The Eagles' defense entered Sunday's game down two cornerbacks and two safeties already. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox exited the contest with injuries as well, never to return. To describe the unit as shorthanded would be an understatement.
No Cox, no Hicks, no Ronald Darby at cornerback, no Rodney McLeod at free safety. Four starters, plus two more reserves, all out — and the Eagles were still able to limit the Giants' offense to 24 points in a critical win over an NFC East rival (see breakdown).
“It's just a credit to the depth we have," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. "There wasn't really any weakness, no holes when a lot of people went down.”
Graham has become so accustomed to his teammates disappearing from the lineup, he didn't even immediately notice when one of the unit's most visible players left the game in the second quarter.
"Fletch went down. We have a couple D-tackles in there that stepped up big," Graham said. "We had Jordan Hicks get hurt, he was out. I didn't realize until I heard (Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham) calling the plays. I'm like, 'Where's Jordan at?'
“I think with the injuries we had, and how people stepped up, that just let's you know, like we always say, it's a next man up mentality, and I'm glad people were prepared when they got the opportunity.”
New York ran the ball 17 times for just 49 yards — a 2.9 average. And while Eli Manning completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns, he also chucked two interceptions. Despite all of the absences, the Eagles were getting the job done defensively.
That is, until the fourth quarter. The unit was finally beginning to sag in the fourth, when a 14-0 Eagles lead evaporated over the course of five-and-a-half minutes. The Giants scored 21 straight points to pull in front with 7:12 remaining on the clock and came away with points on four straight possessions after kicking a 41-yard field goal with 3:08 left.
While the field goal gave New York a 24-21 lead, it was a much-needed stop for the defense. And after the Eagles responded with three points of their own to knot the score, the D held the Giants without a first down on the ensuing possession, setting up the game-winning drive.
"No panic," said Eagles safety Chris Maragos, who filled in for McLeod. "You know they're going to make plays, you know we're going to make plays, and especially a division game like this, you're just throwing punches back and forth essentially.
“It's a heavyweight fight, and you just have to be able to withstand everything that they can throw at you.”
“We just said, 'We have to keep working,'" said Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas, playing extensively because of injuries to Darby and Jaylen Watkins. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. The Giants can score at any time. They have guys on their team. We just said stick in it, play by play. Let's grind it out.”
The Eagles' secondary was especially vulnerable. Maragos plays almost exclusively on special teams, and Douglas is a third-round rookie who was inactive Week 1. Against the Giants, they were thrust into key roles against an offense loaded with talent, particularly at wide receiver.
It appeared as though Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepherd were poised to take advantage late. Beckham — shadowed by Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills for much of the contest — hauled in a pair of highlight-reel touchdowns in the back of the end zone, while Shepherd ripped off a 73-yard catch-and-run through a depleted defensive backfield.
“You look at Shepherd and Odell, those guys are extremely dangerous with the ball in their hands," Maragos said. "They're going to get their catches just based on the offense and what they like to do, and you just have to limit those big plays. We did that for the most part today.”
Beckham finished with nine receptions for 79 yards, Shepherd with seven receptions for 133 yards and the three combined scores. However, the defense was also willing to concede some of that production. Eagles cornerbacks employed a lot of off-man coverage, leaving underneath routes open.
"Sometimes you can give those little balls up, because you don't want to get beat over the top of your head," Douglas said. "A team is not going to go down 100 yards throwing slants every play. It's just unrealistic in the NFL. Everyone wants to take shots.
“Sometimes you give them up, and then sometimes you jump and make a play.”
As a result, Manning didn't face much in the form of a pass rush. The Eagles registered only four quarterback hits and failed to record a sack. But, again, the Giants apparently played right into the defense's game plan to keep the ball in front of the secondary.
"We still stopped the run the same way, and we made them one-dimensional," Graham said. "They were just getting the ball out fast.
“Everybody saw how fast the ball was out. It's nice, because they respect us, and they understand what they have, and they played to their strengths. They played to their receivers. They were going to get the ball out, and we did a good job of just handling them, collapse the pocket as much we can.”
The Eagles made just enough plays to survive a late onslaught from a Giants offense that, prior to Sunday, had struggled to score (see Roob's observations). Coming into Week 3, New York managed just one touchdown. In other words, a team that has performed poorly wound up looking pretty good.
Then again, that was probably to be expected on some level. This time, however, offense and special teams were able to help pick up the defense.
“It was such a complete team win," Maragos said. "We had guys step up in all phases of the game. There's always highs and lows in a game. It's who can weather those, who can outlast, who can finish, those types of things. Today we were able to do that, and it was collectively so great.”
The Eagles survived to pick up a crucial win against a division opponent. Given the circumstances with all the injuries, they'll gladly take it.
"We fought hard," Graham said. "It was hot out there. They came with a good game plan. Like I told you: Don't take any team lightly. They came with a good plan, they wanted to get a win under their belt, and I was just happy we stayed together in the end to win the game."