Quarterbacks in cold weather; Ronald Darby bounces back; Jason Witten on Zach Ertz | Early Birds
Did the cold weather affect Nick Foles? What does Ronald Darby have to do with defending Michael Jordan? Jason Witten respects Zach Ertz.
Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles will have a walkthrough again Thursday. They won't hold a full practice until Friday. Nick Foles will hold a news conference at 12:15.
It's worth nothing that both Foles and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr struggled passing on Monday night, which might suggest the conditions played a factor – the wind chill with 18 degrees with 15-mph winds at kickoff. Those are tough conditions for a quarterback, although they're the conditions that Foles might encounter in the playoffs. Foles played in cold weather and bad conditions before – remember the snow game in 2013 vs. the Lions and the home playoff game against the Saints? – so it wasn't his first time. But it was certainly a factor Monday. "The good news is it affects both teams equally," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who played in similar weather in Buffalo. "It was cold and it was windy. … Been there, done that myself, and just it's a mindset. We live in this stuff, so it should be to our advantage. I always watch the quarterbacks very closely in pregame warmup to see how they're handling the windy conditions, the cold conditions. Both [John DeFilippo] and I were watching Nick in warmups, and he looked great. Whatever effect it had, I think it was minimal. I would say edge is to us in those circumstances."
At this time last week, Ronald Darby was the subject of criticism after playing a bad game against the Giants. In Monday's win over the Raiders, he had the game-turning interception. It's noteworthy how he bounced back in one week, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, "That's part of the job description for a corner." The analogy Schwartz gave to his players is that a basketball player could have played great defense against Michael Jordan and allowed 20 points. "If you go into the tank because he hit a fall-away jumper, you're in the wrong business," Schwartz said. The lesson is that if a cornerback overreacts to a play – "whether in a conservative way or an aggressive way," Schwartz added – then it will be to the player's detriment. Especially at cornerback. Darby and Jalen Mills must backpedal against world-class athletes, tackle big running backs, and disengage from blocks by behemoth offensive linemen. "The job description is tough, and you're not going to play a perfect game every game," Schwartz said. "I think one thing I would say about Darby, he did make that interception that set up the win. That was big for us." But Schwartz thought the two plays Darby made to stop wide-receiver screens were "more impressive plays." The Raiders had blockers in front of the wide receiver, and if Darby couldn't get past the blocks and tackle the wide receiver, it would have been a big gain. Those plays don't get the attention of interceptions, but they matter to Schwartz.
Zach Ertz's favorite player growing up was Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, and Ertz has tried to emulate Witten – a 10-time Pro Bowler who is one of the best tight ends in league history. Look for the two to embrace after Sunday's game. Witten respects the player Ertz has developed into with the Eagles. "I think he's just an exceptional player. Love how he plays the game, the position," Witten said. "It's good to see him having the year that he's had and develop into his own, one of the best in the game. I appreciate the admiration that he's had; he's shared that with me. It's certainly what I try to do, so young players can see it and I appreciate that he's looked up to it. They've had a huge amount of success this year offensively, and I think a large part of it is his part of his ability with good route-running to finding the soft spots in zones – all the things that make up tight ends. He's done a really good job with the play-actions that they've done and taken advantage of that. Should have a lot of confidence, because he's playing at a high level."
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From the mailbag
The Eagles must decide by the middle of next week whether to activate Sidney Jones or place him on injured reserve. If the Eagles activate Jones, it might be too soon to expect him to play Sunday — but it's the type of game to consider playing him in if there's minimal injury risk. One reason to activate him might not be to play him, but to allow him to keep practicing during the playoffs. If Jones goes on injured reserve, he cannot practice. Say the Eagles make it to the NFC championship game. That's three weeks of practice Jones wouldn't get if he was on IR. (It's good insurance to have if there's a cornerback injury or if there are coverage problems.)
If he's activated, I don't think there's an IR candidate on the 53-man roster to give him a spot, so you need to look at a position where there's a surplus. Wide receiver and linebacker come to mind. I don't think the Eagles will let go of a defensive back because of the value Jaylen Watkins offers with his cornerback-safety versatility and special-teams role.