Eagles

Chris Long: Eagles give chance to 'prove myself all over again'

Chris Long: Eagles give chance to 'prove myself all over again'

Chris Long probably could have stayed with the Patriots and had a pretty darn good chance to rack up another Super Bowl ring.

Or two.

At this point in his career? Long was after something different.

It was fun playing for the Patriots and winning a Super Bowl in his ninth NFL season. But what he really wants is to finish his career with a team where he can really be a difference maker on the field.

And the Eagles, with whom he can be a pure pass rusher in Jim Schwartz's classic 4-3 defense, offered that far more than New England, where he spent most of last season lined up inside as a defensive tackle.

Is there really something bigger than having a tremendous chance at winning another Super Bowl ring?

For Long, there is.

"At the end of the day I have to follow my heart and that's served me well, for the most part," Long said. "Sometimes it gets me in trouble. But I think I just wanted to be in a situation where I was able to be proud of what I put on the field every Sunday.

"I think every team has a chance to compete for championships at the beginning of the season. It's no foregone conclusion you go anywhere and do anything.

"So I think that when I figured out there might be an opportunity for me to come to a great situation like this with a team that is on the rise and a lot of excitement in the building and the chance to compete for the role I was looking for, (that's) where I wanted to be."

Long had 50 1/2 sacks in his first six NFL seasons, including 13 for the Rams in 2011, 11 1/2 in 2012 and 8 1/2 in 2013. His 33 sacks during that three-year period were fifth-most in the NFL during that three-year span.

But injuries and a poor fit in New England limited him to eight sacks over the last three years.

Which led him to Philly.

"I had a great opportunity to go to New England and win a championship and that's the goal every year for every team in the league," he said.

"But at the end of the day, I wanted to get back to playing football the way that I played for a long time. And that's something that gave me great joy, taking the field every Sunday and playing to the best of my abilities and in a situation that schematically I felt like I was really being the best me I could be.

"It was a real blessing to be a part of that team last year, but I wanted to towards the end of my career be in a situation to prove myself all over again.

"And that's what keeps me hungry and excited and I think this is a great fit because it gives me that opportunity."

The Eagles signed the 32-year-old Long last week to an incentive-laden two-year, $4.5 million contract.

With their starting defensive end rotation of Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Marcus Smith and Brandon Graham limited to just 15 1/2 combined sacks last year, the Eagles are desperate for pass pressure.

They released Barwin -- Long's close friend. Barwin signed with the Rams, Long's former team, and the Eagles essentially replaced him with Long.

"The No. 1 thing when I started free agency was a good football fit," Long said. "It wasn't about the money for me. I've been lucky to make a good amount of money playing football. It wasn't about anything but getting back to the player that I was or as close as you can be to that and that's something that I'm very driven to do.

"For me, No. 1 was the football fit and a team that is going to have a chance to win a lot of football games, and I feel like when you watch them play, it's obvious this organization is moving in the right direction.

"When we got ready for the Super Bowl and watching the Falcons, I spent a lot of time watching Philly's defense because they were obviously very talented and played Atlanta great and they really jumped off the screen at you.

"And you say, in free agency, once it starts, 'Yeah, I do remember watching those guys, and, 'Man, that would be cool to be a part of something like that,' and that’s where I wanted to be."

Long is at an age where most players are winding down.

Only two players 32 or older in Eagles history have ever recorded more than 6 1/2 sacks in a season -- William Fuller in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and Darren Howard in 2008.

But Long, who didn't miss a game from opening day 2008 through September 2014, said he's healthy and fit and ready to be a big part of this defense.

"I feel like I have a lot left, I really do," he said. "There was a time when I was injured and playing really bad and cut (by the Rams) -- rightfully so -- where I wasn't sure what my future in football was.

"But I was really lucky to take that stuff and for Coach Belichick to take that chance in me and I found out I still have a lot left in the tank. I didn’t miss a practice, didn’t miss a game last year, and that's something I was really proud of.

"I was able to play hard and I think at a pretty high level but I know I have to strike while the iron's hot. Being 32, I wanted to be in the right place, and this is the right place for me."

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

lane.jpg

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

ap-eagles-graham-mills.jpg
USA Today Images

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."