Good morning. The Eagles return to work today to begin preparing for Sunday’s postseason game against the Chicago Bears. There will be no practice, but the team has a 1:45 p.m. walkthrough. Doug Pederson has a 10:45 a.m. press conference. Nick Foles speaks at 12:05 p.m.

This is a Wednesday 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

Rasul Douglas walks off the field with a team member holding a ski mask after the Eagles beat the Texans on Dec. 23.
Rasul Douglas walks off the field with a team member holding a ski mask after the Eagles beat the Texans on Dec. 23.

How Rasul Douglas represents the defense’s turnaround

If you’re looking for what’s changed with the Eagles defense since the embarrassing loss in New Orleans, look at Rasul Douglas. It’s not Douglas that’s the difference, but the transformation he made could be used to describe how the defense improved in the last six weeks.

“I think his journey this year has sort of mimicked the defense as a whole,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He’s playing his best football late in the season. He’s overcome some things. He’s put some performances behind him. He’s tackled much better. I think all the things you can say about Rasul you could probably just put the defense right next to him.”

Schwartz is correct. The defense has overcome injuries and tackled much better, with players settling into roles. They’ve also started forcing turnovers, which was a problem earlier this season. Douglas has been a part of it – his interception to open the game on Sunday set the tone for the shutout. Eleven of the Eagles' 17 takeaways have come since New Orleans.

It was the first shutout in Schwartz’s three years with the Eagles. Schwartz considered it a reward for the players.

“That was sort of more of a reward for them for the last six weeks or whatever it’s been since the wheels fell off at New Orleans, but they were able to come back and get that,” Schwartz said.“Not everything is easy in the NFL, and they worked really hard. We’ve had a lot of different guys play in a lot of different positions. I think it’s more a reward for them than us, because as a coach you’re just trying to manage the game and figure the best way to go about it. You’re not sitting there thinking, “OK, I need to get my third-down percentage to ‘this’ or my points to ‘this’.” You’re just trying to win the game. But it is a nice little reward for how far they’ve come.”

Alshon Jeffery is surging

Alshon Jeffery is going to be a big story this week. He’s playing against his former team and has been hot in recent weeks, with averages of five catches and 100 yards per game in the past three weeks. Jeffery’s per game averages this season are five catches for 65 yards – that’s actually an upgrade over last season.

But Jeffery was at his best last year during the playoffs. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh noted how Jeffery has a sense of the moment. The past three weeks have almost been like playoff games for the Eagles, and Jeffery has proved to be clutch. He needs it to continue against the Bears on Sunday.

“He’s in a really good groove right now,” Groh said. “I think he is playing with a lot of confident. That catch for a touchdown the other day is as good a catch as you can make with a guy trying to rip the ball out of there. Just shows how strong his hands are.”

Playing time leaders this season

In this space throughout the season, I’ve looked at the playing time distribution from each game. But what about the season?

Two players stand out the most. Malcolm Jenkins was a true iron man, taking every single defensive snap – all 1,039. He also took 137 special-teams snaps. And Brandon Brooks barely came off the field on offense, playing a team-high 1,087 snaps of 1,092 offensive snaps.

The defense didn’t have anyone else take at least 90 percent snaps, although Nigel Bradham was No. 2 with 89 percent of the snaps. (He was suspended in Week 1, which hurt his total.) Bradham has taken ever snap since the bye week.

Three other players took at least 90 percent of the offensive snaps: Jason Kelce with 95 percent, Zach Ertz with 92 percent of the snaps, and Nelson Agholor with 90 percent of the snaps.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins intercepts a pass against the Giants in November.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins intercepts a pass against the Giants in November.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag ...

They cannot interview for jobs because the Eagles play this weekend. The only coaches of playoff teams who can interview right now are those who have bye weeks. So that’s why there aren’t interviews. As for why they’re not mentioned, Jim Schwartz is the coach who would most likely garner interest. The defense has had a down year statistically, but I think Schwartz has done well with a group depleted by injuries. He has a lot of characteristics teams like in a head coach. He also has head-coaching experience, although sometimes that can work against a coach. I think he did a better job in Detroit than his reputation might suggest. He inherited an 0-16 team and brought them to the playoffs. But Schwartz would need a strong offensive coordinator and personnel director, which will be critical to his success. I think he could be a head coach again. He was asked about it on Tuesday. This is what he said:

“It was a little bit different last year because we had that off-week and there was going to be opportunity before you were done playing. That’s not the case this year. All of our focus is right ahead on the Bears. Quite honestly, it’s my goal to keep playing. If we do our jobs well enough, maybe any opportunity might not be there. I mean, that’s just the way it goes. But our total focus is on the Bears, and I think we’ve come too far as team over the last six weeks to water that down with anything else. I’m certainly not.”