Good morning, Eagles fans. After two road games, the Eagles finally play in front of the home fans Sunday against the Giants. Keep reading to find out which matchup merits your focus. This is "Early Birds," the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It's free to sign up here to get it in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thanks for reading.
— Zach Berman
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz acknowledged its significance this week, one day after Giants quarterback Eli Manning became a tackling dummy against Detroit on Monday Night Football. Manning has been sacked eight times and hit 12 times in two games. If you're paying attention to the stories the Giants fans are reading or rants on talk radio, they're about a porous offensive line.
The Eagles have their own protection issues, but their pass rush has not been a problem with eight sacks and 16 quarterback hits. The Eagles rotate through eight D linemen, and both lineups have brought down quarterbacks so far. Brandon Graham leads the team with 2.5 sacks.
"We can't go into a game thinking it's going to be easy, because it's never going to be like that," Graham said.
The defensive line needs to play even better on Sunday because the Eagles have problems in the secondary. It's unknown who will start at safety for the Eagles, and rookie Rasul Douglas is expected to start at cornerback. A good pass rush is the best way to help a shaky secondary. Look for the Eagles to play off-coverage, keep the wide receivers in front of them, and rely on tackling to avoid big plays. If the Eagles can force the Giants into obvious passing situations, the pass rushers can use the crowd noise at Lincoln Financial Field. There's a reason that 20 of the Eagles' 34 sacks last year came with Reggie White's retired number hanging overhead.
Manning will be booed in Philadelphia and his head coach called him out this week, but he's capable of big games. I covered Manning in 2010 and 2011 and have seen what he can do when he has the protection and the weapons. Odell Beckham Jr. is getting healthier and the Giants' pass catchers can challenge the Eagles' secondary, so the key will be getting to Manning. I think the Eagles win Sunday, and the defensive line will be the reason.
Note: Veteran safety Corey Graham missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but he could start if he plays Sunday. He's played in 159 consecutive regular season games, the second-longest streak among active defensive backs. This interview took place before Graham injured his hamstring.
Zach Berman: How do you think you've been able to last so long in the league and stay healthy as long as you have?
Corey Graham: "I'm taking care of my body. I do a lot on days off and throughout the week, from cold tub to massages, from soaking in Epsom salt, to acupuncture, to chiropractors, doing a little bit of everything. It's helped me avoid injuries and stay flexible."
Zach Berman: When you first came to the NFL out of New Hampshire, could you have envisioned the type of career path you've taken?
Corey Graham: "No. It's funny you say that because I was just thinking about that the other day. I was talking to my high school football coach, and we were talking about the same thing. Coming out, obviously, a lot of kids dream about playing in the NFL. I had those same dreams. So I always hoped for an opportunity and make it any way I possibly could. But if you would have told me I'd accomplish all the things that I have and played as long as I have and been able to be as successful as I have, I probably wouldn't have believed you. It's been truly a blessing. I've been fortunate to stay healthy. The most important [thing] is to stay healthy, be available, have opportunities. That's helped me a long way. Sometimes it shocks me still to believe I'm still playing."
Zach Berman: You played in a Pro Bowl. You won a Super Bowl. You've played for your hometown team. What keeps you going?
Corey Graham: "Just love of the game. I enjoy playing. I enjoy being around the guys. My kids love it. My kids love watching me play, my kids love coming to the games. I enjoy everything about playing in the NFL, everything that comes with it. I just love the game still."
Glad you asked. I actually brought this up to both Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson this week. The explanation I received was that when the offensive line is holding their blocks, the defensive linemen are putting their arms up instead of trying to continue the pass rush. And then on screen passes, Wentz admitted he must throw better passes. But this is noticeable — both of Wentz's interceptions were on deflected passes, although one went off a helmet. You're right about the height; he's nearly 6-foot-6, one of the tallest quarterbacks in the NFL.
"It's something we've constantly got to be working on," Wentz said. "Sometimes it's finding a better window, it's different things. It can be frustrating, it can be annoying, but it's all kind of situational."
I can see Corey Clement's role growing this year, but I don't think Clement becomes their No. 1 running back. I can't see him ever serving that role with the Eagles, either. He's a good player to have on the roster as a rotational running back who can also contribute on special teams. But I'm not sure he supplants Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood if the Eagles reduce LeGarrette Blount's workload, and I think they draft ahead of Clement in the future. The caveat for this season is if Blount and/or Smallwood suffers an injury. That would open up more playing time.