Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Bill Davis met with reporters Tuesday as the Eagles began to prepare for Sunday's showdown with the Dallas Cowboys.
Here are transcripts of both conversations.
Getting a quarterback ready to play that hasn't played all year, what's that like?
Are you referring to Dallas?
Yeah, well, there are challenges to it, of course. But keep in mind that backups prepare each week like they're going to play, and it happens all the time. There are more than a handful of teams that have had to play backups either to finish a game and then start the next one or a string of games. So I'm impressed by the way the backups in this league prepare themselves, so I'm sure whoever they play will be ready to go.
Quarterbacks are often judged by how they play in big games. Is that what you judge quarterbacks, and is that something you still need to see with Nick Foles?
I think you judge a quarterback based on whether he can lead to you victories or not. You want a guy that is very efficient, but you want a guy also that does the things necessary to help you win.
That's partly why I think Nick's done a good job for us. He's a very good decision maker. The ball means something to him, so he doesn't put the ball in harm's way very often. We all understand how turnovers affect the game.
He's a very good decision maker and for the most part he's a very accurate thrower. As time goes on, he's understanding more and more and to greater detail what we're trying to do. So all those things are why the quarterback can help you or contribute to victories.
You've had a lot of different games and the big game in Oakland with the seven touchdown passes. When you've looked at this past game and evaluated all the different parts of the quarterbacking, was this Nick's best game of the season?
Yeah, I think so. I think he played extremely well. Some of his incompletions were because he threw the ball away, which were actually good plays because that happens at times. So I think it was a very - he played a very, very good game. Did some good things with his feet. You know, the marquee about offense for us this week was, of course, the running game. But I felt like he did well.
As a follow‑up, do you distinguish between a game in late December and in January and a game in October or early September?
We have that one week at a time mindset. Last week's game was big. We got one down and one to go. I don't think whatever the setting is is too big for Nick. He didn't play very well, I don't think any of us played well the first time we played Dallas. I looked back on it now and I don't recognize some of what happened. We dropped balls, we weren't on the same page with who we blocked. Certainly Nick had some inaccuracies. We did a poor job coaching and playing. I think we're a different team now.
I think Nick, so Nick had that experience, and was knocked out of the game. Then came back soon after and threw seven touchdown passes against Oakland. So I don't think what's going to happen in the settings, I don't think it's going to be too big for him. I think he understands what's important as we put together a plan and we go out and execute and try to be better than Dallas when we play them Sunday night, and that's it.
How important was Sean Lee in stopping the run game in the last meeting?
Yeah, he's a terrific player. When he's been in there playing, he obviously has a significant impact on why their defense can play well.
Something you touched on before on just how backups have come in and done a good job this year, with Josh McCown and Matt Flynn.
A decade ago it seemed like when a team lost the quarterback and was on the backup, it was a disaster. Any reason why you think now you're seeing better play out of backups?
I don't know. I think we saw - there are a lot of examples of guys coming in and winning games. There are also examples of guys not doing - I think not doing so well for their team. I think it's on an individual basis. I think part of it is the make‑up of who that guy is.
I think when you're looking at a backup quarterback, typically when you get to this time of the year, they don't get many reps. They get some, but they don't get many. So the guy has to come in and function at a high level without much preparation, especially if he's coming in the middle of the week.
When you had the first Dallas game, you said you don't recognize the team that played that day. Is there anything you can put your finger on what went wrong?
No, I kind of hit on what it is. We dropped balls, we weren't on the same page at times with who to block. We threw the ball inaccurately at times. We didn't do a good job coaching and give them the best opportunity to succeed as players. We just weren't very good. I don't want to take anything away from Dallas. They did a lot of good things to defend us. We threw interceptions. So we did not play well. We can't do that this Sunday.
Do you have Nick studying the tape from the Dallas game?
No, we've watched it. We watch everything about it because there will be some scheme and some components of their defense that remain the same, though things change as the year goes on.
You were 1 for 10 on third downs throwing the football in that game?
I forgot to mention that earlier. No, we weren't very good.
What was the problem on third downs specifically when you go back and look at it?
A combination of all those things I just mentioned. We were inaccurate a couple of times. We had some protection issues where he was being challenged in the pocket so to speak, and we had a couple of drops.
