Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Schwartz thinks defense is better ... on paper

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Schwartz thinks defense is better ... on paper

The Eagles' defense did some good things last year, but the unit also struggled to find consistency.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked if he feels any extra pressure heading into the 2017 season after elevating the Eagles' to a top-15 unit in his first with the team. Schwartz's answer was pretty much what you'd expect, but it was good.

"There's always pressure," he said. "That goes along with this job. If you don't accept pressure, you're in the wrong business. Please don't put on my resume that I elevated this to a top 15 [defense]. I don't know that that — that's participation trophy in my mind.

"And I don't want to split hairs or whatever. The stat that we care about the most is points allowed. I think we were 12th in there. That's still not as good as we can be. And I do agree with you: On paper, we're better. We have added not only depth, but we've added some key components to the defense.

"It's our job as coaches and our job as players to be productive. I mean, this press conference doesn't matter. We can say all the right things. We can have the greatest plans. We have to execute, and the proof is in the pudding. And it's our job to do that over the course of a year.

"We're going to have good games. We're going to have bad games. When the season's over, we have to give our team consistently a chance to win the game. And the best way we can do that is points allowed. There's two things. First, is don't allow very many points, and number two is set the offense up to score."

Schwartz was right about the Eagles' being 12th in points allowed. They gave up 331 last season, an average of 20.7 per game. And he's also right about the turnovers. The Eagles were pretty good in that department. They forced 26 in 2016. That was good for 10th in the league, but the top number was 33 from the Chiefs.

It's not hard to find the key components the Eagles added to the defense this season. It starts with cornerback Ronald Darby, who was added during training camp in a trade with the Bills. He immediately becomes their top option at corner. The team also added Tim Jernigan to replace Bennie Logan, added Chris Long for defensive end depth and then drafted Derek Barnett in the first round. And then there was the addition of Patrick Robinson, the team's nickel corner, and veteran Corey Graham, who is now their third safety.

So on paper, the Eagles' defense should be better. But they don't play on paper.

Pryor interest
There was a funny moment on Wednesday during Terrelle Pryor's conference call with Philly reporters. Washington's new receiver was asked a pretty simple question: Where does his motivation come from?

Pryor didn't give a simple answer. It was a pretty funny moment though.

"My biggest fear in life is ... I don't like spiders," Pryor said. "And I don't like ... I'm scared of sharks but it's my favorite animal. What I'm getting to is another fear of mine is failure.

"You don't want to fail and you don't want to fail your teammates. That drives me. When they come to you for a play and you have to make that play, you don't have success on that play, you're letting your teammates down, you're letting yourself down, I'm letting my son down. I'm letting God giving me this ability to be great and perform down, my coaching staff down. I think that's what motivates me a little deeper and it means something to me."

Spiders, sharks and failure. Got it.

Like Alshon Jeffery, Pryor signed a one-year deal this offseason. He said he had four offers for long-term deals that would last for four or five years and pay him a lot of money. Ultimately, though, he said he decided Washington was the right spot for him, in large part because he wanted to play with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Pryor said the Eagles did show interest in him during the offseason but then "something happened in house" in Philly. Pryor didn't know exactly what happened or what changed. 

"That's all I heard from my agent," he said. "I'm sure my agent knows a lot more about the details of that. But it doesn't matter now. I'm here."

Snapping the streak?
The Eagles haven't been very good against Washington in recent seasons. In fact, they've lost their last five against the division opponent, including two last year, dating back to 2014.

"I'm not here to talk about losing," Fletcher Cox said earlier this week, when asked about the recent streak. "I'm here to talk about going down, preparing this week to go down there. I'm not here to talk about losing."

The worst loss of the five came in Philly on Dec. 16, 2015. The Eagles lost that one by a score of 38-24. But the other four losses have been pretty close. The Eagles have lost the other four by an average of 4.5 points per game.

The Eagles haven't beaten Washington since September of 2014.

The good news for the Eagles is that Washington hasn't fared very well recently in openers. In the three years with Jay Gruden as head coach, Washington has gone 0-3 in openers and has been outscored 72-32.

Something has to give on Sunday.

