The defensive snap counts are piling up for the Eagles and the warriors at the line of scrimmage keep pushing. Always pushing. Fighting. Battling through fatigue and injury and 320-pound offensive linemen. Tackle Fletcher Cox, in the midst of Sunday night's game in Los Angeles, took a cart to the locker room with an injured hip but came back quickly and went right back onto the field.
Coordinator Jim Schwartz appreciates the effort and dedication from his players.
"It's what we need him to do," Schwartz said of Cox. "It's not ideal mainly because of where we've been the whole season with different injuries and things like that. He sort of did the same thing toward the end of the year last year into the playoffs and those kind of things, so he is ready for it. Getting him back – when he went down in that game, getting him back, at first we thought we were just going to be using him on third downs and we tried to spot him a little bit here and there and put some other guys out there for the first couple plays and sort of hold him in the reserve but really he didn't need that. Michael Bennett played a lot of snaps, also.
"Again, sort of the situation we're in with our defensive ends. Lost Derek Barnett early in the year and lost Josh (Sweat). It's a little bit more on their plate and those guys are up for that and they are ready for that challenge, and we are going to need them over the next couple weeks. We've had some games in the past where we didn't play a lot of snaps. Last two games, we've played a lot of snaps. That's where all the offseason work starts to pay off for you."
Sunday's game against Houston will likely be more of the same in that the Eagles are stretched thin at every level of their defense, but the collective effort has been outstanding – and needed. In another must-win spot, the Eagles need all hands on deck to deal with a Houston team that has won 10 of its last 11 games and rides high in the AFC South with a 10-4 record. Houston has a young, dynamic quarterback in Deshaun Watson who has 24 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions, a speedy running back in Lamar Miller who has 917 ground yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and one of the very best wide receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins, who has 94 receptions, 1,321 yards, and 11 touchdown catches in 2018.
In other words, Schwartz and the Eagles' defense have another tough assignment on Sunday, particularly working against Hopkins.
"I think probably the biggest thing that stands out for me is he's so strong with contested catches," Schwartz said. "He must have incredibly strong hands and he has a knack for getting the ball. He has some rebounder-type skills in him. Charles Barkley would lead the NBA in rebounds when he's 6-3. Those guys that just have a knack for high point and a knack for knowing – but I think that sort of stands out the most. That play he made to win the game or to give them the lead – not to win the game but to give them the lead, I mean, you can't cover a guy much better than that. And not only does he high point the ball and he's strong enough to squeeze it, he's also strong enough to come down with that ball in his hand. He's a threat to run after the catch. He's one of the best receivers in the NFL.
"Sometimes, you have to work scheme to try to take the quarterback off his looks, but Watson knows who his playmakers are and they have had some injuries at the wide receiver position, also. They are going to work hard to get him the ball, and we are going to have to work hard to keep him from going there and when they do go to him, sometimes you are going to have to make the tackle. Sometimes you might be able break it up. You have to pick and choose your spots a little bit."
The defense hopes to have middle linebacker Jordan Hicks on the field Wednesday, with an eye toward returning to the lineup on Sunday. Hicks hasn't played since the New Orleans game when he suffered a calf strain late in that contest.