Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Takeaway Game

Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins. (USA Today Sports)

Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins. (USA Today Sports)

“Shots on the ball” will move you up the board.

In Cory Undlin‘s point system — designed to create competition within the defensive backs room — a player is rewarded every time he takes a swipe at the rock.

“So we’ve been punching at the football every single chance we get at practice,” said Malcolm Jenkins. “We’re keeping track of it and those who aren’t doing it we’re calling it out, and we’re also kind of highlighting those who are doing it.

“We keep track of everything. Everybody has a competitive edge to them and wants to be on the top of that list…It just builds the habit of every time you get to the point of attack, you’re going for that football or you’re at least conscious about trying to get the football, and it’s been helping us a lot, obviously.”

Billy Davis set the lofty goal of three takeaways per game heading into to the season. To this point, his defense has delivered him just that. The Eagles sit atop the NFL in the takeaway department with 19 (2.7 per game average) — two more than that devastating ‘D’ out in Denver. The ball is being popped out, ripped away and picked off at an impressive clip, as the Eagles have generated 11 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles (recovering eight) through seven games.

“We work turnovers. That’s what we harp on,” said Byron Maxwell. “You get what you emphasize.”

Davis pointed to the tackling dummies stationed at selected spots throughout the NovaCare to illustrate how the coaching staff tries to keep takeaways top of mind. The tall orange bags with footballs extending from the makeshift arms can be found outside the auditorium, next to the locker room door and by meeting rooms, inviting a passerby to take a swing while serving as a reminder that going after the ball is of high importance.

“We just said, ‘Hey guys, in and out of every meeting, just put it on your mind.’ We always talk about habits and that habits reflect the mission. It’s a habit we’re trying to get to,” said Davis. “Then it’s about, does it happen on the practice field? And most importantly, how many times are we actually attempting to punch a ball out in the game? Because the more shots on goal you get, the more success you have.”

Safe to say, the Eagles are firing away.

“Earlier in the season, Max had a great one,” said Davis. “It was [Gavin] Escobar, and Max came up and tackled and punched at the same time and Malcolm scooped it up. That’s an example of the tackle first — the body in position and then punch…

“What happened against Carolina was not right.”

Davis is obviously referring to this:

“He went on one half of the man trying for the ball and didn’t secure the tackle,” said Davis. “We lost on that one. It’s a fine line between the tackle and the turnover.”

“Sometimes you live by it, sometimes you get burned,” added Maxwell. “But you’ve got to keep going.”

Takeaways have been a staple of this defense since Chip Kelly and Davis arrived in Philadelphia. The Eagles ranked third in turnovers generated in 2013 (1.9 per game) and tied for fourth in 2014 (1.8). The bump up to nearly three per game this season can be attributed in part to better personnel in the back end. The defensive backs also credit Undlin’s teachings for enhancing their chances of being in proper position to make a play.

“If you look at us last year, the completion percentage wasn’t very high against us which means we had pretty tight coverage, but when Cory got here he really highlighted how inefficient we were at the line of scrimmage and how inefficient we were in and out of our breaks,” said Jenkins. “So he fine-tuned some of the things that we did at the line of scrimmage, some of the things that we do coming out of our breaks that gives us an extra step, and that puts us in a position to get to the ball, make plays on the football and not just have tight coverage and incompletions, but have a chance to make a play on the ball.”

Put it all together, and you have what to this point has been the top unit in the league in forcing turnovers.

“You can’t just talk about it, ‘Oh we want to take the ball away’ and think that’s going to happen on Sundays,” said Jenkins. “It’s something that you habitually do. So all offseason, since Day One of our offseason program, it’s been all about taking the ball away.”


“It’s kind of up in the air.” With uncertainty swirling, what will the Birds’ offensive line look like on Sunday?

Jason Peters and DeMeco Ryans were held out of practice once again on Thursday.

In the latest episode of Press Coverage, we debate the Eagles’ second-half fate.

Taking a look at where the Cowboys stand, health-wise, before Sunday’s primetime showdown.


Tommy Lawlor gives his thoughts on the Eagles’ situation heading into Week 9, including a warning about over-looking Matt Cassel.

One thing we have to be careful about is thinking Matt Cassel will be a pushover. He threw for 382 yards and led the Vikings to a 48-30 win over the Eagles a bit more than two years ago. And here’s the scary part. Cassel has better WRs, TEs, RBs and OL now than he did then. Yikes.

Cassel played great. I’ve never seen him look so good. Last week he threw for 97 yards and didn’t look good at all. Which Cassel are the Eagles going to see? That’s a huge mystery. I think he’ll be better than last week, but I’d be shocked if he played like he did in 2013. That felt like an anomaly.

Bill Davis might be using the same scheme, but the secondary is much better right now. And I think the pass rush is better now. Sack numbers aren’t great, but they are functioning well as a group and rushing in a coordinated way. That’s critical against a mobile QB like Cassel. Force him to stay in the pocket and beat you.

For all the hand-wringing about the quarterback position, the Eagles could have it much worse, writes David Murphy of the Daily News.

What it takes. That’s the most efficient way to define what everybody is after, isn’t it? It’s what the people who have been underwhelmed by Bradford were hoping to see. It’s what the coach who acquired him was hoping he’d get. It’s what a title-hungry fan base was implicitly promised when its team traded away a second-round pick and a former Pro Bowler.

That Bradford wasn’t just a guy. That he was The Guy. That he was the one for whom they’d waited, the one who had arrived to reward their calls of good riddance to Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick and, perhaps grudgingly, Nick Foles.

If you don’t have The Quarterback, then you don’t have any quarterback at all. And if you don’t have any quarterback at all, then you might as well move on to the next one.


An All-22 and more as we count down to Sunday night.