Defensive turnaround at heart of Eagles' late-season surge

Defensive turnaround at heart of Eagles' late-season surge

LANDOVER, Md. – All of a sudden, a defense that was struggling has become a strength of this football team.

The Eagles finished the regular season with a record-setting defensive performance against the Redskins in a game they had to win.

Yeah, it was the Redskins. Yeah, it was Josh Johnson.  

Still … “Any time you get a shutout, that’s a big deal in this league,” Malcolm Jenkins said.

He’s right.

Let’s take a look at how thorough the Eagles’ domination of the Redskins was in their 24-0 win at FedEx Field Sunday:

The Eagles:

• Held the Redskins to 89 total yards of offense, their fewest in a game since 1961 and their fewest at home since 1956.

• Limited future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson — who had a 90-yard TD against them earlier this year — to a career-low zero rushing yards on four carries.

• Held the 'Skins to 0 for 9 on third down and only allowed three plays longer than nine yards.

• Recorded their first shutout of the Redskins since 1980 and only their second since 1950. 

• Didn’t allow the Redskins across midfield until the fourth quarter.

Nick Foles has certainly revived the Eagles’ offense since replacing Carson Wentz, but the turnaround the defense has made has been just as dramatic.

I think we found the cadence and found our rhythm,” Jenkins said. “This is what we expected. We are where we are expected to be, where we set out (for). The journey hasn’t been how we drew it up, per se, but this is where we expected to be. I don’t think anyone is surprised by the results. We have really just put our heads down and went to work the past month and gotten the results that we want.

Coming out of New Orleans six weeks ago, the Eagles were 20th in the NFL in points allowed.

They finished 12th.

A lot went into this turnaround.

The Eagles began tackling much better and playing the run much better. Michael Bennett really emerged as a force rushing the passer after a slow start. Rasul Douglas made huge strides and solidified one of the corner spots. Rookie Avonte Maddox emerged as a force in the secondary. Turnovers began piling up (nine in the last six games after seven in the first 10 games).

I think we found it, man,” linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said. “We really found our identity this year and not relying on last year. We found the chemistry, we found the trust in each other, we found the drive. It was always there, but we just had to find it. And once it started clicking it’s hard to stop. I said early in the year once we start clicking on all cylinders it’s going to be hard to stop us.

Jenkins, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are the only defenders that started all 16 games, and Cox and Jenkins, in particular, have been remarkably consistent and productive with all kinds of chaos swirling around them.

They are true leaders and true stars. 

The glue that held the defense together through injuries, losing streaks and that ugly 48-7 loss in New Orleans.

“It was just everybody learning to trust each other,” Graham said. “Just one of those things where everything’s just coming together at the right time, and we’re enjoying this wave right now.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was forced to use 35 different players on defense, including 25 starters and 10 different cornerbacks alone.

While the calls for Schwartz to be fired grew louder and louder, Schwartz was working to get the thing turned around.

“We know who we are and who we got in this locker room,” Jenkins said. “We know that regardless of who’s out there, we had an opportunity.

“It was just about figuring out from a coaching standpoint, about the schemes — how to put players in the right position, young players getting a little bit more experience, older players and playmakers making plays for the team, kind of lifting us up and bringing that energy and getting back to having fun. 

"And we’ve seen that, especially late in the year and kind of having that last push. And fate takes care of the rest.”

It’s all about playing your best when the games matter the most, and there’s no question the Eagles' defense goes into Chicago doing exactly that.

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Report: Jordan Howard expected to miss Eagles-Patriots Week 11 game with injury

Report: Jordan Howard expected to miss Eagles-Patriots Week 11 game with injury

Eagles leading rusher Jordan Howard is not expected to play Sunday as he deals with a shoulder injury, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The Eagles have officially listed Howard as questionable for the team's Super Bowl rematch Sunday afternoon against the Patriots at the Linc.

Howard suffered a stinger in the Eagles’ win on Nov. 3 against the Bears, his former team.

That means Jay Ajayi, who the Eagles re-signed on Friday, should be active for the first time in over a year and will likely have a role.

Howard, in his first year with the Eagles, has 525 rushing yards, a 4.4 average and seven touchdowns, including one receiving. 

