Team Captain Hypes Eagles: ‘We’re One of NFL’s Top-Tier Defenses’

Rodney McLeod, TJ Edwards

Getty Eagles LB TJ Edwards and S Rodney McLeod wrap up Giants WR Darius Slayton.

You cannot pin last week’s infuriating 23-17 loss on the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense. They showed up and played their hearts out on the biggest stage, making crucial fourth-down stops and limiting the Seattle Seahawks’ rushing attack to 76 yards. The group kept the team’s bumbling, inept offense in the game.

The defensive performance provided a glimmer of hope that this 2020 season can be saved. It also gave coordinator Jim Schwartz — aside from his comments about DK Metcalf — a huge vote of confidence, perhaps as an interim coach should Doug Pederson get the ax. Team captain Rodney McLeod talked at length about establishing an identity and embracing the challenge of being “one of the top-tier defenses” in the NFL.

“We consider ourselves the tone-setters of this team and embrace that and those moments,” McLeod told reporters on Wednesday. “We had a few of those on Monday night, getting huge fourth-down stops. We put it on tape and we’re hoping those plays create that momentum, that energy, for our team as we go down the stretch. And, more important, create turnovers. I think that’s something that is lacking from us as a defense.”

The Eagles rank third-worst in takeaways (11 total, eight fumbles, three interceptions) while owning an alarmingly bad takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (-10). The latter is due mostly to Carson Wentz’s mind-boggling inability to protect the football. The Eagles quarterback has committed a league-leading 19 giveaways: 15 interceptions, 10 fumbles (four lost). Even so, McLeod and the defense have put a priority on creating more turnovers on their end.

“At the end of the day, all three phases help us win the game,” McLeod said. “And if I’m being critical of ourselves, as I always am on defense, we have to limit some of those explosive plays, some of those red-zone touchdowns, and then find ways to get the ball.”

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Locker Room Not Lost or Broken

It gets brought up so many times that it’s not even cliche anymore. The Eagles truly believe they thrive when their backs are against the wall. They think they can magically turn on the switch and break out those underdog masks, drawing on those experiences from three years ago. It remains to be seen if they can do it again but the locker room believes it.

“It’s kind of on us, the guys who have the experience, who have been around since 2016 or the Super Bowl, or even the last two seasons when our backs were against the wall and things weren’t looking too great,” McLeod said. “But we found a way to come together and rally towards the stretch and that’s what we’re looking for from this team. Leaders like myself to bring the other guys along.”

Of course, McLeod was quick to acknowledge that the roster has changed dramatically since 2017. The new kids on the block — rookies, emerging veterans, first-year players — have to buy in and they have.

“I think it is brought up, the fact that we have faced these moments in the past,” McLeod said, “but honestly it’s a different team, you have different players involved now.”

One of those players is T.J. Edwards, the undrafted linebacker out of Wisconsin who has taken on a leadership role. He revealed how the team is trying to bond and come together, a greater challenge this year amid social distancing guidelines. Remember, team facilities are closed across the NFL due to “intensive protocol” and players are relying on Zoom meetings and home gyms.

“We’re at a point where we all want to come together, we want to figure this thing out,” Edwards said. “No one’s looking past anything and no one’s getting down so I think at this point we’re trying to bond as much as we can. You know social distancing and doing all that makes it a little more difficult but we’re all trying to make sure we’re bringing each other with us and where we want to go and that’s to get wins.”

Stopping Aaron Rodgers, Packers Running Game

The Eagles’ defense prides itself on stopping the run. They stifled Seattle last week and rank near the middle of the pack in rush defense: 1,410 yards allowed, 128.2 per game. To be fair, a lot of those rushing yards have come off “explosive” plays and big-chunk runs. The team has done a pretty good job in short-yardage situations, shutting it down on third down.

The Green Bay Packers come into Sunday’s game averaging 121.9 yards-per-game on the ground. The Eagles are focused on slowing down Aaron Jones (624) and Jamaal Williams (409). Then there’s the issue of defending MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. The Packers quarterback has thrown for 3,100 yards and 33 touchdowns.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” McLeod said. “Our mission is always the same, to stop the run, and make them one-dimensional. We have to do that to put ourselves in a good position to win this game but another high-profiled offense that we’re going up against. We feel like we’re one of the top-tier defenses and so we embrace this challenge.”

Edwards, who played a few college games at Lambeau Field, understands the challenge. Nothing’s going to come easy this week.

“Obviously going back to Lambeau, a great environment and facing a great group of wide receivers,” Edwards said. “Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers who everyone knows how good Aaron Rodgers is and that combo has been. We’re going to have to have our best game defensively and try and contain them as best we can.”