Despite giving up 255 rushing yards to the Denver Broncos and allowing both Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell to run for 100 yards, the Eagles' biggest concern defensively going into Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins is the state of their pass defense.
Despite a secondary that features three Pro Bowlers, the Eagles have given up 13 touchdown passes in their last five games, including four Sunday to the Broncos' Jake Plummer. Plummer completed 16 of 22 passes in the first half as the Broncos jumped out to a 28-0 lead.
"We aren't covering well," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "We're giving up touchdown passes. People are getting beat."
Defending the pass has been the least of Johnson's concerns during his seven seasons with the Eagles. Last year, the Eagles gave up just 16 touchdown passes all season. That's just three fewer than they've given up in the last five games.
Since Week 3, opposing quarterbacks have averaged a disturbing 8.04 yards per attempt against the Eagles. In those five games, they've given up 20 pass plays of 20 yards or more, including six Sunday to Plummer and the Broncos.
"We're just giving up too many big plays," Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins said. "Some are blown assignments, mental mistakes. We have to run our defensive gameplan to perfection and we're not doing that."
--The Eagles' offense continues to be ineffective in the first quarter, when the team has been outscored 62-14. They've managed to score on one of their first two possessions of the game just once in seven games.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb has completed just 12 of 35 passes on the Eagles' first two possessions of games. He was 0-for-5 Sunday and 0-for-10 in the first quarter.
"We go into games wanting to start fast," coach Andy Reid said. "But we're not doing a very good job of it."
The Eagles spotted Denver a 28-0 lead, then came roaring back to within seven points, only to fade in the homestretch and lose, 49-21.
The 49 points were the most given up by an Eagles defense since 1972 when they gave up 62 to the New York Giants.Donovan McNabb continued to struggle. He didn't complete his first pass until 8 minutes into the second quarter and finished with just 12 completions in 34 attempts.
--CB Lito Sheppard left the game in the first half. He injured his knee in practice during the week and tried playing on it, but was ineffective. He is hopeful of being able to play this week.
--DE Jevon Kearse left the game in the first quarter after injuring his shoulder. He will have an MRI on the shoulder Monday.
--DT Sam Rayburn had to leave Sunday's game in the second half after suffering a stinger. The Eagles are hopeful he'll be able to play this week against Washington.
--QB Donovan McNabb, who is playing with a sports hernia injury, took a lot of hits Sunday. He completed just 12 of 34 passes.
--PK Jose Cortez's debut with the Eagles went well. He didn't have any field-goal attempts, but got most of his kickoffs high and deep.
New York Giants
The New York Giants couldn't have a better portion of their schedule to exploit than they have in the next two weeks.
After their shocking 36-0 trashing of the Washington Redskins, they take their 5-2 record to the west coast to play San Francisco, one of the NFL's more dreary teams, and then return home the week after to play host to hapless Minnesota.
The game against the 49ers should be taxing only because of the travel fatigue. The way the Giants dealt with the Redskins, who were 4-2 and tied for first in the NFC East, spoke volumes about their potential. The fact that the Redskins scored 52 points against the 49ers the previous week might point out more of a one-sided advantage owned by the Giants at this point.
After the San Francisco and Minnesota games, the Giants, who should be 7-2 at that juncture, have a home game against Philadelphia, travel to Seattle, play host to Dallas and then go to Philadelphia.
Building that record in the face of that toughest part of their schedule becomes more critical.
Coach Tom Coughlin said his team did an excellent job of keeping its emotions in check following the death and funeral of team president Wellington Mara during the week.
"Everyone seemed to be focused," Coughlin said. "There were some great comments made by the players throughout the evening in their meetings. We knew this would be one of those NFC East divisional games with the Redskins coming in here and playing as well as they can. We expected it to be a four-quarter game like all of these games have been.
Sunday's 36-0 victory over Washington represented the first time in the history of the Giants franchise that Wellington Mara was not in attendance, or at least watching from somewhere. The 89-yard old patriarch of the NFL and the team died last Tuesday, and this one was, as defensive end Michael Strahan put it, "for Mister Mara."
The team voted the game ball to his oldest son, John K. Mara, who will assume the role of team president. He has been serving as executive vice president and COO.
It was never a contest, with the key play of the game coming when the Redskins called "heads" and the coin toss came up "tails." It was downhill from there for Washington, when the first snap from scrimmage resulted in a handoff from quarterback Eli Manning to running back Tiki Barber, who took it down the left sideline for 57 yards to the Redskins' 16.
