Eagles-Giants, The Day After


Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Just before kickoff, the audio system inside Sam Bradford‘s helmet cut out. Bradford tracked down Chip Kelly and Kelly the equipment guy, who grabbed the quarterback’s helmet and scurried behind the bench where he and small crew feverishly worked to fix the issue.

“It’s always a little [nerve-wracking],” Bradford said at his locker stall afterwards, “when you put it on and don’t hear anything.”

A symbolic start to a glitch-filled night for a quarterback and unit that can’t seem to escape malfunction.

Bradford threw three interceptions and the offense turned the ball over four times in the Eagles’ remarkably comfortable 27-7 win over the Giants. That comfort was made possible by a defense that was simply dominant following the opening series of the game.

It seemed fitting that Brian Dawkins was in the building for a performance that stirred memories of a Jim Johnson era gone by. There to watch former teammate Brian Westbrook get inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame, Dawkins lingered in the locker room late into the night speaking with some of the defensive players. He talked  at length with free-agent acquisition Byron Maxwell, greeting the corner with an emphatic hand-slap-and-hug that no doubt reverberated through Maxwell’s weary frame.

There were nice moments like that. First and foremost, Monday night was about celebrating the defense’s efforts and a most critical division win. But there was a sobering element to the game as well because of the way the quarterback performed.

“Bradford has to cut down on the mistakes. Those mistakes are what prevent you from doing what you want to do down the road,” said Dawkins, the clock ticking towards 1 a.m., going a step further in his criticism than Bradford’s teammates were willing to.

“Now we always say the same things: ‘We’ll watch the film and we’ll make the corrections’, but you’ve got to take those steps forward. I thought last week with Bradford he made some good decisions — couple tough throws in the red zone, some turnovers there — but for the most part they were moving; tonight was kind of herky-jerky a little bit. And then that [interception] down the middle, I know a lot of people are thinking I guess that Riley [Cooper] stopped the route but regardless, he threw the ball down the middle of the football field with a safety there. Can’t do that. You just can’t do that. So those are the type of things that he still in my opinion is getting comfortable doing again after missing so much time away from the game.

“But, as we get later on in the season, as this stuff continues to go on, you can’t make those mistakes because now you can potentially hurt your team’s chances for doing what you want to do as far as playoffs are concerned.”

The thinking behind the Bradford trade went something like this: Nick Foles put a cap on how good the Eagles could be while Bradford possessed a skill set that, if harnessed, could lift both the QB and the team into the ranks of the elite. Skepticism surrounding that line of thinking receded some when the quarterback showed off that accurate arm this summer. Maybe it was just the St. Louis system and personnel (and of course injuries) that held him back over those first five NFL seasons.

The skepticism is back. Bradford is on pace to establish a new career high in completion rate (63.2 percent), but like Mark Sanchez last year, Chip Kelly‘s system has not proved a cure-all for issues that have torpedoed him in the past. What’s more, the turnovers are way up. Bradford is second to only Peyton Manning with nine interceptions. His career-high for a 16-game season in that department is 15.

“I think you have a guy who’s very competitive and wants to make plays happen,” said Jason Kelce when asked for his theory on what’s going on with the quarterback. “And when we don’t make him feel comfortable from either mistakes happening along the offensive line…I’m sure the competitive nature in him, he wants to force things to happen and make plays. If you look at a lot of the mistakes that he’s had through the first few games, it’s either been the result of the offensive line playing poorly or mistakes dictating him trying to take over.”

There’s certainly some merit to that. His teammates have not exactly set him up for success at every turn, and share responsibility for some of the stalled drives and turnovers both last night and beyond. But even when you factor that in, you’re still left with a number of breakdowns that fall on Bradford alone.

Previously, the hiccups could be explained away in part by the fact that Bradford was coming off a long layoff and acclimating to a new system. Monday night felt like the moment when time ran out on that rationale (if it hadn’t run out already). It’s Week 7. There’s been plenty of time for rust-knocking and assimilation. Now it’s just about the quarterback and a question of being good enough; about whether the glitches are isolated and correctable, or more systemic.

“There was some good, there was some bad,” said Bradford. “But I know for us to be where we want to be, I have to play much better.”

TURNING POINT

Things were looking bleak for the home team early. The Giants imposed their will on the opening series, cruising 80 yards on eight plays to assume a 7-0 lead. A quick three-and-out by the Eagles and New York was right back at it. The Giants were set up with a first-and-10 from the Philly 23 when DeMeco Ryans came up with the play of the game.

Ryans INT

Ryans INT 2

“The sideline was going crazy,” said Ryans. “It was definitely a momentum shift and something that we needed as a team. I was elated that I was able to be the guy to make that play for the team. You have to have the will to come down with it.”

“That might have been the key point,” added Kelly. “On that second drive when they were moving again on us, and all of the sudden DeMeco comes up with that interception. That was a wild play. DeMeco kind of turned everything for us on that play.”

The Eagles went on to tie the game on the ensuing possession and the defense applied the clamps from there, allowing zero points and just 141 yards of offense the rest of the way.

“Not just DeMeco’s interception, which was a great thing, but DeMeco’s leadership all season has been a great,” said Bennie Logan. “His voice and just the energy he brings out there is a great thing, but the interception was a momentum changer for our team.”

Ryans exited late in the first half with a hamstring injury, but Kelly indicated afterwards that it didn’t seem serious.

SOCIAL SKILLS

Wonder where Cramer parked that thing. Jetro Lot?

#Progress.

Good stat. The Eagles are second in the NFL with 16 takeaways, just one behind-league-leading Denver.

Billy Davis has been criticized for being slow to adjust. Credit where it’s due: his unit has made the necessary tweaks and gone on to stifle the opponent in back-to-back weeks.

NOTABLE QUOTES

“Our goal is to be the best in the league, be elite. Obviously we have work to do but we’re headed that way.”

Byron Maxwell on how good this defense can be.

“The mistakes almost killed us but it’s great to see the defense play that well, the special teams play that well and the offense at least move the ball effectively. It’s good that we know that as long as we stop killing ourselves, we’re a dominant football team.”

Jason Kelce on the state of the club.

“After that interception — it was a very gray area whether I should have ran the post or stopped; I think I stopped a little too late so that it completely on me and not on Sam — and I came up to him and he kind of just smiled and said ‘Hey, it happens.’ That’s just kind of his attitude. He cares a ton, but he’s not going to let it affect his decision-making on following plays. I’m really impressed, the leadership and his desire to win. You can see it in the huddle and on the sideline and I respect that.”

Riley Cooper on the miscommunication that was partly responsible for one of Bradford’s interceptions.

“It was a terrible read by me. They got me on the coverage. I thought they were in two-man — they were in zone, so bad decision by me to make the throw.”

Nolan Carroll‘s pick-six through the eyes of Eli Manning.

“I don’t know. It must be the black uniforms. Maybe we should wear them every week.”

Billy Davis on the dominance against the Giants in prime time in back-to-back seasons.

SNAP COUNTS

Offense snap counts giants

Miles Austin received the most snaps in Nelson Agholor‘s absence (Josh Huff missed a little time with a knee injury) and finished with three catches on as many targets for 60 yards…Zach Ertz set a new high in snaps and percentage time played. He had four catches for 43 yards on seven targets.

Defense snap counts giants

Jordan Hicks continues to be the constant at inside linebacker. He had a team-high 10 tackles…Najee Goode replaced an injured Ryans…Marcus Smith played 12 snaps after getting 22 against New Orleans. He did not appear on the stat sheet.