Winners and Losers of Philadelphia Eagles' Week 3 Performance
The Philadelphia Eagles delivered probably the most memorable, albeit gut-wrenching, game their fans will see all season in a dramatic 27-24 home win over the New York Giants that gives everyone plenty to chew on moving into Week 4.
Eagles kicker Jake Elliott is the hero in just his second career NFL game, banging in a miraculous 61-yard field goal as time expired to avoid a catastrophic collapse and send Lincoln Financial Field into a frenzy. In the process, Elliott set a franchise record for the longest ever field goal and couldn't have done it in more of an improbable fashion.
Emotions are high and rationale is low following an instant classic game such as the one that unfolded Sunday in Philly, but the mania needs to dissipate quickly with a trip across the country looming this weekend. As told by the Giants' 24-point fourth quarter and a few more nightmarish injuries, the team has a ton of work to do before they travel to face the Los Angeles Chargers.
Let's jump right into winners and losers from the spectacle that was the Eagles' Week 3 win over the Giants.
Winner: Jake Elliott
If you had a nickel for the amount of times a 5'9" 22-year-old rookie not even on a NFL roster in Week 1 got carried off the field as the man of the hour, well, you probably just got your first nickel.
Elliott saved the day, emerging as the unlikeliest of heroes in a fourth quarter where almost no Eagles decided to show up. His second field goal of the day very well may go down as the biggest kick of the Eagles' season, even if it's only Week 3. If anything tops it, the football gods have something ridiculous in store.
He doesn't even go that far in warm-ups, per ESPN's Tim McManus:
"It's kind of all a blur to me," said Elliott, who was swarmed by teammates as the ball snuck just inside the right upright. "I usually don't go out that long during the course of my [pregame] warm-up. I usually go out to 50, 56, maybe 57 and call it a day from there."
Elliott is only on the roster because Caleb Sturgis suffered a Week 1 injury, prompting Philly to sign the rookie out of Memphis from the Bengals' practice squad. He was only 3-for-5 on field goals before the game-winner, so he hadn't given Sturgis too much reason to worry about his job before this.
However, the NFL kicker is the ultimate hot-or-cold position in sports, and Elliott is on fire after his kick. If he shows increased consistency in the next few weeks and continues to show that he has a cannon, he could be the Eagles' place kicker for the long term.
If not, Sunday will still go down as perhaps the best moment of Elliott's NFL career, and that makes him the biggest winner from Week 3.
Loser: The Pass Rush
The Giants came into Week 3 having given up eight sacks in two games, while the Eagles' pass rush had produced just as many. Recipe for disaster for Eli Manning, right?
New York mixed it up with its offensive game plan, consistently running a quick hurry-up offense that kept the Eagles' pass rush from firing with its usual relentlessness or establishing consistent pressure. It resulted in Manning being sacked zero times, which is a shocking result considering the way both lines had performed through two games.
As you'd expect, Manning thrived without having to worry about being harassed by Brandon Graham and company. He gashed the Eagles for 366 yards passing and completed over 74 percent of his passes.
One-game lapses from a unit aren't too worrisome in the NFL, but the fact that the Giants put on tape a relatively simple way of stymieing Philly's boisterous pass rush is worth being concerned about. Expect to see a lot more no-huddle looks from opposing offenses who want to tire out the Eagles' pass rushers and keep them from substituting.
Winner: LeGarrette Blount and the Run Game
The Eagles' run game chose to arrive fashionably late to the 2017 season, showing its teeth for the very first time in a dominating Week 3 performance.
Philly rumbled for a whopping 193 yards against a Giants front thought to be tough in run defense, averaging almost five yards per carry as a unit and reaching pay-dirt twice. After relying almost exclusively on the passing game a week ago in Kansas City, head coach Doug Pederson called up more run plays than pass plays in Sunday's win.
The involvement of LeGarrette Blount was also in stark contrast to his zero carries in the Chiefs game. Blount established his presence early on, carrying it 12 times for 67 yards and a score. With the way he was running, Blount should've received more carries than he did.
Second-year back Wendell Smallwood had his first major sighting with 12 carries for 71 yards, and undrafted rookie Corey Clement got involved for the first time with a touchdown.
Not only did the run game show up for the first time, but the by-committee rushing approach looked awfully good in the process. That will go a long way toward addressing the loss of Darren Sproles.
Loser: Ripple Effect from Sproles Injury
When most players go down, one specific role opens in their place. Darren Sproles is not most players.
Sproles is not only one of the most versatile players in the league, but perhaps one of the most versatile of all time. Even though he's 34 years old, the veteran is fielding as many roles for the Eagles this season as he has at any point in his 13-year career, putting in regular time at running back and as a receiver along with his typical special teams duties.
That's what made the play that saw Sproles suffer a broken arm and a torn ACL, per ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, all the more hard to stomach for Eagles fans.
The three-time Pro Bowler has been able to fill at least three roles that could each require a separate player, giving the Eagles more flexibility with game day roster spots. There's no near replacement for Sproles, either, with shifty rookie Donnel Pumphrey on injured reserve with a torn hamstring.
The Eagles will find someone else to return punts. There's enough skill in the backfield to find fresh legs. But nobody on the roster, and few across any roster, can make the type of impact that Sproles does. He's gone for the rest of the season, and the team will have to find a way to cope.
Winner: Jalen Mills
Yes, Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Odell Beckham Jr. But considering the circumstances, he held his own somewhat impressively.
It's been 10 years since a cornerback was targeted as frequently as Mills was Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. Manning threw at Mills a historic 21 times, with 13 going OBJ's way.
In no ideal world would Mills be the primary cornerback against Beckham in Week 3 of the 2017 season, but the Eagles are horrible decimated with injuries in the secondary. Not only did the second-year pro keep Beckham from breaking a big one, but Mills didn't allow a catch beyond 14 yards.
For most of the game, Mills did a spectacular job against the league's most dangerous receiver. The plays that Beckham did make late were practically indefensible for Mills, and he can't be given much blame for them.
If Beckham had gotten going early in the game, it's pretty safe to say the Giants' late surge would have pushed them to a comfortable victory. There aren't many situations where giving up 15 catches is an admirable outing, but Mills' performance Sunday is one.
Loser: Doug Pederson
Pederson deserves credit for a lot of the happenings in Sunday's game. It was his choice to dedicate to the run, and he chose to put Elliott on the field for an improbable 61-yard field goal as time expired.
But one critical decision nearly changed the game. Even though it didn't, it deserves retrospection.
With the Eagles up 7-0 late in the first half and on the Giants' 43-yard-line, Pederson chose to go for it on 4th-and-8. Ignoring the long yardage and the field position that would indicate a sure-fire punt to pin the Giants deep, he drew up a play where the best option was for Wentz to throw behind the sticks.
Wentz got sacked, and the Giants marched down the field before New York coach Ben McAdoo matched Pederson's coaching incompetence by completely botching a goal-line situation at the close of the half.
Jack McCaffery of the Delaware County Daily Times noted Pederson's rationale:
“It is risky,” Pederson said. “It is risky. But I take into consideration our offense. Our defense was playing extremely well. First half of the game, early in the game. And I ended up making that decision to go for it, and obviously we didn’t make it. But I stand by my decision.”
The defense was playing well, but giving them a short field doesn't make that effort easier. The Giants were due to receive the second-half kickoff, meaning if Sterling Shepard hauled in his third-and-goal target, New York could have taken the lead before the Eagles sniffed the ball next.
This is something Eagles fans have gotten used to with Pederson, and it's bit them before. In fact, Pederson was left defending fourth-down decisions in a loss last year versus the Giants. Deja vu ensued for Eagles fans in Week 3, and the fact that they pulled out the win this time is more of an indication of the personnel's improvement than that of the head coach.
Winner: Close-Game Fortune
Eagles fans have grown accustomed to losing these down-to-the-wire finishes over the last two seasons. That's what made the late collapse all the more sobering, and what amplified the game-winning kick.
In 2016, six of the Eagles' nine losses came by one-possession deficits, including the first four defeats that ultimately set the stage for a rebuilding season. The devastating loss to the Cowboys in the middle of last season followed a similar crumpling blueprint of the one that was seeming to be laid out by Manning and the Giants on Sunday.
Last season, Smallwood wouldn't have ripped off the 20-yard gain that helped to set up Philly's game-tying field goal. They wouldn't have seen the opponent shoot itself in the foot with penalties on a last-minute drive and a botched punt from the opposing punter. The team's No. 1 receiver wouldn't have hauled in a critical 18-yard grab with seconds left, setting up the most improbable of game-winning kicks.
It could be the new personnel, or the development of Wentz and the defense, or just a combination of a lot of things. But it's becoming apparent that this year's Eagles squad has an it factor that has been lacking in Philly for several years.
Loser: Training Staff
We've already discussed the injury of Sproles and its impact, but the Eagles' injury woes go much, much deeper than that.
Already hurting at various positions, the Eagles saw two of their most important defenders leave Sunday's game. Star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox left with a calf injury, and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered an ankle injury as both didn't return to the game.
Both players are officially "day-to-day" according to Philadelphia Daily News' Les Bowen, but Bowen added that he "would not expect Cox to be ready to play" against the Chargers.
Of course, the existing Eagles injury report was already hard to look at. Cornerback Ronald Darby and safeties Rodney McLeod Jaylen Watkins were out of Sunday's game, and defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao (a prime candidate to replace Cox) has been out since a Week 1 injury.
Making matters worse is the fact that almost all of the injuries have hit the defensive side of the ball. It's probably no coincidence that as the injuries decimated the Eagles' depth chart on defense, the Giants ripped off 24 fourth-quarter points to come back.
It may help that the Eagles are set to face a Chargers offense that's struggling somewhat so far, but Philip Rivers is capable of turning it around at any time. Replacing either of the star defenders they lost Sunday will prove to be a tall task if it's required.