Last year’s Giants-Eagles games didn’t feel like Giants-Eagles games because the first time they met they were both fighting for to keep their respective seasons alive and the second time they met Matt Barkley was the quarterback of the Eagles. This year, everything is back to normal between the two NFC East rivals.
With the Giants headed to Philadelphia on Sunday night, I did an email exchange with Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation to talk about the struggles of LeSean McCoy this season, Nick Foles’ first full season as the starting quarterback and what Chip Kelly needs to do to remain popular in Philadelphia.
Keefe: The last time we talked was before Week 5 last season when the Giants were still looking for their first win of the season and the Eagles were 1-3 looking to save their season too. The Eagles won 36-21 and eventually went on to win the NFC East and saved their season, and the Giants fell to 0-5 before falling to 0-6 and eventually finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
This season things are different. The Giants are 3-2 and riding a three-game winning streak while the Eagles are 4-1 and tied atop the division with the Cowboys in what is now a very competitive division after being predicted for another down year.
The Eagles have played four games decided by six points or less this season (in their other game they beat the Jaguars 34-17 in Week 1, but they trailed 17-0 at halftime) and have had trouble putting lesser opponents away.
The Eagles are 4-1 and tied for first place, but are you worried about the way they have finished games?
Gowton: It’s really hard to get a good read on this Eagles team. On one hand, they’re 4-1. That’s certainly nothing to scoff at. On the other hand, they still need to play a lot better moving forward. As cliche as it may sound, they have yet to play an entire 60 minutes of football. The consistency just isn’t there yet. Part of that is because two of their most important players are struggling: quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy. Injuries on the team’s offensive line have contributed to these struggles.
There are definitely legitimate concerns with this team. As I said earlier, they need to play better moving forward.
Keefe: Depending on who you ask, LeSean McCoy is arguably the best running back in the NFL. A three-time 1,000-yard rusher coming off a 1,607-yard season last year, in which he averaged 100.4 yards per game, McCoy has rushed for only 273 yards in five games this year, an average of 54.6 yards per game. And on top of that, he’s found the end zone only once.
Two weeks ago against the 49ers, McCoy struggled to get going and finished with 17 yards on 10 carries in the 26-21 loss. With the game on the line and the Eagles faced with third-and-goal from the San Francisco 1, the Eagles threw an incomplete pass and then did the same on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Prior to that third-down situation, McCoy was able to pick up five yards on a run against the strong San Francisco run defense. Maybe McCoy didn’t have it that day and maybe trying to get one yard at the goal line against the 49ers’ goal-line defense wouldn’t have worked out, but how do you not try? It’s LeSean McCoy, not Brandon Jacobs.
What has been wrong with McCoy through the first five games and do you agree with the decisions at the goal line against the 49ers?
Gowton: The problem with running at the goal line there was the offense line just couldn’t get much push for the entire game. Should they have tried at least once? Probably, but it was far from a slam dunk decision.
McCoy’s struggles are something of a mystery. No one expected him to play down to this level. There are a number of factors contributing to McCoy’s mishaps. The most obvious one is Philadelphia’s banged up offensive. The patch-work unit the Eagles have been trotting out is still missing All-Pro left guard and stud center Jason Kelce. Starting right tackle Lane Johnson missed the team’s first four games due to suspension. All of those players are great run blockers. It’s hard to expect backups to play to the same level.
The struggles of Foles also feed into the struggles of McCoy. Teams just aren’t threatened by Foles right now. He’s throwing an inaccurate deep ball and teams would rather sell out on stopping McCoy by loading the box. If Foles steps up and proves to be more of a threat I imagine McCoy would see more running room at times.
McCoy can’t be completely absolved of blame. There are times when he has space or the opportunity to make a defender miss and he just isn’t getting the job done. It’s obvious he’s frustrated.
Keefe: Last season, Nick Foles broke out with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in leading the Eagles back to the NFC East title and back to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Foles has been good again this season, throwing for over 300 yards in the first three games of the year, but his performance the last two weeks combined against the 49ers and Rams was Mark Sanchez-esque (402 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs).
Sure, Foles was never going to be able to keep up his TD-to-INT ratio of 13.5-to-1, but has his played through the first five weeks of the season been up to your standards of how you thought he would be in his first full season as the starting quarterback?
Gowton: Foles has not played as well as he should have, no. I can’t say I’m totally shocked by his struggles. Despite his impressive numbers in 2013 there were still moments where it felt like he left too many easy plays on the field. That’s exactly what’s happening in 2014, except with more frequency.
There’s no doubt that Foles needs to be better. He’s been very up and down. He’s played five games to this point and only one of them has been good (Week 3 against Washington). That’s simply not acceptable.
Keefe: Chip Kelly went to the Eagles in a favorable situation with the Eagles coming off a 4-12 season and Andy Reid being let go after years of “Should Andy Reid be fired?” dominating the offseason headlines in Philadelphia. In his first season, he led the team to 10-6 record and a playoff appearance despite using three different starting quarterbacks. After Reid was unable to fully utilize all of the talent of the Eagles’ offense, Kelly was able to get the most out of his weapons in a season that would have been lost with other teams due to the quarterback injuries.
From outside Philadelphia, the perception of Kelly seems to be that Eagles fans and the city love him. Outside of the 1-3 start last year, he hasn’t allowed anyone to rethink the team’s decision to let Reid go and he has the Eagles off to their best start since 2006. However, in Philadelphia, like New York, or any sports-crazed city, the mood and approval of a head coach can change and in a hurry if the team isn’t winning and then isn’t winning playoff games and then isn’t winning Super Bowls.
What are your expectations for Kelly and what does he need to do to stay in the good graces of Eagles? Is it another division title? Is it a conference championship game? Is it a Super Bowl?
Gowton: At the very minimum, Kelly and the Eagles need to be actively competing for the division crown late in the season. Anything less would seem like a failure. It wouldn’t result in Kelly’s dismissal; he’s only in the second season of his five-year contract. The ideal goal is at least one playoff win considering the Eagles made it to the dance last year and came close to beating the Saints but were slightly edged out.
Keefe: The Cowboys are going to lose this week. A road game in Seattle is a guaranteed loss for even the league’s elite teams let alone the Cowboys, so they are going to be 4-2 before the Giants and Eagles kick off in Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football. So that means the Giants-Eagles game will decide the situation at the top of the NFC East after six weeks with either a three-way 4-2 tie or the Eagles having a one-game lead over Cowboys and a two-game lead over the Giants.
The Giants haven’t swept the season series from the Eagles since 2007 and for the last three years the season series has been a split. So for me to think the Giants are going to walk into Lincoln Financial on Sunday night and make things easy for me, they aren’t.
What do you expect to happen on Sunday?
Gowton: I honestly think it’s going to be an awesome game. The Eagles-Giants games really lacked the kind of intensity that’s surrounding this game. There’s been trash talk heading into this game. The Eagles will be debuting all-black uniforms for the first time. It’s Sunday Night Football. There’s just a lot of energy and anticipation involved here. I have a hard time believing it’ll disappoint.
I think it’ll be a fairly even match-up. New York is coming into this game hot and Philadelphia will bring their A-game in front of the Philadelphia faithful. Lincoln Financial Field is going to be loud and crazy. This is the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere you’ll get in Week 6 of the regular season. The Birds are on a seven-game win streak while at home and I think they get the job done yet again. Philadelphia wins, 31-27.