowed 15 second-half points in their last five games. 

3. Pretty funny after everything that’s transpired over the past few months that the Super Bowl winner receives the Lombardi Trophy. Definitely not named after Mike! 

4. According to Pro Football Focus, 69 of Jay Ajayi’s 73 rushing yards Sunday night came after first contact. That means 94.5 percent of his yards came after he was hit. That’s remarkable and speaks to just what a tough runner he is. 

5. Corey Graham was such an underrated signing. He’s been very solid as a third safety and like newcomers LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Chris Long and Dannell Ellerbe, he’s a winner and has a Super Bowl ring. He knows what it takes. Graham’s interception Sunday was his third career postseason INT, and only two active players — Antoine Bethea and Tramon Williams, with four each — have more. Solid guy, solid player.

6. Soon after the media was allowed in the locker room after the game Sunday night, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill snuck over to this panel on the wall and plugged his iPhone into a jack and instantly music began blasting over speakers throughout the locker room. Grugier-Hill closed his eyes and started dancing. Rodney McLeod cracked up but yelled over, “Come on, Kamu. You can’t be playing Lil Yachty in the locker room while the media is in here,” and everybody cracked up. This team is so loose and having so much fun right now. Doug Pederson deserves so much credit for letting these guys show their personality all the time, whether it’s in an end zone celebration, in the locker room before a game or on the sideline with the German Shepherd masks. If you’re loose, you can just go out and play your game. If you’re tight, it’s tough to be at your best. Pederson understands this as well as any coach I’ve ever been around.

7. Amazing that the Patriots’ top two receivers this postseason are former Eagles: Receiver Danny Amendola (18 for 196) and running back Dion Lewis (16 for 111). Amendola spent the early part of the 2009 season on the Eagles’ practice squad before the Rams signed him. Lewis was the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in 2011 and spent his first two NFL seasons with the Eagles before getting traded to the Browns for linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

8. The Eagles’ 456 yards of offense Sunday are the most they’ve ever had in a playoff game, two more than they had in the 2008 NFC Championship Game. It was the second most the Vikings have allowed in their 49 franchise playoff games. The Giants netted 518 in their 41-0 win over the Vikings at Giants Stadium in 2001. The Eagles' 27 first downs are also a franchise playoff record. 

9. I can’t get past the fact that 24 months ago Pederson had never coached above the high school level and Foles was mulling retirement. Twenty-four months ago! Look at ‘em now! This is why sports rule!

10. Maybe the craziest thing about Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ ability to convert on third down against a defense that came into the game historically among the best in NFL history on third down at 25.4 percent. The Eagles were 10 for 14 on third down, good for 71.4 percent. That’s third best against the Vikings in any game — regular season or postseason — since 1991, which is as far back as available records go. To put that 71.4 percent figure in perspective, the Eagles converted more third downs Sunday (10) than the Vikings’ last four opponents had combined (eight). 

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

AP Images

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been hired as the New York Giants head coach.

The Giants announced the hiring late Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Shurmur and the Vikings were beaten by the Eagles in the NFC title game.

The 52-year-old Shurmur replaces Ben McAdoo, who was fired in early December with the team mired with a 2-10 record and owners and fans upset with his handling of the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over for the final four games and posted a 1-3 record.

"He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction," co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a statement.

"We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team."

The Giants won't officially introduce Shurmur until Friday. A winter storm in the Midwest is preventing him from coming to New Jersey on Tuesday and he will be at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, from Tuesday night through Thursday.

Shurmur returns to the head coaching ranks for the first time since leading the Cleveland Browns in 2011-12. He takes over a troubled team that posted a 3-13 record a year after making the playoffs.

Shurmur was interviewed on Jan. 6 by Mara, new general manager Dave Gettleman and assistant GM Kevin Abrams.

Following that meeting in Minneapolis, Shurmur had an hour-long phone conversation with Tisch.

"I can't wait to start working with Pat," said Gettleman. "I know he will provide the type of leadership we need to take our team back to where it belongs. I have followed Pat's career for many years, and he has had great success wherever he has been.

"What struck me during our conversation is that being the head coach of the New York Giants is not too big for him. He is made for this moment and this opportunity."

The Giants interviewed five other candidates, kicking it off with Spagnuolo three days after the season ended.

New York also spoke with New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and recently fired Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville, who has since been hired as a running backs coach by the Dolphins. Wilks was hired as the head coach in Arizona on Monday

Shurmur has earned a reputation as a quarterback whisperer. NFC title game opponents Nick Foles of the Eagles and Case Keenum of the Vikings were tutored by him.

With the Giants, Shurmur will get to work with Manning and possibly the No. 2 pick in the draft, if New York uses the pick to pick an heir apparent.

But the Giants also had problems in the locker room. Three defensive backs -- Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple were suspended for a game for conduct detrimental to the team.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Shurmur constantly put players in position to contribute and he doesn't take anything for granted.

"He's not a stubborn guy. He's going to throw stuff out if it's not working, and he's going to find things that guys are good at," Thielen said Monday as the Vikings cleaned out their lockers.

"So I think as a head coach, he's going to do that on both sides of the ball. Special teams, he's going to find guys who can make plays and let them do what they do. So I think he's going to have a lot of success as a head coach."

Shurmur has been a part of teams that have qualified for the playoffs nine times and won seven division titles. He was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach when the Eagles played in the Super Bowl against New England in the 2004 season.

Shurmur is finishing his second year with the Vikings. He began last season as the tight ends coach and for the final nine games was also the offensive coordinator, the title he retained this season.

The Vikings finished 10th in the NFL in scoring (23.9 points), 11th in total yardage (356.9), and seventh in rushing yardage (122.3) this season.

Shurmur posted a 9-23 record in his two seasons with the Browns, going there after a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator with the Rams. He spent three seasons as the Eagles offensive coordinator after being fired.

Shurmur's NFL coaching career began with a 10-year run (1999-2008) with the Eagles. He coached in college at Stanford and Michigan State.