Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a scintillating start to the 2018 season. The 14-year veteran has thrown for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns in back-to-back weeks against two very different types of defense. By ripping the Eagles to shreds however, he may have unearthed an Achilles heel that many assumed had been long forgotten.
Through two weeks of the NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles rank 28th in total pass defense, which despite their smothering of the run, is absolutely killing them. However, this isn’t something new to the Jim Schwartz defense. Here’s a look at where his defenses ranked in the years before his arrival in Philadelphia.
The reason behind this is simple, a product of the system and a weight you accept by deploying it. With such a heavy emphasis on attacking the quarterback and bursting through the trenches, the cornerbacks are often the last legs of the Defense if the initial siege fails. This means that crossing routes, drag routes, slants and even deep plays over the middle become much easier because if the quarterback can see over the pocket, it’s a barren wasteland. Not to mention the amount of screens and passes out of the backfield embedded deep in to todays game.
In 2016, the Eagles gave up more deep-plays (20+ yards) than any defense in the NFL. One year later, Schwartz tried something new. By lining his corners up 10-yards back from their receivers, it gives them time to dissect and adjust to the route. Both Mills and Douglas have shown an impressive tackling ability this season, giving the pass rush the time needed to feast as intended. To play successfully in off-coverage however, discipline is of real value…and for one of the youngest cornerback groups in the league, it’s a quality they have displayed on a weekly basis…and one that has began to exude confidence.
It just so happens that in his third year as defensive coordinator, that very saving grace is rapidly coming back to haunt him, as the Film Room video below demonstrates.
“You know, we like to mix it up and I’ll say this:” Schwartz opened on Tuesday.”Across the board, our technique was sloppy. I don’t think it has anything to do with playing up versus playing off. You can defend a short pass by playing off. You can defend a deep pass by playing up. It’s just a matter of technique. You go across the board really, both him, [CB Ronald] Darby and a lot of our other guys — our linebackers — our technique was sloppy, our drops were short and we weren’t getting underneath of a lot of those zone plays. It’s rarely one thing.
But [Mills has] always been a guy that mixes it up. He’s an outstanding off player, but he can get up and press. I don’t think those are mutually exclusive things. I don’t think if you’re off, you can’t defend a short pass. I think if your technique is sloppy, then you have a difficult time doing it.”
Whether it’s down to corners playing away from the ball, defensive rigidity or simply comprising air yards when favoring an emphasis up front, this could well be a fatal flaw that comes back to haunt the Eagles constantly throughout the season.