Good morning. The Eagles return to practice at 1 p.m. today. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference, and Carson Wentz has an 11:45 a.m. news conference, so it will be a busy day at the NovaCare Complex.
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— Zach Berman
The Eagles won't allow 75-yard touchdowns in all games – and especially not two 75-yard touchdowns – but that doesn't make the Week 2 loss any easier for Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to digest.
"I think we're on the wrong path if we just … say it's an aberration," Schwartz said. "The one was on a blitz and one was considered to be a pretty safe zone, and both of them were the same result, and it just goes to show you, you can't let your guard down on any play."
The topic of blitzing is one that comes up often in Philadelphia, especially with Schwartz's defense. The Eagles are not a blitz-heavy team. They rely on a four-man pass rush. On the first play of last week's game, though, Schwartz sent a blitz. It was from the opposite side of DeSean Jackson, so it didn't necessarily affect the coverage (or lack thereof) on Jackson, but the blitz didn't get home and Ryan Fitzpatrick found Jackson downfield for a big touchdown. And then on the second 75-yard touchdown, the Eagles did a poor job tackling. If they're not going to get to the quarterback and they're not tackling downfield, there will be ugly plays like the ones Sunday.
"There is a risk of blitzing," Schwartz said. "Every time I step on to the field, or come out of the tunnel, all I hear is, 'Schwartz, you've got to blitz every play. You've got to bring it every play.' And I understand, they mean you have to pressure the quarterback, which we're all for, but there is some risk inherent to that. We took a risk on the first play — we paid dearly for it. We didn't execute very well on a 75-yarder, a lot of different layers to that. It's never one person's fault, but then we also didn't tackle very well.
"I think that the first play is probably off of that because we never laid a glove on him, but the second play, we had chances, and we didn't look like ourselves a lot of times. There were some times where running backs and wide receivers were dragging us for two and three extra yards, and you generally don't see that from us. We need to get back on track to playing physical football and tackling well."
Even though the Eagles' focus has shifted onto Indianapolis, the debriefing of these two plays is worth remembering. The Eagles defense has built up enough equity under Schwartz that the Week 2 game can be viewed as an aberration, but those plays were examples of just how thin the margin for error can be in the NFL. Come late on a blitz or fail to drag a player down, and the worst-case scenario can happen in the blink of an eye.
"I think that across the board," Schwartz said, "we were a sloppy defense in that game."
The Eagles signed running back Josh Adams from the practice squad. That's good news if you were encouraged by Adams in the preseason – and there's reason to be excited about his future – but it's bad news for the status of Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi. Sproles injured his hamstring last week in practice. Ajayi injured his back in last week's game. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh acknowledged that the Eagles need to see about Ajayi's status this week.
"We've got to make sure that we have enough guys at the position," Groh said. Adams "is a promising young player."
If the Eagles go into this weekend's game with Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Adams in the backfield, it might be a good time to deviate from the committee approach and get the ball into Clement's hands often. Adams showed promise this summer and Smallwood has experience, but Clement continues to prove each week that good plays happen when the ball is in his hands.
The other news was that wide receiver Jordan Matthews paid a visit to the NovaCare Complex and signed with the Eagles. Matthews fits the profile of the type of veteran addition the Eagles target for a short-term fix. He knows the offense and has a rapport with quarterback Carson Wentz, which helps with only a few days of practice. The Eagles need able bodies at wide receiver – Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson, and Kamar Aiken were the only three healthy receivers on the roster. In Matthews' case, the Eagles must be satisfied with his health (the Patriots cut him after a hamstring injury) because the Eagles don't have the luxury of exercising patience right now.
There are also limitations if the Eagles view him as a slot-only receiver, because it moves Agholor out of the slot. But Agholor can play the outside, as he's shown through the past two weeks, and the Eagles can do far worse than a player who caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns in three years in Philadelphia. Matthews had a poor year in Buffalo last year and the Eagles might not get the Matthews of 2015, but given the situation and the alternatives, it was a worthwhile option.
That's an interesting question, especially during the week Frank Reich returns to Philadelphia coaching the Colts. Reich and John DeFilippo are both good coaches who were key parts of the offense (and the team's success) during the past two years, but Doug Pederson is still calling the plays, the offense hasn't changed, and the quarterbacks and many key players remain.
So I don't think the Eagles miss either in a way yet that has affected results or performances. Their institutional knowledge and input were both valuable and are missed, but for tangible results, it would take a larger sample size of the Eagles' red-zone, third-down, and two-minute work to see if there's been a drop-off in situational football.