As the Eagles prepare for the New York Giants on Sunday – the Eagles finish with five of their final six games against NFC East opponents – the team's coordinators met the media on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex with a lot of ground to cover after the win over New Orleans. Here is what Michael Clay, Shane Steichen, and Jonathan Gannon had to say to the media ...
Michael Clay highlights developments made behind the scenes
Much of the special teams unit is made up of young players carving out roles in the kicking game while at the same time pushing for playing time on offense and defense. Sometimes, to those on the outside, it's hard to measure the progress a young player is making when he isn't getting a lot of reps on offense and defense.
Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay measures progress every day. And he's seeing a lot from his young players. On Tuesday he pointed out the gains made by rookie cornerback Zech McPhearson, and he pointed them out loudly and clearly.
"He's been getting better and better each week," Clay said. "Especially this past week against New Orleans was probably his best game. There's been some roller-coaster games with Zech, but I think he's done an outstanding job. And a big helping hand has been (Special Teams Quality Control Coach) Tyler Brown. He comes up every Tuesday and they talk gunner or talk vice, and we just talk different approaches on kickoff coverage.
"You saw the last game, he had two (downed punts) inside the 20 that helped us set up long fields (for the New Orleans offense). So, I think just the progress in, how Nick Sirianni has been saying, 'Get one percent better every day.' I think these young guys have been doing that, especially in the special teams phase. I've always reiterated this, that I love to see a special teams guy starting on offense and defense. Any way I can help in that capacity is all good for me."
Clay wasn't finished pumping up McPhearson. A later question came that asked about how much McPhearson has improved during the season.
"The one thing you can tell is with Zech he cares about everything he does. He comes in, he asks questions, wants to do good for the whole team. He does it for every phase, whether it's kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, field goal block. He's trying to go out there and put the best film he possibly can," Clay said. "And it's helped us out a lot, especially in our coverage phases and kickoff against a very dynamic returner in Deonte Harris. Getting down there inside the 20 and creating a long field for the defense has been outstanding. I think Zech keeps growing and growing and gets more confident. It really showed in this game because after he made those plays, you saw him hype up the crowd, you saw him get energized, get energetic."
Shane Steichen prepares for the defense's counter to the Eagles' rushing attack
With Jordan Howard's status up in the air for Sunday's game at New York because of a knee injury, per Head Coach Nick Sirianni, the Eagles will be ready to rely on the three-headed attack of Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenny Gainwell in the offensive backfield. That's just fine with Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen, who has full confidence in the team's four-man stable of running backs. Depth there served the team well earlier in the season when Sanders spent three weeks on Injured Reserve, and Steichen expects the same should Howard miss some time.
The Giants are up next, and they have a strong front to deal with.
"(Defensive lineman Leonard) Williams is a really good player. It starts upfront with him. He's good in the run game, pass game, rushing the passer. And then on the outside with (Adoree') Jackson and the other corner, (James) Bradberry, those guys are good players," Steichen said. "I think this, and this is my first year in the division, but any time you play a division opponent, I mean, it's going to be a battle. It doesn't matter what the records are, how anyone's playing, it's from start to finish when you play a division opponent, so we have to be ready to go."
Steichen also touched on, well, touches for the receiving corps. As the Eagles have run the ball so effectively, they have reduced the number of pass attempts and, thus, pass completions from quarterback Jalen Hurts. While tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Devonta Smith have stayed busy with targets and receptions, the opportunities have been more limited for wide receivers Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins. Steichen said unselfishness is the key to success.
"I think this, our team is very unselfish. And it's all about the team," Steichen said. "And however we need to do it to win the football game, that's what we're to do week in, week out. Obviously, we want to get everyone involved, that's the goal. The stats are great, but the bottom line is winning the football game."
Defenses could load up on the run game and keep an extra player in the box, and that's something Steichen and the coaching staff understand could be coming. It won't change what the Eagles are doing, who have the X-factor weapon in quarterback Jalen Hurts. If defenses want to take away the run, the Eagles need to counter it. His running ability is a problem for defenses, and Hurts is making plays in the passing game when the opportunities present themselves.
Jonathan Gannon's defense grows as he digs deeper into his bag of tricks
Eleven games into his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon sees the way his Eagles defense has morphed, evolved, matured – call it what you will – throughout the season. He's pleased with the direction the D is taking and the defense stepped up when Gannon dialed up some pressure with dime personnel on the field – six defensive backs – against New Orleans.
"At that point in the season, you remember we didn't have OTAs and you want to get good at certain things and you want to be able to put guys in the right spots to function and play," Gannon said of why the team didn't utilize the dime package earlier in the year. "But that's something that we have had when we got here. And when we decided to deploy it, we felt good about the guys in the game. And then we have stuff that's built off of the coverages and pressures from that group. And the players – it's really about the players. The players executed the calls. And the coaches did a really good job of us planning those calls out. But, at the end of the day, the players make plays. And that's what you saw and that's why some of those calls worked."
The linebacking corps adjusted on the fly against New Orleans when Alex Singleton stepped in for Davion Taylor when Taylor left the game with a knee injury. Taylor is expected to miss time and Gannon has full faith that Singleton will pick up where Taylor left off.
You know, the next-man-up-mentality that this football team has. Well, that means every position on the team is ready, just in case.
"I'm very confident – you saw Alex come in there and even though you saw Alex's snaps kind of go down a little bit, it's a testament to him, and the other guys that are in that room, all of our guys, they're all ready to play. And they get themselves ready to play," Gannon said. "If you can go in, you can be a starter – you can be a starter in every package, a starter in certain packages, or you could be the pair and the spare (reserve player) that we talk about. And you got to be able to go in and play winning football.
"So, I was really excited for Alex, because when he got in there, he played well. And that's really a testament to him to not – sometimes when your snaps get diminished, you kind of – a lot of guys I've seen go in the tank a little bit and that hasn't been him because he's got high football character. And that's the guys we want to be there."