Eagles

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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NFL Week 7 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

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USA Today Images/Joe Nicholson

NFL Week 7 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

Here are Derrick Gunn's five matchups to watch for Week 7 of the NFL season.

Vikings at Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

The Vikings' offense bread and butter is supposed to be their ground game, but against the Eagles it was bombs away. Meanwhile, the Lions' defense plays hit or miss. At some points of the game, it's really good, but at others it's really bad, which is the primary reason why the Lions have given up 414 yards per game. Detroit is also playing with a huge chip on its shoulders after getting jobbed by the refs in Green Bay. The Vikings have too much firepower for Detroit to counter — Minnesota will silence the Lions' roar.

Texans at Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS) 

In their last two games (wins over the Falcons and Chiefs), the Texans have been a scoring machine, racking up a total of 84 points. Houston's offense can explode at any given moment, with 397 yards per game. Their run defense (88 yards allowed) will be a huge test for the Colts' rushing attack (fourth in yards per game with 142). The Colts are coming off a bye will have the heart of their defense back in linebacker Darius Leonard, who missed the last three weeks because he was in concussion protocol returns. For me, the difference is the QB play — Deshaun Watson vs. Jacoby Brissett. The Texans will prove to be to road tough in Indy.

Raiders at Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS) 

Jon Gruden's well-rested squad hits the road to confront Aaron Rodgers and the mystique of Lambeau Field. Oakland riding a two-game winning streak and is only a half-game out of first place in the AFC West. After a referee-aided win over Detroit, Green Bay is in control of the NFC North. Rodgers is still waiting for his favorite target Davante Adams to return and is slinging it to a bunch of receivers you’ve never heard of, but so far it’s been working. Grudens' attempt to raid Lambeau for a win will fall short.

Saints at Bears (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX) 

What a story the Saints have been in Drew Brees' absence. They win low-scoring affairs and they win shootouts, and Teddy Bridgewater has been a big reason why. In the five games he’s played, he’s completed 69.4 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. The Saints' defense is fast and relentless. Speaking of defenses Chicago has one of the best in the business, but they will now be without DT Akiem Hicks, who has been placed on IR with an elbow injury. QB Mitchell Trubisky is finally back at practice this week after healing up from a shoulder injury, but it's not certain if he’s playing on Sunday. Trubisky gives the Bears a better chance against New Orleans, but I’m marching with the Saints' hot streak.

Ravens at Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX) 

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has been a fantasy football dream: 1,507 yards  passing, 11 touchdown passes, 460 yards rushing and two rushing TDs. This past Sunday vs the Benglas, Jackson became the first QB in the Super Bowl era to pass for at least 200 yards and run for 150 in a single game. Then there’s this guy named Russell Wilson who’s playing at an MVP level, with 14 TD passes and no picks. The run game will be vital for both teams in this one. The Ravens are first in the league in rushing at 205.0 per game, and Seattle averages 131. This is the first meeting between these two on the West Coast since 2011. This could be the game of the day, and the day should belong to the Seahawks.



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Eagles failed trying to duplicate Super Bowl blueprint

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Eagles failed trying to duplicate Super Bowl blueprint

When you look at the Eagles’ Super Bowl roster, it’s remarkable how much of an impact older veteran acquisitions made on that team.

They were Band-Aids, but they were really, really good Band-Aids who all wound up riding a float up Broad Street.

Most were only here briefly. Most were near the end of their careers. Most are out of the league already or playing minor roles with their new team.

But they contributed in a huge way to the Eagles’ first championship in 57 years.

During the three-week period from March 10 to April 4 of 2017, the Eagles acquired Nick Foles, Stefen Wisniewski, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Patrick Robinson and Tim Jernigan. LeGarrette Blount arrived in May, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby in August, Jay Ajayi in late October.

It’s no secret the Eagles’ drafting has been uneven since 2014. And uneven is putting it nicely.

But general manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ pro personnel department nailed those veteran acquisitions. The impact those guys made was enormous. 

Foles was Super Bowl MVP. Wiz started at left guard. Long was one of the team’s best pass rushers and locker room leaders. Robinson held down the slot and made one of the biggest plays of the postseason. Smith gave the offense a dimension of speed and was huge in the playoffs. Blount and Ajayi led the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense. Graham and Darby were key parts of a top-10 secondary. Jernigan was a force in the middle.

Without those guys? There is no Super Bowl. There is no 41-33. There is no parade. 

The Eagles cut ties in some way, shape or form with every one of those guys, although they did bring back three of them — two of whom are still here.

Ajayi, Blount, Graham, Long and Smith are all out of football, although Ajayi hopes to play again.

