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The four-man pass rush, Adrian Peterson is still a threat, and preparing for Washington’s defense | Early Birds

The Eagles didn't need to blitz, instead relying on a four-man pass rush. Plus, links to all of our coverage, and answers to your questions.

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox looks down at his helmet against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, November 18, 2018 in New Orleans. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox looks down at his helmet against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, November 18, 2018 in New Orleans. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYONG KIM

Good morning. The Eagles return to work today to begin preparing for Monday's game against Washington. There are no scheduled news conferences, although players and assistant coaches will meet with reporters.

This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. I want to know what you think and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm.

— Zach Berman

Winning with a four-man pass rush 

With an undermanned and inexperienced secondary, the Eagles needed their defensive line on Sunday. That's what happened in the second half against the Giants, when the Eagles relied on their pass rushers to make a difference in the game. The Eagles blitzed once on a passing play all game. They relied on a four-man rush, trusting that group to win their matchups.

"If you're protecting your secondary like that, if you are trying to put fires out there, then the onus goes to another group," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "And it went to our D-line, and they were up for the challenge. A couple sacks that put the Giants in some long-yardage situations. It helped our coverage out that they did a good job stopping the run."

Michael Bennett and Chris Long both had sacks. Schwartz couldn't offer enough praise to Fletcher Cox. Cox didn't record a sack, but he had three quarterbacks hits. That shows that he applied pressure. He also drew a lot of attention from the Giants' offensive line, helping the other players around him.

"Fletch was not only playing at a high level," Schwartz said, "but he was playing with the kind of toughness and leadership that you expect from a guy like that, and that had a lot to do with our ability to come out on the winning side of that."

Preparing for Washington’s pass rush

Jim Schwartz coached in Detroit from 2009 to 2013, seeing Adrian Peterson eight times. Peterson topped 100 yards in four of those games.

Five years later, Schwartz is still preparing for Peterson. Washington signed Peterson in August and he has since emerged as their leading rusher. Peterson has 758 yards in his resurgent season, which is coming at age 33. The Eagles have allowed 100-yard rushers in each of the past three games, and Peterson must be a key part of the Eagles' defensive game plan on Sunday.

"He's still strong as can be," Schwartz said. "He has great vision. He's one of those guys that even if you get a first hat on him, he still has enough to churn positive yards. He's become a really important part of Washington's offense. He's just one of those guys [that they] just sort of zone block it [for]. He can get one edge and power through guys. Some guys get older and they lose a little speed. I don't know if he has. He hasn't lost any of the power that he's had in the past, and he certainly hasn't lost his vision. Those are the things that carry him."

…And Washington’s defense 

A big reason why Washington is in contention in the NFC East this season is a defense holding opponents to 20.8 points per game – seventh in the NFL. They also have the fourth most takeaways in the NFL. Even though Washington's offense is missing key pieces, it's still a formidable defense. Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne, their past two first-round picks, join Temple product Matt Ioannidis on an underrated defensive line.

"Their front seven is outstanding," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "The D-line they have is excellent. They're strong at the point of attack. They got excellent lateral quickness. They can get on the edge and push the pocket in the middle. Both those guys on the perimeter, [Ryan] Kerrigan and [Preston] Smith, can collapse the pocket outside. They have an elaborate blitz package and they've been in this defense for a number of years now and these guys play well together."

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles' turnaround on defense was the best Jim Schwartz has seenLes Bowen writes.

  2. What was on the minds of Eagles fans on Tuesday? Find out in the weekly chat.

  3. Washington claimed Reuben Foster three days after a domestic violence arrestKatie McInerney writes.

From the mailbag

Am I wrong in thinking that part of the problem with the offense is that Wentz isn't looking to extend plays outside the pocket or scramble?  Last year they converted on third downs because he could get outside the pocket and make plays or run for a first down.  This year he seems to be a statue in the pocket, holding the ball too long.  Perhaps he still isn't 100% confident in his leg yet? – Brett, via email

Interesting question. You're right that Carson Wentz hasn't used his legs often this season, which even he admitted last week. The Eagles aren't going to him on designed runs. He's moving around, so I disagree he's a statue in the pocket. But he's not tucking the ball and running as much as he could. (He did it effectively against Jacksonville in London.) Remember the Monday night game against Washington last year? Wentz rushed for 63 yards and that was a big threat for the Eagles. Perhaps it's trying to protect himself, but it can certainly still be a part of Wentz's repertoire. He moves well enough. He doesn't want to be known as a running quarterback, although it adds a different dimension to the offense when he can get a first down on the ground. That was an emphasis of former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. It's something I'll explore further this week.

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