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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Analyzing the Rest of the Latest Miracle at the Meadowlands Game

Now that the euphoria of the latest miracle at the Meadowlands is winding down, Eagles fans shouldn’t necessarily have visions of Super Bowls dancing in their heads.

As easy as it is to forget after watching DeSean Jackson return a punt on the final play of the game to cap off a comeback against the Giants that is already part of Eagles lure, the fact is that the amazing rally was necessary because Philadelphia was getting thumped for three-and-a-half quarters.

I thought “3rd-and-long” was going to be tattooed on defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s head like a scarlet letter after the game. In the first half alone I noted five times that the Giants converted a 3rd-and-long. Mario Manningham scored on one of those plays, and caught a second TD pass right after another long 3rd down had been converted.

To be thorough, Quintin Mikell had an interception on another 3rd-and-long situation. But with this defense still being historically bad in the red zone, the point remains. If that unit doesn’t somehow improve, the Eagles will have trouble making the Super Bowl. And with all of the injuries they have incurred – they lost another player for the season on Sunday in Nate Allen – it’s hard to see how that’s going to happen.

A second recurring theme in the first half was the question, “Where’s DeSean?” The same DeSean Jackson who ended up being the hero of the day had zero catches in the first half. In fact, his first reception came with less than a minute to go in the third quarter. This isn’t the first time a defense has shut down Jackson, and the problem is that it doesn’t seem to happen to the benefit of the other Eagles receivers. Obviously, I don’t get to see the coach’s tape – by the way, when is that option coming? – but when Jackson was shut down, so was the Eagles offense. It didn’t appear that whatever extra coverage Jackson got from Giants defenders opened things up for anybody else.

I may be nit picking with this point, but Michael Vick had a pretty ugly interception on a deep pass to Jackson on the Eagles second offensive play of the game. It’s the third bad pick he’s thrown in three games. For a guy who didn’t have one interception until Game 10, which was his 7th game and 6th start, the stat is a little disconcerting.

Going off topic briefly, there was actually something lost in the good part of the game. Despite their shortcomings in the first half, the defense really does deserve a ton of credit for the comeback. The question seemed to float around on Monday wondering why the Giants went away from the run – something they are very good at and the Eagles are poor at defending. Well, there seems to be two excellent answers to the question.

First of all, they really did not go away from the run. Just looking at the play-by-play shows that in 4 out of 7 second half offensive series before the game was tied, the Giants tried to run the ball. They were just being stopped. Now, they were way ahead for awhile, so the defense expected the run, but nonetheless they stopped the Giants.

Secondly, Eli Manning was 23 of 39 for 289 yards passing and 4 touchdowns for the game. It still shocks me at times, but the guy does have a Super Bowl ring. Not abandoning the pass, in this case, made some sense.

Getting back to the ugly part of the game, Andy Reid left Eagles fans baffled again. People are focusing on the non-challenge of the Jackson fumble in the second half, and rightly so. The ensuing Giants touchdown looked like it ended the game, and probably should have done so. Reid said they didn’t get the replay quickly enough. But if he had any thoughts of challenging, he has to do it there. The comeback was called miraculous for a reason – the game should have been out of reach at that point.

Reid missed another potential challenge in the first half. One of those early 3rd-and-long conversions was on a questionable catch by Hakeem Nicks. Certainly, Reid doesn’t need help potentially burning timeouts, but that was I thought his defense could have used the help. He wasn’t allowed to challenge the Jeremy Maclin fumble just before the half because it was under 2 minutes left – a rule that needs to be re-worked – but that was another play that should have been reviewed.

But, alas, none of it matters . . . unless these problems rear their heads in the playoffs.

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