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A tale of two cities: Why have the Eagles soared while the Giants have fallen?

The Giants’ and Eagles’ fortunes diverged after Philly’s 2020 season-ending loss to Washington. Are the teams really that different now?

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Daniel Jones scores on a zone read during the Giants’ 27-17 victory over the Eagles in 2020
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

On Jan. 3, 2021, the New York Giants finished off a promising first season under head coach Joe Judge by defeating the Dallas Cowboys 23-19 to finish 6-10 and remain in the hunt for the NFC East Division title. That evening, the Philadelphia Eagles replaced quarterback Jalen Hurts with Nate Sudfeld during the second half and fell to the Washington Football Team to finish 4-11-1, leading to widespread accusations of “tanking” and the firing of head coach Doug Pederson.

At that moment the Giants seemed to be the better of the two teams. They had split the season series with the Eagles and would have swept them were it not for this play:

Fast forward to June 2022 and the perceptions of the two teams have changed, to put it mildly:

The article by PFF’s Ben Linsey that the tweet above refers to ranks the Giants’ roster 26th. That’s a huge difference between two teams that seemed headed in the opposite direction a little over a year ago. BBV’s Chris Pflum has discussed PFF’s evaluation of the Giants’ talent. Was it a mistake to think that the 2020 Eagles were worse than the Giants? Are they that much better than the Giants now?

The 2021 season caused the perceptions of these two teams to diverge - and rightly so, since Philadelphia got to the Wild Card round of the playoffs with a 9-8 record while the Giants staggered to a 4-13 finish. But two-thirds of the way through the season, that was not how things looked. In Week 12 the Giants beat the Eagles, 13-7, their second consecutive victory in the series, to improve to 4-7, while the Eagles dropped to 5-6 with the loss. The teams appeared to be pretty even at that point. But that was the week of the mysterious Daniel Jones neck injury. He didn’t play another down that season. Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm failed miserably as replacements, and the Giants lost six straight while the Eagles won four of their last five. The victories came against the lowly Jets, Washington (twice), and the Glennon-Fromm Giants.

The Eagles then and now

Here is a comparison of the Eagles’ roster just before the 2020 Week 18 games to their roster at the present time, and the same for the Giants, using the depth charts provided by Ourlads. I’ve included 12 players each on offense and defense to account for the variety of personnel deployments in today’s NFL that makes the concept of “starters” somewhat anachronistic:

The colors in the chart above indicate my subjective assessment of where the Eagles’ personnel have improved (green) or declined (silver), and likewise for where the Giants have improved (blue) or declined (red).

The strength of the Eagles for years has been their offensive and defensive lines. Those haven’t changed much since the end of the 2020 season. Lane Johnson returned from injury, and Landon Dickerson replaced Nate Herbig at G, and that’s it for the OL. On the defensive side, the same front four that the Eagles have featured for years are still there. However they have added Haason Reddick at edge (listed at LB by Ourlads), and they drafted Jordan Davis at DT (not listed in the chart because Ourlads has him as second string).

Linebacker has been a weakness for Philly, but they got pretty good play from T.J. Edwards last year, and they drafted LB Nakobe Dean this year (also not listed above because Ourlads has him as second string). The real issue is the Eagles’ secondary: Will James Bradberry return to his 2020 form or continue the decline (or regression to the mean?) he exhibited in 2021?

The big upgrade since the end of the 2020 season has been at wide receiver. The Eagles added DeVonta Smith in the draft last year and traded for A.J. Brown this year. This probably accounts for a lot of the hype surrounding the Eagles entering the 2022 season, since WR was a distinct weakness before then.

The question is: Will they get the ball? Jalen Hurts has been an improvement over Carson Wentz, but a lot of that has been due to his running. The jury is still out on Hurts as a passer. Head coach Nick Sirianni tried to get more of a balance between run and pass as the season went on, because Hurts was getting beat up running the ball and faking runs on zone reads. In fact he missed the Jets game the week after the first Giants game because of hits the Giants put on him. But Hurts was generally less successful in games he had to win with his arm.

How the Giants have evolved

The Giants’ interior defensive line now is probably worse than in 2020 due to the Giants letting Dalvin Tomlinson walk. But at edge the Giants were reduced to using end-of-the-roster players by late 2020, and even when Lorenzo Carter returned in 2021, he did little until the last few games. This year, with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari projected as the starters, the Giants may have a formidable edge room.

