The Sky may not be falling down just yet in Philadelphia, but there’s a storm brewing. The same storm has been lurking in the distance for quite some time, blissfully ignored because of the sunshine in other areas. But today’s the day we have to at least acknowledge its existence.
Every good coach/coordinator is stubborn. They have to be, it’s what got them to the big-time to begin with. Standing behind your philosophies and schemes for better or worse is what will ultimately decide your fate in the NFL. But ever since the arrival of Jim Schwartz in Philadelphia, there has been an area of grave concern – cornerback.
Most recently, the Eagles gave up 333 yards and 4 touchdowns to Kirk Cousins and had it not been for a contest against a preseason offense one week before, the Eagles’ 28th ranked pass defense would be much lower.
In the five games against actual offenses that can score, the Eagles have given up 320+ passing yards in four contests, allowed 13 touchdowns, and their average of 255 yards per game would still not even rank inside the top 20 despite playing one game less than the rest of the league in this theoretical universe.
It’s easy to point to Sidney Jones, who was thrown under the Bus by Doug Pederson this week and then Malcolm Jenkins after the game, or Rausl Douglas who has given up what looks to be an identical touchdown about 3 times this year. But it’s deeper than that.
Here’s how Jim Schwartz pass defenses have ranked dating back to 2009.
2009: 32nd (265 ypg)
2010: 17th (217 ypg)
2011: 28th (254 ypg)
2012: 14th: (223 ypg)
2013: 23rd (251 ypg)
2014 (BUF): 3rd (205.8 ypg)
2016 (PHI): 13th (239 ypg)
2017: 25th (241.8 ypg)
2018: 30th (271.2 ypg)
2019 (through 6 games): 28th (280 ypg)
A lot has changed in that time, but Schwartz’s philosophy clearly hasn’t. He stacks the box, leaves one safety over the top and plays his corners away from the ball in the hope that it keeps the play ahead of them and it buys the pass-rush time. But if you don’t even acutely make adjustments, it won’t take long for the NFL to realize how to beat you. The writing has been on the wall for years now.
We saw it with Jalen Mills in 2016, who would lead the team in tackles on what felt like a weekly basis because teams targeted underneath. Then came the tackling issues and injuries that forced the secondary to lean on younger talent and had it not been for a Super Bowl win, giving up 500 passing yards would’ve been a glaring red light.
In 2018, it was much of the same. Only now, teams are picking on corners. On one side of the field, you had Ronald Darby who struggles to tackle but is sticky in coverage, and on the other, a player who can tackle securely but can’t cover. Pick. Your. Poison.
Even when injuries ripped through the secondary, it took Malcolm Jenkins yelling at his coordinator mid-game to take some responsibilities away from an inexperienced group of backups because it was hurting the defense, to make any changes.
And now, finally, in 2019…the icing on the cake. NFL offenses are thriving against Philadelphia because Schwartz insists on running the same defense. The Birds rarely run with two safeties on the field so when that happens, it’s almost a hat-tip that one is dropping down to buzz/blitz. Send a post-route over the middle with a corner shading the outside, knowing there’s no safety help and boom goes the dynamite.
If that doesn’t work, just take advantage of the 9-yard cushion underneath the corner and go for YAC. It can’t fail.
There’s a saying in Football. ‘It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmy’s and Joe’s’. Schwartz has been extremely reluctant to bend his scheme around the deficiencies of his cornerback group (why they haven’t developed is an argument for another day) and as a result, they’re just set up to fail. Regardless of who it is.
Even if the Eagles traded for Jalen Ramsey, would opposing offenses just, I don’t know, take advantage of whatever happened on the other side of the field? You can make the argument that there would be safety help, but if Schwartz is willing to bend for a lockdown corner and not the talent he already has, isn’t that worrying?
I don’t think there’s a cornerback in the league that if acquired, would magically fix this defense. It’s too schematically restricted and it would take a matter of weeks to just find a new hole. Don’t get me wrong, stopping the run so efficiently and inviting the pass would work wonders…if you could stop the pass and not concede 700+ yards through the air and 7 touchdowns to Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum respectively.
It’s easy to point to offensive issues, but if you have to score 35 points per game to even have a chance, constantly throwing off the back foot, you can only really criticize so much.
I’m not sitting here calling for the head of Jim Schwartz. But I am calling for change. Make an adjustment. Press at the line of scrimmage against crafty -route runners. Take Malcolm Jenkins out of the box and have him take away deep responsibilities.
Jim Schwartz may be on the hot-seat come the end of 2019 if things don’t change. For the sake of the defense, the corners having their reputation tarnished, the team’s trust in Schwartz, and the sanity of fans everywhere, le’ts just hope they do.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports