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Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the Eagles defense: ‘They make you earn everything’

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Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The last time the New England Patriots went up against the Philadelphia Eagles with something other than preseason playing time on the line, their offense was able to score 33 points even though it was ultimately not enough to secure a win. Tom Brady and company did still find considerable success in Super Bowl 52, though, something they will try to duplicate when going up against the Eagles for the first time since that 2017 title game.

However, the Patriots know that they will need to stay ahead of one of the NFL’s most experienced play-callers in order to beat Philadelphia’s defense on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pointed this out during a media conference call earlier this week when talking about the Eagles’ Jim Schwartz, who McDaniels said would be one of the league’s most productive coordinators “for a long time.”

“The way he calls the defense, he has the ability to make subtle changes to try to limit certain players or certain schemes in your offense. That certainly showed up in the game we played a couple of years ago,” said McDaniels. “He has all the different variations, all the varieties of zones and mans, he has them all in his system. What he does a tremendous job of is trying to use the things that put his players in the best position to have success.”

“That’s why it’s such a difficult challenge every time we play against them. There’s going to be something that we may not practice as much that he may use more; that happens frequently when you play against them,” continued the Patriots’ long-time assistant coach. McDaniels certainly knows what he is talking about, as he went up against Schwartz’s defensive units four times as New England’s offensive coordinator.

The Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans 40-23 in 2006 and the Buffalo Bills 37-22 during the 2014 season, before losing 17-9 against Buffalo during in the meaningless regular season finale later that year. Schwartz again came away victoriously three years later when the Eagles defeated the Patriots 41-33 on the game’s biggest stage — in part because of a defense that registered a fumble recovery that effectively put the game out of reach.

While the Super Bowl meeting let alone the three games before that will have only a limited impact on Sunday’s matchup, McDaniels knows that Schwartz’s defense will again be a difficult one to dissect: “This is a group that’s playing very well, they are very disruptive. The one thing that stands out when you watch them is that they’re all on the same page, and they all play fast and aggressive because they know what they’re doing.”

“Any time you play a defense like that, you know they’re not going to beat themselves. You know they’re not going to make a bunch of simple mistakes and give you easy yards and opportunities,” continued McDaniels. “They make you earn everything you get, which is why it’s such a great challenge, and they’ve got really got players and they are extremely well-coached. This is going to be a huge challenge for us.”

A big part of this challenge will be Schwartz’s schemes, and how they put Philadelphia’s defensive talent — a group that includes perennial Pro Bowlers such as defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and safety Malcolm Jenkins — in a prime position to be disruptive no matter the opponents. The Patriots may have found considerable success against the unit in Super Bowl 52, but they ultimately still were unable to make enough plays.

“Jim’s one of the best in our league and there’s a reason why,” said McDaniels. “He doesn’t just sit there and tell you what he’s going to do on every play. He’s got all the different variations of coverages, he can challenge you in terms of pressures, he can use just a four-man rush if he wants to, he can max pressure you, he can play man, he can play zone — there’s a lot of different things he does.”

“Plenty of things will show up from game-to-game that you think you might get a good chunk of,” added McDaniels. “But ultimately, he makes every down a challenge and the players play extremely well within his system, and that’s a tribute to him and the guys that work for him on his staff.”