Paul Domowitch: 'D' does enough against Eli

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Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks tracks down Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the pocket. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

A WEEK AGO, an Eagles pass defense that had carved out an impressive 35.1 opponent passer rating in season-opening wins over Cleveland and Baltimore was humbled by former employee Kevin Kolb, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona's 27-6 win in the desert.

Their challenge Sunday night was considerably more formidable - two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning and a Giants passing game that was averaging a stout 337 pass yards per game.

Manning led the league in passing yards and was third in yards per attempt (8.6). He had a 97.1 passer rating. Two weeks ago, he passed for 510 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Tampa Bay.

In his last five starts against the Eagles, he had 102.4 passer rating that included 14 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.

Manning once again threw for a lot of yards Sunday night, clearing the 300-yard passing bar for the third time in four games this season.

But the Eagles stopped him enough times to pull out a 19-17 win that improved their record to 3-1.

Despite not having the services of Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for much of the second quarter after he suffered an eye injury, the Eagles held Manning to 14 completions in 26 first-half attempts.

In their loss to the Cardinals a week earlier, Kolb completed seven of seven passes on third down. Manning was 0-for-5 on third down in the first two quarters.

Eli finally found his footing in the second half, completing nine of his first 10 passes and 10 of 16 for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the final 30 minutes. But when the defense needed to stop him at the end and preserve the two-point lead that Alex Henery gave them with his fourth field goal of the night, they did it.

"These guys just showed a lot of heart tonight," defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said holding a team under 20 points for the second time in four games. "No great strategies. The guys just played with a lot of heart right up to the end."

The Eagles' nightlong coverage problems gave the Giants the ball at their own 35-yard line with a little more than a minute left after David Wilson's 37-yard return.

With the help of a pair of pass interference penalties on Asomugha, who returned in the second half, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Giants made it inside the Philadelphia 30-yard line. But an offensive pass interference call on Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden against Asomugha moved the ball back to the 36. From there, the Eagles held, forcing a 54-yard field goal attempt by Lawrence Tynes that came up short.

"They're going to get some, we're going to get some," said Asomugha.

"As long as we were challenging them, we felt we'd be all right."

Manning, who came into the game with a .669 completion percentage, completed just 57.1 percent of his attempts Sunday. He completed just two of seven passes on third down, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 5:28 left in the third quarter that tied the game at 10.

Cruz, who had nine catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns in two games against the Eagles last season, had another productive night, catching nine passes for 109 yards. Domenik Hixon also had 100-plus receiving yards (114 on six catches). But the Eagles minimized the damage of those 15 receptions.

Rodgers-Cromartie came up with a big interception early in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles clinging to a 13-10 lead, the Giants had a first down at the Philadelphia 10. But Manning made an uncharacteristic mistake, forcing a pass in the end zone to tight end Martellus Benett, who had safety Nate Allen on one side of him and Rodgers-Cromartie in front of him. Rodgers-Cromartie jumped high and picked the pass off.

A year ago, the Eagles' pass defense was a liability. Despite a pass-rush that notched 50 sacks, they gave up 27 touchdown passes and had an 85.7 opponent passer rating.

It's still early, but so far, their pass defense has been anything but a liability. They have faced two of the league's better quarterbacks - Manning and the Ravens' Joe Flacco - and have lived to tell about it.

In their 24-23 win over the Ravens in Week 2, they held Flacco to a .524 completion percentage and just one touchdown.

Through four games, they have an impressive opponent passer rating of 65.6 and an opponent completion percentage of .524.


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com