Schwartz focused on big picture with Eagles' D

USA Today Images

Schwartz focused on big picture with Eagles' D

Barring disaster — and we mean total disaster — the Eagles will achieve something Sunday they haven’t done in more than a quarter of a century.
The Eagles go into the final weekend of the 2017 regular season with a 169-yard lead in the battle to lead the NFL in rush defense.
Despite slipping a little in recent weeks, the Eagles have allowed just 1,138 rushing yards this year, or 75.9 yards per game. That’s 169 yards fewer than the Saints, who are allowing 87.1 rushing yards per game.
So as long as the Eagles hold the Cowboys to 168 rushing yards Sunday at the Linc, they will clinch the 2017 NFL rush defense title.
"It means a lot, especially because we've played some really good rushing teams," Malcolm Jenkins said. "And we have been able to kind of hold up all year."
The last time the Eagles led the NFL in rush defense was 1991, when they achieved the rare feat of earning No. 1 rankings against both the run and the pass.
The Eagles have gone an NFL-best 26 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, although Marshawn Lynch came close Monday night.
They've held 17 straight opponents to 140 or fewer rushing yards, their longest streak since 1992.
And they haven't allowed a rushing touchdown at home in more than a year.
"Stopping the run is obviously something that's important to you going forward, but it's part of the game," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.
"It's like rushing the passer. It's like playing pass defense. It's tackling. It's just part of what we do. I do think that playoff time, the ability to stop the run can be a big thing, in particular, because we're going to be playing games here at the Linc, and maybe it's nasty weather. Not every game in January is ideal conditions, and sometimes it's tough to throw the ball.
"We've all been around games like that, and teams have to lean more on the run game. So I think it can be important going forward."
The Eagles finish the regular season Sunday with a meaningless game against the Cowboys, and presumably Ezekiel Elliott.
If they hold the Cowboys without a touchdown, they'll become only the fifth team in NFL history to go an entire season without allowing a rushing touchdown at home.
“It would mean a lot," Patrick Robinson said of the rushing title. "It would definitely mean a lot. We’ve got to try to beat these guys, stop Zeke from getting a 100-yard rushing day. We’re just trying to do our job and finish out the season the right way.”
The Eagles are going to need that run defense to win in the playoffs, especially considering some of the backs they might face — the Rams' Todd Gurley, the Saints' duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the Falcons' Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Vikings' Latavius Murray.
"It has been the staple of our defense, especially as we move into the playoffs," Jenkins said. "Teams are going to bring their running games, and it's going to be a huge thing for us to be able to stop the run."
The key for the Eagles this year has been stuffing the run on first down. They're allowing just 3.2 yards per carry on first down, second-best in the league (the Colts are at 3.0). That puts teams in passing downs early and that plays into the Eagles' pass rush. 
The Eagles are allowing 3.73 yards per carry, fifth-best in the league and their best since 2005, when they finished at 3.72. They lead the league in fewest rushing first downs allowed with 56. They'll finish with their fewest since 1991, when they allowed 53.
Schwartz shrugged off the No. 1 ranking and explained why in typical Jim Schwartz fashion:
"Hey, stopping the run is great, but if you're the No. 1 run defense and you're giving up 600 yards a game passing, it’s hard to put that on a badge or something," he said. "You know what I mean?
"Our job is to allow less points than we score. Anything else after that, it's like figure skating. It's the artistic interpretation or something. It's those things that need to be judged. It always cracks me up. I watch Olympic sports and you see those ski jumpers, and you think, ‘Man, that's awesome. They fly through the air and who can go the farthest is the winner.’
"But it's not just who can go the farthest. There's somebody who judges whether their skis were straight or something like that. Man, just go the farthest. And that's what we're trying to do."

Meet the 99-year-old Eagles fan with a remarkable story

Josh Potter

Meet the 99-year-old Eagles fan with a remarkable story

In Philadelphia, rabidly following the Eagles is a right of passage. Watch one game and you’re hooked. Like many lifelong fans, that’s what happened with Phil Basser.

In 1933. 

So to lump Basser in with the rest of the lifelong fans wouldn’t be right; he was actually born 15 years before the Eagles first took the field for their inaugural season in 1933. 

By now you’ve probably heard of Basser. How could you not have? He’s appeared in Sports Illustrated, made appearances on the local news and has become a Twitter sensation — all in the last week. He’s had a busier week than the team he roots for.

That busy week will culminate with suite tickets provided by the Eagles for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Eighty-two years after Basser attended his first game in 1936, he’ll attend his first playoff game and his first game in “many years.”

If you caught last Sunday’s Vikings-Saints game, you surely caught Millie Wall’s story; a 99-year-old fan attending her first playoff game. A constant camera fixture — she even got to meet Commissioner Roger Goodell — she became a social media star within minutes.

A tweet by SNF on NBC of Wall was quickly passed around Twitter, where Josh Potter, the grandson of Basser, first saw it. Potter replied to the tweet, making his grandpa an instant internet sensation. See, social media isn’t all terrible.

This week, Wall's Vikings and Basser's Eagles will battle for a trip to the Super Bowl. But don't expect Basser to talk any trash.

"To Millie, I would say, 'I will be sure to toast to your 100th on July 4th,'” Basser said in an email correspondence with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

For “a simple guy who likes to live under the radar” like Basser, his meteoric rise to fame “is all a bit overwhelming.”

“The upside is getting calls and emails from the children of my old friends who have long since passed,” Basser said. “When you get to be 99, you don’t have a lot of childhood friends around. It’s been nice to reminisce about my youth.”