Robinson is back with the Saints but is barely playing. Foles is hurt in Jacksonville. The Eagles brought Jernigan and Darby back this offseason, but both have been hurt and neither has been productive since 2017. Wisniewski came back for a bit but was released and is now with the Chiefs.

But the poor drafting has continued. The Eagles have drafted one Pro Bowler since the Lane Johnson / Zach Ertz draft in 2013, and that’s Carson Wentz, who didn’t even play in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles this past offseason again tried to use the Super Bowl blueprint, stockpiling free agents to offset the lack of homegrown talent.

The results have been dramatically different.

Consider these names: Paul Worrilow, Malik Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Vinny Curry, Zach Brown, Blake Countess, Orlando Scandrick, Cody Kessler, Johnathan Cyprien, Charles Johnson, Andre Sendejo and L.J. Fort. Along with Wisniewski, Jernigan and Darby.

Brown, Countess, Kessler, Cyprien, Johnson, Fort, Worrilow and Wisniewski are gone. Scandrick was released, then brought back out of necessity. Malik Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Darby and Jernigan have all been hurt. Curry and Sendejo are here but haven’t exactly made a big impact.

Jordan Howard has been fine and Hassan Ridgeway is eating up a lot of snaps at defensive tackle with Jernigan and Malik Jackson out. 

You can’t totally blame the front office for injuries, but when you rely on a 32-year-old as your speed receiver and he gets hurt, or when you rely on oft-injured guys like Darby and Jernigan and they get hurt, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Some of these failed moves didn’t cost the Eagles a penny. Most of them did.

But the bottom line is the Eagles’ pro scouting evaluations this year have been nowhere near what we saw two years ago, and it's reflected in their record.

Instead of forming the nucleus of a Super Bowl champion, this year’s crop so far has done very little on a 3-3 team struggling to find its way.

Let’s take a look at the Eagles’ Veteran Class of 2019.

Zach Brown: The Eagles paid Brown a guaranteed $1.4 million and made him a starting linebacker. He was released on Monday. The full $1.4 million counts against their cap.

Blake Countess: The Eagles claimed their former draft pick on waivers in May and released him in August. He counts $180,000 against their cap.

Vinny Curry: The Eagles’ one-time second-round pick returned after a year in Tampa. He counts $2.1875 million against this year’s cap.

Johnathan Cyprien: The Eagles signed Cyprien early in training camp and traded him to the Falcons a few weeks ago for Duke Riley. He counts $151,764 against the cap.

Ronald Darby: Darby was a free agent when the Eagles re-signed him to a one-year contract. He played two games before getting hurt again. He’s only played in 23 of a possible 43 games since coming here. He counts $2.825 million against the cap.

L.J. Fort.: The Eagles released Fort after the Packers game, and he signed with the Ravens, where he’s now starting for the NFL’s No. 6 defense. He counts $1.335 million against the cap.

DeSean Jackson: Jackson had a huge opener against the Redskins but got hurt a few snaps into the Week 2 game in Atlanta and hasn’t played since. The Eagles do expect him back soon — he hasn’t been ruled out for Sunday. He counts $3.164 million against the cap.

Malik Jackson: Suffered a season-ending injury just 32 snaps into the season. He’s signed through 2021 but will be 30 in January coming off a season-ending foot injury. Cap figure is $2.8 million.

Tim Jernigan: Hasn’t played since the Atlanta game but is expected back at some point. Cap figure is $1.25 million, but he still also counts $6 million in dead money from when the Eagles declined his contract option in March.

Charles Johnson: CJ2 had caught 670 balls for 834 yards for the Vikings, but he ultimately made less of an impact than CJ1 and didn’t survive training camp. Minimal cap hit of $50,000 in dead money.

Cody Kessler: He was supposed to compete with Nate Sudfeld for the No. 2 QB job. Turns out he can’t throw a football. Counts $127,058 against the Eagles’ cap.

Orlando Scandrick: Eagles released the veteran cornerback as part of final cuts then re-signed him two weeks ago. He counts $787,647 against the cap. Because his initial deal didn’t have a bonus, he doesn’t have any dead money counting against the Eagles’ cap.

Andre Sendejo: The veteran safety is a favorite of the coaches, but he’s made more of an impact injuring his teammates than anywhere else. He has a $1.3 million cap hit.

Stefen Wisniewski: Wiz’s first go-around with the Eagles ended with a Super Bowl ring. His second ended with $958,334 in dead money.

Paul Worrilow: After missing all of last year, Worrilow rejoined the Eagles in January but was released in August with lingering knee issues. He did work out for the Eagles recently so he could be back. Because his 2019 contract didn’t have a signing bonus, he doesn’t count against the Eagles’ cap.

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