The offensive line is probably still not “fixed.” But Evan Neal and Mark Glowinski project as a huge upgrade on the right side. (I score Glowinski as a downgrade relative to 2020 only because Kevin Zeitler was probably a better pass blocker in his Giants days. Glowinski should be a considerable upgrade over Will Hernandez.) Even the troublesome left guard position should be somewhat better, because there are now options in Shane Lemieux and Josh Ezeudu. Overall the Giants’ OL is still not the equal of the Eagles’, but the Giants have gotten as much pressure on Eagles’ QBs the past couple of years as the Eagles have gotten on Daniel Jones.

The Giants’ defensive back room is a concern entering 2022 - Adoree’ Jackson, rising star Xavier McKinney, and a set of young unproven players. But Linsey highlights it as a weakness relative to last season, specifically mentioning the losses of Logan Ryan, James Bradberry, and Jabrill Peppers. The thing is, all three of those players - good to excellent in the past - did not perform very well last year. Jackson is not quite as good as the Eagles’ Darius Slay, but the Eagles’ other DBs, though more experienced, are at best average. McKinney is an upgrade over Ryan and better than anything the Eagles have at safety. Aaron Robinson, the projected CB2, has to be an improvement over the 2020 starter Isaac Yiadom, and if not, perhaps Cor’Dale Flott can be. Admittedly not likely to be the equal of Bradberry, even the 2021 version, though.

Linebacking is still a concern for the Giants overall, as it is for the Eagles. A returning Blake Martinez, excellent before his injury, should solidify one position. Tae Crowder at the other is a weakness - yet the chart above calls him out as an improvement over 2020. That’s because Crowder is at least a playmaker, getting several interceptions, including a key one vs. the Eagles last season. His predecessor, Devante Downs, was pretty uniformly subpar. For 2022, we expect draftees Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers to take some of Crowder’s playing time. Both have promise.

The Giants’ wide receivers are clearly not the equal of the Eagles’ now. But a healthy Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney should be a significant upgrade over 2020-vintage Darius Slayton and Golden Tate. And Wan’Dale Robinson, listed as a starter by PFF but not by Ourlads, is a wild card who could make things very interesting in the passing game. In the running game, a healthy Saquon Barkley is better than Wayne Gallman and also better than Miles Sanders, whom the Eagles tend to ignore a lot of the time.

That leaves the quarterbacks. There is endless discussion about whether Daniel Jones can be “the guy.” But a similar conversation is happening at The Linc about Jalen Hurts. Chris Simms has Jones ranked slightly higher than Hurts:

PFF ranks Hurts (No. 14) above Jones (No. 20) among QBs who took at least 20% of snaps last year. But that is solely due to Hurts’ running. For passing, Jones ranks No. 16 and Hurts No. 20.

Coaching matters

The PFF story is about roster talent, but it’s hard to ignore the effect of coaching. The Eagles’ demise in 2020 was at least partly due to former head coach Doug Pederson seeming to lose control of the team. Nick Sirianni was a head-scratcher as his replacement, and his run vs. pass diet for Jalen Hurts is questioned by many. But overall he seems to have done a good job bringing the team together and getting production out of his talent.

Joe Judge clearly lost the Giants’ locker room late last season. In his defense, with no viable option at quarterback after Jones’ injury and a mostly terrible offensive line, he didn’t have many choices. But his conservative philosophy, unsuited to today’s NFL, along with the play calling of Jason Garrett, did little to put his players in position to succeed. This created a perception that they are less talented than past performance indicates they really are. If these same players look more talented this year under the direction of Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, it won’t surprise anyone.

The final verdict

The Eagles do seem to have a more talented roster than the Giants entering the 2022 season. General manager Howie Roseman has done an amazing job acquiring draft picks, getting value from his picks, acquiring talent in trades, and signing free agents. But on the field, the Giants have beaten the Eagles two of the past three meetings in which Daniel Jones played. It was almost three in a row. Both teams have improved their talent level since then. Ranking a team with a question mark at quarterback seventh in the NFL in overall talent is puzzling. Say this for Linsey, he’s consistent: His sixth-ranked team is the Cleveland Browns, whose quarterback situation for 2022 is...interesting.

Have the Eagles really done so much more in acquiring talent in two offseasons than the Giants? Do the Eagles have more talent than the Bengals, Chiefs, Ravens, and 49ers, all ranked below them? Do the Giants have less talent than the Lions, Jets, and Commanders, all ranked above them? No. 7 vs. No. 26 is a chasm. Might as well give up on the season if so. Is it reality? The Giants and Eagles do not play this season until Week 14. Time will tell.