Jim Schwartz Plays Fireman Against Saints

The Eagles DC takes you inside what happens when the attrition reaches a fevered pitch in the NFL
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PHILADELPHIA - So what happens when the attrition reaches a fevered pitch in the NFL?

You found out with 8:33 left in the third quarter during last Sunday's Eagles upset win over the New Orleans Saints when Philadelphia lost Rodney McLeod and Darius Slay on the same play, an 11-yard completion from Taysom Hill to Alvin Kamara.

McLeod suffered a season-ending torn ACL while Slay was ultimately ruled out for the game with a concussion.

Earlier, Jim Schwartz's defense already lost Avonte Maddox to a knee injury meaning that 75 percent of the starting secondary was ruled out in less than 37 minutes of football.

Couple that with cornerbacks Cre'Von LeBlanc and Craig James already on injured reserve and the fact that two potential depth pieces, undrafted rookies Mike Jacquet and Grayland Arnold, were injury scratches coming in, and the Eagles were running on fumes when it came to the back end.

Schwartz was forced to move safety Jalen Mills back to CB opposite Kevon Seymour, who was just signed on Dec. 2. The safeties were second-year man Marcus Epps and rookie K'Von Wallace and the only man left standing in the same position from the original game plan was slot CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.

The Kamara gain put the Saints at the Philadelphia 9-yard line and New Orleans was able to cash in two plays later, cutting the Eagles lead to 17-7.

Panic could, and maybe should, have set in, but the team persevered and held on for a 24-21 triumph, stunning the then-No. 1 NFC seed and halting a four-game losing streak.

"You're always trying to cover up injuries," said Schwartz. "I sort of do a thing the night before the game where I’ll quiz the coaches, ‘All right, we lose this guy, who is the next guy in the game? All right we lost that guy, how are we going to work around these issues?’"

The level of attrition this time was a little different, however.

"I don't think you ever plan for 75 percent guys going down," he acknowledged. "You just have to do the best you can. We were scrambling."

So much so that Schwartz was thinking about the Eagles' players on the offensive side of the football helping out in a potential Hail Mary scenario.

"After the missed field goal, being up two scores, we were trying to put our last play sort of Hail Mary type defense in and we didn't even have enough guys to do it," he said. "We were going to have to go get one of the offensive players to go play a backline guy."

Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland once coached at Alabama under Nick Saban and has said his former boss required his assistants to go through every potential contingency as well.

Saban was Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland back in the early 1990s and that overlapped with Belichick giving Schwartz his NFL start as a scout at the time.

Belichick taught his students well but no one can envision what happened to the Eagles secondary against the Saints.

"You can't really prepare for all those situations," said Schwartz. "You just have to put the fires out as they come and figure out some way that you can piece it together to be successful."

As for moving forward Schwartz always keeps things close to the vest but did note he likes how Mills is developing at safety.

"We'll just see where everybody else shakes out," the DC said. "We've got a lot of moving parts in the secondary right now, but I would say this: Jalen is a totally, totally unselfish player. Doesn't bat an eye.

"I mean, not only did he move into corner; he went right after number 13 (Saints WR Michael Thomas) and traveled with him across the field. He wasn't looking for a place to disappear and just disappear into the scheme. 

"He took it on himself and that's the kind of guy that Jalen is. He's really starting to come into his own as a safety. He's played some of his best games over these last few weeks and just the fact that he would be willing to go in and play corner for us and finish a game like that and take the load on himself, just says so much about his team-first attitude and his selflessness."

Circumstance will have the final say in Arizona, however. 

If Slay gets through the protocol, Mills likely stays at safety, and Schwartz and secondary coach Marquand Manuel will cobble things together at CB. If not Mills may be on the move again.

"We'll see where it gets to," said Schwartz. "We have some injury situations in the back end that we're going to have to figure out and we might not even know for sure until Saturday night before the game. But we'll have a good plan and we'll get the guys out there."

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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