Eagles

Eagles' D better fix issue because 'Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people'

Eagles' D better fix issue because 'Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people'

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Eagles' defense prides itself on tackling and avoiding penalties.

Jim Schwartz's unit didn't do either well Sunday in the Eagles' 24-10 loss to the Seahawks. 

"We have to get back to playing our style of football," Schwartz said Tuesday afternoon from the team's hotel in Southern California, "because the Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people."

After Sunday's loss, the Eagles flew south and will spend the week at a hotel in Costa Mesa, while practicing at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. On Tuesday, while the offense went to the stadium for its walkthrough, the Eagles' defense used an empty ballroom in the team hotel after working out in an open-air weight room.

It's in a completely foreign environment, but Schwartz's unit needs to get back to what made it dominant before. 

“We understand what happened that game," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We understand what we are as a team. And I know that we have a big challenge this week. And I know that we’re gonna do what we gotta do to bounce back this week.”

On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson didn't deny what a few of his players said after the loss to the Seahawks: that the team didn't have a great week of practice beforehand. That possibly led to some mental mistakes; the Eagles felt like they helped the Seahawks out way too much. 

Schwartz said he was overly worried about the week heading into the Chicago game. Maybe his fears there were somewhat unfounded, but the Eagles did make similar mistakes that eventually hurt them against the Seahawks. 

Perhaps the Eagles' defense had been a little too loose. 

"Every team has a little different personality," Schwartz said. "Some teams play best when they're loose. [For] some teams, it's more of a grind. I think our guys have the ability to play with and have some fun out on the field. But there is also a fine line between doing that and losing focus. Maybe that's something we can improve on."

Whatever the case was during practice, the Eagles need to fix it, especially if it's what led to penalties and missed tackles against the Seahawks. 

Of the Eagles' seven penalties for 64 yards against Seattle, four of them gave the Seahawks first downs.

And the Birds also had eight missed tackles, according to ProFootballFocus. Three of them belonged to Jalen Mills, normally a good tackling cornerback. Schwartz also noted they had a few chances to bring down Russell Wilson, and not just when he was scrambling around. 

"We missed a couple tackles that we have done a good job of making. We already talked about the penalties," Schwartz said. "That's a couple things that we've been really proud of defensively of being a good tackling team. That didn't show on Sunday night against Seattle."

A few weeks ago, Schwartz commended — as much as he does — his defense's ability to avoid costly penalties. The defense had four penalties Sunday against the Seahawks and all of them gave Seattle first downs. The Eagles were called for three defensive holds — one apiece for Nigel Bradham, Patrick Robinson and Corey Graham — and the pass interference call on Ronald Darby. Maybe it was a ticky-tack call on Darby, but Schwartz said the corner didn't play it as well as he should have. Had he, the flag probably doesn't get thrown. 

The Eagles had given up just one first down by penalty in each of their previous five games and had given up just 17 all season coming into Sunday. The only other time they gave up four in one game this season was against Carolina nearly two months ago. 

"When you give good offenses second chances, good things don't happen," Schwartz said. "I think that's probably going to be the same thing, well, it's going to be the same every week, but particularly so this week, facing a high-powered offense, a team that can score a lot. When we have a chance to stop them, we have to be able to stop them. We can't be extending drives due to penalties."

The good news for the Eagles is even with all the penalties and the missed tackles and coverage problems, they still gave up just 24 points. They've given up more points than that just once this season. 

To put those 24 points into perspective, 12 NFL teams are allowing an average of 24-plus points per game this season. And it constituted a bad performance for the Eagles, who have given up an average of 17.9 (sixth best in the league). 

"I think we, to a man, all recognize we played a poor game, and I'll include myself in that, too," Schwartz said. "And we gave up 24 points. Again, please don't misconstrue that, because we don't take any pride in that. But it shows you a little bit about where our guys are, that that's considered a bad performance, you know what I mean?"

Schwartz said they don't have one player on defense that considers that Seattle game one of their best performances. And for a lot of his players, it was one of their worst games. 

This week, the Eagles are working to keep perspective. They lost one game — sure, a big one, but still just one game — Sunday. They still have a chance to split this West Coast trip and can still accomplish all their goals. They just have to get back to what led them to nine straight wins. 

"We're a really good 10-2 team," Graham said. "That's what we are right now. We can't sit around and pout about it. We have the Rams up next."

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Carson Wentz is out, Nick Foles is in. 

And the Eagles claim their offense isn't going to change. 

On it's face, that seems somewhat absurd. After all, Wentz is more than an average quarterback. He's the face of the Eagles' franchise and was an MVP candidate through 13 weeks. Foles was once a Pro Bowler, but there's a reason he wasn't a starter entering this season. 

So how will the offense look different? 

"I don't expect it will look different at all," Foles said adamantly.  

Why is that? 

"Because it's our offense," Foles answered. "This is the Eagles' offense. This is the one that is the DNA of this team. And we're going to do what we do. We have so many tremendous players on offense that can do a lot of different things. We just have to go out there and execute and have a great week of work and just keep moving." 

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich finally admitted that there will be "very minor tweaks" to the Eagles' weekly game plans with Foles in at quarterback. But he made the same point as Foles, that the system is built around the QB, but also around the other talent on offense. 

There is, however, one pretty significant difference between Wentz and Foles. 

"Now, Carson has some unique physical traits that he does exceptionally well, but it's nothing that Nick can't handle," Reich said. "We're full steam ahead."

