Earlier this week, I wrote an article about how pressure is beginning to mount on Jim Schwartz. Some perceived that as pressure from within the organization with regards to his job being on the line, others, simply to make an adjustment to a defense that has been beaten to a pulp regularly this season. However you feel about Jim Schwartz, he has one last chance at redemption.
The Dallas Cowboys have suffered a three-game slide and are having injury problems of their own. But there’s one constant that remains – Ezekiel Elliott.
Zeke still ranks fifth in rushing this season with 491 yards, despite the Dallas Offense starting to sputter in recent weeks. The former Buckeye has always caused problems for the Eagles defense, but this game, in particular, is of extreme importance.
The Eagles come into this week having held Dalvin Cook to 2.5 yards per carry. One week before that, LeVeon bell averaged just 2.9 on 15 attempts. The Eagles may have the best run defense in the NFL, but their secondary has more holes than Augusta golf course, as evidenced by my Film Breakdown here.
The Eagles insist on stacking the box with eight defenders in order to negate the threat of lethal running backs. While that has clearly worked, the secondary has been torched to such an extent it’s almost expected that the defense will give up 25+ points and 300 passing yards per game.
Dalvin Cook, LeVeon Bell, Aaron Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Devonta Freeman, and Derrius Guice all met a brick wall when trying to run against this defense. But with the exception of the Jets, every offense has obliterated the Eagles over the middle, knowing their cornerbacks play coverages that demand they section off a third of the field and require help over the middle.
Play-action passes have become a massive problem as a result of this. Linebackers are so focused on stopping the run that it leaves a gaping hole over the middle. Reactionary play, as opposed to instinctive play, is leaving the corners and safeties with tough hands to play. Communication breakdowns only then expedite the problem on the back end. It’s something Schwartz himself emphasized this week.
“If the offense is trying to attack, you need to be able to make plays. It is a combination of a lot of things. If there was one common thread — if you looked at all the deep passes – I am sure somebody has dissected it, Pro Football Focus or one of those people – there is speculation on what coverage we were in on each of those. They have all been different. The bottom line has been the same: the ball has been going over our heads, but they have all been different. ”
If it is one thing, it is a little easier to put it in a box and be able to deal with it, but we have been battling inconsistency. I always say up here how we play, 3-3, well that’s the way we have played defense. We have played defense good and bad. Last week, we had a really good game. This week, we played a poor game. We need to get out of that, and we need to trend up and be consistent and we are striving for that, including our deep balls.”
Dallas, in large part, present a similar offensive threat. The difference is, their offense is slumping in a big way.
The writing is on the wall for the Cowboys as to how to beat this Eagles defense. If the Eagles insist on playing 8 men in the box to thwart Ezekiel Elliott leaving their corners on an island, and the defense gets toasted again, it would not be surprising to see that pressure really begin to build.
But, if Schwartz can face a top-5 running back with conservation and patience in mind, instead giving help to his corners and trying to buy his pass-rush time to make plays, he would have shown a willingness to change that has previously been absent…and that may be enough to re-ignite the season and of course, a fire under a defense that burned out long ago.
Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports