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Defending the D: Injuries ruin blueprint for success

Never does a team use injuries as an excuse in the NFL because, as Head Coach Doug Pederson said on Monday, "football is a rough sport, man." Every team in the league has to navigate the minefield of injuries, but what's happened to the Eagles in 2020 on the defensive side of the football – OK, both sides – has directly impacted the blueprint the team put in place and the week-to-week lineup around whom coordinator Jim Schwartz has gameplanned.

It hasn't been easy. It hasn't been conventional. And at the end of the day – late on Sunday night, in this instance – the Eagles are going to look back at the what-if aspect of this defense and wonder, well, what if?

"Sometimes injuries hit one position and you can go with strengths at another position. Sometimes it's more than that," Schwartz said on Tuesday as he held his weekly virtual press conference. "Sometimes it affects both sides of the ball. Sometimes maybe only one side of the ball. And again, I keep with my same themes of this is a no-excuse league, it really doesn't matter.

"Nobody really cares what your injury situation is. Everybody has them. It's football. Guys are going to get hurt. You just have to figure out a way to put it together and come out with wins, and, like I said, we haven't done a good enough job of that this year, and as a result, we lost an opportunity for the playoffs."

What the Eagles envisioned defensively was a front four that would attack, attack, and attack some more, and bust up offensive lines from the inside out. The addition of Javon Hargrave in free agency added another tenacious tackle to go along with Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson. Hassan Ridgeway would be the fourth tackle, and the Eagles would go after the interior of offensive lines in waves. But Hargrave didn't take part in Training Camp because of a pectoral injury and then missed the opening game. He's been a force of late – Sunday at Dallas, fairly, it's hard to say that anyone was a force – but Jackson has also been banged up throughout the year, Cox has battled injuries throughout, and Ridgeway went on Injured Reserve with a biceps injury after seven weeks of the season.

At defensive end, Derek Barnett missed the Dallas game with a calf injury. Josh Sweat is on Injured Reserve. Vinny Curry suffered a hamstring injury in the opener at Washington and missed a month of games. You get the picture.

It isn't going to help anything to go through the injuries one by one, because the list is just too long and extensive. At every level, in every position room, the defense has been pummeled by injury. Instead of, for example, having waves of "positionless" defensive backs at his disposal, Schwartz has had his hand limited. No offense to the young players, but it's probably asking too much right now of Kevon Seymour (now on IR, by the way) and Michael Jacquet to line up and play significant snaps at cornerback without the benefit of offseason practice reps or extensive time to learn the scheme. Schwartz is just trying to fill holes in the lineup with fresh bodies. Healthy would help.

Combined with the no-OTA offseason and no preseason games and defensive coordinators around the league have been pushed to the limit. In the case of the Eagles, the limit has been stretched beyond reason.

"I wouldn't say that there's any great challenge other than this year, but everybody was in the same boat this year," Schwartz said. "Again, this is a no-excuse league. You have to deal with situations that come up, and we haven't always done our best – well, we've always done our best, but we haven't had the results that we've wanted."

The results haven't been all that close to what the Eagles expected. They have allowed 26.5 points per game, 22nd in the league. Only seven teams have taken the ball away fewer than the Eagles' 17 forced turnovers. The red zone has been a challenge all season. The numbers add up to about what you would expect from a team that is 4-10-1.

There are no excuses in the NFL. That's a fact. So is the inescapable conclusion that injuries have played a huge part in where the Eagles are with one game remaining as they play the role of spoilers on Sunday night against the Washington Football Team.

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