A report came out prior to Sunday’s loss versus the Rams stating that Doug Pederson “may have reached his limit.” While that’s an argument, albeit a stupid one, that can be had for another day, it’s safe to assume that statement is true for another high profile coach on the staff – Jim Schwartz.
Schwartz is two games into his fifth year on the staff and he finally has the players he needs to build a dominant defense, or so we think.
After back-to-back clunkers (yes the offense deserves blame too), it’s time to ponder whether or not Jim Schwartz has overstayed his welcome in Philadelphia.
In his press conference on Tuesday (the 22nd), Schwartz took ownership of the defensive struggles against the Rams:
Execution is (on) the defensive coordinator. Make no bones about where I’m pointing the finger on this one because it’s my job to put them in those better positions … Right now, I’m not thinking about different personnel. I’m thinking about the guys we have executing better, and I think that’s my job and that’s our coaching staff’s job.
It’s great that the coach is taking ownership rather than throwing his players under the bus, but at what point have we seen enough of Schwartz’s “bend but don’t break, ok sorry it’s breaking now” defense?
Jim Schwartz has been a strong proponent of the “wide 9” defense his entire coaching career, but that has failed to work in 2020.
The Wide 9
The wide 9 is designed to get more pressure on the quarterback due to the line up of the defensive linemen along the line of scrimmage. Attacking the offensive line from these positions should create one-on-one opportunities for at least one of the defensive linemen. The edge rushers will be able to contain any rollouts and the interior defensive linemen should be able to pressure the middle if the guard helps the tackle on the edge rusher.
However, the design of this scheme allows for holes larger than the
With the personnel the Eagles have at linebacker, who other than T.J. Edwards can fill that role? Yes, that T.J. Edwards who does not get nearly enough playing time despite being the best tackling linebacker on the team.
The evolution of the Eagles linebacker
It’s been years since the Eagles have had a legitimate MIKE to thump the opposing running backs.
Mr. “91 tackles in 12 games” Jordan Hicks has been gone since 2018 but, despite his talents, he was never healthy enough to truly make an impact since his 2016 sophomore season.
Prior to that, we saw the likes of DeMeco Ryans, Jamar Cheney, Stewart Bradley, and Jeremiah Trotter. On the outside, we watched Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin patrol the field.
Now the Eagles are depending on Nate Gerry and Duke Riley to handle the bulk of Nickel packages while Davion Taylor “develops” and Shaun Bradley wastes away on special teams. This is not to say Taylor and Bradley are world-beaters, but could they do worse than what the Eagles have been trotting out there? Someone should be able to cover tight ends, right?
Too much cushion
It’s been said over and over that the “sticks defense” does not work. Some call it the “picket fence” defense. All of the cushion the Eagles allow on 3rd and longs have resulted in first down conversions more often than not.
This ideology, along with the entire scheme for the corners, has resulted in a 29.5% passing DVOA, 27th in the league. Negative percentages are better.
Last season, the Eagles had a 8.1%, 2018 had a 10.7%, 2017 had a -3.8%, and 2016 had a -7.6%. We all know what happened in 2017, and 2016 was the best year under Schwartz in terms of yards given up. What happened?
Is the defensive line better?
A supposedly healthy Fletcher Cox, a now healthy Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, and newcomer Javon Hargrave were supposed to revitalize the defensive line and bring them back to being feared across the league.
They currently have 3.5 sacks, with linebacker Duke Riley having the other half of the team’s four total.
According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have the 14th best-adjusted sack rate at 6.5% despite only having four sacks. This is helped out by the fact that Washington and LA combined for the fifth-fewest passing attempts against a team with 58. Only the Texans, Dolphins, Bengals, and Colts have been passed against less. Small sample size of passing attempts = supposedly good pass rush.
The Eagles have only knocked down the QB five times (16th) but their QB knockdown % is 8.6% (11th). Smaller sample size = supposedly good pass rush.
They have hurried the quarterback six times (22nd) but have a hurry % of 9.3% (17th). You get it by now, right?
The Eagles were supposed to be in better hands with Jim Schwartz’s hand-picked defensive line coach Matt Burke, whoever coached defensive line before. Is this better than what Chris Wilson or what Phillip Daniels did?
Reinforcements being utilized?
The Eagles brought in Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave to this defense in the offseason, two players who were said to have immediate impacts on the defense. Slay has been everything that was advertised, almost shutting down his side of the field over the first two games. Hargrave has yet to make a significant impact, due to his injury in the offseason.
Other than those two, it can be assumed that Jim Schwartz had a hand in signing Will Parks (yet to play), Nickell Robey-Coleman (bad), and the drafting of K’Von Wallace, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, and Casey Toohill:
I find the "I tried to keep things simple" explanation from Jim Schwartz extra interesting bc that coachspeak translates to "I trusted our guys to beat their guys" which goes back to the point that Jim Schwartz had a huge hand in building this defensive personnel.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 22, 2020
Shaun Bradley and Casey Toohill are the only two of the four that have seen defensive snaps (Bradley’s were in the first game, Toohill’s were in the second). Wallace and Taylor have been relegated to special teams duties, with Wallace recovering a fumble against the Rams.
If Jim Schwartz hand picked these draft picks, then why the lack of usage?
Wallace was PFF’s best tackling safety and one of the best in coverage. Taylor, although extremely raw, has the speed Schwartz wants in a linebacker. Bradley is speedy as well and Toohill is extremely athletic. All players check the boxes Schwartz wants in his defensive players.
The Eagles have many issues on defense, with many being the same they’ve had for years under Schwartz. If getting “his guys” can’t help his scheme, then maybe it’s time for Schwartz and his scheme to go. The time is ticking on contending in 2020, even in a bad division. The Eagles cannot let a bad defense put them in a hole. They have enough issues on the other side of the ball.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire