JIM SCHWARTZ spent Monday "having conversations," he said.

This was in the wake of Sunday's loss at Baltimore, in which rookie cornerback Jalen Mills seemed to express displeasure over defensive coordinator Schwartz's coverage call on a 34-yard Steve Smith Sr. touchdown catch vs. Mills and Jaylen Watkins. And in which veteran safety Rodney McLeod again seemed reluctant to engage a ballcarrier as the back romped into the end zone, a perception that first arose around McLeod's play a few weeks earlier at Cincinnati.

The Eagles' defense, maybe even more than the offense, is playing nowhere near its early-season level, though the defense has been nowhere near as drastically affected by injury. People are not as upbeat and confident as they once were.

Schwartz delivered one of the most memorable lines of the season Tuesday, when a reporter asked whether he and Mills had talked about what Mills said after the game.

"Yeah, we did," Schwartz said. "We have a new system. I'm going to take the earpiece out of Jordan Hicks' (helmet) and put it in Jalen's, so Jalen can approve of every call we make from now on before it gets relayed to the defense."

This, of course, was sarcasm. Mills, the seventh-round rookie from LSU, is a Schwartz favorite.

"I love the hell out of that kid. I really do. He is a competitor. People talk about speed, people talk about ability to play the ball. To me, the No. 1 criterion for playing corner is you have to be a competitor, and he is," Schwartz said. "He's given up some plays this year. He's made some plays and given up some, but he's never let it affect his psyche.

"At halftime, I told those guys, I said, 'Hey, blame me for that call.' And the reason I said it was because I didn't want them to play conservative in the second half . . . The call wasn't the issue there, it's the execution. He understands that. He knows. We've had conversations . . . But I'll stand behind Jalen Mills."

Mills said later Tuesday that he was misinterpreted after the game, that what he'd meant to say was that he needed to make the play, whether the coverage call was right or wrong.

"Gotta make the play. I say I want to be the best, best gotta make plays in games like that," Mills said. "Coach Schwartz is an aggressive guy. I'm an aggressive guy. We both want to be the best at what we do."

McLeod, signed from the Rams to a five-year, $35 million free-agent contract last offseason, is known as a hustler and a hitter. He has played in every game since arriving in the league as an undrafted rookie from Virginia in 2012, and was among the Eagles' best players the first two-thirds of the season. Tuesday night he was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl. But lately, he keeps ending up looking bad in online video clips.

Schwartz said that, as with Mills, he took McLeod aside for a talk, after watching film of McLeod failing to challenge Kenneth Dixon on a 16-yard touchdown run Sunday.

"In talking to Rodney, I have a perspective on that, also. Rodney was doing the wrong thing for the right reason . . . He's trying not to allow a big play right there," Schwartz said. "As a result, we end up giving up a big play. I told him I would rather you shoot your gun. I would rather you take that shot than shoot at chickens and give ground and hope that you can buy time for other people to make the play. (Though) there are times that you have to do that.

"It's tough being a middle-of-the-field defender and a run breaks. There's a big difference between being a safety and, I like to tell those guys, being a 'risky.' It's a different thing. But you don't want a safety that's 'ready, fire, aim.' And you don't want a safety that's 'ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, never pull the trigger' . . . I told him my opinion was that's where he's gotten to these last couple games. I want him to get back to early in the season, where that 23 was a blur everywhere on the field.

"Rodney knows big plays have affected us. He's trying not to allow a big play. Sometimes that's the wrong approach to take."

McLeod confirmed their talk.

"That's why I appreciate Jim, he's a great coach," McLeod said. "I definitely could have been more aggressive, and I feel like that's what this team expects of me . . . I don't think it's been a great amount of plays. It's a couple plays."

Birdseed

Running back Kenjon Barner (hamstring) went on season-ending IR so the Eagles could restore right tackle Lane Johnson to the roster . . . Not only is Johnson back, the o-line seems remarkably restored, with Allen Barbre (hamstring) saying he's ready to go at left guard and rookies Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) and Isaac Seumalo (ankle) saying they expect to be available against the Giants Thursday . . . The Eagles added running back Terrell Watson to their practice squad, jettisoning tight end Marcel Jensen.

@LesBowen

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