EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — By the start of the second quarter Thursday night, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was doing things he doesn't like to do. Cornerback Sidney Jones had dragged himself off the MetLife Stadium field and was up on a trainer's table along the Eagles' sideline. Jones had sustained a hamstring injury, and it would prevent him from returning for the remainder of the Eagles' 34-13 victory over the Giants, and like a first tipped-over domino, it set off a series of personnel shifts and adjustments, the sorts of which Schwartz usually tries to avoid if possible.
Already, he'd had to do some hole-patching, what with the Eagles' missing safety Rodney McLeod and nickel corner Corey Graham. Schwartz had turned another corner, rookie Avonte Maddox, into a safety to accommodate the loss of McLeod, and despite Jalen Mills' propensity for committing pass-interference penalties and his frustrating susceptibility to hitch-and-go routes, Schwartz had refused to move him to safety or remove him from the lineup altogether. The way Schwartz looks at it, if you put too many players in unfamiliar positions, you increase the likelihood that one or more of them will make a mistake or two that will damage your defense.
"Some of our best work has been done trying to leave as many people as we can in the same position and just make one exchange," he said recently, "rather than the waterfall of one guy and then somebody else moves into his, somebody else moves into his. It's hard to gain consistency when that happens."
Except now Jones, the starting slot corner, was out and wasn't coming back Thursday, which left the Eagles with just three available cornerbacks on their roster: Mills, Ronald Darby, and Rasul Douglas. Schwartz, as much as he might not have wanted to, had to get creative, so he did. He moved Maddox from safety into the slot to replace Jones, then inserted Douglas at safety. It wasn't ideal, but against the Giants and the Eli Manning-esque mannequin playing for them at quarterback, it was enough.
Having entered Thursday with an awful turnover margin of minus-4 through their first five games, the Eagles forced one of the game's second play, when Jordan Hicks deflected a pass into the arms of Kamu Grugier-Hill, whose 24-yard return to the Giants' 16-yard line set up the Eagles' first touchdown, a 13-yard pass from Carson Wentz to Alshon Jeffery. They kept the Giants from scoring a touchdown on each of three trips into the red zone. The biggest challenge that the Eagles encountered on defense was tackling Saquon Barkley, who racked up at least 100 total yards for the sixth time in his six NFL games, but they haven't and won't be alone on that one. On a short week, after a difficult loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the defense was just fine.
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes from the Eagles-Giants game
"You can go on fumes for a game," Schwartz said earlier this week. "It's hard to go play on short rest for multiple weeks in a row, but we don't have to. We got to do it this one time. We did it last year on the road at Carolina. Some similar situations. We had some injury situations and were able to get that energy going. Our players know what time it is and how important this game is."
What Schwartz's defensive unit, particularly the secondary, will look like when the Eagles play again, on Oct. 21 at home against the Carolina Panthers, depends on its overall health. Still, it held up for this one night. Douglas took a bad angle on Barkley on a third-quarter handoff, allowing Barkley to coast 50 yards for the Giants' only touchdown, but otherwise acquitted himself well. Maddox, a fourth-round pick from Pittsburgh in this year's draft, has been a bit of a godsend, because of his versatility. He is listed as 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, which makes him a smallish safety, much like McLeod (5-11, 183 pounds), and while McLeod's injury was the reason he got this opportunity, he has earned his playing time and place in the lineup.
"He's not the ideal size, but he is the ideal quickness and range and eyes for the football," Schwartz said. "The things we liked from him as a nickel, we also like from him as a safety. We'll see going forward. That's where we are right now."