Philadelphia Eagles Belong With Elites Today and Tomorrow

The Philadelphia Eagles walloped the New York Giants in the NFL Divisional Round of the playoffs. And they're set to do so for a long time.

After the Philadelphia Eagles took the New York Giants to task in the 38-7 drubbing of their division rivals, they proved that their elite play during the regular season mattered in the postseason. The Eagles ran all over the Giants on the ground, placed a few darts in the passing game over New York’s secondary, and played the Daniel Jones-led offense almost to a complete standstill.

Let’s break down what this game meant for both teams.

The Philadelphia Eagles Proved It’s the End of the ‘Can’t Go 3-0’ Myth

Since the NFL merger, there have been 21 instances where a team that swept a divisional rival went on to beat that rival in the playoffs, according to Chase Stuart at Football Perspective. Since that performance, there have been three more games played by repeat teams. The 2020 Saints, who were 2-0 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, lost in the Wild Card round. But following that, sweeping teams won — this year’s 49ers beat the Seahawks again, and now the Eagles have swept the Giants.

That means the rate remains at 66.7%. That’s about the same rate of wins as home teams in the Divisional Round; those teams have won 14 of the last 20 Divisional Round home games.

Which is to say that analysts who argue that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season are correct only insofar as it is tough to win twice and then meet again. But once those conditions are met, it’s a fair bit easier than most playoff matchups. It’s not hard to beat the same team three times given two previous wins.

The Eagles Belong With the Elites

It’s not controversial to call the team with the best season-end record an elite team, but it might have been fair to wonder if they could keep that up after struggling to eke out wins to close the season. On top of that, it’s been well established that the AFC is where the real excitement is at, with the Bills, Bengals, and Chiefs seemingly duking it out to earn a Super Bowl bid.

But the Eagles’ dominant performance against the Giants, one that saw them outgain New York 416 to 227 and double their first-down total, assured observers that Philadelphia could take care of the teams they were supposed to take care of.

MORE: 5 Giants vs. Eagles Takeaways

They nailed the offense, defense, and special teams — three punts inside the 20 with no touchbacks, no kickoff coverage issues because the kickoffs were not returned, and a clean kicking operation — and looked complete in their win. The defense didn’t give up a point until late in the third quarter. By then, the game was all but decided.

The season-end statistics all point to a top-end team. Philadelphia ranked third in net points per drive, third in point differential, and third in DVOA. But some inconsistencies down the stretch deserved some scrutiny. The Eagles came out of that microscope smelling like roses and ready to take on the rest of the NFC.

Now Philadelphia will go on to the Conference Championship to face the winner of the Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers game on Sunday, with another opportunity to take on a division rival.

Philadelphia Proved Their Run Game Matters

Before the game, it was easy to identify the fact that the run game was, somewhat uniquely, going to play a big role in the outcome of the game. The Giants are particularly bad against the run and especially so when facing teams that have a running threat at quarterback.

This is a common theme. Running quarterbacks tend to turn the run game from a necessary negative into an unambiguous positive. The offense not only adds another runner in the backfield, forcing defenses to hesitate, but it also frees up a blocker by allowing the QB to hold an unblocked defender.

Head coach Nick Sirianni mentioned this after the game when asked about Jalen Hurts’ contributions as a runner.

“[Hurts] always is going to help the running game big-time because of what he can do and the threat that he poses on the backside,” he said. “Even if he’s not carrying, even if he’s not having runs to him and everything like that, he’s still going to affect the game. And that’s what he did, he affected because he demands attention on the backside.”

That played out in their repeat matchup against the Giants, where they allowed 0.403 EPA per play against the run and 16.913 expected points in total. Given that the typical run loses expected points, this is particularly damning.

This was one of the worst single-game performances against the run in the 2022-2023 season and postseason, ranking third in total expected points against the run allowed and eighth in expected points per play allowed.

The only two games with more total rushing production were Week 9 between the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals — where Joe Mixon went off for 153 yards and four touchdowns at seven yards a clip — and the Week 14 matchup between the Eagles and Giants.

This long-running problem for New York will continue to haunt them as Hurts will be in the division for a good deal longer. Philadelphia has already figured out how to stop rushing quarterbacks. Unless Wink Martindale, who with the Ravens had the luxury of coordinating a defense that never had to prepare for the top rushing QB threat in the NFL, changes his approach to defense, this will be their Achilles heel.

