It’s nice for Eagles players and coaches to have some extended time between their Week 1 Thursday Night opener and their Week 2 Sunday matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It gives them all a little extra time to get healthy and also to figure out how the heck Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 417 yards and four touchdowns (!) — Ryan. Fitzpatrick.
Coordinators Mike Groh and Jim Schwartz talked to the media on Tuesday, and spoke a little bit about the team’s performance against Atlanta, and what they are doing to prepare for the Bucs.
(TL;DR: Groh did not announce the starting QB, but Doug Pederson is expected to make an announcement in the next day or two.)
Here’s what the Eagles’ OC and DC had to say:
On the Atlanta win
The OC echoed the sentiments of Mike Wallace from earlier this week, and is not freaking out about the lack of production in Thursday’s home opener. He did admit they have a lot things they need to fix and specifically to improve their execution — which, duh.
He pointed out that Atlanta has a talented secondary, but there were definitely missed opportunities by some of the receivers on Thursday. And while saying there wasn’t really one schematic problem resulting in the slow offensive start, did say, “We know that we’ve got to create more explosive plays and push the ball down the field”.
Groh also said there wasn’t a set snap count plan for rookie tight end Dallas Goedert against the Falcons, but that he’s a big plan for the offense’s future.
He later spoke about the running back rotation and how there wasn’t really a game plan for Jay Ajayi to start slow and end with a bang, despite Pederson saying his foot injury was a factor in that decision. Groh noted that the Eagles didn’t have the ball as much as they hoped in the first half which limited some players snap count.
“We really got the running game going in the fourth quarter, and Jay was a big part of that. I thought he ran really well and he looked strong running the football. Made some good plays, guys were bouncing off him, and he showed good vision.”
He also didn’t cast any doubt on the team’s confidence in TE Zach Ertz after a couple drops on Thursday. Groh agreed that it was uncharacteristic of the tight end and that he’s chalking it up as a fluke on opening night. The performance won’t change anything they have planned for him schematically this season, they know what he can do.
On the QB for Week 2
Obviously Groh wouldn’t spill the beans about who the starting quarterback would be on Sunday against Tampa Bay, but did divulge that the team knows who is starting and they are already game planning.
He did mention that Doug Pederson would be making an announcement about the starter in the next day or two.
The OC also talked about the importance of getting into a rhythm is for Nick Foles, and that trying to get him some quick early completions are a good way to establish that rhythm — like it is for so many other QBs throughout the league — but that it’s the coaches job to get him those looks.
At the end of the day, Foles got the win, and Groh learned a long time ago that winning is all that really matters:
“Absolutely. I learned a long time ago from [former NFL head] Coach [Bill] Parcells, he said, ‘The number one job of the quarterback is to bring his team home a winner.’ Nick has found a way to do that. He’s played really, really well. There have been other times he hasn’t played as well or up to that level, but still found a way to get his team home a winner.”
On Buccaneers prep
Groh was asked what they saw from the Tampa Bay defense, and how it’s filled with several new faces — a couple of which are from Philly. The OC talked about how they are a very talented group, but a group they are familiar with.
“They really invested heavily in the defensive line. It’s obviously all built around [DT] Gerald McCoy. He’s a guy that can wreck the game, so somebody that we got to pay special attention to.
And guys like JPP [DE Jason Pierre-Paul] and [DE] Vinny [Curry] and [DT] Beau [Allen] who we know really well. They’ve really bolstered that unit, and it paid dividends for them last week.”
He went on to laud the Bucs’ linebacker, Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, and how good the corner coverage will be once they get CB Brent Grimes back next to Vernon Hargreaves III. He likened the defense to Atlanta, in that they play fast and are quick on their feet.
On calling ‘Philly Philly’
I know we want to be as aggressive as we can in terms of our play calling and the way we want to attack or opponents each and every week.
If that induces some sort of response from the opponent, I guess that’s the way it is. We just try to capitalize on situations we see in our film studies, and ‘Philly Philly’ was one of those examples.
On the defense overall in Week 1
Schwartz didn’t mince words early on in his press conference, and when asked about Sidney Jones’ performance noted that there were areas for him, and the rest of the defense, to improve as they head into the season.
“I think just defense, in general, we did enough to win. We were sloppy in some areas. I think we had sloppy plays throughout the defense - secondary, linebackers, and defensive line - but we did enough to win.”
