Jim Schwartz on replacing Nigel Bradham Week 1, expectations for defense, and more

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Jim Schwartz on replacing Nigel Bradham Week 1, expectations for defense, and more

Five nuggets from Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s chat with the media Monday … 

Fighting Super Bowl hangover

Jim said he likes what he’s seen from his group in terms of maintaining the same work ethic it had during the Super Bowl season.

Every championship team talks about staying hungry. From what I’ve seen of the Eagles this preseason, they’ve done it.

“I think the biggest thing that comes if you haven't experienced it before, in my career I had only been to the Super Bowl one other time, is how short the offseason is," Schwartz said. "It comes up on you pretty quickly. You have to get guys transitioned to a different mindset right away. I like our group that way. 

“Our group has stayed hungry. They’ve stayed focused. It's a difficult thing to do with all the attention not just from fans around, but media attention and everything else. I'm sure you guys have seen the T-shirts of embracing the target. Last year we were the underdogs. We were the people that people didn't think could make their way through with the injuries we had and the other things. This year we're going to have the target on us. That takes a little bit of different mindset.”

Dealing with Bradham's suspension 

Schwartz said no one player will be asked to replace linebacker Nigel Bradham, who is serving a one-game NFL suspension this week for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

"We'll try to compartmentalize some guys." Schwartz said. "Our numbers are down just a little bit. We have a new guy coming in (D.J. Alexander), so we'll have guys covering up a lot of different roles up there. Whole goal is not to have any drop off in production. We have confidence in those guys. 

“There were games last year that we had to do that, also. Jordan (Hicks) missed most of, well just about all of, the Washington game. Carolina, we lost some guys and guys stepped in and got wins for us and we expect the same in this game.”

Moving on without Means

Howie Roseman said Saturday cutting Steven Means was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make as Eagles general manager. 

Means was a talented defensive end, a natural leader and a real favorite of his teammates in the locker room.

But the Eagles just didn’t have roster space for him, and Schwartz talked about that Sunday.

"We're fortunate that we're so deep at that position, that we had a hard time finding a spot for him," he said. "Everybody thinks the world of Steven. I don't know what you guys feel, but in our locker room, in our building, he is as respected as any player that I've been around. He'll have great success. He'll land on his feet and he'll have success. I just hope it's not against us.”

Continuing to grow in Year 3

The Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL in both yards and points allowed last year, their best ranking since 2008 and matching their best since 2004.

Schwartz, now in his third year as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, spoke Sunday about his expectations for this year’s defense.

“The biggest thing is just continue to win games," he said. "That's all we judge ourselves on. If we win games, we're happy. If we don't, we're not. Our job is to keep the score down. So points allowed are always going to be part of that job that help us win games and then the things that affect points allowed: Third-down stops, takeaways, red zone. Those all contribute to getting off the field and keeping the score down. 

“Then the other part of it that we did last year and again, you can't count on things carrying over, we had a big-play component to us. We were able to score the football or put the offense in really good field position so that they could score. That was a consistent theme.

"Those are all fundamental things that we do and that we ask the defense to do. If we are playing good defense, then we'll hit all those targets.”

The challenge of replacing Patrick Robinson

Schwartz said it won’t be just second-year pro Sidney Jones manning the slot Thursday night against the Falcons.

Rookie Avonte Maddox worked in the slot a lot during the preseason, and safeties Corey Graham and Malcolm Jenkins also have slot ability.

“We'll have that job covered by multiple players," Schwartz said. "That's not going to be just one person goes in and puts a slot hat on and he's out there all the time. … 

“Again, just like the linebackers, I don't want to announce anybody that's going out. I think that game plans and personnel things are things that are better left unsaid. Particularly at this time of the year leaves a little bit of uncertainty, but we do have multiple ways that we are going to cover it.”

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Personnel disasters and more in Roob's random Eagles points

Personnel disasters and more in Roob's random Eagles points

Taking stock of Derek Barnett, the Eagles’ MVP, a long-range prediction and lots more in this weekend’s edition of Roob’s random Eagles points! 