From a personnel standpoint, this likely doesn’t demand many changes. The defensive linemen are all excellent run-stuffers, and the outside linebackers won’t likely be replaced anytime soon, even if they never figure out how to completely set the edge.

At inside linebacker, the combination of Landon Collins, Jaylon Smith, and Jarrad Davis isn’t bad when it comes to defending runs, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see an upgrade there sometime soon. This will have to come about as a result of a change in coaching or in scheme. Because the Giants are fond of man coverage, they might need to adjust their approach to these games.

Martindale has already shown the ability to do that, having reigned in his heavy blitz tendencies for a matchup against the Vikings. New York played zone coverage in their Wild Card game in Minnesota more than they ever had all season and shut down that Vikings squad.

While Kirk Cousins isn’t exactly the kind of running threat posed by Jones, Hurts, or Lamar Jackson, it did help them stop the run, as it allowed the defense to play with its eyes forward and prevented their defenders from turning their shoulders and running downfield.

That last part, in particular, can be concerning when it comes to running quarterbacks, because good man coverage might mean a number of defenders with their backs turned to the QB, inviting a scramble.

While runs have generally been net positive for defense, allowing them to generate -0.061 EPA per play when the opponent runs the ball, scrambles have resulted in positive outcomes for the offense. They’ve resulted in 0.492 expected points per play. And scrambles against man coverage are one of the most effective plays in the NFL — resulting in 0.765 expected points per play.

For context, a pass from a team’s own 25-yard line on 1st-and-10 that got to the 37-yard line is worth that many expected points. The fact that there’s a play that has that kind of impact on average is stunning, and it should force man-coverage-heavy teams like the Giants to rethink their approach.

The Eagles Returned to Health Against the New York Giants

Injury recovery played a big part of the story for the Eagles. Philadelphia looked lackluster in Week 18 against the Giants’ backups, in large part because of multiple key injuries to important starters. Hurts was nursing a sore shoulder, and Lane Johnson had pulled his groin.

Josh Sweat was missing from the game because of an ankle injury. Sweat was one of the only players all season to beat Andrew Thomas multiple times to earn a pressure and was responsible for one of the three sacks Thomas gave up all year.

Additionally, the Eagles had only recently returned C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the lineup, who plays a big role in their slot coverage defense, especially with Avonte Maddox still injured.

Johnson, who Sirianni called “the best tackle in the NFL,” was critical in stopping Kayvon Thibodeaux, who finished the game with just one pressure. The only Giant to finish with more than one pressure was Leonard Williams, who had two. Hurts was only pressured on 23% of his dropbacks, the lowest in the Divisional Round.

On the other side of the ball, Sweat earned four pressures and officially logged 1.5 sacks.

But the health of Hurts may have been the biggest difference. Not only was he able to uncork some incredible passes early on, including a 40-yard bomb to DeVonta Smith on the second play of the game, but he was a heavy participant in the run as well.

As Sirianni said after the game, “We wanted to run the best things that were best for us, knowing that Jalen was no-limitations … when he does carry it, he demands that respect on the backside, nothing is off-limits.”

All that combined ability meant that the Eagles finished with 41 more rushing yards than the Giants had total yards.

Early in his postgame presser, Sirianni compared Hurts to 76ers legend Mo Cheeks. He finished the presser with an even loftier comparison.

“To have him out there is like … I know this is high praise… to have him out there is like having … I shouldn’t even go there, but it’s like having Michael Jordan out there.”

The Giants Have an Uncertain Future

It’s no guarantee that a team will improve in the offseason after jumping out to an excellent start under a new regime. The Giants played in a lot of close games and just squeaked into the playoffs. They were derided as “frauds” after their 6-1 start and proved the doubters correct when they struggled down the stretch, especially when they lost to the Eagles 48-22 in Week 14.

The Giants’ only wins after the bye were against the Texans, Commanders, and Colts, who each benched their quarterback for performance reasons during the season and combined to finish 15-33-3.

It looked like that was all behind them after a convincing win against Minnesota in the Wild Card round, but New York’s third loss to their division rivals put things back into focus.

