Brandon Graham

Eagles' D better fix issue because 'Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people'

Eagles' D better fix issue because 'Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people'

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Eagles' defense prides itself on tackling and avoiding penalties.

Jim Schwartz's unit didn't do either well Sunday in the Eagles' 24-10 loss to the Seahawks. 

"We have to get back to playing our style of football," Schwartz said Tuesday afternoon from the team's hotel in Southern California, "because the Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people."

After Sunday's loss, the Eagles flew south and will spend the week at a hotel in Costa Mesa, while practicing at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. On Tuesday, while the offense went to the stadium for its walkthrough, the Eagles' defense used an empty ballroom in the team hotel after working out in an open-air weight room.

It's in a completely foreign environment, but Schwartz's unit needs to get back to what made it dominant before. 

“We understand what happened that game," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We understand what we are as a team. And I know that we have a big challenge this week. And I know that we’re gonna do what we gotta do to bounce back this week.”

On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson didn't deny what a few of his players said after the loss to the Seahawks: that the team didn't have a great week of practice beforehand. That possibly led to some mental mistakes; the Eagles felt like they helped the Seahawks out way too much. 

Schwartz said he was overly worried about the week heading into the Chicago game. Maybe his fears there were somewhat unfounded, but the Eagles did make similar mistakes that eventually hurt them against the Seahawks. 

Perhaps the Eagles' defense had been a little too loose. 

"Every team has a little different personality," Schwartz said. "Some teams play best when they're loose. [For] some teams, it's more of a grind. I think our guys have the ability to play with and have some fun out on the field. But there is also a fine line between doing that and losing focus. Maybe that's something we can improve on."

Whatever the case was during practice, the Eagles need to fix it, especially if it's what led to penalties and missed tackles against the Seahawks. 

Of the Eagles' seven penalties for 64 yards against Seattle, four of them gave the Seahawks first downs.

And the Birds also had eight missed tackles, according to ProFootballFocus. Three of them belonged to Jalen Mills, normally a good tackling cornerback. Schwartz also noted they had a few chances to bring down Russell Wilson, and not just when he was scrambling around. 

"We missed a couple tackles that we have done a good job of making. We already talked about the penalties," Schwartz said. "That's a couple things that we've been really proud of defensively of being a good tackling team. That didn't show on Sunday night against Seattle."

A few weeks ago, Schwartz commended — as much as he does — his defense's ability to avoid costly penalties. The defense had four penalties Sunday against the Seahawks and all of them gave Seattle first downs. The Eagles were called for three defensive holds — one apiece for Nigel Bradham, Patrick Robinson and Corey Graham — and the pass interference call on Ronald Darby. Maybe it was a ticky-tack call on Darby, but Schwartz said the corner didn't play it as well as he should have. Had he, the flag probably doesn't get thrown. 

The Eagles had given up just one first down by penalty in each of their previous five games and had given up just 17 all season coming into Sunday. The only other time they gave up four in one game this season was against Carolina nearly two months ago. 

"When you give good offenses second chances, good things don't happen," Schwartz said. "I think that's probably going to be the same thing, well, it's going to be the same every week, but particularly so this week, facing a high-powered offense, a team that can score a lot. When we have a chance to stop them, we have to be able to stop them. We can't be extending drives due to penalties."

The good news for the Eagles is even with all the penalties and the missed tackles and coverage problems, they still gave up just 24 points. They've given up more points than that just once this season. 

To put those 24 points into perspective, 12 NFL teams are allowing an average of 24-plus points per game this season. And it constituted a bad performance for the Eagles, who have given up an average of 17.9 (sixth best in the league). 

"I think we, to a man, all recognize we played a poor game, and I'll include myself in that, too," Schwartz said. "And we gave up 24 points. Again, please don't misconstrue that, because we don't take any pride in that. But it shows you a little bit about where our guys are, that that's considered a bad performance, you know what I mean?"

Schwartz said they don't have one player on defense that considers that Seattle game one of their best performances. And for a lot of his players, it was one of their worst games. 

This week, the Eagles are working to keep perspective. They lost one game — sure, a big one, but still just one game — Sunday. They still have a chance to split this West Coast trip and can still accomplish all their goals. They just have to get back to what led them to nine straight wins. 

