‘Little things matter’: Philadelphia Eagles aim to learn from Saints’ season-ending gaffe
Philadelphia Eagles’ Rodney McLeod reacts during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 15-10. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia Eagles safety Rodney McLeod watched on television Sunday as the Vikings produced one of the most improbable game-winning plays in NFL postseason history.
He saw Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum fling a pass to Stefon Diggs. McLeod then perked up when Saints safety Marcus Williams whiffed on a tackle. And he stayed glued to the screen while Diggs ran for a 61-yard touchdown as time expired, before whipping his helmet across the end zone to set off a wild celebration at U.S Bank Stadium.
McLeod witnessed all that Sunday — and he expects to watch the play at least once more in an Eagles meeting room sometime soon.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said he likes to show his players key moments from across the league each week, because it allows them to extract large-scale lessons. So with the Vikings heading to Philadelphia for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Schwartz doesn’t need to dig too deep to find a play that will resonate.
“Sometimes that’s the best way to learn is to learn from another team,” Schwartz said. “There’s definitely some coaching points there.”
For McLeod, the valuable message from Diggs’ touchdown wasn’t about a particular technique or defensive strategy. He instead said Williams’ missed tackle made him consider his mindset and consider the importance of remaining honed in on the task at hand even when adrenaline is at its highest point.
“It just shows you little things matter, man,” McLeod said. “I’m sure that guy, he’s made that tackle 100 times, and it all comes down to that one play. And when you don’t execute, that’s what happens in the playoffs.”
McLeod plays free safety, so he might find himself in a similar spot Sunday against the Vikings, in which he needs to bring down a receiver to close out a win or halt a drive or generate momentum for his team. And he said rewatching Diggs’ touchdown — and, more specifically, Williams’ movements on the play — could help in preparation for the conference title game.
McLeod said the Eagles have spent more time than usual lately studying how to defend offenses in late-game scenarios, like the one the Vikings and Saints were in over the weekend.
“In this league, teams are very good, man, especially coming down stretch, a lot of games come down to these two-minute situations,” McLeod said. “And last week, one of the keys to the game for [coach Doug Pederson] was just knowing and understanding situational ball.”
In Williams’ case, McLeod said the safety needed to use any method to get Diggs on the ground. Though the Vikings found a seam in the defense to complete a long pass in the closing seconds even before the missed tackle, Williams would have forced Minnesota into a long field goal or a Hail Mary attempt had he wrapped his arms around Diggs, pushed him out of bounds or leveled a big hit.
“On that play, you just gotta make that tackle,” McLeod said. “You make that tackle, and we’re playing the Saints.”
McLeod assumes Schwartz and defensive backs coach Corey Undlin will try to hammer home that point when they review Diggs’ touchdown with the Eagles’ defense. And Schwartz said he could use that play to reinforce certain messages to his players.
He just isn’t going to say how exactly the Eagles would approach a similar situation against the Vikings.
“We’re prepared,” Schwartz said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
Jalen Mills explains why he loves the Philadelphia Eagles’ fight song