The Eagles run plenty of run-pass option plays, but head coach Doug Pederson pointed out on Monday that the Eagles very rarely use their quarterback to run the ball in those situations. And as far as RPOs go, Foles has used them plenty before. 

Another part of the offense that has been tailored to Wentz is the autonomy the quarterback has at the line of scrimmage. Wentz has been able to make calls and checks pre-snap based on what the defense shows. It seems like Foles will have that same ability, which is something he's excited about. 

"Understand this, he's a veteran player who has played and won a lot of games, not only here, but other places that he's been," Pederson said. "Nick's a highly intelligent football player."

Pederson said he and Foles will talk weekly to make sure his quarterback is comfortable with the plays that go into the game plan. So, theoretically, things could be different. But based on what the offensive leaders of the team have said, don't expect wholesale changes. 

Now, what might change about the offense isn't necessarily by design. Because of Wentz's unique physical gifts and escapability, he's able to make incredible plays. The escape in Washington, the throw to Corey Clement in the end zone, the deep flick down the sideline in Seattle, those are plays only a handful of guys in the world can make. It would be unfair to expect Foles to make them. 

But as far as game-planning goes, the Eagles are going to do what they've done. 

"I feel comfortable in this offense," Foles said. "I love this offense. We're going to run this offense. Nothing's going to change."

Foles dealt with elbow soreness during the summer, but says his elbow now feels "amazing" and is not an issue. That's good news for the Eagles, because at least Foles has plenty of starting experience. His backup, Nate Sudfeld, has never even been active for an NFL game. 

The Eagles' hopes in 2017 rest on the shoulders of Foles. 

"I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip," Foles said. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. ... I'm ready to step up and help this team win."

Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

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USA Today Images

Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

I know you're feeling conflicted right now. The Eagles are 11-2, tied for the best record in the NFL. They've already clinched the NFC East. Home-field advantage and a playoff bye are a very real possibility. But the Carson Wentz injury is an equalizer and then some.

On the bright side, the Flyers steadied their sinking ship in Western Canada by winning three straight. But the Sixers have dropped four in a row. Maybe the Phils will land Jake Arrieta or Manny Machado? Dare to dream. You're up, you're down. Welcome to Philadelphia sports. So what better time to provide some nice, healthy Rob's Rants? Letting things out can be therapeutic and after the Wentz news, I need to vent a little.    

Run-pass-option
It's hard to find fault with Doug Pederson this season. He's done an excellent job game planning and having his team prepared week in and week out, and his most impressive work has been his ability to overcome injuries. The Eagles have lost Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos, just to name a few. All of the above represent major core pieces and Pederson's team is 11-2. Losing Wentz trumps them all and presents the head coach's biggest challenge. So look at this not so much as a rant but a plea to Doug P. moving forward.     

Nick Foles entered the Rams game late in the third quarter with the Eagles trailing 35-31. Certainly a difficult spot for any backup. He hadn't taken a meaningful snap all season. Logic would dictate emphasizing the run to let him get his feet wet. This was not the late fourth quarter, no timeouts, need to move down the field quickly type of circumstances. Further, the Eagles have three very capable running backs.

Pederson elected to throw the ball five straight times and called pass plays on eight of nine in the possession. The Birds did wind up getting a field goal on the drive and Foles completed three passes, but you wonder if it's the wisest move to drop Foles back that much, that quickly. I know Doug has been aggressive all season and that in part has helped the Eagles get where they are, and I'm also well aware of the heat he took by many (including me) for being too passive in the Seattle loss. But with Foles' lack of mobility in the pocket and the left side of the Eagles' offensive line struggling mightily against the pass rush, a bigger dose of the run could have made his transition back to starter a little smoother. But beyond the Rams game, balance and a commitment to the run will be Foles' best friend, along with a strong defense.    

Sixers struggles
It's one thing to lose in Cleveland and New Orleans, especially without Joel Embiid for both games and Robert Covington vs. the Pelicans. It's another to drop home games to the likes of the Suns and the Lakers prior to those defeats. For that, there is no excuse. The Sixers have lost four in a row and stand at 13-13. They continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate and of late have not come to play to start games, particularly at home. Some of this can be chalked up to youth. Some not so much.

They are losing far too many 50-50 balls. Too many offensive rebounds and second chances allowed. That's just hustle and want. They also need veterans like Jerryd Bayless to be better, especially in the absence of T.J. McConnell. I've pointed this out before in this space but the Sixers are beyond losing to the NBA's dregs. It would also be nice to get the No. 1 overall pick from this past draft on the floor at some point.    

Army-Navy
Let's close out this Rob's Rants on two positives. First, the 118th edition of Army-Navy football was played Saturday right here in Philadelphia. It is everything that is right about sports and our country. The men doing battle on that field at the Linc put sports into the context it deserves. Battle hard on the field, win or lose, respect to your opponent, represent our service men and women and country. Then it's on to further protecting and serving. They are truly unique individuals. And to have it played in the snow in such a cool setting was awesome.

DJ and the Kernal
Lastly, Dick Jerardi and Mike Kern both recently announced their retirements from the Philadelphia Daily News. They were as good of writers as this city has ever seen. They were even better people. I grew up reading them and had the opportunity as an adult to work with them professionally as a producer, then as a host and the pleasure was all mine. They knew of what they wrote, you learned something every time you read them, and they provided a sense of humor while doing it. Nothing beat our yearly Daily News Live Christmas Eve shows with Hall of Famer John Chaney. Their bylines will be missed.