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.
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.