Eagles’ makeshift secondary roasted by Dak in loss

Eagles’ makeshift secondary roasted by Dak in loss

Remember when everyone was complaining about Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby? 

Turns out things can get worse. Much worse. 

They absolutely did for the Eagles in their heartbreaking 27-20 loss to the hated Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football (see observations)

After Darby went down in the third quarter, the Eagles’ decimated secondary was left with just one starter from the beginning of the season: Malcolm Jenkins. 

• Rodney McLeod (knee) is out for the season

• Sidney Jones (hamstring) and Jalen Mills (foot) missed this game 

• And then Darby injured his right knee in the third quarter

That meant guys like Chandon Sullivan, Tre Sullivan, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Corey Graham were shuffled in and out of the lineup on Sunday night. As you might expect, it didn’t go well. 

And it all made Dak Prescott look like a much better quarterback than the average QB he has been all season.  

“I don’t think that’s an excuse,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said of the secondary shuffling. “We got guys who are more than capable, that we have a lot of trust in. Guys that have played a lot of football. It’s all execution. It’s on us. We have to play better.”

It’s less of an excuse and more of a reality. At least we finally found out why Jim Schwartz has been hesitant to play Douglas. It was shocking to see Dak pick apart the Eagles’ secondary as he moved down the field. 

Sunday’s game was so bad, folks were starting to miss Mills, who has been the most criticized player on the team this season. 

Prescott threw for 270 yards for just the second time all season and had a passer rating of 102.8. The Cowboys converted on 8 of 16 third downs, including a 3rd-and-15 in the first half. It’s the fifth time this season the Eagles have given up a first down on a 3rd-and-15 or a 4th-and-15. 

The worst thing from the Eagles’ defense on Sunday was that Carson Wentz and the offense tied up the game twice in the second half — at 13-13 and 20-20 — and both times, the defense let the Cowboys down the field to take leads again. Without Darby and Mills and McLeod and Jones, the Eagles’ secondary became porous. The whole unit looked gassed. 

On those two drives, Prescott was 7 for 8 for 96 yards and a touchdown. 

“Not a big impact,” Tre Sullivan said about the moving pieces. “We all practice to play. Week in and week out, we’re all shuffling in practice. We learn each other’s tendencies and how we communicate with each other. We’re all good to go.”

That’s the confidence they should have. But that doesn’t make it any easier to play with a bunch of backups on Sundays.  

As he left the Eagles’ locker room on Sunday night, Darby had a long sleeve on his right leg. He walked with a limp. He said he didn’t yet know the severity of his knee injury, but insisted, “I’m straight.” The Eagles better hope so.

Because next week, they travel to New Orleans to face one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. 

If they couldn’t stop Dak Prescott, what chance do they have against Drew Brees? 

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Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

There were plenty of interesting topics talked about with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz at his Tuesday press conference. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Is Darby healthy?

It seemed pretty clear the Falcons were targeting cornerback Ronald Darby on Sunday night. Darby’s 2018 season finished on IR with an ACL tear, but he returned for Week 1. In Week 2, Matt Ryan kind of picked on him Sunday night. 

Schwartz mentioned that despite the obvious struggles, Darby “made a couple big plays” for the Eagles. And Schwartz doesn’t think the injury is the problem, but perhaps the time the injury forced him to miss. 

“I think he has all of his speed back,” Schwartz said. “I don't see the ACL as being an issue at all for him. He's done a great job of rehab. He didn't practice a ton in training camp, so I think — and we have a few players that are in that boat. So I think that sometimes you can see some of that, I don't want to call it rust at this point, but there is a reason that we still do training camp and we still practice.”

The Eagles have been rotating at the outside cornerback position — previously under the guise of Darby’s return — and Darby led that group with 59 snaps (89 percent) on Sunday. Schwartz said they enter games with a plan for their rotation, but then basically change it on the fly. 

But if Darby is still working himself back into game shape and the Eagles are already rotating, it would make a lot of sense to limit his reps, especially when it’s clear the opposing teams are going right at him for a reason.  

