Even after rough day against lowly Giants, 'sky isn't falling' for Eagles' D

Even after rough day against lowly Giants, 'sky isn't falling' for Eagles' D

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles drove up the New Jersey Turnpike on Sunday and won their second straight road game. With the 34-29 victory over the Giants, they earned a first-round bye and cliched a 12-win season for the first time since 2004.

That was the good news.

The bad news: Jim Schwartz's defense played what was arguably it's worst game of the season (see Roob's observations). Arguably its worst game since he became defensive coordinator.

"There's a lot of positive and a lot of negative," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Obviously, defensively, I don't anybody is happy with the way we performed."

It's not hard to figure out why. 

The Eagles' defense got off to a horrible start Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium and ended up allowing a two-win Giants team to score 29 points — the second-most the Eagles have given up all season and the most the Giants have scored all year.

The Giants also had 504 yards of total offense after the Eagles had given up 400 yards just twice all season.

The 504 yards of offense the Eagles gave up is the most in 30 games under Schwartz. The last time the Birds gave up 500-plus was the last game with Billy Davis in charge.

Despite all that, the Eagles didn't seem too worried after the game.

"The sky isn't falling," defensive end Chris Long said. "It wasn't falling when they scored 24 on us in the third week of the season. We're going to improve, we're going to get better. And we're going to be at our best."

Like they did against the Rams last week, the Eagles' defense improved as the game went on. After giving up 23 first-half points to the Giants, they tightened up in the second half, when they gave up just six.

And after bending in the fourth quarter, they didn't break. Corey Graham got a huge pass breakup in the end zone on fourth down with under a minute to play.

"We found a way to win," Fletcher Cox said. "That's really all that matters. As a defense, I know we'll come in and look at it and be critical of ourselves. We'll get it corrected next week."

It seems like the Eagles just struggle against the Giants. They gave up 24 points to them earlier this year. And three of the last four times the Eagles have given up 500-plus yards they were playing the Giants. 

On Sunday, the New York didn't use any kind of trickery to beat the Eagles. They used the same formula that has worked for them before. Slants, sluggos, Eli Manning getting the ball out of his hand quickly.

The common theme between last week's lackluster defensive showing against the Rams and Sunday's performance was that the opposing offense used no-huddle and tempo to get the Birds off balance. Jenkins said it's not surprising because of how much the Eagles like to rotate their defensive linemen and use different personnel packages, especially on third down.

When asked if it's concerning to see these types of defensive performances late in the season as the playoffs near, several Eagles players said it's not. Long said he's seen the team struggle and come back the next week with a solid performance.

So it's not concerning?

"No, it's not," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "You see the mistakes, you correct them, and you move on."

Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

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Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

There was a noticeable difference in the NovaCare Complex when Zach Ertz arrived on Monday for the first day of the Eagles’ offseason workout program. 

No Brent Celek. 

Celek, the 11-year pro, was cut earlier this offseason after a tremendous career with the Eagles. For the first time in Ertz’s six-year career, Celek won’t be around. 

And weirdly, Ertz will now assume Celek’s old role as the veteran leader in the Eagles’ tight end room. 

“It’s tough, obviously,” Ertz said on Tuesday. “He was the guy that when they brought me in, he was the guy, the veteran tight end in Philadelphia. He was the guy everyone knew about. And he didn’t treat me as a guy who was a competitor to him; he treated me as the guy who could help him further his career, where he didn’t have to take every snap. So it’s tough. That guy has been with me from the beginning, pretty much taught me how to be a pro in Philadelphia. 

“Even a couple years back, when the playing time began to increase in my way, he let me kind of take on a leadership role. He wasn’t overbearing by any means. He kind of let me lead in my own way. Even though he was the leader of the room, per se, he let me lead and slowly earn more of a leadership role in our room. He kind of set me up for this moment. I owe a lot of my success to Brent, the way he was a dominant blocking tight end, I was able to learn from that for a lot of years. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

While Ertz learned how to be a pro from Celek, he always tried to become a top-notch tight end like the Cowboys’ Jason Witten. He’s long admired his game. While some would argue Ertz finally had a breakout season in 2017, his last three years have been elite. Since 2015, he has 227 catches for 2,493 yards and 14 touchdowns. The only other TEs to put up those numbers or better over that span are Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker. And in 2017, Ertz did something Celek never did: he made a Pro Bowl. 