He did say that Jones had a few nice plays and was able to do things, like making a tackle for loss, that shows he can do more than just covering opponents — something the DC says, however, he’s expected to be able to do.
The defensive coordinator also talked about the Eagles’ red zone defense and what makes it makes it so effective. He simplified things at first, as Schwartz does, “I mean, guys understand what to do”. But he continued about how important being able to rush the QB without blitzing.
“We were getting such good pressure that we didn’t need to blitz. When you can blitz on your own terms you’re at an advantage. It’s frustrating if you’re not getting pressure and you have to blitz. It can put you in a bad spot.”
He also lauded his players for not panicking, but rather knowing what they are expected to do, and then doing them. Schwartz pointed out there was no frustration following some of the penalties either, just got back on the field and did their jobs.
On Buccaneers prep
Schwartz talked about the Bucs putting up 48 against the Saints in Week 1, and the DC noted big plays by DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick being difficult for New Orleans to stop.
“Yeah, it was eye opening to watch it for sure,” Schwartz noted.
He later went on to elaborate on how Jackson and Evans specifically are used differently, but both pose as deep threats.
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, everybody has their own little personality, so to speak, but DeSean Jackson has always been a guy that can take the top off the defense. We played him in a game two years ago and he made a lot of big plays like that. Took us a while to get adjusted to it.
And then you get a guy like Evans, even if he’s covered, he can still be open. He’s a very physical player. You have to be physical with him.
It isn’t just the wide receivers he has to prepare for either, with Schwartz specifically noting the size and catch radius of the Bucs tight end O.J. Howard. He pointed out that all of Tampa Bay’s TEs are huge and their size gives their quarterback a much bigger target.
He emphasized having to be careful in man-to-man coverage and being about to keep an eye on the QB as well as whoever they are covering.
On the DE/DT rotation
Schwartz was asked about Fletcher Cox being in for so many snaps, but he admitted that isn’t the long term goal. The DC noted the team was trying to ease Bruce Hector into the rotation, starting with a small number of snaps and then building on that.
He noted, “It’s probably not ideal, but it’s what we had to do to win the game, and that’s what we did.”
Schwartz was also asked about how Brandon Graham looked in his return the field, and while he quipped that it’s never ideal to miss most of training camp, that BG is a veteran and was able to jump right back into things. They did violate his pitch count a bit against the Falcons, but Graham stayed fresh and kept telling the staff he was good.
“But he was one of the those guys that at the end of that game was fresh. I mean, we rotated a lot of defensive ends. If you look at their snap numbers, we had about four guys in there that all were real similar as far as snap numbers, and it showed at the end of that game. We kept rolling fresh guys out there.”
Schwartz also said he doesn’t think we’ve all seen the full extent of what Brandon Graham can do, which is both exciting and terrifying to think about.
The DC then talked about how the core to being able to rotate players, and therefore have players without amazing stat sheets, was having unselfish players. He noted that the front line defines success as a group, not individually, and that you need to have players who really can step into any role and understands the defense.
On the linebackers
The defensive coordinator has never hidden his appreciation for what Nigel Bradham brings to the team, and is excited to have him back in Week 1. Schwartz also talked about getting Jordan Hicks back from his Achilles injury, and how he was able to provide a spark for the team with his sack against Matt Ryan on Thursday.
“I’ve said a lot times that Nigel Bradham has played that role for us and has been the heart and soul of our defense. Well, Jordan was able to give us that same kind of spark. I thought it was a really key part of the game. It was such a physical play.”
Schwartz — by way of a somewhat failed baseball analogy — said there was a silver lining with regards to missing Hicks last season and other guys throughout the year, but also stressed that “when you are lacking something, it does force you to try to find another way to do it”.
On his coaching style
Q. The guys were telling us yesterday that their favorite thing about you is that you put a lot of trust in them versus overly coaching them. Do you value that about the relationship you have with them? Can you expand on that? (Jamie Apody)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, it’s an easy group to trust. First of all, they’re good players. Second of all, they work extremely hard and they’re very conscientious; they practice hard. They play well as a team.
I think that when you put all those things together, it does make it easy to trust. But that stuff doesn’t happen by accident. There is a lot of hard work from coaching staff to the players that go into -- and I’ll take it even one step further. It’s hard work from the players, hard work from the coaching staff, and it’s hard work from the scouting staff. It just doesn’t happen by accident that you get good players and have some depth and things like that.
All those things together make it easy to make it easy to trust that group.