Fletcher doesn’t look like Fletcher 

Among that group of players who missed summer practices is Fletcher Cox, who hasn’t looked like his usual dominant self through two games. I guess it would have been unfair to expect Cox to return after missing training camp and be back to his All-Pro form, but the Eagles could certainly use that right about now. 

Even Schwartz admitted that Cox doesn’t look like himself. 

“Again, I don't really even consider the injury part of it,” Schwartz said. “It's more just where he is in coming back. Didn't practice a ton in training camp, but there's nobody grading on a curve this time of year because you didn't practice in training camp. Like when they put a ball in the air, the officials don't say, ‘Well, this guy's coming back from an injury,’ or, when it comes time to rush the passer, they don't say, ‘Well, we're going to pull a guy out because of that.’ Nobody cares about that stuff. It's a production league. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. He'll get there.”

Cox will get there. I believe that, but now with injuries to Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan, every team is going to double him. And a less-than-100 percent Cox going against constant double (and sometimes triple) teams is going to be tough.  

Did the Eagles blitz more? 

Jim Schwartz disagreed with the assessment that the Eagles blitzed more than usual against the Falcons. This seems like a semantics issue. Because maybe the Eagles didn’t blitz much more than usual, but they certainly used zero blitzes more. And that was the call on the game-winning touchdown to Julio Jones. 

“They made a good play,” Schwartz said. “I don't know how many times I can say today that it comes with the territory in the NFL, whether it's injuries, whether it's dealing with different situations during the game. But that's part of the risk/reward of blitzing. You want to blitz, you can make some plays, you can sack — but if they do get a guy blocked, there's nobody behind him.

“We took an aggressive approach. Tried to win the game right there.”

For the most part, Schwartz’s aggressive game plan worked wonders on Sunday. The Eagles forced Matt Ryan into his first three-INT game since 2017. And Ryan even noted to reporters that he hadn’t before seen a team run as many zero blitzes against him in a game. 

Pressure without sacks 

Through two games, the Eagles have just two sacks. That ties them for the second-worst total in the NFL. But Schwartz is unworried about that total. 

“I mean, the ball can come out,” he said. “I’d rather have an interception on Darby's play than a sack. Sometimes — I mean, sacks are always good, but you force the quarterback to make an errant throw and you get an interception, that's pressure from blitz, whatever.”

Schwartz has been saying this for years and he has a point. Pressure can affect a game even when it doesn’t result in a sack. Would the Eagles like more sacks? Absolutely. Which is why it’s a fair question to ask. But the answer is fair, too. 

Sidney Jones has a day

Schwartz thought Sidney Jones had a “bounce back” game against the Falcons. The former second-round pick had his first-career interception, but Schwartz was most pleased about Jones’ physical play against the run. That’s an important part of Jones’ game that he needed to improve in Year 3. 

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Eagles reportedly expected to be without DeSean Jackson for two weeks

AP Images

Eagles reportedly expected to be without DeSean Jackson for two weeks

The Eagles are expected to miss DeSean Jackson for “about two weeks” with an abdominal strain, according to ESPN’s Tim McManus.  

Jackson left Sunday’s loss in Atlanta after just 11 snaps with what was called a groin injury. 

The Eagles will face the Lions at home this Sunday, but will then play in Green Bay just four days later on Thursday Night Football. After that, the Eagles and Jackson will have a long week to prepare for the lowly Jets on Oct. 6. 

Losing Jackson for games against two undefeated NFC opponents hurts. 

Jackson had a huge game in Week 1, catching eight passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Without him, the Eagles will definitely miss his unique speed. That was an element they desperately needed in 2018. Jackson has played all 16 games in a season just twice in his career and hasn’t done it since 2013. 

Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery has a calf injury that could sideline him for a game or two as well. 

That means the Eagles are down to just three healthy receivers on the 53-man roster: Nelson Agholor, JJ Argeca-Whiteside and Mack Hollins. 

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