Five reasons the Eagles beat the Giants | Paul Domowitch

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles throws the football past New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (left) and defensive end Olivier Vernon during the third-quarter on Sunday, December 17, 2017.

Five reasons the Eagles beat the Giants, 34-29, Sunday — none of which has anything to do with their pass defense, which made Eli Manning look like the guy who won two Super Bowls.

Block party

The Eagles’ special teams, which have been ranked No. 1 in the league two of the last three seasons, have been just OK this season, with the exception of kicker Jake Elliott. Sunday, however, they carried the day, becoming the first team in more than a quarter-century to block a punt, field goal and PAT in the same game.

Kamu Grugier-Hill had the second-quarter punt block, which set up an Eagles touchdown. Malcolm Jenkins blocked a 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have given the Giants the lead. And Derek Barnett blocked a PAT after the Giants’ first score.

The blocks basically were responsible for a 14-point swing in a game decided by five points.

Elliott and the Eagles’ kickoff coverage unit also had an outstanding day. Elliott made both of his field-goal attempts and had two touchbacks on seven kickoffs. On the other five, the Eagles held Giants returner Kalif Raymond to 20.0 yards per return. The Giants’ average drive start on the Eagles’ seven kickoffs was their own 23-yard line.

Poll

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Second-down success

The Eagles are tied for the league lead in scoring, averaging 31.3 points. One of the few areas where the offense hasn’t shined this season has been on second down.

They were 22nd in the league in yards per play on second down (4.88), a number they had managed to overcome thanks to Carson Wentz’s masterful play on third down (a league-best 123.7 third-down passer rating and 14 of his 33 TDs).

Against the Giants, they had their second-best second-down performance of the season, averaging 7.0 yards per play. The only game they’ve averaged more on second down was their 37-9, Week 11 win over the Cowboys when they averaged 7.9.

Eighty-three of their 108 rushing yards came on second down, where they averaged 7.3 yards per carry. All but three of Jay Ajayi’s 49 rushing yards came on second down.

Wentz had just an 86.1 passer rating and 56.3 completion percentage on second down. In his first start Sunday, Nick Foles completed 7 of 9 second-down attempts, threw three of his four touchdown passes on second down, and finished with a 136.8 second-down passer rating.

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles meets with Giants quarterback Eli Manning (right) after the Eagles beat the Giants.

Foles speed ahead

Nick Foles’ first start in place of Wentz was rock solid. Sure, it came against one of the league’s worst pass defenses – the Giants are 29th in opponent passer rating (100.3), 32nd in touchdown passes allowed (30), 31st in sacks (22), 28th in yards allowed per attempt (7.8) and tied for 26th in interceptions (8). But it was a perfect confidence-builder for him.

He threw four touchdown passes to four receivers. He didn’t have an interception. He completed 9 of 12 passes in the red zone, including all four of his TD throws.

He was 6 for 10 on third down, converting two third-and-longs on the Eagles’ final scoring drive. He made good decisions. He got the ball out quickly. He eluded rushers.

He executed two nice screen plays: a 19-yarder by Alshon Jeffery on a second and 10, and a 32-yarder to running back Jay Ajayi on first down that set up a score.

Taking a Chance

When left guard Stefen Wisniewski went down with a high ankle sprain early in the Rams game, the Eagles replaced him initially with Chance Warmack and then with Isaac Seumalo. Neither played well, and it very nearly cost the Eagles the game.

Sunday, with Wisniewski unable to play, the Eagles decided to give Warmack first dibs on left guard again. With a solid week of first-team practice reps under his belt and no Aaron Donald to worry about, Warmack played pretty well, particularly in the run game.

On an 18-yard run by Kenjon Barner in the first quarter, he pulled and did a nice job of sealing off middle linebacker B.J. Goodson, allowing Barner to turn the corner.

He had one of several good blocks on Jeffery’s 19-yard screen. Pulling with center Jason Kelce, he helped spring Jay Ajayi for a 22-yard gain on the Eagles’ final touchdown drive. On the very next play, he and Kelce led Ajayi on a screen that picked up 32 yards.

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles Corey Graham and Jalen Mills (31) stop Giants running back Wayne Gallman during the third quarter.

Run ‘D’ rebounds

The Eagles lead the league in run defense, but didn’t play like it against the Rams. They couldn’t stop Todd Gurley, who rushed for 96 yards and two TDs on 13 carries. Gurley gashed them for 17-, 21- and 30-yard runs.

The Giants don’t have a running back the caliber of Gurley, and they don’t have an offensive line nearly as good as the Rams’.

If they did, there’s a pretty good chance the Eagles would have lost Sunday. I mean, imagine how much more damage Eli Manning might’ve done to their secondary if the Eagles also had to worry about a running game.

Even with Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman, the Giants ran the ball fairly well against the Eagles in the first half, gaining 52 yards on 12 carries, thanks largely to a 14-yard run by tight end Evan Engram on a jet sweep and a 17-yard run by Shane Vereen on a third and 2 on a second-quarter Giants scoring drive.

But even though the Eagles struggled with the Giants’ passing game much of the afternoon, they effectively shut down their ground game in the second half, holding them to 23 yards on 11 carries and one rushing first down.