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McLane: Are Eagles safeties elite?

There's Tom Brady for quarterbacks. Von Miller for edge rushers. The Broncos' Aqib Talib and Chris Harris for cornerbacks. The Cowboys for offensive lines. Every position has players or units that are almost unanimously considered the best at what they do.

There's Tom Brady for quarterbacks. Von Miller for edge rushers. The Broncos' Aqib Talib and Chris Harris for cornerbacks. The Cowboys for offensive lines. Every position has players or units that are almost unanimously considered the best at what they do.

They are the elite to which all others will be compared.

For Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod - and let's face it, every other safety tandem out there - there are Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The Eagles safeties said earlier this season that they wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as the Seahawks safeties.

It's not as far-fetched as it might have once sounded. Do Jenkins and McLeod, after nine games of stellar play, deserve to be mentioned in the same breath?

"Deserve is not something I'll say," Jenkins said on Wednesday. "Every week we're working to be in that conversation. Personally, if you ask us, we feel like we can be the best tandem in this league.

"But that's done over a period of time. If you would have asked me before the season who has been the best over the last few years, without a doubt it's Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor."

Jenkins and McLeod will get an opportunity to stack themselves up against the best when the Eagles play Sunday in Seattle. In May, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz boldly stated that he thought his safeties could be that good. He wasn't willing to make that comparison Thursday, but he knows how valuable they are to his scheme.

"They're the glue that holds our defense together," Schwartz said.

It's been a while since an Eagles defensive coordinator could say as much about his safeties. Jenkins and Walter Thurmond were solid last season, but maintaining that level all season was untenable considering the workload. Before that, you'd have to go back to 2008 and Brian Dawkins' last season in Philly.

For years, the Eagles either made poor evaluations at the position or they spent more elsewhere. But they dug deep into the salary cap this offseason and extended Jenkins' contract for four years at $35 million and they signed McLeod to a five-year, $35 million contract.

They paid because they found safeties who were versatile - a commodity that is rare at the position.

"There aren't a lot of guys coming through the draft year after year," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I'm always looking for guys that are really versatile - all-around athletes. Guys that can do a lot of stuff because everything you have ever done in sports kind of fits in to making plays back there as a safety - the timing, the feel, the awareness, the ability to diagnose, the speed that it takes, the athleticism."

Thomas and Chancellor are about as different as safeties come nowadays. The latter is a throwback. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Chancellor plays primarily in the box. He's like a fourth linebacker against the run, but he's also fast enough to run with big, athletic tight ends like the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.

There might not be another safety in the NFL who covers as much ground as the 5-10, 202-pound Thomas. There is some crossover in their duties, and Thomas can deliver a blow as crushing - as evidenced by his injury-inducing hit on Gronkowski on Sunday - but the Seahawks are one of the few defenses that have actual free and strong safeties.

"We have two totally different types," Carroll said. "I have no problem with trying to place them to do what they do well and feature that."

But Carroll and most coaches would prefer to have interchangeable safeties. That is why Jenkins and McLeod are priceless. Either one could play free or strong. But for the most part, McLeod patrols center field while Jenkins stays closer to the box.

Jenkins admits that a quasi version of attention deficit disorder keeps him from wanting to play back more. In his current role, he not only gets to make plays in the backfield against the run, but he'll cover both tight ends and slot receivers, while also making all the calls and checks for the secondary.

"What am I asked to do - there's only one other safety in the league that's doing that and it's [the Cardinals'] Tyrann Mathieu," Jenkins said. "Nobody else is doing what us two are doing. And that's a fact. Rodney is more of a free, but at any point in time, depending upon who we're playing and what the matchup is, he can do all the stuff that I'm doing. I just get bored playing deep."

McLeod has a similar skill set to Thomas. He's also similarly sized (5-10, 195). Eagles safety Jaylen Watkins, who has seen his playing time increase with Jenkins jumping into the slot in the nickel defense, said he has spent a lot of time studying Thomas and sees comparisons between the two.

His coach at Florida, Will Muschamp, was the first to try and convert him from cornerback to safety. Because Muschamp had just come from Texas, he had Watkins watch film of Thomas, a former Longhorn.

"They have the two highest motors I've ever seen," Watkins said. "Playing with Rodney, I get to see that his motor is nonstop."

McLeod has had to cover extra ground because he and Jenkins have been asked to compensate for the cornerbacks. The Eagles won't say as much, but outsiders see it.

"Those two guys," Carroll said, "are really centerpieces."

Hurry Curry

Vinny Curry has just one sack in nine games. While they are often the most cited meter for assessing a defensive lineman's performance, sacks or a lack thereof don't always tell the full story.

Curry has impacted the game in other ways. He has seven quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss. But even those numbers pale in comparison to his production during the three previous seasons, when he was playing fewer snaps in a 3-4 defense that supposedly didn't take advantage of his skills.

"It's all about making the best of your opportunity," Curry said Thursday.

