Eagles rush past Giants in late-game thriller: Adjustments to offensive line and play calling keys to Philadelphia’s win

Evin Hartsock, Managing Editor

     There is no doubt that rookie kicker Jake Elliot was the hero of the Philadelphia Eagles match-up with the New York Giants on Sunday, as his career-best and franchise record-long 61-yard field goal lifted the Birds to victory as time expired by a final score of 27-24. Elliot, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of this year’s draft, was cut by the team and picked up by the Eagles when starting kicker Caleb Sturgis was injured in the first week of the season. Elliot had missed from 52 yards earlier in the game and shanked a 30-yard field goal last week, making this feat even more impressive.

     While Elliot’s field goal was essential to the Eagles’ win and deserves the praise its garnered, an argument could be made that the real “heroes” of the game were Philadelphia’s offensive line, rushing attack and effective play calling.

     Through the first two weeks of the season, the Eagles’ offensive attack was quite unbalanced due to head coach Doug Pederson’s pass-heavy play calls. According to ESPN Stats and Info, only Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers had dropped back to attempt a pass (103) more times than Eagles’ signal-caller Carson Wentz had in the first two games of the season (99). Pederson’s offensive scheme was most unbalanced last week against Kansas City, as the Eagles ran 56 passing plays to just 13 rushes. Running back LeGarrette Blount did not get a single touch, and the lack of an effective rush made the passing game more difficult for Wentz, as the Chiefs did not have to focus on stopping the run.

     Pederson corrected the problem against New York, as he implemented a more balanced attack that featured 39 rush attempts to 34 passing plays. The increase in rushing attempts allowed the Eagles’ running back corps of Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement to get more involved as they rushed for a combined 193 yards, more than the first two games combined. Smallwood led the pack with 71 yards on 12 carries, while Blount and Clement both found the end zone.

     Just as the rushing game benefited from Pederson’s adjustments, so too did the Eagles offensive line play. Pederson decided to bench starting left guard Isaac Seumalo, the Eagles’ third-round pick in 2016, after he allowed four sacks in first two contests of the season. With an offensive line that’s supposed to be one of the best in the NFL, Seumalo was clearly its weakest link. Philadelphia decided to start Chance Warmack, the Tennessee Titans’ first-round pick in 2013, at left guard instead. Warmack did not solve the problem at the position as he gave up a sack on the second series of the game. This prompted Pederson to replace him with Stefen Wisniewski, and the two rotated in and out for the rest of the game.

     These adjustments to the offensive line did just enough to deal with New York’s formidable pass rushers such as Jason Pierre-Paul and opened up the running game. Wentz was still sacked four times, so Pederson will have to come up to a solution for the problem at left guard.

     The rushing attack, combined with effective offensive line play, allowed the Eagles’ to dominate the Giants in time of possession, which was crucial for the win in many ways. Philadelphia entered the game with a depleted secondary as cornerbacks Rodney McLeod and Ronald Darby both sat out with injuries, as well as safeties Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham. The Eagles were also without linebacker Jordan Hicks and lost defensive tackle Fletcher Cox during the game. Maintaining possession kept the Giants offense off the field long enough to inflict just minimal damage on the depleted defense of Philadelphia.

     The Eagles defense was able to handle New York’s offense for most of the game until they gave up 21 points to the Giants in the third quarter alone. If the depleted defense had to stay on the field any longer, it could have gotten ugly for Philadelphia fast later in the game.

     The rushing attack also made the day easier for Wentz, as he did not have to throw the ball frequently against New York’s strong secondary that features the likes of Janoris Jenkins at corner. Wentz was less pressured to make plays, and finished the game without an interception and touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz.

     The Eagles finished week 3 ranked in the top-10 in multiple offensive categories as they lead the league in time of possession, are third in first downs a game at 23.3 and are ninth in yards per game at 372.

     Philadelphia takes their developing offense on the road this week as they travel to Los Angles to face the Chargers on Sunday.  

     The Chargers are looking for their first win of the season after dropping close games to Denver, Miami and a 24-10 loss to Kansas City. The Chargers are fifth in passing yards allowed per game.