"We're a really good 10-2 team," Graham said. "That's what we are right now. We can't sit around and pout about it. We have the Rams up next."

Brandon Graham making Eagles fans forget about Earl Thomas

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Brandon Graham making Eagles fans forget about Earl Thomas

Brandon Graham has been through so much in his eight years with the Eagles.

He's gone through three head coaches, five defensive coordinators and six position coaches. He missed most of a season with an injury. He missed most of a season riding the bench. He was blasted for years by fans who wanted Earl Thomas instead.

And Graham is still here, still always smiling and playing better than ever.

“We’ve been here a long time," Graham said. "I’m just happy to be a part of this. I’m just happy that they stuck with me and now we’re out here and we put a team together and now we’re trying to take advantage."

Sunday was a significant game for Graham. After recording either 5½ or 6½ sacks four times in his career, he set a career high with his seventh sack of the season.

Graham was asked after the game if he knew he had set a career high and he just started laughing.

“Yeah, you know I did," he said. "I was happy, you know? We were talking about it on the sidelines. Like, man, the most I ever had was 6½. Now I have seven. Now I just have to keep it going and we have to keep winning. That’s it."

These are happy times for Graham.

He's got a 1-year-old baby, he's got a huge contract, he's got a career high in sacks, he's playing better than ever, the Eagles are 10-1 with a nine-game winning streak, and he's headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

“Man, it feels good," Graham said. "Man, it feels like things are looking up. Now it’s just all about winning. Just keep winning and everything else will take care of itself. And just keep on playing hard."

The Eagles' defense, now up to sixth in the NFL in yards allowed and third in points allowed, has held four straight opponents under 240 yards for the first time since 1954.

Sack No. 7 was typical for Graham, the product of sheer hustle and determination.

Graham strip-sacked Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky early in the third quarter Sunday, and even though the ball was recovered by Bears offensive tackle Bobby Massie, it gave Graham 36.0 career sacks and snapped his career high of 6½, set in 2015.

"It's not just what he does on the field," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He's an engine for us. He practices with a lot of energy. He's fun to be around in the meeting room. 

"He's always talking football. If he's in line there at lunch, he's not talking about what's on Instagram, he's talking about the matchup that week and things like that. He's a respected player on our team."

Graham now ranks eighth in Eagles history with his 36 sacks and within range this year of Andy Harmon (39½) and Seth Joyner (37).

The only players on the roster who've been here longer than Graham are Brent Celek, in his 11th year, and injured Jason Peters, who's in his ninth season with the Eagles.

"Man, it's special to me to be able to not only be the captain of this team but still be playing good, and for them to still depend on me to still be here, because a lot of guys I came in with aren't here, and I'm the only one left," he said.

"So it's special to me, and I don't take it for granted. I just try to go out there and do my job and bring people along to my party and have fun."

Graham had 15 sacks in three years under the Chip Kelly/Bill Davis regime, but he said because the practices these days aren't as long and intense, the players are able to get more out of them and be more productive.

“I feel like the practices ain’t as taxing and then we’re able to just take care of our body and just (give) relentless effort each and every practice," he said.

"And it’s not hard to get motivated because our team, man, I’m telling you, we’ve got a good team and we have a team that understands that we have to get practice in and we have to practice hard in order for it to show up on the field."

Graham turns 30 this spring. He's earning $6.5 million on the third year of a four-year extension he signed in 2015 that runs through next year, and that seventh sack earned him a $250,000 bonus, and two more will earn him another $250,000. A trip to the Pro Bowl or first- or second-team All-Pro honors will earn him another $250,000.

"I take care of my body a lot more," he said. "For me, getting hurt (earlier in his career), I learned I wasn't taking care of my body like I needed to. 

"A rookie coming in, (you're) thinking, 'Hey, I could just show up at any time because I'm young,' but people kept telling me to get into a regimen and stick to it, and now that's what I do. I stick to what I do each and every week, and it's been paying off for me."

Eagles' rush defense proves elite once more against run-heavy Bears

Eagles' rush defense proves elite once more against run-heavy Bears

With four minutes left in the game, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky broke the Eagles' hearts with an 11-yard run down the left sideline.
 