Eagles Injury Update: Lane Johnson, Wendell Smallwood back at practice


Eagles Injury Update: Lane Johnson, Wendell Smallwood back at practice

Right tackle Lane Johnson and running back Wendell Smallwood were both back at Eagles practice Tuesday.
Johnson missed the Panthers game with a concussion he suffered against Cardinals, and Smallwood missed the last two games after hurting his knee against the Chargers.
Practice was closed Tuesday and the Eagles are not required to release an injury report until Thursday because of the long week, but a team official confirmed that Johnson practiced — which means he was cleared through the NFL's concussion protocol by an approved neurosurgeon.
Johnson was not in the locker room during the period it was open to the media, but Smallwood said he did practice without limitations and hopes to play against the Redskins Monday night.
"It's been coming along," Smallwood said. "Felt good these past couple days, since really after the Carolina game it started feeling good. I was full-go today, I practiced with the guys. ... I wasn't limited at all. It really didn't bother me much. I felt good today. Hopefully, later on in the week, I'll feel better as the week goes and I'll be playing Monday. I think I should be ready."
Smallwood rushed for 113 yards with a 3.9 average and caught seven passes for 56 yards in four games before getting hurt early in the Chargers game.
"Wendell obviously brings a lot to the table," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He's that thrashing, downhill runner. He's got some explosiveness. He's a three-down back, he's good out of the backfield, he's really good in protection. It brings all those things."
Smallwood said he played "on adrenaline" with the injury but said his knee swelled up during the game.
Injuries have married Smallwood's career. He missed the last three games last year with a knee injury and missed time in training camp with a hamstring injury.
"I get frustrated a lot when I'm not in the game, not being out there to help and progress as the year goes on," he said. "So it frustrates me.
"But it happens. I've just got to suck it up and not pay attention to it. Just know I can bounce back and just try to get on the field as fast as I can."
Smallwood said he expects to be 100 percent Monday night in a huge divisional game against the Redskins at the Linc.
"I believe so," he said. "I'm not going to hold back any. I'm not going to think about it or get nervous. I have that confidence in myself. As the week's gone on, I just started feeling better about what I'm able to do."

Also, rookie cornerback Sidney Jones, who became eligible to practice Wednesday after spending the first six weeks on the reserve-non football injury list, said he did not practice. Jones has been out since suffering a torn Achilles at his pro day in March.

Judge set to rule on latest bid to stop Ezekiel Elliott's suspension

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Judge set to rule on latest bid to stop Ezekiel Elliott's suspension

NEW YORK — A federal judge said he will rule Tuesday on an emergency request from attorneys for Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott to stop the running back's six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty heard arguments from lawyers on both sides as the NFL Players Association scrambled to keep Elliott on the field after a federal appeals court last week overturned an injunction that had stopped the league's suspension.

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, is on the suspended list. The Cowboys play at San Francisco on Sunday.

Attorney Daniel Nash, arguing for the NFL, accused Elliott's legal team of seeking relief from courts in Texas to evade courts in New York and the effect of the April 2016 ruling that reinstated a four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" scandal.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the NFLPA, asked Crotty to prevent enforcement of the suspension for two weeks so that the Southern District of New York judge assigned to the case — Katherine Polk Failla — can return from a vacation and rule. Crotty concluded the hearing by saying he'd look at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Brady case before ruling by the end of the day on the union's request for a temporary restraining order.

Nash warned Crotty that allowing the union to continue to delay the suspension would invite "every player who's suspended" to go to court for relief.

"They know under the Brady decision they have no chance of success. None," Nash said.

Kessler said the harm to a player's short career was serious when a suspension is served.

"He can never get that back," Kessler said, arguing that the irreparable harm — among issues of law considered before a temporary restraining order is granted — faced by a player is much greater than harm claimed by the league when a suspension is delayed.

In their request for the temporary restraining order, Elliott's attorneys said NFL procedure required rosters to be set by 4 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said there is no such deadline from the league's perspective.

NFLPA attorneys, working on Elliott's behalf, also said the league had already informed Elliott that he couldn't practice or play this week. The Cowboys returned to work Tuesday after their bye week and will have their first full practice Wednesday.

Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL did its own investigation and announced the six-game punishment.

That led to weeks of court filings, with NFLPA lawyers contending that league investigators withheld key evidence from Commissioner Roger Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses. Elliott has denied Thompson's allegations under oath.

The NFL placed Elliott on the suspended list a day after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a Texas court's injunction that kept Elliott on the field.

The case is shifting to New York because the New Orleans court ordered the dismissal of Elliott's lawsuit in Texas. Depending on the outcome in New York, Elliott's attorneys could still seek a rehearing with a larger panel of the appeals court, which they have indicated they would do.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled 2-1 last week that Elliott's attorneys filed the Texas lawsuit prematurely because the arbitrator had yet to decide on the running back's appeal through the NFL. Elliott's attorneys have argued in subsequent filings that the dissenting judge in New Orleans agreed with the Texas judge's findings that the NFL appeal was unfair to Elliott.

Brady's suspension was served more than a year after it was imposed. A federal judge ruled against the NFL and overturned the suspension, but the league won an appeal.