EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They got everybody off their back.
For now, at least.
The Eagles’ much-maligned secondary was terrific Thursday night in the Eagles’ 34-13 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium (see 10 observations).
It shut down Odell Beckham Jr., it didn't allow a passing touchdown, it knocked a ton of passes down, and for the first time this year it played up to its high standards.
“I feel like every time things go bad, it’s always the secondary’s fault,” Ronald Darby said. “So we just took it upon ourselves to shut that up and go out there and make plays, and that’s what our key objective was.”
Beckham managed just 44 receiving yards with a long gain of 12 yards, most of it in garbage time, and although Giants rookie Saquon Barkley had a brilliant evening with 229 yards from scrimmage, the Eagles’ secondary had by far its strongest game of the season.
Eli Manning, who’s thrown more touchdowns against the Eagles than any QB in history, didn't throw a touchdown, got picked off by Kamu Grugier-Hill and had nine passes knocked down, four by Darby.
Manning looked old and washed up. The Eagles' secondary looked fast, aggressive and confident.
“Feels good,” Jalen Mills said. “We were out there communicating, which is the biggest part in secondary play. We played fast.”
The Eagles’ pass defense has actually been among the NFL’s best this year. Other than a terrible first half in Tampa.
The Eagles have allowed just eight TD passes in six games, and their red-zone defense is second best in the NFL.
But Darby is right.
On days when nobody plays well, most of the criticism is aimed at the corners.
They’re easy targets. When they mess up, it’s easy to see.
“It comes with the territory,” Darby said. “That’s the sport. That’s what you signed up for. That’s what you get paid for. You’ve just gotta go out there and keep competing.
“It’s a team sport. You talk bad about one, you’re talking bad about all of us. So just go out there and have fun.”
Mills had a very good day, especially in the red zone. The Giants were 0 for 3 inside the 20, managing just two field goals, and Mills was a big reason why. His toughness and aggressiveness are magnified inside the 20.
“We put the work in, even on a short week, and guys executed,” Mills said. “Banged up, short week, guys in the trainer’s room. This feels like — not to try to reminisce or anything — but it feels like one of those team wins from last year.”
The Eagles, already without starting safety Rodney McLeod, lost nickel corner Sidney Jones early in the second quarter, which left Rasul Douglas playing safety for the first time in his life. Rookie Avonte Maddox was already playing safety for the first time in his life.
Malcolm Jenkins is the only defensive back the Eagles had in uniform over the age of 24.
People need to realize how young and talented and confident and deep this group is.
At one point, Mills left the field and safety Tre Sullivan — who wasn't even on the roster a few days ago — came in for a few snaps, with Douglas moving to outside corner and Maddox back to nickel.
“We had cornerbacks playing safety, safeties playing nickel … a lot of moving parts,” Maddox said. “We all learn every position in case something like this happens, and we were ready.”
Since allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick four TD passes in Week 2, the Eagles have allowed just four touchdown passes the last four games.
And they’ve done it despite injuries, guys in new positions and some pretty accomplished receivers across the line of scrimmage.
“They’re very dynamic in that they can all play multiple positions,” Jordan Hicks said.
“Malcolm’s such a great leader for that room with the young guys. We have so much confidence in them. That’s the fabric of this team. When one person goes down, the next guy goes in. That’s the expectation.
“If you don’t, you’re playing lower than our expectations, no matter the situation, and guys understand that, and it showed tonight.”
Darby made it clear he relished the opportunity to quiet a lot of doubters Thursday night.
“It feels good, but they’re always going to be lurking,” he said. “So you’ve got to stay on top of your game.”