The Points After: Reverse Course Needed For Birds Defense
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
There's an old saying that applies uncomfortably easy right now for the Eagles' defense. Fool me once, shame on you me. Fool me twice, shame on me. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and his players right now should feel ashamed after Sunday's 38-point allowance to the Steelers, who played a vintage NFL game of copycat in thriving off a variety of motions, misdirections and gadgets that have shown to be kryptonite for an Eagles defense that's been nowhere near super.
Schwartz, his staff and his personnel should be looking squarely into the mirror right now and asking this question: How much longer will I get played the fool? The Rams set the template in Week 2, dizzying the Eagles with an endless series of motions, roll-outs and play actions that allowed Jared Goff to feel unencumbered and carefree in completing his first 13 passes as the Rams rolled up 37 points. Last week, in a loss, the underhanded 49ers, besieged by injuries at quarterback and running back, still managed to lead until the third quarter, boosted early by a 38-yard quick screen touchdown to moveable piece Brandon Aiyuk, who was barely touched before hurdling safety Marcus Epps as he skied in the end zone. The Steelers, who have the most firepower than any Eagles opponent so far, wasted no time attacking the Eagles with their own concoction of jet motion, end around, gadgets and moveable pieces intended to exploit an Eagles defense that lacks instinct and discipline – among other important attributes – at linebacker along with speed in the secondary, especially with Jalen Mills back on the outside. Schwartz continues to play man coverages in the red zone and on third down, relying on his front four to win every pass rep. But when smart, savvy quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger can see the favorable matchups prior to the snap and predetermine his throw, pressure can't be the solution. Too often the end result looks like this:
The Eagles came after Big Ben, but he could see it coming. He also observed the 1-on-1 matchup on the outside and knew he'd need to buy just a little time with a backpedal for James Washington to gain an easy step on Mills, who's giving more almost 10 yards of cushion because he lacks the foot speed to keep up with most perimeter receivers.
It was a simple formula and executed with ease. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This Steelers drive was capped by rookie Chase Claypool taking a handoff from jet motion and roaming untouched into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown, and for the second straight week a wide receiver scored a touchdown against the Eagles despite acquiring the ball from behind the line of scrimmage. Claypool added three more touchdowns before the Steelers were done converting 75 percent of third downs and scoring all three times they reached the red zone. And let's not forget the 58-yard end around to Ray-Ray McLoud. It's become a weekly exercise in futility for the Eagles. The book's out on them. And there's no help in sight, with Will Parks still sidelined from a hamstring strain and Avonte Maddox, who wasn't playing at a high level as an outside corner before suffering an injury, also still out. The Eagles rank 23rd in scoring defense, allowing an average of 29 points per game. Three teams have scored at least 27 points in on them, two have scored at least 37. They have the sixth-worst red zone defense and rank 18th in third down. Even worse, the schedule isn't lightening this Sunday. No team stresses the interior of a defense like the Ravens, who combine run concepts with play action and have their entire offense built around the dual threats of reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who grew up on the Jersey shore, must be licking his chops at the potential for his offense Sunday. When Carson Wentz was struggling, at least there was precedent to foresee him snapping from his funk and reversing course. But with Nate Gerry, Mills, Duke Riley and Epps each playing prominent roles on the back end of this Eagles defense, Schwartz has no upgrades to help apply a tourniquet the weekly bleeding.
Is the season on the line Sunday? Amazingly, it's probably not. Even if the Eagles fall to 1-4-1, their next three games come against NFC East opponents: the Giants on Thursday night, followed by Dallas, followed by the Giants again. The worst the Eagles can be after Sunday is 1 1/2 games out of first. Dak Prescott is out for the year for the Cowboys, who lead the division at 2-3, and the Giants are 0-5.
The bigger question is: Is making the playoffs with a sub-.500 record considered a positive for this franchise? Jeffrey Lurie will have to answer for that. – Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the "Inside the Birds" podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside the Birds" podcast with Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here: