rodney mcleod

At least Eagles’ defense is playing well enough to win right now

At least Eagles’ defense is playing well enough to win right now

The Eagles say they don’t point fingers and they shouldn’t. 

Team unity and all that. 

“We’re a team,” Doug Pederson said after Sunday’s 17-9 loss to the Seahawks. “And when we win, we win as a team. When we lose, we lose as a team. Today, we lost as a team.”

The Eagles don’t point fingers. So I’ll do it for them. 

In back-to-back weeks the Eagles’ defense has given up 17 points to offenses led by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Eagles’ defense has done more than enough for the Eagles to win these two games. 

The offense has failed them. 

Maybe that’s to be expected. On Sunday, after Brandon Brooks left the game, the Eagles were without five or six starters on that side of the ball. But that unit’s inability to make even the simplest plays and its inability to hold onto the football voids the built-in excuse. It wasn’t all Carson Wentz. It wasn’t all Doug Pederson. It wasn’t all the receivers. But that whole unit has been a mess recently. 

The Eagles held Tom Brady without a touchdown pass and lost 17-10. 

The Eagles held Russell Wilson to 215 total yards and lost 17-9. 

Wilson said the Eagles’ defense was one of the best the Seahawks played all year and they still won easily. That shouldn’t happen. 

Since Week 8, the Eagles’ defense has given up an average of 15.25 points per game. Just the Ravens have given up fewer points per game in that span. 

This isn’t the way the Eagles expected things to go. They thought they were going to have a high-flying offense and the defense would just need to be OK. But it turns out, it’s the other way around. 

The defense has gotten healthier. Fletcher Cox is back to his dominating self, Tim Jernigan returned, Nigel Bradham is back, the secondary has been stabilized by the returns of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby. This defense is pretty good right now. The offense isn’t. 

Things got so bad on Sunday that when Rodney McLeod picked off a pass in the third quarter, he tried everything to score, including a pitch to Avonte Maddox, because the offense stinks so bad. 

OK, he was a little more diplomatic about it. 

“Just trying to make a play man, and flip the field position or get into the end zone,” McLeod said. “At that point in the game, how the game is going, they’re making plays on defense, we’re making plays. So anytime we can get our hands on the ball, the mentality is to try to score.”

But you were probably thinking the same thing, right? 

Once McLeod picked off that ball, you were probably thinking, “He better score because the offense sure isn’t going to.” And you were right! The Eagles punted a few plays later. 

At this point, though, the Eagles are actually lucky when they punt. Because they also turned the ball over five times on Sunday, sometimes putting their own defense in a horrible spot. Malcolm Jenkins’ message for Wentz and the offense was pretty clear on Sunday: Don’t force anything, we got you. 

Jenkins said the Eagles have to be comfortable winning games that are 12-9 or 9-6. 

On Monday, Pederson noted that eventually the offense needs to be able to put up 30-plus points, especially if this team really wants to make a playoff push. 

But, for now, Pederson didn’t disagree with Jenkins’ assessment. 

“I think right now where we are, that's a realistic approach,” he said. “That doesn't mean you go into conservative mode and it's three yards and a cloud of dust, but I do think that our offense, we talk all the time [about how] we want to finish every drive with a possible kick, whether that's a punt or a field goal, or an extra point. Those are the things that we talk about. But right now, and the way our defense has been playing, I think you have to play to that strength.”

The Eagles are right to avoid pointing fingers. They have to avoid a divisive situation. It’ll be up to their leaders to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

“There won’t be any of that,” said Jason Peters, still the intimidating Bodyguard. “Not in our locker room. Not while I am here. We’ll keep all the guys together, rally around each other and just go forward.”

But the fact is that the Eagles’ defense is playing well enough for the Eagles to go on a run. The offense just needs to stop letting the team down. 

I’m pointing the finger at them. Just please don’t tell Peters. 

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How long has it been since Eagles' secondary was healthy?

How long has it been since Eagles' secondary was healthy?

Jalen Mills was thinking back, trying to remember the last time the Eagles had their full secondary together.

It had to be Jacksonville last year, right? Before I got hurt?” he said. “No wait. Rodney (McLeod) got hurt Week 3. Has to be the Colts game, right? That’s when Rod got hurt. He got hurt Week 3, I got hurt Week 8, (Ronald) Darby got hurt Week 9. We haven’t all played together since the Colts game.

Bingo.

It’s been more than 13 months since the Eagles had a healthy secondary.

They’ve played 23 consecutive games with one of their starters missing.

At least one of their starters.

On Sunday, when the Eagles face the Bears at the Linc, the band will finally be back together.

I just think it’s always good to have your best guys out there,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “And those guys, they’ve battled for us, they give us a lot of flexibility on defense, so it’s good to have those guys back out there. It’s been a while since we had the real full group out there. So I think it’s exciting because at this point in the season we need it.

Since McLeod’s knee injury against the Colts started this unbelievable avalanche of secondary injuries, the Eagles have used 18 different starting lineups and 16 different starting defensive backs.

In 23 games.

They haven’t used the same starting secondary more than two games in a row during that span.

But with Mills and Darby at corner, McLeod and Jenkins at safety and Avonte Maddox expected to be avalable to play in the slot, the Eagles are finally at full strength.

It is a good feeling,” McLeod said. “It’s been a long time coming since we’ve all been out there. We shared a lot of moments together, been in a lot of battles with one another and the bond and the familiarity is there. It’s good to have all of us back healthy first and foremost to be able to help out this defense and help out this team. It’s crazy that it’s been a year and a half since we all touched the field together. It’s such a good feeling.

Mills made his 2019 debut in Dallas, Darby returned from a four-game layoff Sunday in Buffalo and this Sunday at the Linc Maddox should be back for the Bears after missing four games.

