As the injuries mount for a defense that can ill afford them, coordinator Jim Schwartz has his sights set on the most significant challenge of the season to date: Sunday's game in New Orleans against a Saints offense averaging an NFL-high 36.7 points per game.
There is no relief in sight, then, for an Eagles defense that has lost end Derek Barnett (shoulder), safety Rodney McLeod (knee), and cornerback Ronald Darby (knee) for the season. Add into the mix the fact that tackle Tim Jernigan has yet to play a snap and that cornerback Jalen Mills (foot) is a question mark to play Sunday and you understand the mighty challenge the Eagles face in New Orleans.
"Our job as players and coaches is work to find a formula that works for the guys that we have," Schwartz said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "In my mind, that's the essence of coaching: Take what you have and try to figure it out. It might look different than when we were at 100 percent strength."
Schwartz pointed out how disappointed he was in his defense in Sunday's 27-20 loss to Dallas, particularly that the tackling wasn't good across the board and the unit, in general, hasn't "looked as fast and as swarming."
The Eagles need to raise their play on defense against the Saints on Sunday or it's going to be a long afternoon for the visitors. Quarterback Drew Brees is having a phenomenal season, completing 77 percent of his passes with 21 touchdown passes and, get this, just one interception. As Schwartz has studied Brees this week, he hasn't seen many mistakes.
Like, two or three all season. That's how good Brees has been.
"I looked at his interception reel. That was one. Didn't take us long to get through the sack and interception reel. His incompletions, didn't take us long to get through those," Schwartz said. "I mean, he's playing at an insane level right now. It's sort of a trend of where the NFL is. When I was a kid, if a quarterback completed 50 percent of his passes, that was considered good. If he had as many touchdown passes as interceptions, it was considered playing pretty good quarterback. Then it started becoming, you need to throw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. Then you need to complete 60 percent of your passes.
"Now pretty much everybody is like near that 70 percent. He's close to 80. He's 77 point something (77.3). How about 21-1 touchdown/interception? He's made those things the new standards. Extremely accurate quarterback, smart, knows where to go with the ball. Still has good mobility, can buy time. We certainly have our work cut out for him. He's got good players around him. They're also, I think, maybe lost in the fact that he's played at such a high level, they're a very good run team also. (Running back Mark) Ingram, (running back Alvin) Kamara, doesn't matter who they hand the ball off to, they've been a consistent run team. Very good offensive line. There is a reason that they're the No. 1-scoring offense in the NFL. And I dare anybody to say that they're the seventh best or the eighth best. Anybody that charts yards allowed or yards gained and everything else, it's a points business, and they're putting up points like nobody else."
So, how do the Eagles play it? How aggressive can Schwartz be with a secondary that will start players who were backups at the beginning of the season? Which weapon does he try to take away? How can the Eagles get at a quarterback who no team has touched this season?
It's a tall task and a critical one. At 4-5, the Eagles are already against a wall as they fight for their playoff lives.
"We all need to play better," Schwartz said, stating the obvious. "We all need to play the pass better. We all need to tackle better."