Basser — born March 6, 1918, in Philadelphia — has overcome a lot in his 99 years. His mother passed away when he was just four years old. His father, unable to provide for him and his sister, was forced to place his children in a Germantown foster home. Still, his father would come and visit on weekends. Years later, his sister Rose passed away at just 8 years old. 

So Philadelphia, the city and the Eagles — Basser estimates he’s attended “about 25 games” in his lifetime, many of them in those early days in the 1930s — have a deeper meaning than most to Basser.

Then World War ll broke out. Basser originally trained to be a pilot but was rerouted to ground warfare after the Allied invasion at Normandy, where he eventually served as a second lieutenant in the Philippines. 

“After World War II, I never thought there would be another war,” Basser said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I could use the extra income,’ so I enrolled in the army reserves. I was shocked when the Korean War broke out.”

“I was all set to get shipped to Korea and was actually being examined in the Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia when my lifelong best friend, Louis Wexler, ran in and said he had bad news. I was pulled out of line and he told that my dad had had a sudden heart attack and passed away. I was given a 90-day compassionate leave. After the 90 days passed, my orders were changed to ship off to Germany because of heightened tensions with the Soviets.”

Much like the 2017 Eagles, Basser has overcome a great deal in his lifetime. And still, he remains positive. The Eagles’ and Basser’s stories of perseverance collided on Dec. 10 when Basser experienced his worst moment as an Eagles fan, “watching my hero Carson Wentz get carried off the field” with a torn ACL.

But it hasn't been all bad. Unlike younger Eagles fans, Basser has seen the team reach the pinnacle of the sport.  

“Seeing them slog in the snow and blustery wind during the 1960 championship game at Franklin Field,” replied when asked about his favorite Eagles’ memory. “They had to be true soldiers to do that and I was so impressed and inspired by them, and best of all, they won!”

He saw their last championship, and this year, Basser is confident he'll see another.

“There is an old saying, ‘Always a bridesmaid but never a bride,’” Basser said. “Well this year, I can’t wait to walk you down that 100-yard aisle to Super Bowl victory!”

So you like the Eagles to beat the Vikings this weekend?

“A hard fought battle but the Eagles will soar to VICTORY!”

The positive man that he is, Basser offered some condolences for the Vikings. 

“To the Vikings, I would say, ‘Keep plugging. You’ll get to the big time one year. Just not this year!’”

10 Eagles stats your probably didn't know

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10 Eagles stats your probably didn't know

Catches by a running back, a run from scrimmage by a wide receiver, run defense and long field goals highlight this week's edition of 10 Random Eagles Stats You Probably Didn't Know (that I didn't know either)! 

• Devonta Freeman averaged 4.4 yards per carry during the regular season, but against the Eagles he ran 10 times for just seven yards. His 0.7 yards-per-carry is the lowest ever against the Eagles in a playoff game by a running back with 10 or more carries. The previous low was Mike Alstott’s 1.47 for the Buccaneers in 2002 (17-for-25). It’s seventh-lowest in NFL playoff history and worst by a running back since Tyrone Wheatley of the Raiders averaged 0.6 yards per carry (12-for-7) in a loss to the Ravens in 2000.

• The Eagles threw the football to their backs less this year than any season since 1956 and less than any team in the NFL during the regular season. Yet Saturday’s game was their first ever in postseason history in which they had two backs with at least three catches — Corey Clement with five and Jay Ajayi with three. 

• The Eagles rushed for 96 yards Saturday, their seventh consecutive postseason game under 100 yards. That’s the longest postseason streak in NFL history without 100 rushing yards. The Eagles haven’t had 100 rushing yards in a playoff game since the 2006 conference semifinal loss to the Saints, when they had 123.

• Jake Elliott’s 53-yard field goal was the longest in NFL history by a rookie, breaking the record of 50 yards set by Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots against the Chargers in 2006. It also broke the Eagles record of 51 yards set in the 2008 wild-card game against the Vikings by David Akers. It’s tied for 13th-longest field goal in NFL postseason history. 

• The Eagles held the Falcons to 86 rushing yards Saturday, ending a streak of nine straight playoff games in which they had allowed at least 100 rushing yards. That was the second-longest streak in NFL history. The 86 rushing yards are the fewest the Eagles have allowed in their last 14 playoff games. They held Tampa to 49 in 2002.

• Nelson Agholor’s 21-yard run was the longest in Eagles postseason history by a wide receiver. The previous long was a 13-yarder by Reggie Brown against the Giants in 2006. It was also the Eagles’ longest run from scrimmage in their last six games, since a 27-yarder by Correll Buckhalter against the Vikings in 2008.

• Saturday’s game was the ninth in Eagles postseason history in which they held a team to fewer than 200 passing yards and fewer than 100 rushing yards. They’re 9-0 in those games, allowing 8.0 points per game.

• The only team to score more than 10 points against the Eagles at the Linc in their last six home games is the Broncos, and they didn’t surpass 10 until they trailed 44-9. The Eagles’ defense has allowed 55 points in its last six home games, or 9.2 per game. 

• The Atlanta game was the first in Eagles postseason history in which they won despite no takeaways. They were 0-4 in franchise history in the playoffs when failing to force a turnover — the 1980 Super Bowl vs. the Raiders, the 1996 wild-card game in San Francisco, the 2001 NFC Championship Game in St. Louis and the 2003 NFC Championship Game against the Panthers at the Linc.  

• Matt Ryan’s 86.8 passer rating Saturday is the highest ever against the Eagles by a starting quarterback in a postseason loss. The Eagles had been 0-12 in franchise history in postseason games when the opposing starting QB had a passer rating higher than 84.5.