The Los Angeles Chargers visit Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday as a far different kind of test for the Eagles with a young star in quarterback Justin Herbert leading a well-balanced and explosive offense, and players like edge rusher Nick Bosa and safety Derwin James the standouts of the defense. The Eagles' coordinators, as they do every Tuesday, met the media at the NovaCare Complex and discussed their respective units.
Shane Steichen knows Justin Herbert all too well
Nobody really said much about it at the time in the course of a dominating win at Detroit, but a single play quarterback Jalen Hurts made on Sunday stood out to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen – a third-and-12 snap from the Philadelphia 8-yard line early in the third quarter, a play on which Hurts saw an opening and ran for 20 yards and a first down to spur a drive that ended up consuming 11 plays, 90 yards, and ended with a touchdown.
"To me, that was the play of the game. He got us out of backed up, scrambling, made some big plays, and, obviously, he was efficient in throwing the football Sunday. It was good to see," Steichen said.
The Eagles ran for 236 yards in the win. Steichen said the team intended to establish the run and did just that, with backs Boston Scott and Jordan Howard running "downhill" and combining for 117 yards and scoring four touchdowns on 24 carries. The credit went far beyond the backs, though – it all started at the line of scrimmage and in the meeting rooms.
"I think they've played together for a while, our offensive line, and they've got a great nucleus," Steichen said. Coach Stout (Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland) and (Assistant Offensive Line Coach) Roy (Istvan) do a great job with those guys. And (Jason) Kelce, his leadership and ability, he's played in the league a long time and he holds the group accountable. I think that anytime you hold a group accountable within a position like he does, you'll have success."
Sunday's opponent, the Los Angeles Chargers, feature Herbert, whom Steichen coached last season when Herbert was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert is having another big season and Steichen is not surprised.
He could see the big-time talent in Herbert right away in 2020.
"Justin Herbert, he's a heck of a football player, bottom line," Steichen said. "He's big, he's got a huge arm, he can stand in the pocket. That's one of the biggest things I learned from being around him, is from a rookie last year, he's able to stand in there when the blitz is coming and he can take hits, stand there deliver the throws. He's smart, he's intelligent. He gets the ball out of his hands. You'll see on tape, a lot of times he's hitting his back foot and boom, he's getting the ball to the check down quickly. He has accelerated vision. Can do it all. Heck of a football player."
Michael Clay credits assistant coaches for prepping reserves to play
The next-man-up philosophy applies throughout all three phases of the game, but within special teams it can get especially hectic. Michael Clay and his special teams unit handled quite a bit of in-and-out business on Sunday and didn't flinch against a Lions group that, just one week before, had success with an onside kick and two fake punts. The Eagles were ready for anything and everything, even with some special teams starters sidelined, most prominently punt return man Jalen Reagor, who went out early in the game with an ankle injury.
"We always try to get people ready regardless of the situation. You saw Jalen go down in the first quarter," Clay said. "Greg Ward came in, didn't miss a beat, had a 12-yard return that helped save us there. Injuries do happen. That's the beauty of special teams, you have to be prepared to get the people behind them ready to go. When Jack Driscoll went down, I had to shuffle the guys on the field goal team. Didn't miss a beat. When J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) went down, Richard Rodgers took his spot on some of the punt returns. Didn't miss a beat. It's one of those things where it's our job as coaches, myself, Joe P. (Assistant Special Teams Coordinator Joe Pannunzio) and (Special Teams Quality Control Coach) Tyler (Brown), to have everybody ready who may be active on Sunday to fill in at any point.
"When Jalen went down, Quez (Watkins), you be the kick returner; Greg, you be the punt returner for this. Greg did a heck of a job fielding it, making one guy miss, getting vertical, and making a big 12-yard return for us."
After having so much team-wide success in the 44-6 win in Detroit, Clay and his group are taking the same approach for Sunday against a 4-3 Chargers team: The focus is on improvement, player to player and position group to position group.
"It doesn't change whatsoever. From a special teams standpoint, it wasn't our best week in terms of our coverage unit," Clay said. "We always want to come back and get better as the season goes on. As I alluded to last week, the weather is changing. The ball won't travel as far. We need to tighten up our coverage units to help our defense with a longer field. It's not one of those things where we're feeling good – there's always something to get better at. In terms of that, we don't change what we do from week in, week out. After the Carolina blocked punt, it wasn't like we were sitting on our high horse with our feet up. We were trying to get better each week and we have to get better this week in terms of our coverage units to help our defense.
"I thought our punt return did a good job kind of flipping, saving a first down and a half by Greg when they did hit a good punt. So, we just have to keep playing disciplined ball. Have to eliminate those penalties that do hurt our offense. Just getting better and better each week regardless of the outcome of the previous week."
Jonathan Gannon: Marcus Epps, Avonte Maddox playing 'winning football' on defense
After a complete 60-minute defensive performance in Detroit, Jonathan Gannon knows the Chargers will be a tough assignment on Sunday. They have a powerful, balanced offense and have success this season. Gannon's takeaways from Sunday were that his defensive line registered six quarterback sacks and shut down the Detroit running game, the linebacker group led by T.J. Edwards and Davion Taylor stepped up with increased reps, and that the back end did a fantastic job in coverage.
Gannon pointed to two players when asked – safety Marcus Epps and cornerback Avonte Maddox.
On Maddox, who forced a fumble that Darius Slay recovered and returned for a touchdown, Gannon said, "The first thing I look for is slot cornerback: quickness, instincts and strike. And he has those three things. You talk about that position, you heard me talk about to you guys – I would argue with anybody – he has the most mental stress on him. More than the linebackers, more than safeties, more than the D-line, more than the corners. Just named everybody, I guess. But saying we put a lot on his plate, and he handles it extremely well. And not to say that he doesn't make mistakes or can't he keep improving, but he's an ultra-competitive player. Everything that we ask him to do, and we ask him to do a lot, he can do really well. And he's a great dude. I mean, he's always positive – 'What can I do' – like a lot of our guys, like all of our guys – 'What can I do to help our team win this game? Even if it means I have tough duty on a couple of things.'
"Even if that – well, because you've been around players that, 'Well, I don't want to play this call because I'm one-on-one with this guy.' 'Well, you've got to be one-on-one with this guy because we're doubling somebody else, bro.' Tough duty. One thing doesn't take away everything. And he's always very willing to take on the hard challenge and he's been a joy to be around."
On Epps, Gannon said, "Playing at a high level. I've said all of our safeties from the start, it's a good job for the people that (Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) has in here. What I look for in the safety position, he has everything that I look for. I mean from a mental standpoint, from a physical-trait standpoint, the toughness that he brings to the defense, the athleticism, the ball skills, the tackling, the run-the-show, you know – as much as Avonte as we put on Avonte, we put on those safeties too, with the style we play. You might think, "What do you mean by the 'style you play?' You've got a couple of coverages." There's a lot that goes into the coverages by certain things.
"We put a lot on his plate and he handles it. He's another one like Avonte, very positive when it's not going his way or our way, it's on to the next play. He has very next-play mentality that the head coach preaches. And he'll continue to play for us because he's playing winning football."