Jones looked good against the Vikings, but he struggled against Philadelphia. For most of the year, his numbers looked good, and the team was invigorated by his ability to run the ball and avoid turnovers. But part of the reason he could avoid throwing interceptions was because he didn’t take many chances.

Jones had the lowest depth of target in the NFL, with his average pass traveling 6.4 yards in the air. The offense was fairly dependent on screen passes and after-catch production. He certainly didn’t create many big plays through the air, and his big-time throw rate at 1.5% was the second lowest in the NFL, just ahead of Matt Ryan.

That short depth of target wasn’t even a product of a leaky offensive line, which they had. Jones also held on to the ball too long, inviting pressure and making things harder on an already struggling pass-protection unit. At 2.99 seconds, his time to throw was the sixth longest in the NFL, just behind Justin Fields, Deshaun Watson, Jackson, Zach Wilson, and Skylar Thompson.

Jones also improved substantially in terms of accuracy and decision-making under the new regime. Because of that, it will be difficult for the Giants to come to a decision regarding Jones’ likely extension. He hits free agency in March if the Giants don’t sign him to a longer deal, and it will be tough for them to find a replacement in the draft, given that they’ve played their way out of the top passers in the draft pool.

MORE: Has Daniel Jones Earned a Contract Extension?

It shouldn’t be difficult to find ways to improve the receiving corps or offensive line. If New York can make small improvements at those positions, they’ll be in a good spot to take on the juggernaut NFC East. Finding one receiver in free agency and an offensive lineman or two in the draft would go a long way in improving the offense.

The Giants have an excellent coaching staff, and a quick turnaround like this is commendable and speaks to Brian Daboll’s capability as a head coach. Sean McDermott, head coach of the Buffalo Bills, similarly led his 2019 squad to the playoffs despite being “frauds” in the same sense that the Giants were, with a barely positive point differential and a bad DVOA.

The Bills would go on to become one of the powers of the AFC and may take home the NFL title this year. It’s also a nice coincidence that Daboll was on that coaching staff.

If he’s going to do it, he’ll have to hope that his coordinators weren’t the sole reason behind the success of the team. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka has received heavy interest in this year’s coaching cycle, and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale also received a call.

When teams see a difference between their win total and point differential in one year, they’re more likely to regress to the point differential than to the wins the following season. But it’s hard to bet against a coaching staff that was responsible for the kind of one-year leap in production that we saw from Jones.

The Eagles Have Built a Stable Foundation

It would be hard to look past Howie Roseman as the leading candidate for Executive of the Year, given what he’s been able to put together around the Eagles. He’s done that while maintaining reasonable offseason flexibility, too.

Philadelphia doesn’t have contract structures that will allow them to kick the can down the road, but they have a good amount of cap space and a solid amount of draft capital to fill out their roster and make sure that they can aggressively build depth or fill in holes.

Many of their veterans already have young starters ready to take over as well. Brandon Graham is already behind Sweat and Haason Reddick, while Jason Kelce has been training in second-round pick Cam Jurgens — a player he himself picked to replace him. Jordan Davis and Milton Williams are training to take on a more complete role on the interior as well, with Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox playing the role of veteran starters.

Like the Giants, the Eagles could lose their coordinators to head coaching positions. But a team that ranked third in point differential seems more likely to be able to weather that storm than one that ranked 15th.

Not only that, Philadelphia has promising candidates to replace both coordinators in defensive backs coach and defensive pass game coordinator Dennard Wilson — who received an interview request from the Browns to take their defensive coordinator role — and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who last year received interested from the Packers to be their offensive coordinator.

Passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo was also considered for the Bears’ offensive coordinator job under Matt Eberflus.

In short, the Eagles are as stocked with coaching talent as they are player talent.

With the 10th pick in the draft and their own slotted pick, Philadelphia could very easily restock the cupboard without having to worry about losing their veterans.

While Hargrave and Cox are expected to hit free agency, along with cornerback James Bradberry, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, running back Miles Sanders, guard Isaac Seumalo, and linebackers Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards, it won’t be too difficult to re-sign who they need to.

Extending all players with voids in their contracts — an unnecessary exercise, but one that’s instructive — could turn $4 million of cap space into $14 million. With Hurts carrying the lowest cap hit of any MVP candidate at quarterback, there are all kinds of possibilities ahead for the Eagles.

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