As the Eagles’ season turns increasingly bleak, coaches and players face a challenge beyond the obvious one of not being as good as the teams they’re facing every week.
How do you keep your focus where it needs to be? How do you keep from disengaging, or at least from beginning to resent some of your teammates, on days when you feel you’ve played well enough to win?
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The Eagles’ defense wasn’t perfect Sunday at Cleveland, but it gave up only 13 points. It stopped the Browns on four straight snaps from the Eagles’ one-yard-line only to see the offense take the ball and present it to Cleveland’s defense in the form of a pick-six.
The Eagles’ offense has scored 17 points in each of the last two games, both losses. The only touchdown it managed before garbage time Sunday was set up by the defense. Fletcher Cox forced a fumble, and Alex Singleton recovered on the Browns’ 19.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked Tuesday how, sitting at 3-6-1, he keeps this sort of thing from becoming a problem.
“Part of being a resilient team, of being a tough team, is being able to persevere through tough times,” he said. “It’s not all easy. It’s not all doing the electric slide. There’s going to come some times where you have to battle through some injury situations, or some situations where one side of the ball is struggling. ... The offense has picked us up plenty of times. We’ve picked the offense up. We look at it as, it’s our job, and we can do more.”
Schwartz said the key is being disciplined enough to focus on your job every day, to not let the larger situation affect you.
“You’re in the moment every week. You’re competing every single week, and every single week is a new challenge,” Schwartz said. “You have to keep your eyes on that, and you have to be able to persevere through great times, big wins, bounce back from a big win, bounce back from a big loss.
“You look across the NFL, it’s not always just sort of all happy times for great teams. ... You have to be able to battle through those things and just know they are part of the game, and [have] the ability to stay resilient, the ability to battle through those things.”
Within games, Schwartz said, players are told to not pay attention to the scoreboard, to not let being ahead or behind affect their intensity or composure.
“I think that also applies to the season,” he said. “You have to be resilient enough to know it’s not always going to go your way, and it’s not always going to be perfect. Maybe sometimes you have times where it does, but that’s probably the exception as opposed to the rule in this league. This league rewards people that are perseverant, teams that can persevere. It rewards people that are tough-minded, and I think we keep our eye on things like that.”
Also, though the offense has been by far the bigger disappointment this season, the defense has its issues. The offense was in a 14-3 hole at the Giants after two New York possessions, which is not exactly what that struggling group needed. And at Cleveland, the defense gave up points on the drive following an Eagles score every time except the final touchdown, which came with 30 seconds remaining.
As Schwartz pointed out, the fourth-quarter Cleveland touchdown set up by Nick Chubb’s 54-yard run was “a real backbreaker for us,” making it a two-score game, 19-10, for the first time, right after Jake Elliott’s 43-yard field goal got the Eagles to within 12-10, with 11 minutes, 28 seconds remaining.
The Eagles gave up an 18-yard completion on first down after the Browns took over on their 21. Then came the long run to the Eagles’ 7, really the only time all day the vaunted Cleveland rushing game lived up to its billing.
Schwartz said that drive “was the one that we would obviously like to have back, and it was different things. Our coverage fit wasn’t great, and we gave up a longer completion on the first play, and we missed a bunch of tackles on the second play.”
On the third play, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield kept the ball, was stood up, and clearly fumbled it away, pretty much exactly as Miles Sanders did on the Eagles’ first series. But in this case, officials determined Mayfield’s forward progress was stopped before the ball came out. That decision was not reviewable. On the next play, Kareem Hunt hurdled Jalen Mills for the touchdown.
“Looked like we had a chance to all of a sudden rally. ... Didn’t get that one, and then the kid makes a great play and jumps over us for a touchdown,” said Schwartz, who said he thought Mayfield’s status as a quarterback led to the quick whistle, though Mayfield clearly was trying to run for a touchdown. “Can’t lose confidence over stuff like that.”
The Cleveland scores after Eagles scores were unfortunate on a day when the visitors never led, but Schwartz said he didn’t want his players feeling extra pressure in those situations.
“You have to resist the urge of trying to do too much, where it’s like, ‘Oh, offense just scored. We need to get a turnover here.’ And then all of a sudden, you’ve got a guy cheating on a play and gives up a play,” he said. “I would guard against the mentality of trying to do anything other than just do your job within a series, whether the offense just scored or the offense has turned the ball over. ... Keeping that mentality, keeping that grind, is important to us.”
The Eagles placed nickel corner Cre’Von LeBlanc on injured reserve Tuesday. He suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s loss at Cleveland. The team also opened the 21-day window on bringing pass-rusher Genard Avery back from IR. Avery doesn’t count toward the roster during that period, but the Eagles could use LeBlanc’s spot to activate tight end Zach Ertz, whose 21-day window started last week.