Jim Schwartz Has Saquon Barkley On His Mind
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The high point of the Eagles' disappointing 4-6 start came on Oct. 11 up the Jersey Turnpike against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, a 34-13 emphatic win which some took as a turn-the-corner game at the time.
Since then, however, the Eagles have dropped three of four, including Sunday's 48-7 horror story in New Orleans while the last place Giants have shown a bit of life with consecutive wins, albeit over poor opponents in San Francisco and Tampa Bay.
When things kick off at Lincoln Financial Field this weekend, Philadelphia will be closer to the Giants and the bottom of the NFC East than the top, no matter what happens between Washington and Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
So what's changed over the past five weeks?
"They're leaning more -- and we probably opened this box -- but leaning more on [Saquon] Barkley," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Not only catching the ball, which he was [doing] early on in the season, but running the ball and really pounding it on inside runs."
Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick back in April's draft, had arguably his best game as a pro against the Eagles, running for 130 yards on just 13 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run, and adding another 99 yards on nine receptions.
A second shift is the return of talented tight end Evan Engram, who was in the midst of a three-game absence due to a knee injury the last time these two teams got together.
"They got Engram back, but even getting him back they still have a lot of two-back sets, two-tight-end sets, and tried to be a little bit more of a power running team," Schwartz explained.
Stopping the run is in the forefront of Schwartz's mind right now because his defense has given up 344 yards on the ground over the past two games, which have included big-name backs like Barkley: Ezekiel Elliott with Dallas and both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara with New Orleans.
"Quite honestly, [running the football is] what I would do against us right now," Schwartz said. "We're going to have to be ready for it."
Schwartz's lamenting could also be a Jedi-mind trick because he finished the Saints game without his top five cornerbacks and relying on names like Cre'Von LeBlanc, Chandon Sullivan and De'Vante Bausby on the outside of his defense.
"Communication can be a little challenging," Schwartz said of all the changes in his secondary. "... Communication is a part of football, just like tackling and blocking, and that's something that we have to be able to perform and we have to be able to get accomplished during the game."
As much as the Eagles have struggled against the run recently, it's obvious that's not the greatest weakness right now. Philadelphia remains 12th in the NFL defending the run and is just 26th against the pass.
From New York's perspective, the skill players are in place with Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr. Sterling Shepard and Engram but the weakness is with descending veteran quarterback Eli Manning getting them the ball consistently through the air.
So do you just hand it off to Barkley into the teeth of a talented defensive front that gets back Tim Jernigan this week but is likely to be without mike linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) or do you monitor players like Jalen Mills (foot), Avonte Maddox (knee) and Rasul Douglas (knee), who all missed practice Wednesday?
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen