Praise other unit that kept Eagles season alive: Macnow

Corey Graham Rasul Douglas Fletcher Cox Philadelphia Eagles NFL

Let us all raise a toast to Nick Foles, restorer of hope, spinner of miracles, initiator of quarterback controversies. Bless you, Saint Nick, for rediscovering Alshon Jeffrey, for launching bombs while under duress and – more than anything – for giving us reason to pull those underdog masks out from the back of our closets.

One more thing, dear reader: While your champagne flute (or beer stein) is still poised high, let me propose one more toast – this one to the man who may be the least-popular figure on the Eagles. While Foles will get (and deserves) massive acclaim for Sunday night’s 30-23 shocker over the Rams, the guy who should be next in the applause line is defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

As in, everyone’s punching bag Jim Schwartz. As in, why-doesn’t-he-ever-blitz Jim Schwartz. The Eagles defensive coordinator, known mostly for being stubborn and snarly, dialed up his best game plan since last year’s NFC Championship Game. He outwitted Rams coach Sean McVay. He baffled QB Jared Goff. He prevented Todd Gurley from running amok – as Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott had done against the Eagles recently.

Schwartz has not had a good season. His defense has collapsed down the stretch in three winnable games. But on Sunday night – directing a unit comprised of battered bodies and scrubs – he outsmarted McVay, whom you may recall beat out Doug Pederson for the 2017 Coach of the Year Award.

Schwartz signaled in blitzes at precisely the right moment – including the final play, with the Rams going for it all from the Eagles 18. It was a ballsy call, always popular with fans, but definitely high risk. And it worked, as Goff, under pressure, could not get the ball to receiver Josh Reynolds.

The Eagles let Goff throw underneath all night, but wouldn’t allow the strong-armed quarterback to go deep. Combine that strategy with terrific pressure from the front four, and the Rams had just one completion longer than 20 yards all night.

Before Sunday, Goff had amassed 18 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in home games this season. Against the Eagles, he had no TD throws and two INTs. Gurley had 48 yards rushing and two TDs – identical to Eagles backup Wendell Smallwood.

Schwartz accomplished all this with less than half a deck. On one fourth-quarter drive by the Rams, I counted just four Eagles on the field listed among the 11 defensive starters at the beginning of the season. Injuries have decimated all three aspects of the Eagles defense, particularly the secondary.

Somehow, Cre’von LeBlanc, Avonte Maddox, Corey Graham and Rasul Douglas (14 tackles) were able to hold down the back end Sunday – along with Malcolm Jenkins, a coach on the field who often has to direct his young teammates where to go on a particular play.

Special praise, too, to two of the linemen. Critics questioned the off-season signing of Michael Bennett, but the veteran defensive end has been solid all year. And Fletcher Cox must have spent the week hearing experts call the Rams’ Aaron Donald the NFL’s top defensive tackle. It was Cox, not Donald, who made a difference Sunday night, tossing aside 300-pound Rams linemen on his way to the quarterback.

Hey, Foles deserves every accolade he’ll get for this great win. But the much-maligned Jim Schwartz and his tired, injured defense were equally responsible. I’d have you raise a toast to each member of the unit who merits praise – but that would be more than any one person should drink.

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