Celek was released and Trey Burton signed a lucrative deal to become the top tight end in Chicago, so Ertz is the only player left from last year’s tight end room. The Eagles brought in Richard Rodgers as a free agent and have a few younger prospects already on the expanded roster, but the Eagles’ brass has commented about how good of a tight end draft this is, so it would make sense if they add one later this month. 

If the Eagles do draft a tight end, the 27-year-old Ertz is going to try to be a strong veteran presence for the young player … kind of like what Celek was for him. 

“I told the guys the other day, I’m here to help however I can, whether that be talking football or just allowing them to watch how I approach things,” Ertz said. “I kind of was able to learn from Brent how to treat young tight ends coming in, young players coming in, so that’s one of the things that he kind of told me as he was leaving: that I kind of set the blueprint for your success. He didn’t say that verbally, but that’s how I took it. I want to repeat that for whoever comes in.”

Celek is gone, but through Ertz, his impact is still going to be felt in the NovaCare Complex for years to come. 

Jordan Hicks trying to shed his injury-prone label

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Jordan Hicks trying to shed his injury-prone label

Jordan Hicks missed all but four games of the 2012 season at Texas with a groin injury, then missed all of 2013 with a torn Achilles. He missed eight games as a rookie in 2015 with a torn pec and then missed nine games and the postseason last year with another Achilles.

So over the last six years, he’s played in 48 games and missed 42.

When he’s played, he’s been very good. But that’s a season-ending injury four of the last six years, and so far Hicks’ accomplishments have been overshadowed by the games he’s missed.

Hicks spoke Tuesday about how frustrating the injuries have been and how important it is for him to find a way to stay healthy.

“I don’t think I need to do that for anybody else but myself,” he said. “I want to play this game. I love playing the game of football, I love being out there with the guys, and when I’m not out there — and I think everybody feels this way when they can’t help the team — you feel like you’re letting down the team because you know you can be out there making an impact.

“So it’s more disappointing to me than … anyone else. I have to make sure I’m out there. My motivation is within. And obviously it stems from the guys around me. I want to have that accountability and let the guys know I’ll be there for them no matter what.”

Hicks, a third-round pick in 2015, has seven interceptions, two sacks, five fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in 31 NFL games.

“I don’t have any question in my mind that if I’m healthy I’ll be productive,” he said.

Hicks got hurt last year in the second Washington game. He had been dealing with a left ankle injury for several weeks when he blew out his right ankle.

“I think that had something to do with it, but I’m a professional athlete and if you put me in a position to go play then I’m going to compete as hard as I can,” he said.

“That’s just my makeup and I think that’s the makeup of this locker room. 

“When you’re dealing with one thing, you’re susceptible to another. That’s just the way your body works. As I become a pro and as I’ve become a pro, you’ve got to learn there’s a level of being smart and understanding when enough is enough and when you have to say no at some point.

“Whether it’s pride or whether it’s the things in my head, those questions have to be answered. I decided not to come out, I decided to tough it out. I played vs. the [Chargers, Panthers and Cardinals]. All with a bum ankle, and at the end of the day, hindsight is 20/20.”

Hicks is six months out from his latest injury but as voluntary minicamp begins, he declined to put a timetable on his return.

“Doing really well,” he said. “It feels like since Day 1 I’ve been ahead of schedule. Currently progressing every day, trying to get stronger, constantly trying to get my explosion back.”

Hicks, whose contract is up after this coming season, knows his value will depend tremendously on his ability to stay healthy.

“If I focus on what I need to do every single day, if I focus on getting back and focus when I’m back on making sure I’m detailing my work and I’m taking care of my body, everything is going to fall into place,” he said. 

“When you start worrying about everything else is when you get out of your game, and that’s when you can really start forcing issues.”