Well this is becoming somewhat like a broken record; a week after a nice prediction, my pick last week missed by a country mile, as the Eagles humiliated the Giants 40-17. For the first time, though, I think that the pick was fundamentally unsound, and in this weekly edition of upon further review, we'll try and figure out what went wrong.
1. McNabb was accurate, after all.
The Eagles offense had been struggling of late, after a stinker in Oakland and an uneven performance against the Redskins. McNabb had been struggling with his mechanics and his accuracy had been suffering. Well, this week all appeared to be right with McNabb. He smirked after the game that he was pretty accurate after all, and the stats bore him out: 17/23 for 240 yards and 3 TDs to 0 interceptions. Even more incredible was the Eagles' stunning 8 yards gained per offensive play run. DeSean Jackson provided his typical 50+ yard TD score, exploiting what is becoming a glaring Giants' inability to guard against the deep ball.
Couple the explosive passing option with fullback Leonard Weaver's shocking emergence for 75 yards on 8 carries--including a long TD run on the first drive of the game--and the Giants fell behind early and had no chance. This game was never close.
2. Eli Manning continued his below average play.
As a Cowboys fan, it's difficult for me to believe that the Eli I saw on the field on Sunday against the Eagles was the same QB who played an essentially perfect game against the Cowboys in week 2. Not only was he inaccurate, but he looked tentative and repeatedly made poor decisions in the pocket. The rest of the offense played fairly decently, as the young WR corps has largely exceeded expectations and the running game is solid. But Eli was absolutely horrendous; while the Eagles burned him for 2 brutal interceptions, they could have easily had twice that number. The Eagles--in one of the least surprising tactics of the weekend--dialed up the blitz all game and forced Eli into quick decisions. And those decisions were poor. To be sure, I think plantar fasciitis is certainly affecting the accuracy of his throws, and is significantly contributing to his accuracy woes. But the lack of confidence, bad body language, and erratic decisionmaking is more troubling than his technique problems, and as of right now, it's very difficult to trust the Giants passing game to bail them out when they fall behind.
1. Giants have been exposed.
It's a problem that crops up in game prediction all the time; does a tough loss (like that first suffered by the Giants against the Saints a few weeks ago) serve to expose a team's weaknesses, leading to further losses, or does it serve to psychologically motivate them to bounce back? It's difficult to predict in advance how a loss will affect a team, but in this case, the Saints appeared to expose the Giants, providing a blueprint for how teams should attack the Giants: run spread formations with a lot of intermediate and deep routes. Beleaguered Giants' safety C.C. Brown is consistently out of position and unable to diagnose the route combinations, and as such, teams the last 3 weeks have torched the Giants deep.
With the Giants' injuries in the secondary, it's not like their deep coverage problems were hard to foresee. But I (and many analysts) thought that the Giants' pass rush would deprive McNabb of the time to deliver the ball downfield. But that pass rush has all but disappeared; the Giants have lost their swagger, they are lately characterized by busted assignments and a lack of execution. What's the difference? Perhaps it's the loss of Spagnola in the offseason; new coordinator Bill Sheridan has so far been unable to recreate the havoc posed by the Giant's front 4 in recent years. I'm not exactly sure what the problem is, but McNabb had entirely too much time to throw on Sunday. Right now, the Giants defense does not seem like it's good, and until they get some of their injured players back, I don't trust them to hold up against good offensive teams.
2. The Eagles are maddeningly unpredictable. I've been pounding my head into a wall trying to figure out how it's possible that a team that I picked to crush the Raiders could lose to that pathetic team, but then when I pick against them, deliver such beating to the Giants. My feeling is that the Andy Reid-era Eagles have done this more than any other team in the league, where they can look incredibly crappy one week and dominant the next. I'm staying away from them for the rest of the year.