The tendency this year has been to run the ball on third down. I think you have the fewest number of throws on third down. Why is that?
Well, I think we've done a decent job on first and second down where can you get them in the shorter third down situations which can be more run pass, let's just call it for what it is. Then we're willing to run the ball anywhere. We ran the ball the other night, it was third and long, and we were upset we didn't get it because we felt there was room there for us to convert.
Do you worry that you may have to pass your way out of trouble in some games?
No, not at all. We feel good. If we call a run or we call a pass, we expect it to work.
Would you say you've incorporated more power runs lately?
Are you talking about gap schemes?
I wouldn't say that. I'd say we've remained consistent throughout.
Are you surprised he doesn't fumble more?
He's pretty - I don't want to jinx him here. I'm not superstitious. I'd call myself a victim of routine. But, no ball security is important for everyone. We work on it with LeSean, and just like we do all players there are times his running style, there are times when the ball is loose and we remind him of that frequently. In fact, you can ask him that.
He seems to have an instinct for knowing when somebody's coming, and that's when he tucks it in.
Yeah, but it's important that we secure the ball. You can't always know who is around you. He knows that.
Have you ever had three backs with this kind of breakaway ability?
No, this is a good group. I felt like that back in the spring when we started training. I really felt good in my two previous lives away from this building. I wish I would have had a crew like this. I mean, we trust any one of them to be in the game and do all three things, pass protect, run the ball and catch it. They do a very good job of knowing who to block. They understand the run game. They understand where they fit in the pass routes and they do a good job with protection. So I think we're blessed here.
Brent Celek has had a real nice season run blocking. But it seems James Casey is getting a little more playing time. How good is it to have two tight ends like that that can do blocks and run downs?
We feel good. We feel like we have three. We used James the other night more. You saw him start out on the edge and kind of skim back and block the outside edge. It's very important for tight ends to be smart and know how they fit into the world, because that is a very, very tough position to play. In my opinion, it's second to quarterbacks, because you're part of the offensive line. We line you up in space. We ask you to move around and see the big picture. I think all three of those guys do a good job of that.
You played James more the past two weeks. Is that a difference from early in the season what you're doing in the run game and how you're blocking?
No, I think we're using him a little bit more. But to go back and answer your question, the types of runs we're running are exactly the same. How we block the perimeter might be different, but it's the same types of runs.
You seem to be using Casey a lot on the goal line.
Yeah, yeah. Well, we've used a lot of two- and three-tight‑end sets down there which gets them in the ballgame. We've done a decent job of running the ball, and we've converted on some play action, kind of boot and naked type throws as well.
You're kind of asking him to go all the way across a lot of times. He seems to be able to make that block.
He's done a good job. That takes a little courage too. Because a lot of times you're cutting that backside end free. You know, you're running from a long way, it can be quite a collision at times. So he's courageous. He knows what to do and he's willing to do it.
On October 21st, the morning after the Cowboys game, did you see Nick putting the team in the situation it is in now?
I don't even want to think about the day after that game. Yeah, we trusted Nick to be in there. And we knew as a team that we'd get better. I was telling somebody it's like my early schooling where you could throw one test out. I wish we could have thrown that one out. It was a bad day. We didn't play well on offense, and the game was close enough where if we had just gotten out of our own way, we could have maybe affected the outcome more.
When you guys played Dallas here in the last game in 2008, and you beat them 44‑6?
It's a crazy scenario.
I think Oakland had to go to Tampa and win, we were in pregame and we didn't know. It was a lot going on there, and we went out and played well.
Do you remember the mindset of the team going into that game?
Well, the mindset is always to go out and win. I think let's not confuse that. Regardless, outside the building everybody's crunching the numbers, these are the scenarios. But we're working today on Tuesday to get ready to play Dallas on Sunday and put our best effort out there and win. So that's what you do, and you don't worry about all of that.
In your prior life you guys were a very good screen team especially when you had Westbrook. Now you're obviously a good screen team again. Is it practiced the same way here as Andy did? Is it the same thing or do you do a little bit?
We do a lot of the same. We practice the screen game like we did then and we all have done since. There are reasons why screens are good. Some of it is schematic. Some of it is the feel of the running back. Some of it is the defense thinking you're doing something else, whether you're throwing the ball on the perimeter or dropping back to pass.
But we all know the end result of screens, aside from being able to get explosive plays out of them is to help us slow down the rush at times. So we'll do them. We love the screen game. We have a lot of ways to screen. Hopefully they'll continue to be successful.
Is there one thing that's consistent when you're running the screen that has to be done?
Well, I think deception. They see one thing, think you're doing one thing, and all of a sudden you're doing another. You can call them on all down and distances. Call them out of all formation groups. You can drop back, play action, sprint. It doesn't matter. They're thinking you're doing one thing, and you get a few guys to cheat one direction, and you go the other.
Does the fact that you have such an athletic offensive line help there?
I do think so. And I think Coach pointed to that yesterday. We have some linemen that can run, and guys that can pull flat, get to the numbers and block in space. It really helps. If we got less mobile, thicker, less fit type guys, typically your screen game doesn't look as good.
When you look at the Dallas defense particularly against DeMarcus Ware is it a combination of injuries and switch to the 4-3 or what do you see?
I see when he's in there playing, that is the same guy we've played against for nine years now. I think he's an outstanding player. When he's in there, he makes a difference because he can wreck the game. He's a fantastic player. In terms of their defense, we look at it on an individual basis.
We see where teams are not ranked statistically right in some people's minds and they come out and have a great effort. We've seen other times where this team is good against one thing or the other and doesn't have a good day. So none of that matters. We have to match up what we do. We have to play better than the first time we've played them, and we're playing an opponent that would be better. So that is the match.
How much fresher is this team now you're at game 16 than you have had in the past as an assistant or eye head coach.
I've been on teams where guys have worn down. We've had very few guys that are injured mortally where they can't finish the season. When I talked to the older guys, and I talked more to the guys on offense, Todd Heremans, Brent Celek, Kelce, to see how they're feeling on a day‑to‑day basis. Their energy level is high and they can go out and train. So I think there is something to it.
In 2010, the Rams had the same scenario where their division title was on the line. What do you remember about the hours leading up to the game?
Yeah, we had to go to Seattle and win the game to win the division. What I remember about the game is we dropped six balls and it was a tight game. That's what I remember. I was bummed out we lost. That's what I remember.
But in terms of the anticipation of the game, it really is like any other game. We just get our guys ready to go. Keep them in the moment, take them through the process, and go out and kick the ball off and play.
If Kyle Orton is the guy this weekend, you've coached against him in 2010 and in the season finale, he had three picks in that game and completed less than 50% of his passes. What do you remember about coaching against him?
I know Kyle Orton is a highly efficient quarterback. He started 70 games in the NFL. He has a great presence and sees the field well. He's always distributed the ball equally to the open guys. I think some guys have favorites, some don't.
Kyle Orton is a great system quarterback in that he understands the coverage and what position in the routes, and he does a great job of getting the ball out of his hands and accurately throwing to the open guy. So we've got a great challenge no matter who the quarterback is. But Kyle Orton can start for a lot of teams in the NFL.
What was the situation yesterday afternoon when that report surfaced? Were you already deep into preparing for Tony Romo? Did you have to reassess what you were doing in any way? Did you just look at their offense as the same offense?
Well, one thing with all the injuries we've faced this year against opponents, you always prepare for their starters to start and be at their best. From there you worked - now for instance, this week we say let's put a lot of emphasis on Orton as the back‑up, because we know it's a proposition we have no control of, and we have to be prepared for both.
I don't think the offense changes too much with one or the other. I think we're prepared for both of them, and we're prepared to get the Dallas Cowboys the absolute best no matter who is the quarterback.
They're trying to create the illusion that Tony Romo could play. Obviously they want the other team to prepare for both. Does that take anything away from your preparation to have to prepare for both rather than just Tony Romo?
It does more when the quarterbacks are vastly different. When there is one athletic runner that wants to run instead of throw. But I think these two quarterbacks are similar. Tony Romo probably extends the play more than most in the NFL. That is one of the talents that he has is when the initial play is broken down to improvise.
But both of them, even Tony is running the offense efficiently. 30 touchdowns and a few interceptions. So he was having a great year. If he's healthy, we're ready for his best. And if Orton is the quarterback, then we're ready for their best. We'll give them ours.
It seems the back‑up quarterbacks nowadays are doing a better job. Maybe a decade ago when you lose your starting quarterback that was not the case. Have you noticed that as a game planner and defensive coordinator that when teams are on back‑ups, especially this year, that they've done well?
Absolutely. I don't think there is a big dropoff anymore. There is such a great importance and emphasis on the back‑up quarterback. I think Dallas has done a great job of signing Kyle Orton. He can be a starter for a lot of teams in the NFL. They've got him as the back‑up role, and we anticipate - you look at them as both starting quarterbacks, even though he's in a back‑up role right now, but 70 starts in the NFL is a starting quarterback.
Do you know why the backup quarterbacks seem to be doing better?
I don't know the answer. I think, I don't know. I'd be guessing. I think they're all well‑prepared especially being in the system for a while. In practice and in the system, I think he'll be fine. And I think he generally will.
When you gather your defensive unit this morning in that quarterback situation, what did you say to them to prepare for the week and for this game?
One of the things we emphasize is the offensive scheme we don't think will change that greatly. No matter which quarterback we get. We've prepared for both. We've played against Tony already this season. So we have a good feel how to rush him and how he moves in the pocket.
What about the emotional roller coaster maybe?
I think we've learned a pretty valuable lesson against Minnesota, and it's fresh in our mind. I don't think - not that we took them lightly at all. But we know we have to step up. No matter who plays. It has to be at our absolute peak. Those are things out of our control. We can control the emotion and the work that we do today and the preparation, and what we bring to the field Sunday night. Just don't worry about what we can't control.
What lesson did you learn at Minnesota?
Well, we prepared. We didn't execute at the highest level we could have on that day. It wasn't because of lack of preparation or poor preparation. It was somehow on some level, we just didn't step up that night or that afternoon and get it done.
There is a story about how you talked about how teams come out flat and why they do. So that is something that you're trying to guard against.
I think the whole NFL is. If you look around, you've had a lot of teams that you can't explain why that team didn't play at the absolute top. But it's a 16‑week season. You have the dips. I think it's something you're aware of, and I think we're in a different place right now as a team going into this game.
Does defending their big guy Dez Bryant, is that similar to what you had to do against Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald?
Absolutely. We're going to get some top scoring offenses with some big receivers. It kind of goes hand in hand. All these scoring offenses have big receivers that have wide catch radiuses. The fact we've played the Dallas Cowboys before, we have a little more of a feel. Arizona is a little more of an unknown, and Detroit. Now we've played Dallas once, and that will help us, I believe. It's still a great challenge in one of the top scoring offenses in the league.
Do you see them putting the ball in DeMarco Murray's hands more with Orton as a starter?
They might. I believe they were going to do that. We were anticipating them to do that anyway. But they might do more. Only they can answer that question. We've got to prepare equally for the run game and the pass game. Each game takes on its own life. The score takes - as the game goes on, we're constantly moving in and out of run defenses, pass defenses, so that is something we constantly do. Whether they gave him the ball more or not, we'll be prepared to it.
As a follow‑up, can you explain what the scene was like upstairs at 4:30 yesterday in terms of how you found out about Romo, what you did at the moment you found out?
It really wasn't earth shattering. Anybody injured, we don't believe it at first. Most of the time when injuries happen early in the week, it's not that drastic because we still think there is a possibility of playing. So do we say take a longer look at Kyle Orton? Absolutely. But we're going to prepare for all of their weapons. He's the main guy, but he's also the guy that we'll prepare equally for.
The problems you've been having on third down, especially on third and long. Do you see any common threads there?
No, it's execution of technique. There are a couple calls I'd like to have back on some of those. It's just executing the defense. We've got to get better in the red zone. Got to get better on third down. But, no, there is not a common thread.
What are you seeing out of Trent Cole? I know we're asking a lot about the conversion to outside linebacker and sacks. He's got like seven in the last four or five games. But just what he's been doing lately.
Trent Cole, I said this early in the season when he wasn't getting sacks. On tape, Trent Cole is the same guy for 15 weeks. He is collapsing that side of the pocket over and over again. Early in the season, it wasn't resulting in a sack. But he was still disrupting. Now he's doing the exact same thing he was doing earlier, only he's got a couple sacks from it.
So the sack stats to me - we don't get real excited about a guy or really down on a guy off the sack number. It's how much is he making the quarterback move off the spot? Is he going against tackles and doing it? Is he going against the running back? Who is he beating? Trent Cole has been going against tackles and collapsing that side. We're glad to see him get rewarded with sacks, but he's not playing any better or worse than he was earlier in the season.
Do you think it's easier or harder when you have a rematch to prepare for? You know the chess game or the rematch, do you think it's easier or harder in general?
I think it's an extension of the first game. You just earn every game. The first half a lot of times is different from the second half. It's just like the game got extended. They're making adjustments to what they were doing in the first game. We're making adjustments to what they were doing. As they change, we'll change. It's just an ongoing - I look at it as an extension of Game 1 with an extra four quarters.
So what is the situation with Earl Wolff right now?
He's day‑to‑day, and I believe he's going to be okay. But in that game we made the decision we were going to rotate. Him being healthy. But he tweaked the knee and was feeling a little awkward after the diving break‑up, we decided why risk it? Let's see how the game plays out. If we can hold them and get more reps this week, we'll be okay. So going forward, we'll see how his health is doing and make decisions from there.
Is the hope to get him back in that starting job when he's healthy?
The hope is to have the best 11 players out there playing. If Earl is one of those 11, then absolutely. But the best 11 will play. If he can work back in there, great. If not, we just need the best 11 out there.
Is Jason Witten the best tight end you'll face?
He's the most savvy. He's a savvy vet that catches a lot of balls. He's had a great career. He's probably, of the tight ends we've faced, the top guy, yeah.
When you came here, what were your thoughts about Mychal Kendricks? How far has he come this season in his development?
I think Mychal Kendricks is a great athlete first. I think he loves the game of football. He's young and raw. He still has a lot of growth within this defense and in his career. He's got a great mentor in DeMeco [Ryans], and DeMeco is kind of showing him how to do it.
He's learned a new system. He had a new one his rookie year, obviously, and now this one. I think he's really settling into knowing his job, his assignments, the techniques we're asking him to do. He's getting better and better each week and he has a lot of room to grow.
Is he much of a natural position inside?
You have guys like Brandon Boykin, Fletcher Cox, Kendricks, all second‑year guys. As a rookie it's hard enough to learn a new system, but you have a new system, new coaches. For a second year guy is it almost like being a rookie again?
The hard part is teaching them the new system. The good part is he's still raw. Can you mold him and get him into some of the techniques, the stances, the habits that we like. The older the guy, the more experienced the guy that kind of gets set in their ways. So it's got good and bad to it. The quicker you can teach them the verbiage and techniques you want. But also I like the rawness sometimes where you can mold a guy the way you want him.
Your front seven, you do a lot of stunting even on blitzes and runs. Has that always been kind of a back bone of your defenses coming up through Pittsburgh?
You know what, it's a mix. Everything is a mix. We've got all kinds of ideas. We've got a great coaching staff. The defensive staff and the experiences, all the coordinators that we have, we've all done a lot of things over time. Each week we compartmentalize what is going to work best against this group. Their run, their pass, their protections.
I think collectively we come to a conclusion of what our players do best. That is part of the learning curve of the season. Who are these guys. How much can we give them? How much or how little can they grasp and execute on Sunday? That is the key. What can they do on Sunday? I think right now we've got a good mix going.
Does it take a certain type of athlete to execute as much as you guys do?
A disciplined one. I don't think there is a body type you're looking for.
Well, they were on the move and moving around. So I didn't know if athleticism over the big body guys matters?
No, I think their foot work matters more than their athleticism. They do a great job using blitzes and stunts. But it's the technique that makes them work or not. It's a league of great athleticism everywhere. The details are what we're getting better and better at every week.
How can you explain how the cornerbacks seem to play better in these match‑ups you call tough match‑ups? And then some of the more favorable match‑ups they don't play as well?