rodney mcleod

With backs against wall, Eagles' D delivers in crunch time

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With backs against wall, Eagles' D delivers in crunch time

LOS ANGELES — As Carson Wentz was in the blue pop-up tent on the sideline and then as he walked slowly around the corner of the stadium and into the tunnel, the Eagles' defense was busy collapsing. 
 
While Nick Foles began to warm up on the sideline, the Rams went on a seven-play, 70-yard drive that took 3:22 and was capped by a one-yard score from Todd Gurley to take a lead. 
 
Game over, right? 
 
After all, the Eagles were without their MVP and their defense just couldn't seem to stop the Rams. 
 
Then the defense tightened up. 
 
And it helped the Eagles escape the LA Coliseum with a 43-25 win. 
 
"We found a way to get stops when we needed to," Rodney McLeod said. "We’re a resilient group and when our backs we’re against the wall, we had to show up, and that’s what we did tonight."
 
The big play was obviously the Chris Long strip sack. Until that play, it just felt like the Rams were going to keep driving down the field at will. They had already scored on their first two drives of the half and scored a third touchdown on a punt block and return. 
 
So at that point in the game, the strip sack from Long and the recovery from McLeod were enormous (see story)
 
That turnover was impressive, but so was the next Rams' possession. After the Eagles took a 37-35 lead on a Jake Elliott field goal, the Rams got the ball at their own 25-yard line. The Eagles forced a 3-and-out and the Rams didn't get the ball back until there was one second left. 
 
The last three times the Rams touched the ball, they had two fumbles and a 3-and-out. 
 
“We were giving them a lot," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We were giving them too much. We knew at some point we had to stop them. We got to stuff the run on first down, and then they got to run their normal offense. I think guys just knew. We settled down and did what we had to do, but giving credit to that team, that’s a really good team."
 
Until the last few drives of the game, the Rams were gashing the Birds. Todd Gurley had 135 total yards, Cooper Kupp had 118 receiving yards, and Jared Goff while wasn't dazzling, he was very efficient. 
 
Gurley sure looked like the best back the Eagles have faced all season. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry and had two touchdowns on Sunday. 
 
"Top back, Pro Bowl back," Nigel Bradham said of Gurley. "Definitely going to go down as one of the greatest backs in this game. Definitely probably see him in a gold jacket." 
 
But Gurley had 117 of his 135 total yards through three quarters. The Eagles were able to limit him in the fourth. 
 
Really, that was a theme. The Eagles' defense stepped up in crunch time. The Rams had 10 offensive plays in the fourth quarter for a total of 12 net yards. That came after the Rams had 128 yards on 10 plays in the third. 
 
The Rams averaged 12.8 yards per play in the third quarter and 1.2 yards per play in the fourth. 
 
Several Eagles defensive players credited Jim Schwartz with finding ways to adjust and stop the Rams and Gurley. 
 
"We just locked in as a group," McLeod said. "We made adjustments. Jim made some good adjustments. That's what you do when you're a good coach. That's a good team over there, great offensive coordinator. It was a chess game. We kind of mixed some things up and things worked in our favor. We got off the field when it counted."

Chris Long plays defensive hero late in L.A.

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Chris Long plays defensive hero late in L.A.

LOS ANGELES — The Eagles were running out of time. Their quarterback was hobbled. Their defense was getting torn apart. Somebody had to make a play.

It was Chris Long's turn.

“I think we just realized we have to make a stop or two, if we’re any good," Long said.

With the Rams leading the Eagles by a point midway through the third quarter, Long — who spent the 2008 through 2015 seasons with the Rams — strip-sacked Jared Goff inside the Rams' 30-yard line.

The ball seemed to bounce forever before Rodney McLeod recovered and got the ball down to the 25-yard line, and 4½ minutes later, Jake Elliott gave the Eagles the lead for good with the second of his three field goals.

“They were doing a good job of play-action pass all game," Long said after the Eagles' 43-35 win over the Rams (see breakdown). "Boots, play action. Todd (Gurley) played a hell of a game and it made it easier for them to drop back, and I just had a good read on the sack and stayed at it. 

"Our coverage was good and I just put my hand on the ball."

Long, in his first year with the Eagles, now has four sacks and three forced fumbles rotating in at defensive end.

None of his plays were bigger than this one (see Roob's observations).

"I probably just held on to it a little bit too long," Goff said. "Stepped in the pocket there, and Chris Long came around and made a great play. Probably (need to) get rid of it a little earlier there."

The Eagles got gashed for much of the game Sunday, but that turnover was the biggest play of the game.

"I think at that point of the game, we knew the defense had to go out and win the game," Fletcher Cox said. "We knew that it was our time to get a turnover and put our offense in a position to score and just close the game out. 

"We always talk about it, we have to get turnovers. We got one and it was the biggest one of the game."

The last time the Eagles were trailing this late in a one-possession game and got a takeaway that led to a win?

It was in 2014 against the Colts, when Malcolm Jenkins picked off Andrew Luck with 5½ minutes left in Indianapolis with the Colts up 27-20. The Eagles wound up winning 30-27 on Cody Parkey's field goal as time expired.

“Chris came off the edge and made a great play for us," McLeod said.

"The ball was squirming around, a lot of guys trying to scoop it up, I just felt like if I slowed down the ball was going to come my way and it did, and I was able to capitalize on a big play for my team."

Thanks to Long and McLeod, the Eagles are now 11-2 with three games to go and NFC East champs for the first time since 2013.

"We felt like we had to do our part on defense and go out there and get a score or make something happen," Brandon Graham said. "Chris started it. Chris definitely started it and we just took over after that.”

Eagles learn about Kobe Bryant's 'Mamba mentality'

Eagles learn about Kobe Bryant's 'Mamba mentality'

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rodney McLeod broke into a huge grin as he passed along the explanation from Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, an Eagles fan who grew up in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, spoke to the entire Eagles team Friday morning at their hotel in Costa Mesa, California.

How did Kobe explain his "Mamba mentality?" 

"A killer mentality," McLeod said. "He said literally every time he stepped on that court, he wanted to be the best. He wanted to go out there and kill the guy lining up across from them and make him feel like he didn't deserve to be on the court. Like literally, those were his words. 

"He wanted to make them feel like they shouldn't be a basketball player, they should be an accountant. That's what he said. And you see it when you watch him play. When you have that mindset, it's hard to beat a guy like that."

It takes someone truly great to leave a group of 63 professional athletes and their coaches in awe. Bryant is one of them. McLeod also said Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Derek Jeter would make the list. 

McLeod brought in a pen and pad of paper to take notes, but he ended up recording Bryant's talk and Q&A session in his brain. He didn't get an autograph, but he did get a photo with Bryant, which was good enough for him. 

"It's a dream come true, really," McLeod said. "Electric feeling for me. You just feel the energy and his presence as soon as he came in and talked to us." 

In the Eagles' media guide, McLeod lists Bryant as his favorite childhood athlete. Even though McLeod grew up in Maryland, Bryant's play and mentality won him over at a young age. McLeod considers Bryant to be the greatest basketball player of all time. 

A few thousand miles away from McLeod's childhood home, Kenjon Barner and Joe Walker grew up near Los Angeles, where Bryant was one of the best and most famous players in the NBA with the Lakers.

"It was really cool to see him walk in," said Walker, who, like Barner and McLeod, has Bryant listed as his favorite childhood athlete in the Eagles' media guide. "Growing up a little kid in L.A., I mean, he pretty much built this city."

Friday was the first time Walker had ever been around his childhood hero. But it wasn't the first time for Barner, who had actually met Bryant a few times before. 

Because Barner's cousin is former NBA player Andre Miller, he has been around NBA players for a long time. He doesn't really get starstruck, but the first time he met Bryant, it was something special: "It just makes you say, 'damn!'"

Upon overhearing Barner talk about all the times he had met Bryant before, fellow running back Wendell Smallwood gave him some grief in the overflow locker room at Angel Stadium. 

"He's so cool, Kobe isn't cool to him," Smallwood said. 

Barner stepped in. 

"It's still cool, man," he said. "It doesn't change."

Head coach Doug Pederson said there wasn't really an interesting story about how the Eagles got Bryant to their team hotel. The Eagles simply checked in with him to see if he was available. Bryant was, so he showed up. 

Pederson said a lot of Bryant's message was about focusing and paying attention to details.

That was the part of Bryant's talk that really seemed to stand out to Nelson Agholor, who is recognized as one of the hardest-working members on the team. 

"He's also a guy that has that dog in him when it's time to step on somebody's throat, he'll do that," Agholor said. "I think that was something I'll never forget."