1. When the Eagles needed defensive end depth, they didn’t hesitate to sign Vinny Curry, who had 11½ sacks in his previous four seasons. When they needed a running back, they signed Jay Ajayi off a one-year layoff. When they needed a wide receiver, it was 32-year-old DeSean Jackson and then when they needed another one, it was Jordan Matthews, who had been released three times in the past year.

Maybe this isn’t entirely true, but the impression these moves give is that the Eagles’ scouting department is bringing back guys it’s familiar with — guys the team has already cut ties with at least once — instead of really doing its due diligence to find the most talented and most promising players available at those positions. Need an Eagle? Find an old Eagle!

Jackson got hurt. Curry’s done nothing. Ajayi’s been here only a couple weeks but looks slow. Matthews lasted two weeks. There’ve been several other lesser guys they’ve recycled. I can’t help but wonder if the Eagles’ scouting department is basing way too much on familiarity and not enough on ability.

2. Barnett hasn’t been awful this year. He’s shown some flashes. Plays hard. But 4½ sacks is 4½ sacks. And 12 sacks in 33 NFL games is mediocre production. Barnett’s only 23 so there’s still time for him to figure it out, but he’s in Year 3 now, and I don’t see signs of him becoming a special player. He’s still trailing Mike Mamula’s pace (13½ sacks in his first 33 games). Not good enough.

3. Incredible that Miles Sanders already has the fourth-most scrimmage yards ever by a Penn State player in his rookie year: Saquon Barkley (2,028), Curt Warner (1,774), Franco Harris (1,235), Miles Sanders (879). Pretty good company. 

4. With Jordan Howard out (as well as Corey Clement and Darren Sproles), Doug Pederson can’t be afraid to give Sanders 22 or 23 carries in a game. He’s by far the most productive running back available right now, and the Eagles can’t simply go 69-31 pass-run ratio like they have the last three weeks just to protect Sanders. If the other backs on the roster aren’t good enough to produce, go find better running backs.

5. I’m not sure how this is possible, but Sanders has only six third-down carries all year. He’s averaging 5.8 yards on third down.

6. This is fascinating: The average third down Eagles opponents are facing is a 3rd-and-8, which is the fifth-longest third-down average by any defense this year. That’s really good. But opposing teams are converting 37 percent on third down, which is 13th best. The second figure should be much lower based on the first figure. Why the discrepency? Because the Eagles are allowing opposing teams to convert an incredible 25.5 percent on 3rd-and-10 or longer. That’s fourth worst in the league. 

7. My colleague Dave Zangaro and I were trying to figure out who the Eagles’ 2019 MVP is, and we were kind of stumped. Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson have been really good for the most part. Fletcher Cox has been his usual self after a slow start. Zach Ertz has big numbers again. Jake Elliott and Cameron Johnston have been terrific. Rodney McLeod has been the most consistent guy on defense. Sanders keeps getting better. But do any of them deserve the title of MVP? Nope. The reality is with four games to go? This team doesn’t doesn’t have one.

8. Ertz has 507 career catches. He needs 17 in the last four games for the most ever by a tight end in his first seven seasons. Jason Witten caught 523 from 2003 through 2009.

9. Ajayi is only 26, but he looks like he’s 36. That’s understandable to an extent. He didn’t have OTAs, didn’t have a training camp. Didn’t practice in over a year before Seattle week. He’s going to look rusty. But that raises the question … if you knew Ajayi had missed a year and wasn’t immediately going to be the same guy he used to be and you needed a running back to contribute now, why did you sign him?

10. Crazy prediction: If the Eagles find a way to beat the Cowboys and if they win the NFC East and if they host a wild-card weekend game, they’re not losing that game.

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Eagles-Giants NFL Week 14 predictions 2019

Eagles-Giants NFL Week 14 predictions 2019

The Eagles (5-7) host the Giants (2-10) at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night. 

