You need to be of a certain age — mine — to recall the era when NFL opponents skulked into Vet Stadium and limped out, dazed and battered. Opposing QBs played in fear. Visiting trainers worked overtime. Eagles fans intimidated as much as the notorious turf.
It was Buddy Ball and Body Bag Games and a Gang Green Defense that often covered deficiencies in the Eagles’ spotty offense. It was beautiful ugly football.
Sunday, for one afternoon, it returned. As the black-clad Eagles stomped on Sam Bradford, Jim Schwartz’s until resembled the best of Buddy Ryan. Or perhaps Bud Carson. Or Jim Johnson.
Bradford, the wayward whiner, woke up Sunday morning as the QB of an undefeated team and on the short list of potential MVPs. He left booed, battered and so bitter than he snubbed Carson Wentz for the traditional postgame handshake. Six sacks, four fumbles and an end-zone pick can make any quarterback surly.
“We knew Sam doesn’t like to get hit,” Eagles DE Brandon Graham said in the afterglow of the 21-10 win. “So we went after him from all angles.”
Indeed they did. Schwartz ordered up blitzes we had not seen all season. At various times, safeties charged through the line, or multiple linebackers. He crafted superb zone blitzes, in which DT Fletcher Cox dropped 10 yards into coverage while MLB Jordan Hicks steamed up the middle. Bradford, a 28-year-old veteran, struggled like a preschooler trying to grasp calculus.
Schwartz usually disdains the blitz. But after giving up nearly 500 yards to Washington last week, his base wide nine badly needed adjustment. Give him credit for so brilliantly tinkering on the fly.
The defensive prowess was needed on a day when Wentz played like, well, a rookie. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He also had his positive moments. One came in the third quarter when he scooped up a poor Jason Kelce snap, rolled right under pressure and hit Darren Sproles for a 19-yard gain. His clear thinking there set up the Eagles’ only offensive TD.
Give credit, too, to the fans. Lincoln Financial Field has never had the imposing aura of the Vet. In part that’s because we’re all more civilized (good), in part it’s because, well, Chip Kelly’s defenses offered little to cheer for. This season the stadium has been loud, the crowd involved and the Eagles are 3-0 at home. Trust me, Sam Bradford heard you Sunday.
So now the Eagles are 4-2 and back in the playoff hunt. The schedule gets no easier with the next five opponents having a combined 21-9-1 record.
The next test is at 5-1 Dallas. The hype will be Wentz versus Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott. But the outcome will more likely be decided by whether the Eagles defense can get through Dallas’s tough offensive line to neutralize Prescott and rookie RB sensation Zeke Elliott.
From what Jim Schwartz and the defense showed Sunday, you should be confident. And if they succeed, just know that somewhere, Buddy Ryan will be smiling.