Good morning. The Eagles will have a full practice, for the first time this week, at 1:10 p.m. The players will meet with reporters after practice. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (ribs) and Golden Tate (knee) were new additions to the injury report this week — both would have been limited at a practice yesterday — so pay attention to their status leading up to Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

This is a Thursday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox celebrates his fourth-quarter strip and sack on Washington quarterback Josh Johnson with teammates Tre Sullivan (center) and strong safety Malcolm Jenkins on Sunday, December 30, 2018 in Landover, MD.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox celebrates his fourth-quarter strip and sack on Washington quarterback Josh Johnson with teammates Tre Sullivan (center) and strong safety Malcolm Jenkins on Sunday, December 30, 2018 in Landover, MD.

The Eagles' emphasis on red-zone defense

The Eagles defense might have been inconsistent at times this season, but there’s one area in which the defensive unit has been better than any other in the NFL: the red zone.

The Eagles have the NFL’s best red-zone defense, keeping opponents to touchdowns on 44.6 percent of their red-zone visits. A big reason the Eagles beat the Bears on Sunday in a 16-15 game was that the Bears did not score touchdowns on any of their three red-zone visits. It’s a major point of emphasis from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who values scoring defense over total defense. The Eagles ranked No. 23 in the NFL in yards allowed, so teams have moved the ball against the Eagles. But inside the 20, the Eagles make it more challenging.

“At the end of the day, your defense is out there to do one thing, and that’s not let the other team score,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “A lot of things can happen in between … but if you can get down to the red zone and hold them to a field goal, it’s really hard for teams to beat you. So we put a lot of emphasis on the red zone. We have a simple scheme. Everybody knows their spots and plays it to a T. Every route concept, every hole there is, we study it and practice it. Our coaches do a great job of preparing us, and we have a plan. So it’s not an accident that we’re so good in the red zone.”

Jenkins said red-zone defense will be a key Sunday. The Saints will move the ball; that happens just about every week. But if the Eagles can limit them to three points instead of seven, it will help keep the offense in the game. The Saints have the fourth-ranked red-zone offense in the NFL, scoring touchdowns on 69.6 percent of their visits. They went 4-for-5 in the red zone against the Eagles in November.

Why Michael Bennett won’t disagree with Nick Foles

Nick Foles told reporters that the loss to the Saints in November brought the Eagles closer together, as you can read in Les Bowen’s story.

Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett agreed — initially as a way to protect himself.

“I’m never going to disagree with Nick Foles,” Bennett said. “The football gods will look down on me and shun me from success. So whatever Nick says, it’s the truth.”

Smart idea by Bennett not to mess with what’s going on right now with Foles, who has stepped in for Carson Wentz and won four consecutive games as the starting quarterback.

For the record, though, it sounded like Bennett actually did agree with Foles. He said that at that point in the season, few outside the organization thought the Eagles would make the playoffs. (This isn’t a stretch — they were 4-6 at that point.) So that forced the players to look only internally if they would turn their season around.

“When you’re at that type of level, all you’ve got are your teammates and coaches in this organization,” Bennett said. “We didn’t think about the outside.”

Zach Ertz’s connection to Sean Payton

Zach Ertz has a funny connection to Saints coach Sean Payton that has nothing to do with football. Ertz and Payton underwent surgery on the same day in Philadelphia a few years ago and shared a room, exposing Payton to a side of Ertz not seen when reviewing film — or without pain medication.

“I don’t really remember it because I was still on anesthesia,” Ertz said. “I was the first one that went. He happened to go second. I was in the post-op room … and he heard me saying crazy stuff.”

Ertz doesn’t recall what he specifically said, but it was something to the effect of how the doctor dominated the surgery.

“Crazy stuff,” Ertz said.

“I haven’t spoken to him in a long time,” Ertz said, “but that’s probably something we’ll always remember together.”

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) celebrating a reception during Sunday's playoff game against the Bears.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) celebrating a reception during Sunday's playoff game against the Bears.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag ...

I’ll tackle each question:

The Eagles can get by with the running game they have now, but I don’t think they have the personnel to excel. That’s a position they’ll address this offseason. However, you saw Josh Adams have some success on the ground in the first meeting against New Orleans. Darren Sproles can pick up chunk yards. The line blocks well. The running backs can do a passable job. I just think they’re somewhat limited by their personnel there.

I don’t know if the Saints will regret running up the score — the Eagles couldn’t stop them. If the Eagles pull off the upset this weekend, it won’t be because the Saints scored a late touchdown back in November. It’ll be because the Eagles are playing better now than they did then. The Saints piled it on that day, but if the Eagles didn’t like it, it was within their control to stop it.

As for the last question, the Eagles are one of the last eight teams standing. Relative to preseason expectations, it’s not a success, but making the second weekend of the playoffs for two consecutive seasons is an accomplishment. So is winning a road playoff game. I’d consider it a fine season regardless of what happens this weekend. Obviously, not the most successful season or as successful as it could be and this isn’t the standard every year, but it’s a credit to them that they’re this far.