Of course, that run didn't mean anything. It didn't set up a touchdown or field goal. It came at the end of an Eagles blowout win (see Roob's observations). In fact, Trubisky threw an interception a few plays later
 
What that 11-yard run did do was give the Bears positive rushing yardage for the game.

Yep. It rescued them from the ignominy of rushing for less than zero yards in an entire football game.
 
"I was mad," Malcolm Jenkins said after the Eagles' 31-3 win over the Bears at the Linc (see breakdown). "I wanted to keep them to negative yards."
 
Before that run — the Bears' last running play of the game — the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense had negative-five yards on 13 carries.
 
Trubisky made the final totals 14 for 6.
 
The Eagles have been exceptional all year against the run. They were No. 1 in the league before this game. And against a top-5 rushing attack, they showed why.
 
"It would have been pretty cool to hold them to negative-six," Tim Jernigan said. "I wouldn’t have been complaining.”
 
As it was, the Bears finished with their fewest rushing yards in 65 years — since they had one rushing yard in a loss to the Rams in 1952. 

It was the fewest rushing yards the Eagles have allowed in 71 years — since they held the Boston Yanks to minus-26 yards in a win in 1946.

Historic stuff. And it happened against a Bears team that came in fifth in the NFL with 132 rushing yards per game and sixth with 4.5 yards per carry.
 
So much for those numbers.
 
Bears halfback Jordan Howard ranked third in the NFL in rushing before Sunday, but he finished with six yards on seven carries with a long gain of four. Rookie Tarik Cohen had a 12-yard loss and finished with minus-11 yards on two carries. Benny Cunningham had one carry for minus-one yard.
 
"We knew them running the ball was going to be their way of trying to beat us," Jernigan said. "So we were kind of keeping tabs on where they were."
 
Where were they?
 
The Bears' running backs finished with minus-six yards on 10 carries.
 
"That’s pretty impressive and hard to do in this league, and they have two good backs," safety Rodney McLeod said. "Howard’s like top-three in the league, and Jim (Schwartz) told us all week our objective is to stop the run, nothing else, and that’s what we did today."
 
The Eagles are now 10-1 with a nine-game winning streak, and their run defense is one of the biggest reasons why (see report card).
 
They've allowed 716 rushing yards so far, and that’s the seventh-fewest in NFL history after 11 games.
 
“That was the big emphasis this week," Brandon Graham said. "We just wanted to go out there and do our job. We made it about us and obviously, we got the job done today.
 
“You’ve got to get them with numbers and then you’ve got be technically sound. You have to go out there and make sure you don’t try to do anyone else’s job because that’s when they crease you. … We were out there busting our butt, everybody was doing their job and flying around. We played good team D against their run.”
 
The only team to surpass 100 rushing yards against the Eagles this year was the Cowboys with 112 last week.
 
The Eagles won by four touchdowns, but the Eagles were committed to not letting it happen again.
 
"The coaches let us know that first day we started breaking down film," Jernigan said, "coach Schwartz was just demanding, 'Hey, we gotta make sure we take care of 24 (Howard).' Especially after not having much success against Dallas. They had a couple plays that popped, and we wanted to make sure we cleaned it up and got back in the groove of things."
 
With no running game to speak of and the Eagles' lead growing bigger and bigger, Trubisky was forced to throw 33 times. He passed for only 147 yards, was sacked twice, fumbled twice and was intercepted twice.
 
"Stats are cool but at the end of the day, we just go out there and play hard, prepare well and just do our job," McLeod said. "And our job vs. any opponent is always to stop the run first and get them in passing situations and let our guys up front eat, and the rest is history."
 
The Eagles' defense hasn't allowed a touchdown since garbage time of the Broncos game — they led 44-9 when the Broncos scored — and they haven't allowed a rushing touchdown since Cam Newton scored from 16 yards out six weeks ago.
 
“It’s great to see, especially when you put the work in all week," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "When a team is pretty much telling us they’re going to run the ball on us, we feel some type of way about that. That’s one of our strengths.
 
"That’s just what it was. We executed, we showed up, and we did what we wanted."