It’s September 28. Eagles fans can recline in their chairs for the first time all season without stressing over how their team will do the next day, as they already got their week 4 game out of the way with a heart-stopping 34-27 win over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. While it was a great win (and in my opinion, the most impressive win away from home they’ve had since February 4, 2018), it still wasn’t without cause for worry. The Eagles cornerback group has been hit with more losses than the cast of Game of Thrones, and whichever ones have been on the field have underachieved loudly and often.
To be frank, this is a defense that has been the Achillies’ heel of the team dating back to the finale of the 2017 season. There is nothing anyone can say or do that will make me think that the Eagles didn’t win that Super Bowl in spite of Jim Schwartz. However, I can not take away the ring that he should proudly wear on his index finger.
What’s problematic is when the offense can’t accommodate such porous defensive play. Carson Wentz through four games this year has thrown more touchdowns than he did through the first four games of his would-be MVP 2017 season, and he’d have at least two more (game-winning) touchdown passes if it weren’t for his receivers coating their hands in motor oil before every 4th-Qtr drive. There is not much more Wentz or the offense can realistically do.
What goes wrong for this defense? Jim Schwartz’s scheme can most-politely be described as a passive, bend-don’t-break zone. He rarely sends more than four rushers at the quarterback and tries to create chaos in the secondary with a lot of moving bodies. The issue with that is quarterbacks know they can hit receivers underneath for small chunks of yardage that ultimately put the offense on pace to convert lots of first downs, at the cost of losing the home-run pass, in large part. As an offense moves down the field, they almost gain too much yardage for their own good in the redzone, and Schwartz is able to fill enough tight space that teams often have to settle for field goals.
That is how it should work, in theory. That’s how it actually did work in 2017, when they finished 4th-best in the NFL in both yards and points given up. It showed more dramatically last year, when they were 10th-worst in yards given up, but still 12th-best in points against.
It isn’t working now. The Eagles, admittedly having played one more game than the rest of the league, have given up the most yards in the NFL. More than the Giants. More than the Dolphins. They have given up the 2nd-most points in the NFL. Only Miami is worse. Bend-don’t-break has broken.
We know how decimated the secondary has been, but injuries happen to everyone. Green Bay lost its starting right tackle for much of the game, yet Brandon Graham was a non-entity. Where’s the creativity, where’s the killer instinct? Where’s literally anything exciting about the defense?
It is not reasonably possible for the defense to become any more unreliable than it is. The Eagles are 4th-best in yards per attempt against the run, but tied with Washington for 11th-worst in Y/A against the pass. Divine intervention will be needed to save this team if opposing QBs and Offensive Coordinators decide to abandon the run for an air-raid attack.
Now for the fun part: determining who to blame. It is very easy to get on Schwartz, and it is often right to do so. I’m confused why Eagles fans are so enthralled with getting Jalen Ramsey, because I don’t know why you’d give up and 1st-round-pick and more to get someone who will just be told to play 8 yards off the line of scrimmage anyway.
However, we saw how this scheme COULD work back in 2017. Schwartz lacks creativity and the ability to adjust to a smoothly-running offense, but it might be time to utter some Philadelphia sacrilege.
Howie Roseman is not a good evaluator of college talent, especially on defense.
Dating back to Chip Kelly’s departure and Howie’s resuming of GM duties, the Eagles have drafted ONE pro-bowler. See if you can pick him out of this list of all their draft picks since that day.
Jesus Christ, you could barely fill up one draft class of valuable football players out of that entire list.
That is not something that you can fail at as long as the Eagles have, and still be a competitive team. For every undrafted free-agent like Corey Clement and every waiver-wire pickup like Cre’Von LeBlanc that you hit on, there’s three draft busts. Not just bench depth and special teams role players, but busts. The best leaders know what they know, and what they don’t know. Unless Howie can suddenly develop some evaluation prowess to rival his talent for cap management, he needs another voice in the room, a la Joe Douglas.
So here are the Eagles, 2-2 off a huge win, and a chance to pick up a cozy win at home against the Jets after a long week full of rest, before getting into a tough stretch of the season that includes Minnesota, Dallas, and Chicago. The Eagles better figure their stuff out soon before they waste too many opportunities to put themselves firmly in the playoff picture.