On Wednesday, defensive coordinator Bill Davis and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur met with reporters to recap their units' pre-bye performance and offer a look at this Sunday's matchup with the Cowboys. Here are seven things we learned.
How Will The Eagles Utilize The Inside Linebackers?
Linebacker Kiko Alonso was a full participant in Wednesday's practice and remains on track to return to action for the first time since the Week 2 game against Dallas due to a knee injury. The question for defensive coordinator Bill Davis is how he will divvy up the reps at inside linebacker.
"We'll use them as their health allows us to use them; how much and how well they did. We'll put them in certain packages and see who the healthiest are," Davis said. "The other factor is when you have those four healthy players, they also have some special teams contributions that they have to do. If, for instance, somebody just covered a kick and is winded from that, we'll put the other guy in. So, there's a rotation that's kind of fluid during the game on their health, stamina and special teams involvement, which we need a big role from all of them in that also."
Davis said that he's "still learning" about Alonso, but loves his football instincts and IQ.
"Kiko is a very instinctive football player. You don't have to say much. He can go out there, and probably not even give him a call, and he could probably float to the ball and be at the ball, be in coverage, be in a good spot," Davis said. "He really gets the game of football. He sees it well. He has got great eyes. So no matter what you put him in, like (Tuesday) was his first day in a while and it was like he didn't miss a beat."
Davis Pleased With The Pass Rush
A year after the Eagles ranked second in the league in sacks, the team is tied for 18th heading into Week 9. Davis is not concerned with the pass rush.
"The pass rush is good. We looked at it obviously all week, and I have said this before up here, 'Are we moving? Are we affecting the quarterback and moving him off his spot?' There were a handful of things that would have been sacks, but Eli (Manning) grounded it or (Ryan) Fitzpatrick threw it with his left hand in the shovel, so the pocket was collapsing," Davis said.
"I love the way the guys are rushing together. I think this is the best year we've had of four guys being where they're supposed to be together. Now, you put a good coverage behind that like we are, and now the quarterback has to make that choice, 'Am I going to force the throw and throw interceptions,' which we're getting more of, and that's kind of replacing some of the sacks that were happening a year ago."
What Did Self-Scouting Reveal About The Defense?
Davis was asked an open-ended question about what the tape showed during the bye week evaluations. He pointed specifically to the dreaded X-plays demon from a year ago and third-down situations.
"The X-plays have been like this: seven in one game, zero the next, six in one game, three in the next. We're in a good spot with X-plays over the seven games, but that has to be more consistent," Davis said. "Our third down has to be more consistent. We have one good game and then one bad game. The third-and-longs, which should be knocked out every time, that's been a little bit of an Achilles' heel. We talked about that a lot. Those are the type of things that we looked at hard and put our focus on."
Better Than Turnovers?
The Eagles lead the league with 19 takeaways, but there is one aspect of the defense's performance that Davis is happier with.
"Tackling, tackling. ... Where the tackling has come, I'm more proud of. The turnovers are always part of winning NFL football games. You have got to get the turnover ratio. But it's the players putting the emphasis on it. It's the position coaches daily in meetings pointing out where we're doing it right and where we're doing it wrong. Then in the individual period, and Chip (Kelly) does a great job of -- better than most places I've been -- giving extended individual periods, which lets us work the fundamentals a lot more and put that emphasis in," Davis said.
What Will Be Different Than The First Meeting With Dallas?
The Eagles had just 226 net yards of offense and converted 2-of-11 third-down attempts in the Week 2 loss to Dallas. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur shared some of the lessons from that game.
"I've always believed, 'It's first things first.' As cliché as it sounds, we've got to get lined up properly. We've got to snap the football, whoever is responsible for the mesh has to take care of it. We have to block guys. The quarterback has to throw and the receivers have to catch," Shurmur said. "If we do all the first things first, then I think it doesn't matter who our opponent is, our results will be much better. I think that's sort of what we fell victim to in our first Dallas game."
Players To Watch In The Second Half
Shurmur explained why running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Nelson Agholor are two players to watch in the second half of the season.
Murray has gained at least 65 yards rushing in each of his past three contests.
"When you talk about DeMarco specifically, he's much healthier now than he was early in the season," Shurmur said. "We anticipate that he'll make better runs than he did early."
Shurmur pointed to the success that Jordan Matthews had at the end of last year. Matthews had three 100-yard receiving games in the final eight contests of 2014.
"Much like we saw Jordan do a year ago. Now, Nelson has been dealing with an injury, as well, which may slow things down just a touch. But we feel like the second half of the year is going to be good for him once he gets back on the field," Shurmur said of Agholor.
How Do You Fix The Drops?
Drops have plagued the Eagles' offense throughout the course of the season. Going back to the Week 2 meeting with Dallas, two of the three opening drives ended after drops on third downs.
"We just keep working on it," Shurmur said. "Try to just keep eyes and fingers, focus on a small point, catch it, pluck it and tuck it. All the things you work on.
"These guys are pros. They're here because they've displayed the ability to catch the football. We know they can do it. They've just got to go out and do it; keep repping it and practicing it, like they do. Then just make it happen in the games."