When the Eagles picked up Malcolm Jenkins in free agency last spring, the signing got a lot of criticism from people who called him mediocre, especially as a playmaker. Sheil Kapadia praised his versatility, but wrote:
Jenkins has done little to distinguish himself [as a safety]. Playing downfield, he hasn't proven to be much of a ballhawk with six interceptions in six seasons.
That's right. It was actually five, but from 2009 to 2013, Jenkins only had six interceptions in 71 games.
Today, he got his third interception in four games and took it to the house, with a great juke that I told him reminded me of Shady. He laughed.
"No, I'm not quite as elusive as Shady. But I did my best impression."
I'm not saying he's the next Dawkins, but the last Eagles' safety who got interceptions in three consecutive games was -- according to Brandon Lee Gowton -- the man himself.
Jenkins' increased production is not a coincidence. Chip Kelly has said that the statistic he cares about the most -- after the score -- is points scored (or not scored) after turnovers. Obviously, the best way to convert is to score on the interception itself. Jenkins is all for it.
"As the defense, we don't touch the ball much. So when we do touch it, we want to score. That's why you see guys turning and blocking and trying to escort the carrier into the end zone."
He said the team doesn't do drills for blocking on interception returns, but it's a focus in scrimmages.
"Whenever we get an interception in practice, you get guys that turn and run for a good four or five steps, just to get in the habit of always seeking somebody out and getting a block."
A lot of defensive players also help on special teams, which gives them valuable experience in open-field blocking that other team's defenders may not get.
Another big boost to the Eagles' interception prowess is the two-gapping 3-4 front, which is designed to free up the defensive backs to make plays. Some pundits, such as BGN's Dave Mangels, disagree.
@taoish Front seven philosophy has little to do with that, other than it's not Juan Castillo calling plays.— Dave Mangels (@Southern_Philly) September 28, 2014
So I asked Jenkins directly if the scheme was a factor.
"Absolutely. I don't have any run responsibilities, so it frees me up to play the ball. I can look for opportunities, and move to the ball. ... On the play, it was one of those coverages that allows us to free up depending on what the offense does. I was able to free up right into the throwing lane."
Colin Kaepernick just gave the credit to Jenkins.
"They had man coverage. The guy fell off of the inside slant and made a good play."
Other random thoughts on the game--
-- San Francisco had inverse strategy on offense. Usually teams want to run first, and defenses might force them to pass. Despite a great run attack, the 49ers seemed desperate to pass, and only started running after the Eagles completely shut the air game down with -- and I can't believe I'm typing this -- excellent coverage in the secondary.
The run worked for them but they still didn't use it much, despite averaging 6.5 yards per attempt in the first half. They were approaching Andy Reid level pass-obsession.
-- When the Eagles had the ball, they barely pretended to try to run and did poorly when they did. I have to think something is wrong with LeSean McCoy, beyond the obvious makeshift offensive line in front of him. (The OL did a pretty solid job of pass blocking, in fact.) The Eagles took him out for the last series of the first half in favor of Sproles.
But to my eye, Shady had no shiftiness in the first half. He didn't have much in the way of holes, but that doesn't usually stop him. Today it did. There was a glimmer of his style in the second half, but the Eagles chose to try a strategy of offensive turnovers instead. Bad choice.
-- Chip Kelly was in visible pain from the loss in his post-game press conference. He said he had congratulated the team on playing hard and sticking together, and that the fact that they stayed close was a testament to their strength.
-- Foles threw long all game. I am not someone who thinks this team misses DeSean, but it looked like Foles was throwing to him all game on the long throws, and they couldn't reach them.
Don't take me literally -- the receivers were right in front of Nick, and he didn't actually throw long to DeSean that much last year anyway. DJax got a lot of his production in the few games Vick was at quarterback; Riley Cooper had a longer YPC average for the year.
But it did kind of look like that. Maybe Foles is getting far-sighted in his old age?
-- The good news is that receivers consistently got open, and Nick saw them and threw to them, which no joke is real progress over the first three games this year. The second to last drive showed a bit of a return to form as he hit Maclin over and over.
But yeesh, what an ugly game. The Eagles have lost before, but rarely since Chip took over have they been this un-fun to watch. The special teams and pick 6 were exciting, and I enjoyed the tighter pass coverage which was seriously impressive. But that's about all that was good about this game, except that Lane Johnson's suspension is over and we can hope for a better OL going forward.