Cre’Von LeBlanc, the slot in the postseason last year, is the only remaining injured defensive back. He’s been out since suffering a foot injury early in training camp and won’t be back any time soon.

It was the quartet of McLeod, Jenkins, Darby and Mills — along with slot Patrick Robinson — that was in place during the Super Bowl run two years ago.

We’ve got that chemistry,” Mills said. “We’ve played on the big stage together. Then you add Avonte, who’s so versatile, can play corner, nickel or safety, and it’s definitely a comfort level having us all together. It makes a difference.

Of that group, only Jenkins has started more than 13 games over the last two years. Only Jenkins and Rasul Douglas haven’t missed multiple games with injuries.

The rash of defensive back injuries over the last two years has been unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

McLeod, Mills, Darby, Maddox and Sidney Jones have missed a combined 62 games over the last two years.

It’s left the Eagles with guys like De’Vante Bausby, Chandon Sullivan, Jonathan Cyprien, Dexter McDougle, Tre Sullivan, Josh Hawkins and of course Orlando Scandrick playing meaningful reps.

Now they’re all back. No more excuses. They need to play like the big-time secondary we saw two years ago.

Here’s a look at the 18 different starting secondaries the Eagles have used since last year began:

3    Maddox / Douglas / LeBlanc / Jenkins / Graham 
2    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / McLeod
2    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / Maddox
2    Jones / Douglas / LeBlanc / Jenkins / Graham
2    Maddox / Douglas / Jenkins / Graham 
2    Darby / Jones / Maddox / Jenkins / McLeod
2    Douglas / Jones / Sendejo / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Darby / Mills / Graham / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / Graham
1    Darby / Mills / Jones / Jenkins / Maddox
1    Darby / Mills / McDougle / Jenkins / Maddox
1    Darby / Douglas / Maddox / Jenkins / T. Sullivan
1    Jones / Douglas / Maddox / Jenkins / Graham
1    C. Sullivan / Bausby / Jenkins / Graham
1    Darby / Douglas / Maddox / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Douglas / James / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Douglas / Mills / Scandrick / Jenkins / McLeod
1    Darby / Mills / Jenkins / McLeod

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Orlando Scandrick watches from home as Malcolm Jenkins leads Eagles to victory

Orlando Scandrick watches from home as Malcolm Jenkins leads Eagles to victory

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — When former Eagles cornerback Orlando Scandrick popped off about the team on Friday morning, it was just the cherry on top of what was already a distraction-filled couple of weeks. 

It was like there was one giant circus tent over the NovaCare Complex. 

But the Eagles stayed together. Their leaders led. Their playmakers made plays. Their coaches put together solid gameplans. 

In every facet on Sunday afternoon, the Eagles responded. 

“I think the guys in this room, we respond to adversity,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “I think it brings us together. I think, more so where we are as a team right now, we needed this game at this point in the season. Felt like we had to make a decision. Came together this week and really just worked.” 

With their backs against the wall, facing a possible 3-5 start to their season, the Eagles went to Buffalo to face a 5-1 team and came away with a much-needed 31-13 win. They might have just saved their season. 

On Friday afternoon, Jenkins was as angry as I’ve ever seen him as he answered questions about Scandrick’s FS1 debut. On Sunday afternoon, Jenkins was asked if he had anything to say to Scandrick and responded, “Nope.” He let his play and the scoreboard do the talking. 

Because right now, Scandrick’s NFL career is over and the Eagles improved to 4-4, extending their postseason hopes, without him. 

“Nothing outside of this locker room matters,” Jenkins said. “At the end of the day, what we do on that field, how we prepare to go out on that field, that’s all that wins games. You win or lose based on that. The things people say or all the things that are outside of our building, outside of this locker room, have no impact.”

During Scandrick’s diatribe against his former team, he went hardest after Jenkins, whom he called a selfish player. 

That didn’t sit well with Jenkins or most of his teammates. For years now, Jenkins has been known as the main leader of the Eagles’ defense and one of the main leaders of the entire team. So to question his leadership was shocking. And the Eagles rightfully called him out for that on their Twitter account Friday afternoon. 

But before Scandrick’s comments, the Eagles already had a productive work week without him and Jenkins was his usual self. He was the leader of the defense.  

“I saw Malcolm do what he does best and do what he normally does,” fellow safety Rodney McLeod said. “And that’s lead this team, lead the defensive unit, speak up when necessary. Really, he’s a guy who backs it up through his actions. You seen him out there this week, the way he prepped, kind of leading by example. When you have guys like that, man, everyone else follows. We ride behind two-seven. He’s the guy, man, and he made some big plays today.”

It seemed like the Eagles got big plays from their best players on Sunday. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham got after Josh Allen. The offensive line had a dominant performance. Carson Wentz made smart decisions. 

After losing by 18 points in Minnesota and 27 points in Dallas, there probably wasn’t much reason for anyone outside the organization to believe in the Eagles. But the guys inside the locker room did. 

And their leaders stepped up all week.  

“I think whenever you’re losing, adversity reveals character,” Jason Kelce said. “When times get tough and whatnot, people show who they really are. I think we have some really good leaders on this team that kept guys straight. That’s kind of the way it goes. When you lose games, you’re going to have to deal with this stuff. Losing how bad we did the last couple of weeks, it’s going to be magnified even more. We’ve got enough guys around here who have been through it and understand that.”

At his locker on Friday afternoon, Jenkins was asked if he was interested to see how the Eagles were going to respond to all this adversity. He scoffed and said he wasn’t. He already knew how they were going to respond. 

Turns out he was right. 

There’s a reason Jenkins is one of the veteran leaders on this team. And there’s a reason Scandrick watched the game from his couch.

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