To the predictions: 

Reuben Frank (5-7) 
I’m really reluctant to pick the Eagles to beat anybody right now. I have no reason to have faith in this coach, these players, this staff. But then I look at the Giants and they’re way worse than the Dolphins. I don’t think it helps the Eagles that Eli Manning is back, even though he’s been brutal for years against the Eagles. But he's got a better chance to come into the Linc and win a game than a 22-year-old kid who has two career wins.

What Monday night will show all of us is whether the Eagles have mailed it in or if they still have a shred of fight in them. We know the Cowboys have mailed it in. Somebody has to win the NFC East, unless commisioner Roger Goodell just decides to vacate it and add another wild-card team. Probably won’t happen, although if I were the commish I would.

So against my better judgment I’ll pick the Eagles. But at this point, nothing would surprise me.

Eagles 27, Giants 26

Dave Zangaro (6-6) 
Let’s start by making this clear: The Eagles could lose any remaining game on their schedule. I just don’t think they’re gonna lose this one. The Giants are a mess and even with Manning, I’m not expecting that to change. And then there’s the fact that the Eagles have owned Manning and the Giants over the last few years. In fact, the Eagles are 9-1 against the Giants in the last five years. They’ve even won the last five games between the two teams. But four of those five wins have been close games, so I’m not about to predict a blowout. Still, I expect the Eagles to be tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East on Tuesday morning. 

Eagles 24, Giants 20 

Derrick Gunn (5-7) 
Shocked is the best way to describe what happened to the Eagles down in Miami. The offense came to life, moved the ball effectively and put up 31 points. Then there’s the defense that we had applauded for holding four previous opponents to 17 points or fewer having a complete meltdown and giving up 37 points to one of the worst offenses in the league. If losing wasn’t bad enough, players and the head coach Doug Pederson said in unison “they wanted it more than we did.” So here they stand two games below sea level and fighting for their playoff lives.

The Giants are just as bad as the Dolphins on both sides of the ball. The Eagles’ defense was planning on getting an up-close-and-personal look at Daniel Jones, but he’s injured which means Manning has been dusted off and called into active duty. But wait there’s more: both TE Evan Engram and WR Golden Tate are expected to be healthy enough to return as well. If that happens, Tate, Engram, Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley would all be on the field together for the first time this season.

The Birds have owned Manning in recent years (Manning 1-9 in last 10 meetings with Eagles). This matchup makes me nervous. Manning could want to make a strong showing for a future employer. Will the Giants rally around their former leader? Which Eagles defense will show up? Despite the records, it’s a division battle, but at least the Birds have this one at home. 

Eagles 28, Giants 21

Ray Didinger (4-8) 
It was interesting that the point spread went up when it was announced that Manning would be starting for the Giants on Monday. Has it reached the point where bettors think a rookie, Jones, gives the Giants a better chance to win than a two-time Super Bowl MVP? Wow. 

Anyway, the Eagles were favored by eight but it went up to nine when the Giants announced Manning would start. I think the Giants saw Jones throw three picks Sunday against Green Bay (that's 21 turnovers for him this season) and decided the kid needed to sit for a week or so just to clear his head. Eight straight losses can wreck a young quarterback's confidence. They probably wanted to give Manning a chance at a curtain call anyway.

With Manning at quarterback, there will be a lot of dump offs to Barkley. He caught 91 of them last season when Manning was checking it down all the time. This year with Jones taking over Barkley has just 38 receptions. It is a dramatic difference. So Barkley will get a big work load, rushing and receiving, but it won't spell the difference. Big day for Carson Wentz against a woeful Giants defense.

Eagles 28, Giants 14

Andrew Kulp (6-6) 
I said it last week (while wrongly picking the Eagles), but it's not a given they will win this or any other game for the remainder of the season. That's just the reality of the situation.

That being said, while I might've been tempted to pick the Giants with Jones under center, picking the Giants led by Manning is a different story. Don't get me wrong, I can totally imagine a scenario in which Manning torches the dynamic duo of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby — I just don't find it incredibly likely.

Manning stinks against the Eagles, stinks at Lincoln Financial Field, and really stinks against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in primetime. I'll take my chances on the Birds here.

Eagles 34, Giants 15

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