Inside the Numbers: The ‘Slant’ on an Uneven Eagles’ Defensive Performance
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ (973espn.com) - A convalescing Carson Wentz is still doing what he does best, masking the deficiencies of the Philadelphia Eagles.
This time, the superstar quarterback isn't doing it with his stellar play on the field, however. His absence and whether or not the Eagles can overcome it is the elephant in the room, a storyline which won't be going away until after this team walks off the field for the final time, be it dejected or raising the Lombardi Trophy.
The hand-wringing over backup Nick Foles was eased a little in North Jersey on Sunday during the Eagles' 34-29 win over the moribund New York Giants, a victory that clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Yes, Foles left some plays on the field and his penchant for hesitating and double-clutching the football may not work as well when Steve Spagnuolo isn't cobbling together the defensive game plan but four touchdowns is four touchdowns.
The bigger issues were again on the defensive side of the football as Jim Schwartz's unit continued a bit of a late-season swoon against what has been a terrible NYG offense.
The Philly defense allowed 504 yards of total offense to a QB that was benched for ineffectiveness a few weeks ago and obviously didn't have Odell Beckham Jr. to lean on. Coming into this game, New York was 29th in third-down offense and Eagles were third in third-down defense, yet somehow the Giants converted 10-of-18 times on the game's most important down.
"There are a few things that we can so better as a defense," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox admitted. "One is being critical about ourselves. Nobody's perfect. We all make mistake but at the end of the game we all came together, settled down, made some big plays and we won the ball game."
The main culprit was the secondary as the Giants picked on Ronald Darby's propensity to bite on double moves, something that resulted in a number of big plays down the field. Jalen Mills also didn't have his best day at the other corner position and the result was Eli Manning recorded his ninth career 400-yard passing day.
"We weren't playing like ourselves," Mills said. "We came out [in the second half], made the corrections and got better."
Early the Eagles struggled with the Giants' tempo and that left pedestrian receivers getting major separation on simple slant routes time and time again.
According to ProFootballFocus.com. Manning targeted receivers on seven slant routes, connecting five times for 85 yards with 53 of that coming after the catch.
The passer rating that Philadelphia allowed on those throws was an unforgivable 151.8.
The stranger part is that much like third downs, coming into the game, defending the slant had been an Eagles' strength for most of the season.
In coverage against slant routes between Weeks 1 through 14: the Philadelphia defense had allowed 32 receptions on 51 attempts for 309 yards with three TDs and five interceptions, a dismal passer rating of 59.6.
"I'm not concerned," coach Doug Pederson said when asked about the defensive struggles. "... They have to clean some things up, obviously. We couldn't get off the field on third down. That's been something we've been gone at on defense. I'm not concerned."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen