Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday he thinks that along the journey to 12-2, his group maybe has lost sight of the fact that winning in the NFL tends to be a tough, gritty business. Schwartz indicated that romping through much of what is already assured of being the franchise's most successful regular season since 2004 has dulled the defense's edge.
At the end of an extended discussion of adjustments Schwartz tried to make Sunday while the low-scoring Giants were dialing up touchdowns on their first three possessions, Schwartz said scheme and tactics weren't the heart of the problem.
"What really got us out of it was nothing to do with [switching coverages or blitzing]. What got us out of it was the urgency and the feeling of giving up three straight touchdowns," Schwartz said.
After stopping the TD rampage, the Eagles went five straight series without giving up a touchdown, and might have gone the rest of the game had Najee Goode not been ruled offside on a Giants' fourth-and-4 punt, keeping the home team's only subsequent TD drive alive.
"It shouldn't take that. It shouldn't take giving up three straight touchdowns to get that urgency," Schwartz said. "We need to come out with more fire. If we're disappointed in anything, let's be disappointed in that."
The last two weeks, the Eagles have given up 35 points to the Rams (28 that were the fault of the defense), and 29 to the Giants, the two highest opponent point totals of the season. Schwartz was careful to note that the bottom line is, they won both games, and in both games, his defense came up big at the end. But the defense needed a jolt to get going.
Schwartz said Sunday was like the third quarter of the Rams game.
"It took us two straight drives of giving up touchdowns before all of a sudden, we said, 'Hey, it's time to play,' " he said.
"We've played some games this year where we've played lights out from the beginning to the end, but not every game is going to be that way; offenses are good, too. … When you have success as a team … you become accustomed to winning, you become accustomed to games not being close," he said.
Schwartz recalled a coach he didn't name whose team breezed through the regular season but lost the Super Bowl, causing the coach to regret "not being in more close games over the course of the season."
During their nine-game win streak this season, the Eagles won the final five by double digits, the final four by more than three touchdowns apiece. Head coach Doug Pederson actually wished aloud for a close game that would test his team's mettle. He's had three in a row now, starting with the loss in Seattle.
‘The Bottom Line’
Experiences like Sunday's could portend trouble in the playoffs, or they could be a necessary part of the growth process.
"We don't want to play close games, but there is experience in doing that, and the bottom line is coming out with the win," Schwartz said. "I'm proud of the guys for coming out with the win. I'm proud of 'em for getting the stop on the last drive. I'm proud of 'em for getting the ball back against the Rams [on Chris Long's strip sack of Jared Goff] and giving us a chance, and things like that. Every game, you're not going to play your best. That's just life in the NFL. But part of it is becoming battle-tested, and having some awareness that there is that urgency every single week."
The Eagles, who haven't been in the playoffs since 2013, have a lot of players to whom all of this is a new experience. They have clinched the NFC East and a first-round bye. Schwartz suggested that if you are, say, 7-5 right now instead of 12-2, "there's already that urgency, you're in the moment a little bit."
Earlier in his session with reporters, Schwartz discussed specific problems in those early Giants drives – poor tackling, drive-extending penalties, cornerbacks' lack of recognition of possible double-move setups.
"When we're playing our best, we don't give teams a second chance," Schwartz said. "I've said that a few weeks in a row now. I'm getting a little bit tired of saying it, but we have to get back to that. We have to get back to playing clean football, not giving people stuff for free.
"First drive, we have them stopped on the third-and-goal from the 7, I believe," Vinny Curry's sack of Eli Manning setting up what should have been a field goal try – had Jalen Mills, who was in good position, not carelessly grabbed Taverres King as King came out of his break. "Three points, we're battling the next series. All of a sudden that's first-and-goal on the , then second-and-goal on the , then they score a touchdown, and now we feel totally different about that."
But much later, on fourth-and-goal from the Eagles' 11, clock ticking inside a minute, safety Corey Graham kept Giants tight end Evan Engram from bringing down Manning's jump ball pass at the back of the end zone, and the Eagles took over with 43 seconds left.
"He was in the right spot. Right where he needed to be. He's a smart player," Schwartz said of Graham. "On that play, I think everybody knew where [Manning] was going with the ball. Corey had good leverage and also went up and played the ball. It's easy to get a [pass interference] right there, have your back turned, freak out and panic. He's a veteran player. He doesn't do any of those things. He's a trustworthy guy. Did a pretty good job of tackling in that game when we didn't have a good day tackling. He helped us get that win."
Schwartz, who loves baseball analogies, concluded that "the bloop to rightfield is a clean single."
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