That led to a field goal, and Barber would go on to hit a career single-game best with 206 yards in 24 carries. It was 19-0 at halftime and finished at 36-0. Kicker Jay Feely hit five field goals but missed a sixth, his first miss of the season. He now has 16 of 17 on the season and, with 23 PATs, a total of 71 points with more than half the season remaining.
Barber ran his rushing total to 689 yards on 131 carries and now has five touchdowns. It was a down day for Manning, who completed only 12 of 31 passes for 146 yards with one touchdown and one pick.
So dominant was the Giants' defense that the Redskins were limited to 38 rushing yards on 13 carries and 125 total net yards. The Giants had 386 total net yards, including 262 rushing, and they controlled the ball for 39 minutes, 21 seconds, virtually two-thirds of the game.
-- WR Plaxico Burress had four receptions for 42 yards, bringing his season total to 577 yards on 40 catches and five touchdowns. "We just played hard and when that happened we were able to control the game," he said.
-- MLB Antonio Pierce, who had 11 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception, was the Redskins' starter last season and said it felt good to win. "I have a lot of friends on the team, but this was about winning for this organization and the memory of Mr. Mara. I am very friendly with (Redskins running back) Clinton (Portis) and during the game he just said: 'You guys are winning out.' Yeah, we were."
-- QB Eli Manning gave the bulk of the credit to RB Tiki Barber. "He comes to play and today he seemed to be all fired up," he said. "The team did a great job of staying focused and I think what we went through this week helped us. Knowing Mr. Mara inspired us to try to become better men.
-- TE Jeremy Shockey, who was especially close to Wellington Mara was somber after the game. "I wanted to do extremely well today," he said, "but I just couldn't do it. I wanted five or six touchdowns for him but the one I did get felt great."
-- RG Chris Snee had several key blocks to spring RB Tiki Barber, and after the game said: "Nothing makes an offensive lineman feel better than for the running game to work. It's great fun blocking for the run. It's what we would all prefer."
It wasn't a "must win" for the Cowboys against the Cardinals.
But it was "better win" if they truly had legitimate playoff hopes.
Coach Bill Parcells told his team as much and it answered with a 34-13 blowout victory Sunday.
The victory helped the Cowboys end the first half of the season with a winning record, including a 3-1 mark in the month of October.
They have a bye next week before beginning the second-half stretch Nov. 14 at Philadelphia.
Parcells had pointed to the Cardinals game as a crucial starting point to their second half playoff push. He said it was a game they needed to put in the bank, considering the team has three games in a span of 11 days following the bye.
Home games against the Detroit Lions (Nov. 20) and the Denver Broncos (Nov. 24) follow the Eagles game.
With such a tough schedule, the Cowboys could not afford to give away any more games, especially considering they had already given away two games in the last minute this season.
"Bill said this is it right here," said wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season -- a five-yarder from quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the second quarter. "I said to everybody else. If we don't win this football game you can forget it. If we are 4-4 you might as well go home. Now we are 5-3. This means a whole lot."
It means that the Cowboys are second in the NFC East behind the Giants (5-2). The Eagles and Redskins one-half game behind the Cowboys at 4-3.
It also means the Cowboys have two weeks to heal before the Eagles game. Running back Julius Jones, who missed the past three games with an ankle injury, should be ready to go.
He will have company in the backfield after a breakout performance by rookie Marion Barber III, who rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona.
Asked what Barber's performance meant with Jones coming back, Parcells said he is going to play both of them.
Rookie running back Marion Barber rushed 27 times for 127 yards and touchdown runs of 10 and 28 yards. The first 100-yard rushing performance of the season highlighted a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe completed 19 of 24 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.
Barber scored his first career touchdown in the first quarter when he broke four tackles before sprinting 28 yards to the end zone.
His second score, a 10-yard scamper in which he dove through three tacklers into the end zone, made the score 24-10 at halftime.
The defense was again dominant, chipping in three sacks and two interceptions, including a 58-yard return for a touchdown by Anthony Henry.
--LB Al Singleton is likely out for the season after fracturing his collarbone against the Cardinals.
--CB Anthony Henry suffered a groin strain against the Cardinals, but not before returning an interception 58 yards for a touchdown. It was the first defensive touchdown for the Cowboys since 2003.
--DE Greg Ellis recorded 1.5 sacks against the Cardinals, his first multi-sack game of the season. He now leads the team with five sacks.
--QB Drew Bledsoe was 19 of 24 passing against the Cardinals. His 79.2 completion percentage was the best of his career.--WR Keyshawn Johnson led the Cowboys with six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. He has now caught a pass in all 143 games of his career.