Eagles

Eagles

Before you do anything, you have to make sure you put it all in perspective.

Two of the interceptions came against Buccaneers backup Ryan Griffin. One came against Mike Glennon. Four came Thursday night in Pittsburgh against Landry Jones.

It’s not like the Eagles have racked up seven interceptions in two preseason games against real quarterbacks. Because they haven’t.

Still …

It’s been a good start for the Eagles’ defense, which had three interceptions in the preseason opener and four more Thursday against the Steelers.

Does it mean the Eagles are going to come out in the regular season and pick up three or four interceptions per game?

Nope. But it does mean the guys in this rebuilt secondary are picking up Jim Schwartz’s scheme, transferring what they’ve learned at practice onto the field and taking advantage of the opportunities they're getting.

Which is better than the alternative.

“It’s very encouraging that we get opportunities to take the ball away, and that’s been one of the highlights so far of our defense,” Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

“Just guys making plays. We have those opportunities and those change games. That’s definitely a plus so far.”

Jenkins had an end-zone interception off Jones Thursday night on a ball batted in the air by cornerback Leodis McKelvin, and corner Nolan Carroll had a 38-yard pick-six.

 

Aaron Grymes and Jaylen Watkins also had interceptions while playing for the second-team defense.

“I think we came out and played strong,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “Second series of the game, you get a turnover and put points on the board, that’s big. Nolan made a great play, knew the route was coming, jumped it and got points early and it gave us some momentum and we just carried it on for the rest of the game.

“We had a couple slip-ups, we came up a little short on some third-down situations, some things we need to work on, but other than that, I’m pretty satisfied.”

The Steelers – even playing without Ben Rothlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell - had two long drives against the Eagles’ first defense that ate up clock and moved the chains. But both drives – one for 71 yards with five first downs, another for 60 yards with four first downs – ended with interceptions.

Good: the Eagles kept the Steelers out of the end zone. Bad: the Steelers were able to move the ball so easily against the Eagles’ 1’s with their 2’s.

“That was a little bit disappointing on our end because most of it was just bad situational awareness,” Jenkins said. “Somebody gets cut out of a gap here and there and they get a seven, eight-yard run, two penalties on a drive, so those are some of the things.

“We can’t beat ourselves. If they have their starters in or a better opponent, those put you in bad positions. So that’s something we’ll go back and address. So some good and bad but obviously still a long way to go.”

This is the first time since before 2000 – as far back as preseason records are available – the Eagles have recorded three or more interceptions in consecutive preseason games.

They’ve only done it in the regular season twice in the last 25 years.

All of which means nothing except that the secondary is off to a decent start.

“We’ve been playing pretty well from the starters all the way through the fourth quarter,” Jenkins said. “There’s obviously things we need to get better at, but takeaways obviously are one of those points of emphasis that really can impact games and seasons, so to be getting those right now is really a great start for us defensively.

“Turnovers are huge. They increase your chances to win when we put it back in the hands of the offense, let them go down and put them in great position. Obviously, these guys have been doing a great job holding up on the outside an up front getting some pressure.”

Jenkins said he was especially encouraged that two of the interceptions Thursday night in Pittsburgh came in the red zone.

 

“I think from just a schematic standpoint, it’s really hard for offenses to throw the ball in the red zone,” he said. “The windows are smaller, you don’t have the field to stretch, so the advantage actually goes to the defense. The hard part is just taking advantage of the opportunities when they come, and that’s been a huge plus for us so far.

“When we’ve gotten those opportunities, guys have made good plays. Whether it’s our young guys — C.J. (Smith) or Aaron Grymes coming up with big plays (against the Steelers), Leodis’ tip to me.

“Our philosophy in the red zone is make them kick a field goal or come up with a turnover. It’s really a (big) swing. They don’t get the seven points or three points and we get the ball back, and those are huge and hopefully we continue to make those happen.”

The Eagles should finally get a real challenge from a quarterback Saturday night in Indianapolis, where they are expected to face Andrew Luck.

The third preseason game is the one where starters on both sides of the ball play the most, and the Eagles’ starters will likely play well into the second half.

If they get a healthy dose of Luck, it will give everybody the most honest gauge yet of where this defense is.

Jenkins is honest enough to admit that just because the Eagles have seven interceptions against some scrub QBs really has no bearing on the regular season.

But he also knows it’s a good sign the defensive backs are making the plays when they’re there to be made.

“I think if we can get pressure up front with four guys like we have been doing, you get those bad passes,” he said. “Every game there’s tipped balls and overthrows and if you can come up with those more often than that, then that’s what kind of separates you when you talk about creating turnovers on a consistent basis.

“It all goes hand in hand and right now we’re still trying to figure out that formula.”

Jenkins also sees what everybody else sees.

If the Eagles are going to win football games this year, it’s not going to be with their offense.

“I’m probably biased, but I think that the defense and special teams units will probably be the reason we win more often than not,” he said.

“That’s just our mentality, that’s what we work for. And I think we’ve got the guys to do it, I think we’ve got the scheme to do that, think we’ve got the coaches to do it.

“But we’re working toward that. To do that you’ve got to be able to lock into the game plan, everybody has to be doing their job, have to have situational awareness and you can’t beat yourselves, and those are some of the things we did (Thursday) that are unsettling.

 

“Some self-inflicted mistakes and if we want to be that defense that wins games, we have to obviously address those.”