Good morning, Eagles fans. If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking around. If not, well, I can understand. Your Birds are among the worst teams in the NFL, and after Sunday’s unsatisfying tie with the Bengals the schedule gets only more difficult with games against the 2-1 49ers, 3-0 Steelers, and 2-1 Ravens the next three weeks.
The Eagles will be boarding a plane for the first time this season when they visit San Francisco this weekend. Traveling in the COVID-19 world is much different from before and will require diligence from the team. It remains to be seen how much the additional hassle of flying will affect the team. The Rams seemed to do fine after their flight to Philadelphia two Sundays ago.
The following week’s cross-state matchup at Pittsburgh could come with an advantage for the Eagles. The Steelers are slated to play at the Titans on Sunday, but an outbreak in Tennessee — three players and five team personnel tested positive for the coronavirus — could delay that game until Tuesday.
The Titans and Vikings, who played each other Sunday, have shut down their team facilities in the meantime. Minnesota reported no initial positive tests, but that could change. The NFL had avoided positive tests through the first few weeks of the season, but it was always unlikely that there wouldn’t be some COVID-19 cases.
The league will now do its best to contain the outbreak. But there could be a ripple effect felt throughout the league, at least in terms of scheduling. The Eagles could use any help they can get.
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Eagles defense lacking in turnovers
A week ago, Jim Schwartz pointed out how his defense, in its woeful performance against the Rams, had done poorly in the areas in which it has typically thrived. He mentioned run defense, red zone, third down, and points allowed. The Eagles have been among the best in the NFL over the last four years based on the total numbers in that span.
But Schwartz also included turnovers, citing the Eagles as in the top 10. And that might be true but only because the defense had done well to create turnovers from 2016-17. The Eagles' 26 forced giveaways in 2016 ranked 10th in the league, and their 31 ranked fourth in 2017.
But the Eagles struggled the next two seasons. They managed just 17 turnovers in 2018 (22nd) and 20 last season (tied for 19th). And this season, they have just one, and it didn’t come from the defense. It came from special teams when linebacker T.J. Edwards forced a fumble on a punt.
You’ll take turnovers however you get them. But on defense is where you have your most opportunities, and only the Texans have also failed to notch a giveaway this season.
“If you’re hunting for turnovers, you’re going to put yourself in bad position, and we have seen that for probably 100 years in the NFL," Schwartz said Tuesday. “If you’re going outside the scheme or you’re just playing risky out there just to try to make a turnover, a lot of bad things can happen to you. Our philosophy is always make the plays that come to you.”
The Eagles sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow eight times Sunday, and he still managed to secure the ball. But as long as the rush gets pressure, the turnovers should come, Schwartz said.
“One of the reasons we put a lot of emphasis on our pass rush is there is a high incident of turnover when you’re hitting the quarterback,” Schwartz said. “Errant throws, ball security in the pocket, usually one hand on it. And I got to take my hat off to Joe Burrow. We hit him hard and hit him a lot, and he was very secure with that football.”
Interceptions have been especially hard to come by the last three seasons. After notching a total of 35 in 32 games during the 2016-17 seasons, they’ve had just 21 the last 35 games. The acquisition of cornerback Darius Slay was supposed to help in that regard. He has 19 career picks. He almost had another when Burrow overshot a receiver in overtime Sunday.
But Schwartz said that he didn’t want to place more emphasis on turnovers than on playing sound, physical defense.
“If you’re playing physical football, if you’re playing responsibly, if you’re doing your job, and you’re around the quarterback a lot,” Schwartz said, "I think the turnovers will come, and they always have for us if we keep our eye on those things.”
What you need to know about the Eagles
From David Murphy: NFL can take a lesson from baseball’s outbreak. Damn the positives, full speed ahead.
From EJ Smith: Who will replace Avonte Maddox at outside cornerback?
The “Birds’ Eye View” Podcast: Inside Doug Pederson’s decision to play for a tie, Carson Wentz’s regression, and Eagles personnel issues.
From the mailbag
Why can’t K’Von Wallace see the field. — John Wolf, @JWolfie13, via Twitter
Thanks for the question, Wolfie. Wallace has seen the field, although I assume you’re referencing his lack of playing time on defense. The rookie logged six snaps in the opener at Washington, zero the following week vs. the Rams and one Sunday against the Bengals. Wallace has mostly played on special teams and has been on all four core units the last two games. He recovered the Edwards-forced fumble on a punt two weeks ago. He’s done fairly well.
But playing on defense is another thing, and playing safety in Schwartz’s scheme requires a vast understanding of his scheme and opposing offenses. I don’t mean to suggest that Wallace is incapable of comprehending his system. But there’s a lot to digest, and the Eagles have two veterans in Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills starting at safety.
While neither has exactly played well thus far, they’ve been good enough. Schwartz doesn’t strike me as the kind of coach who keeps a player on the bench because he plays favorites or because the front office is pushing him in one direction or the other. He recently ousted Nickell Robey-Coleman as the slot corner for Cre’Von LeBlanc. So he’s not afraid to demote a guy.
Wallace could play in a sub package. Robey-Coleman and safety Marcus Epps had roles in nickel and dime personnel Sunday. It’s not like either has been killing it out there. But Wallace is young and still has lots to learn, and I’d imagine Schwartz doesn’t want to put him in a bad spot. If the Eagles continue their losing ways, though, there could come a time when Wallace gets his shot. But he’ll likely have to watch and learn for a little longer, especially when Will Parks returns from injury.