Before Tuesday's practice session, coordinators Bill Davis and Pat Shurmur spoke to reporters about the team's disappointing loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving and what they expect in the team's upcoming meeting with the New England Patriots. Here are a few takeaways ...
Defense Collecting Itself After Two Down Performances
Through the first nine games of the season, the Eagles' defense was outstanding, holding teams to 329 total yards and 20.4 points per game. But in Philadelphia's last two games, they've surrendered 951 total yards and 90 points (45 in each game) in blowout losses to the Buccaneers and Lions. Entering Week 13 at 4-7, the Eagles will look to rekindle the spark their defense showed early in the season.
"Collectively as a group of coaches and players, we've had long talks about it," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "When you have two bad games like that, everyone's got to start with themselves, starting with me. And I've got to make sure that I continue to work on putting these guys in positions to make plays, and individually they're working on making those plays."
Davis and the rest of the coaching staff have considered changing up the scheme or possibly using different personnel packages than they have to this point in the year. But while there is a desire to fix what went wrong the last two games, the team can't ignore its earlier success and make any rash decisions.
"You cannot panic, you cannot overreact and you cannot under react," he said. "That's the fine line that I'm walking right now."
Rookie Eric Rowe To Take On Bigger Role
In Thursday's loss to the Lions, the Eagles lost cornerback Nolan Carroll for the season with a broken ankle. Eric Rowe, who hadn't played much to this point in the year, stepped in to take his place. And while the rookie wasn't perfect against Detroit and its star wideout Calvin Johnson, Davis was mostly pleased with what he saw.
"I think it's time for him to go out there and see what we have. He played 14 snaps matched up on (Johnson), and they caught four on him," Davis said. "I think Eric grew a little bit. Two of those catches were in the field, which Eric was way too soft and way too far off, and we talked about it. He's just got to get up there and believe in himself and challenge him."
The Eagles drafted Rowe in the second round because of his great length, outstanding leaping ability and his ability to defend in the red zone.
"I think Eric is one of our best fade, fade stop players in the low red zone," Davis said. "I do believe in Eric, and I do believe we'll grow him. And I think as a young guy he'll get more and more confidence, and we'll get more and more confidence in him."
How To Game Plan For Tom Brady?
The Patriots present a unique challenge for the defenses they face. Led by the quarterback-head coach tandem of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, New England is a well-oiled machine. At 38 years old, Brady is still one of the best signal-callers in the game, and Davis says that what scares him more than Brady's arm is his brain.
"Brady's been in this system for 16, 17 years. They have this thing wired where they not only change the play at the line, but in between series they can change the whole plan," he said. "We have a lot of confidence in our scheme and in our flexibility and in the things we can go in and out of, and we'll have to do that.
"When you face these top-notch quarterbacks who are really coordinators on the field, you've got to move it around a little bit on them."
Will Sam Bradford Make His Return?
The Eagles have been without quarterback Sam Bradford for each of their last two games because of a concussion and non-throwing shoulder injury, and the offense has struggled to get much going in his absence. Against the Lions, reserve Mark Sanchez was held to just 159 net yards in the passing game, and against the Bucs the week prior he threw three interceptions. Bradford was a game-time decision against the Lions and participated in Tuesday's training session.
Running back Ryan Mathews, who leads the Eagles in yards per carry (5.7) and rushing touchdowns (5) did not practice Tuesday, but offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur noted that he "seems to be getting better every day." He noted that Jason Kelce (groin), Jason Peters (ankle) and Zach Ertz (concussion) would all participate.
The Offense Under Bradford Vs. Under Sanchez
With the Eagles hoping to have Sam Bradford back behind center after two games without him, Shurmur was asked how the offense might look different once he returns. And while he doesn't think there will be a lot that changes schematically, he was quick to note that Bradford's play just before the injury was his best of the year.
In a 33-27 overtime win against the Cowboys in Week 9, the veteran signal-caller had one of his best games as an Eagle, completing 25 of his 36 pass attempts for 295 yards and a touchdown. Against the Dolphins in Week 10, he had completed 19 of his 25 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown before going down with a shoulder injury and concussion midway through the third quarter. The Eagles are hoping when he returns, Bradford picks up where he left off.
"As we watch Sam play, I think he really did improve each game that he played," Shurmur said. "I think as the games went along, until he was out in the Miami game, I think the receivers were becoming more comfortable with him, catching more of his passes, so there was a comfort level. I've always thought that Sam is a naturally accurate passer."