Since Week 4, Howard has been the 13th-leading rusher in the NFL, averaging 71 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.

Howard was limited in practice during the week and head coach Doug Pederson said Friday he had not been cleared for contact, which left him with a remote chance to be active on Sunday.

Howard has never missed a game because of injury. He didn’t play in the Bears' 2016 opener against the Texans — opening day of his rookie year — but he did dress for the game and was active, he just didn’t get onto the field.

Since then, he’s played in 57 of a possible 57 games.

Howard has the second-most rushing yards in the NFL since 2016 behind only Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys.

The Eagles are already down two running backs. Super Bowl hero Corey Clement is on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury and Darren Sproles joined him on Injured Reserve this week with a season-ending quad injury.

The Eagles will go into Sunday with Miles Sanders, Ajayi and Boston Scott. They also have a rookie, De’Angelo Henderson, on the practice squad.

Sanders, after a slow start, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 76 for 336 and has 22 catches for 305 yards.

Ajayi, acquired by the Eagles from the Dolphins midway through the 2017 Super Bowl season, hasn’t played since injuring his knee in a game against the Vikings on Oct. 7 of last year.

Ajayi has battled knee injuries most of his career but his 4.5 career average is fifth best in the NFL since 2015 among running backs with at least 500 carries.

Scott has 16 carries for 68 yards, a 4.3 average in limited duty.

The Eagles have averaged 141 rushing yards in their last six games. The Patriots are allowing an NFL-worst 5.6 yards per carry over their last six games.

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Eagles send high-ranking official to Colin Kaepernick’s workout

Eagles send high-ranking official to Colin Kaepernick’s workout

According to those who attended Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Atlanta on Saturday, the Eagles were well represented.

The Eagles could have sent a regional or a low level scout to watch Kaepernick, but instead, they sent vice president of football operations Andrew Berry, which seems noteworthy.

On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson was asked if the Eagles would be in attendance at the workout.

“I would assume that we would,” Pederson said. “Obviously for us, we're in season so I can't be there. I’m comfortable with the guys we have, but I'm assuming that we would have somebody there.”

Pederson might be comfortable with the quarterbacks the Eagles have now, but it makes sense that the Eagles would at least take a look at Kaepernick. While Carson Wentz will be in Philly for a long time, his backups — Josh McCown and Nate Sudfeld — are both set to be unrestricted free agents after this season is up.

McCown will be 41 at the beginning of the 2020 season and Sudfeld has attempted just 25 career passes. The Eagles also have Kyle Lauletta on their practice squad.

Philadelphia, more than any other NFL city, should realize how important the backup quarterback position can be. Sure, maybe Kaepernick gets a crack at a starting job, but after three years out of the league, that’s certainly not a given. And the Eagles, with their progressive owner, might just be willing to sign Kaepernick despite potential backlash. Or maybe this leads nowhere.

Despite a last-minute move to a location 60 miles away from the Falcons’ facility, Berry and a few representatives from other NFL teams still made it to the workout.

The whole workout on Saturday was seemingly thrown together hastily and was organized by two sides that clearly have a contentious relationship. There were plenty of issues between them, including ones about the liability waiver, media availability and video footage. The move happened 15 minutes before the workout was scheduled to happen.

After the workout, Kaepernick explained why the move happened:

The NFL on Saturday released a statement saying it was “disappointed that Colin did not appear for his workout.” He didn’t appear for the workout at the Falcons’ facility, but the 32-year-old quarterback did appear at the high school sight in Georgia and apparently looked good.

The Eagles pride themselves on searching everywhere for talent and evaluating all options. Kaepernick is certainly an option. Of course, there’s a lot more to the Kaepernick story than a former Pro Bowl quarterback looking for a new team. The NFL in February settled a collusion grievance with Kaepernick and his former teammate Eric Reid. And Kaepernick hasn’t played since 2016, claiming collusion after he began a series of protests over social and racial injustice in the United States. He famously kneeled during the national anthem before games.

It’ll be interesting to see if this workout leads anywhere for Kaepernick or if the Eagles would actually pursue him. For the rest of this season, the Eagles are in a good spot when it comes to the quarterback position, but when this year is over, it’s more questionable. That’s probably why they looked at Kaepernick today.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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