But unlike the Giants’ loss against the Green Bay Packers — and more than a couple others this year — this wasn’t a game where the Giants tried to be competitive only to watch a better team walk away with the game. This week the game was the Giants’ to win, and they were in control for almost the entire night.
But then the wheels came off in the fourth quarter and overtime and they couldn’t put away an injured (and not very good) Eagles team. Let’s take a look at some of the plays on which this game pivoted.
There were bigger plays, such as the Giants’ fourth down stop of the Eagles in the fourth quarter, Greg Ward’s punt return, or Miles Sanders’ run late in the game, but I want to concentrate on a quartet of touchdowns which tell the story of the game.
Darius Slayton Touchdown - Part 1 (NYG + 16 percent)
2nd quarter, 15:00, PHI 35
The first touchdown came on the first play of the second quarter. The Giants found some rhythm late in the first quarter, with Manning quickly reading the field and finding his open receivers.
The Eagles line up in a Cover 1 shell, showing heavy pressure up front. Manning reads the blitz and knows he has to get the ball out quickly, which he does. The Giants are facing a 3rd and 13, and the hot route is only an 8-yard route. However, whether because he recognized Ronald Darby taking an aggressive angle to defend the slant and he wanted to protect the ball, or a fortuitously misplaced pass, Manning’s throw was to the outside shoulder rather than the inside shoulder. That placement, along with Darby’s angle, allowed Slayton to spin away from the tackle attempt and turn the 8-yard reception into a 35-yard touchdown catch and run. Considering the field conditions, it is impressive that Slayton was able to simply keep his feet, not just make the catch going against his momentum.
Had these been the only points scored by New York all half, they still would have gone into the locker room with a lead. But Eli and Slayton weren’t done.
Darius Slayton Touchown - Part 2 (NYG + 12 percent)
2nd quarter, 0:55, NYG 45
Our second touchdown comes with with just over half a minute remaining in the half. The Giants are holding a 10-3 lead and will get the ball to start the second half, but considering how their team has performed all season long, every point is crucial and they can’t leave any on the field.
The previous touchdown turned out to be a spark for the Giants, with their offense running like a well-oiled machine and their defense swarming to the football.
Just before the snap, Eli sees DB Avonte Maddox approach the line of scrimmage and show a slot blitz, while Malcolm Jenkins appears to retreat slightly. The Eagles are likely running a zone blitz, and Eli knows that if the pressure can be picked up, he will have a chance downfield.
The Eagles do send a blitz but still only rush four, intending to create confusion and bait Eli into a mistake.
Saquon Barkley comes across the formation and helps pick up the blitz. With the pass protection solid, Manning has the time to see the Eagles’ coverage break down. No player got deep, which allowed Slayton to pull even with — and split — the double team. And to paraphrase Randy Moss, if he’s even, he’s leavin’. Manning is able to get enough air under the ball to hit Slayton in-stride downfield and the defense has no chance to catch him.
It was the last of the Giants’ pyrotechnics, but it was also very nearly enough for the Giants to pull off the upset win.
But while Eli and Slayton were able to exploit the Eagles’ weak secondary, Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz were able to do the same to the Giants’ linebackers at the end of the game.
Zach Ertz Touchdown - Part 1 (PHI + 22 percent)
4th quarter, 1:56, NYG 2
The Eagles were able to pull within a touchdown of the Giants with a Boston Scott touchdown run late in the third quarter, but they hadn’t been able to capitalize on the opportunity until the game was nearly over.
By this point the Eagles have no choice but to line up in a heavy personnel package — their wide receiver corps had been virtually erased over the course of the game. They line up in a tight 13-personnel package with three tight ends to the left.
Even though the Giants know that a pass is a possibility, the personnel package means they must also respect the possibility of a run in a short-yardage situation. So when the Eagles show a run-action fake, the Giants have no choice but to respect it. That brief moment of hesitation allows Ertz to get behind rookie Julian Love on a quick angle route.
Wentz is under pressure from Markus Golden who was — once again — unblocked into the backfield, but he is able to get the pass off before he could be disrupted. This is a quick-hitting play and Love isn’t able to get good enough position to try and make a play on the ball. The touchdown ties the game, and a few plays later we are sent to over time.
Zach Ertz Touchdown - Part 2 (Game winner)
OT, 5:13, NYG 2
Where the Eagles took advantage of personnel, deception, and a quick strike to get in the endzone to tie the game, they exploit a coverage breakdown to win it.
The Eagles once again run their 13-personnel package (1 running back, 3 tight ends). This time they begin with Ertz lined up out wide, only to motion in and the three tight ends form a bunch set. The Giants appear to be in man coverage, with safety Michael Thomas traveling with Ertz from out wide into the the bunch. However, they are in zone and Thomas retreats into a coverage zone on the offensive right. Dallas Goedert is picked up in the flat by LB Deone Bucannon.
NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger notes in one of his his post-game “Baldys Breakdowns” tweets that it appears as though Alec Ogletree signals for “banjo” coverage. “Banjo” coverage is essentially man coverage that plays like zone, as the defense is in a zone coverage until the receivers release and declare their route stems. It is a common and useful coverage scheme in the red zone and against bunch formations, so Baldy is probably right in his observation.
Ogletree’s job is likely to drop into a deep (well, “deep” as they’re on the 2-yard line) zone coverage, but he is frozen by indecision as Josh Perkins runs the shallow cross. That allows Ertz to get completely open and all alone in the back of the end zone on the post route for the touchdown.