Ask Jim Schwartz about his defense’s puny takeaway total this season and he’ll give you the same line that every defensive coordinator of a takeaway-challenged unit uses, which is that, well, they tend to come in bunches.
Through 11 games, the Eagles have forced just eight turnovers. The only team in the league that has fewer is the 49ers, who have five. At this point, “bunches’’ of takeaways probably aren’t in the forecast.
That said, the Eagles have caught a bit of a break with the gruesome season-ending leg injury two weeks ago to Redskins quarterback Alex Smith.
If Smith was starting Monday night at the Linc, the Eagles’ chances of intercepting a pass would be minimal.
Smith has a PhD in ball security. He has the fourth best career interception percentage in NFL history. His 48 interceptions in the last eight seasons are the second fewest in the league among quarterbacks with at least 2,500 attempts (Aaron Rodgers is first with 47).
Oh, and he’s also lost just seven fumbles in the last five years. So, a strip sack or two also probably would’ve been unlikely.
With Smith out, Colt McCoy will make his 27th career NFL start – and just his sixth since 2011 – against the Eagles.
McCoy is a much bigger risk-taker than Smith. He’s not exactly a Favre-like gunslinger. But he’ll put some balls up for grabs, which means maybe, just maybe, the Eagles might get another takeway.
McCoy completed 24 of 38 passes for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last week’s 31-23 loss to the Cowboys. But he also had three interceptions.
“With risk you get plenty of rewards,’’ Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week. “But with risk, you also have some issues sometimes.
“Colt made some great throws in the Cowboys game. But he also forced a couple of balls into coverage. He’ll take some risks. He’ll give our receivers opportunities to catch balls. And I think that’s something we need to have a little bit more of around here.’’
The Eagles’ pass rush, which was instrumental in last week’s come-from-behind win over the Giants, will need to lead the way again Monday night.
Assuming Schwartz’s defense can slow down Adrian Peterson, which is no small assumption given the fact that the Eagles haven’t been very good against the run the last six games and will be without middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) for the second straight game, and their other two starting linebackers – Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill – are playing with casts on their hands (broken thumbs), step No. 2 will be turning up the pass-rush heat on McCoy and forcing him to throw some balls up for grabs.
“(McCoy) is no slouch,’’ Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. He’s been around this league for a while now. He’s played in that system for a while.
“But we got after the quarterback last week, and that helped take some pressure off the young guys back there (in the secondary).’’
Cox said he and the rest of the Eagles’ d-linemen don’t feel any extra pressure because of all of the injuries in the secondary.
“We always carry the load,’’ he said matter-of-factly. “We’re the spark of this team. Sometimes you can feel that on Sunday. When we make a play, it sparks the whole team. We have to continue to do that.
“Even if we’re not sacking the quarterback, hitting him sparks the team. I saw that on Sunday against the Giants when we got to Eli (Manning) and hit him. It really sparked everyone else.’’
The Eagles are hoping to get a couple of their wounded corners – Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas – back Monday night.
McCoy had the opportunity to get live first-team reps this week, which was something he wasn’t able to get last week before the Redskins’ short-week Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys, when they only had walk-throughs.
“It pays to have a good backup and we feel we have one,’’ Gruden said. “I have a lot of faith that (McCoy) is going to get it done. Everyone around here has faith in Colt.
“It’s just a matter of him getting the reps with the 1s and getting comfortable with the guys around him.’’
Like Smith, McCoy is very mobile. He can extend plays and move the chains with his legs. He has rushed for 63 yards and four first downs on 10 carries in the six quarters since replacing Smith, which means the Eagles are going to have to be disciplined with their pass rush and stay in their lanes.
While he is adept at throwing on the run, many of McCoy’s interceptions have come outside the pocket as well.
“When he gets outside the pocket, the big thing with Colt is he can’t (afford to) make a bad play worse,’’ Gruden said. “He’s such a great competitor that he wants every play to be the best play. Sometimes the best play is throwing it away.