Eagles-Giants: What did we learn?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles left North Jersey with a much needed 36-21 win over the New York Giants after three straight losses and now find themselves atop the NFC East along with the Cowboys. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a ‘W’ nonetheless. Here are some observations:

-- The main topic of this week will surely be an apparent quarterback controversy after Nick Foles filled in for the injured Michael Vick and helped guide the Eagles to victory. Chip Kelly nipped the uncertainty about who would start Sunday in Tampa – should Vick be able to rebound from a hamstring injury – when he said that Vick was still his guy. But that isn’t going to quell a certain segment of the fan base that would rather see Foles for various reasons. I still think Vick is the better option, however small the margin may be, because he opens up the run game. It isn’t just his ability to use his legs, it’s the threat he poses, especially in the read option that makes LeSean McCoy even more dangerous. Foles has a quicker release, isn’t as cautious about throwing into tight coverage, but he also doesn’t have Vick’s arm strength. It’s a close call, but Vick gets the edge here for now. What will be interesting to see, if the Eagles revert back to losing, is how long Kelly stays with Vick. But the Eagles are going to be hanging around playoff contention for some time, so I don’t imagine he’ll have to make a decision any time soon.

-- The Eagles passing game wasn’t clicking as much with Vick under center. There were a combination of factors – receivers couldn’t break open, the offensive line had a few breakdowns – but mostly (it seemed, I still have to re-watch the game closely) Vick wasn’t sharp. I recall DeSean Jackson also dropping one pass. But Vick missed an open Jason Avant in the end zone one time and on another he threw a pass into the waiting paw of Jason Pierre-Paul. There were a few other missed opportunities.

-- Vick was effective on the ground. He ran a few times in the read option and there were a few scrambles, but the designed sweeps were successful. He ran seven times for 79 yards. But he also pulled his hamstring during one jaunt. Players are always one play away from injury – or one chinstrap away as Kelly likes to say – but with Vick the odds seem higher.

-- When Vick left, though, the running game became stagnant. McCoy ran 12 times for 48 yards and one touchdown before Vick left; eight times for minus-2 yards after. The Giants seemed to keep a safety near the box to help against the run for most of the game, but there was obvious disparity. Foles handed off in the read option, but there were a few plays in which McCoy was dropped in the backfield and it seemed like Giants linemen were selling out not convinced Foles would keep it. Foles did keep it on second and goal in the fourth, but the three yards he ineffectively gained aren’t going to cut it moving forward.

-- Jackson bounced back from two subpar outings. He caught seven of 12 targets for 132 yards and a 5-yard touchdown. He dropped a few tough ones. But he also drew a long pass interference penalty when he was clearly driven out of bounds by Prince Amukamara. And his stop-and-go touchdown was a beauty. Jackson hasn’t been much of weapon in the red zone. It was important to score there, but also important to get him involved down deep. The Eagles’ red zone issues overall almost came back to bite them. They need to improve going forward.

-- The rest of the receiving corp wasn’t as stellar but enough guys got open to free Jackson up. Brent Celek (three catches for 46  yards), Jason Avant (3-33) and Zach Ertz (2-38) combined for enough catches downfield to keep defenses honest. The big problem going forward seems to be Riley Cooper. He had no catches and only one target. Jeff Maehl seemed to cut into his snaps on Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see how much once the official numbers are released. Maehl didn’t have any catches either, but Cooper had significantly more plays. Celek, by the way, came back huge after last week’s drop when he stretched out for a 25-yard touchdown in the fourth.

-- It’s difficult to judge the offensive line without watching the tape. It looked like center Jason Kelce had some issues against slanting defensive tackles. Lane Johnson had an early false start, but there weren’t anywhere near as many problems against outside rushes as he had the two previous games. It’s not exactly fair to compare Jason Peters against his 2011 self, but he’s looked human this season.

-- I wrote more extensively about the defense in my column for tomorrow’s paper (to be posted online soon!), but I though the overall effort was there. The most important part was that the execution came through late. Eli Manning self-imploded some, but those were forced interceptions, too. Brandon Boykin got home with a blitz and forced the first interception. Fletcher Cox had pressure and Boykin made a splendid grab for the second pick. And Cary Williams made a shoe-string grab for the third INT.

-- There were plenty of mistakes beforehand, but a pass defense that had allowed quarterbacks to complete 70 percent of their passes in the first four games, kept Manning to 46 percent on Sunday. Bradley Fletcher had an up-and-down game. The highs were high, but the lows were fairly low on the barometer. The Eagles cornerback broke up three passes, including a deep throw over the middle to Rueben Randle before the half. The Giants receiver had Fletcher beat one-on-one, but the corner closed the gap and swatted the ball away at the last second. Fletcher batted away another long pass intended for Randle on the Giants’ first drive, but Manning went right back at him and safety Nate Allen and hit receiver Hakeem Nicks for 49 yards a play later. There were a few other Fletcher moments when he lost receivers, such as when Nicks converted a third down in the third. Fletcher doesn’t have elite speed, but he can contend with receivers as long as he gets his hands on them.

-- Except for a late meaningless sack by Bennie Logan, the Eagles defensive line did little against one of the worst offensive lines in the league. I’m not sure what the issues were. Trent Cole had a few pressures but not much else. So did Brandon Graham when he finally got some extended play with Connor Barwin inside getting an X-ray (he was OK and returned). But it wasn’t consistent and Bill Davis needed to dial up a few more blitzes after the Giants went ahead with 14 straight points in the third.

-- I’m not anywhere near letting Davis off the hook. But his unit showed some progress and that should be noted. Mychal Kendricks played better than he has the last three weeks. If the Eagles are going to became at least a serviceable defense, Kendricks has to play at the level he showed in Week 1. The interception fell in his lap, but he was there and made the play. DeMeco Ryans was quiet, but that’s because the Giants got away from the run game after David Wilson left with a neck injury and Brandon Jacobs proved once again that he’s done.

-- A few quickies … I’m still not convinced Alex Henery is the man until he hits a clutch kick, but he subsided fears for one week by hitting on 5 of 5 fields goals – albeit none over 41 yards. … Cedric Thornton did an effective job early clogging the middle of the line and stopping a Giants run game that wasn’t effective before and after Wilson’s neck injury.