Curry is the highest-paid defensive end on the Eagles, but he plays less (44 (percent) than Brandon Graham (77 percent) and Connor Barwin (74 percent). Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked if he was getting enough production out of Curry aside from the lack of sacks.

"There's a lot of other ways to contribute," he said. "We don't define ourselves by stats."

Schwartz went on to note the intentional grounding penalty that defensive tackle Bennie Logan forced last week and the tipped pass by Barwin that led to an interception the week before, but he never specifically mentioned Curry, nor did he answer the question.

Facing the Cover 3 again

It isn't very often that teams see similar defenses in back-to-back games, but the Eagles will face a Seahawks scheme this Sunday that is like the Falcons' defense.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn was Seattle's defensive coordinator from 2013-14 and he brought with him many of the base concepts - a 4-3 "under" front and a Cover 3 zone - that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has run for years.

There are some subtle differences, the most notable being that the Falcons don't have anywhere the personnel the Seahawks have on defense. But the Eagles were able to have success last week with a number of plays that were designed to beat the scheme - particularly the Cover 3.

One such play had post and short dig routes opening the middle of the field for Jordan Matthews, who ran an intermediate dig route. The Eagles receiver caught only one of three targeted passes when the Eagles ran that play - Matthews dropped one and was nearly decapitated on the other two - but he was open each time.

"We designed a few things last week that we have to change up," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Thursday. "Do something a little different. Find a couple other wrinkles to attack their zone."

The Seahawks know many of the plays that offenses employ to beat the Cover 3, which can often look like man-to-man defense before the snap. They also have the Eagles' film from the Falcons game.

"It's washed out any advantages," Carroll said. "We see them, they see us."

Five questions: Bennie Logan

1. What's the first position you played? Tight end in junior high.

2. Who was your football hero growing up? I didn't really get into football growing up. I just played with my brothers in the backyard. I didn't know anybody famous because we didn't have cable TV to watch the games.

3. Who is the toughest opponent you ever faced? Former 49ers guard Mike Iupati [now with the Cardinals].

4. Who is the best teammate you ever had? I've had a lot of good teammates - from the guys in the D-line here to the guys back at LSU.

5. What is your favorite football memory? Playing in the snow game here [in December 2013].

Inside the game

Jim Schwartz has praised Brandon Graham's play all season, but he gave the defensive end what he said was his ultimate compliment on Thursday.

"I wasn't a very good player, but if I played in the NFL," the Eagles defensive coordinator said, "I hope I would have played like Brandon Graham."

Graham leads the Eagles in sacks (5), tackles for loss (9), quarterback hurries (22) and forced fumbles (2).

"Not only is he a good player, but he plays with incredible effort," Schwartz said. "He plays with toughness. He's very conscientious. He doesn't make mistakes very often, and when he does make a mistake, he's quick to correct.

"He's quick to take responsibility for plays that he doesn't make or plays that he should make. He's a great teammate. I can't say enough good things about him."

Schwartz's kind words were relayed to Graham.

"It just makes me want to work harder," the end said.

After three years of Chip Kelly, the Eagles are returning to their former travel plans for West Coast games. They will depart from Philadelphia for Seattle on Friday afternoon - two days before they face the Seahawks.

Kelly had the Eagles travel just the day before and cited sports science as the reason he kept the team on East Coast time. They went 1-2 in those games. coach Doug Pederson has adopted former Eagles coach Andy Reid's schedule and is including a "wives trip" once a season.

"We're taking our spouses as coaches, which I think is important," Pederson said. "And the other thing is just the time change - three hours. It's a long flight. I want to get out there and get [the players] settled in."

Inside the locker room

Carson Wentz finally got to meet his hero. Well, sort of. The Eagles rookie, who has listed Brett Favre as one of his childhood idols, called in to the Hall of Fame quarterback's Sirius XM radio show on Tuesday.

Cohost Bruce Murray asked most of the questions, but Favre, who played with Eagles coach Doug Pederson, complimented Wentz.

"I am extremely impressed with the way you've played," Favre said. "You've handled yourself with a lot of poise, and I can see why they drafted you high. . . . I just watch your demeanor out on the field, and everything about it I like. Not to mention, you're a winner."

Wentz said Wednesday he was under the impression that Favre knew of his fandom before their interview.

"I still hope to meet him someday," Wentz said.

By the numbers

82.9 - Zach Ertz's catch percentage (29 of 35), which is third best in the NFL among all qualifying wide receivers and tight ends.

33.7 - Average yards per kick return for the Eagles, which, if the season ended today, would be the best in the NFL since 1981. The previous mark was set by the Chiefs (29.9) in 2013.

36 - Combined quarterback hurries for Brandon Graham (22) and Fletcher Cox (14). The Eagles' other defensive linemen - Connor Barwin (9), Vinny Curry (7), Bennie Logan (7), Beau Allen (3), Destiny Vaeao (3), Marcus Smith (1), and Steven Means (0) - have a combined 30 hurries.