Eagles Defense Needs to be the Star Now
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It might be "full steam ahead" for the Eagles offense but the harsh reality for that group is that there is a stark difference between stardom and competency.
And that's what the Eagles will be dealing with at the quarterback position as the injured Carson Wentz is replaced by Nick Foles.
You don't just duplicate the play of a legitimate MVP candidate with the next man up so as Philadelphia finishes the regular season and turns its attention toward the playoffs, there is going to be a little bit more put on the plate of everyone from the coaching staff on down if the Eagles want to finish a "special season" without the face of the franchise.
The margin of error gets smaller and the formula will have to change with the running game taking on an added importance to the offense and Dave Fipp figuring out how to get his special teams units back to where they typically are at the top of the league.
And then there is perhaps the most important part of it all, a Jim Schwartz defense that has looked elite at times but leaked a little oil on the team's West Coast road trip.
From Schwartz's perspective Wentz's absence doesn't change his job description.
"I don't think it changes our approach on a weekly basis," he said. "We're going to try to do our very best regardless of what's happening on offense. That really doesn't change our objectives every week. We have to look each week at what our opponent is presenting us, what their style of play is, who their best players are, and how we can best play that. We've got enough to worry about on defense without worrying about anything else."
That didn't necessarily work out all that well out west as Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns against the defense during a 24-10 Seahawks win and Todd Gurley and Cooper Kupp gave the unit fits in Los Angeles before Chris Long saved the day with a strip sack late in the 43-35 triumph that clinched the NFC East for Philadelphia.
The theme for the defensive struggles during the trip was an uncharacteristic one for the 2017 Eagles, shoddy tackling.
“Last couple of games, it hasn’t been up to par,” Schwartz admitted. “There were a couple things in that game. First, the Rams had made a lot of big plays with play-action [passes] deep down the field, and one of our objectives … was to prevent those kinds of things. We actually did a pretty good job preventing them … but we countered that by missing some tackles in the run game and those shorter passes, and they still got those explosive plays.
“... Our style of play dictates that we must be good tacklers. If we don’t, we’re going to give up yards and give up points.”
That kind of result is never acceptable to Schwartz but it becomes even more of an issue because the offense figures to be less explosive without Wentz so a shootout is probably not the way the Eagles are going to win moving forward.
The good news is that Schwartz saw his unit get back to doing what it does well in the fourth quarter against the Rams.
“We were talking about some different adjustments and everything, and our consensus was, you know what, we’ve just got to be us better,” Schwartz explained.
And when it comes to tackling, that means a swarming mindset.
"I've said this a bunch of times: Tackling is not an individual thing," Schwartz said. "There's form when it comes to tackling and technique and all those different things, but tackling is a team game and we're at our best when if one guy misses, the next guy is there to clean it up.
"... To be a good individual tackling team, you need to be a good team tackling team. And that's where we're at our best when we're doing that. That's where we need to get back to."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen