Eagles defense has a chance to rekindle red zone success in week 3

PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 22: Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz looks on during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagle on December 22, 2019, at Lincoln Financial Filed in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles have long-been known for their red zone prowess under Jim Schwartz. ‘Bend but don’t break’ has been the mission statement since his arrival and for the most part, it’s worked well. The team allowed touchdown conversions from inside the 20 55% of the time last year, but led the league in the metric with 44% in 2018. This year, things aren’t going to plan.

A step back for the Eagles

The Eagles have given up scores on a whopping 77% of opposing red zone drives, which is not acceptable by any means. Jim Schwartz gave a lengthy response when asked about his ailing defense on Tuesday, referencing his unit’s lack of red-zone production as an area of focus.

Over the last four years, we’re the number one run defense in the NFL. We’re not playing like that right now. I think we’re number two red-zone defense in the NFL over the last four years. Not right now. We’re like the number three third-down defense in the NFL over those years. Not right now. We’re top 10 in takeaways. Not right now. Top 10 in points allowed. We’re bleeding points. 

My message to the guys was even more than those areas. We got to get back to being us. We have a track record of being good over time in those areas. But the area that I’m more on high alert for is our response to adversity. Typically, in the past, we’ve been a team that can weather through a lot of different things. We can set our jaws and make a play. A turnover happens, we get out and get a stop. We can change the momentum of a game with a takeaway or a sack or something like that. 

I think even though we’re struggling in a lot of those other areas, the area I’d really like to see the most improvement is that, that ability to set our jaws and go out there regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, go out there and get those things stopped because we’re failing in that regard right now.

The party isn’t over yet

The good news is that the Bengals aren’t exactly rampant inside the 20. They’re currently scoring touchdowns on those drives just 40% of the time, ranking 30th in the NFL. When you look at how frustratingly close the Bengals are to taking that next step, leaving points off the board down in the red zone is a huge factor.

Schwartz may not have a better opportunity than this to right the defensive ship. After allowing the Rams to convert 80% of their red zone drives into touchdowns, the Bengals act as a lifeline before the going gets tough.

The wounded Niners represent a bump in difficulty, firing at a 57% clip, the same as the Steelers, before the Ravens and their dynamic offense look to bury a nail into the coffin. There’s not a lot of time for the Eagles to work out what’s going wrong and how to prevent it, but there is no better game to pitch a shutout than this one – sparking life back into an Eagles defense that looks void of it.

Looking back to move forward

Schwartz was very reflective on Tuesday, doubling down on his players and taking full responsibility for the 191 rushing yards laid down by the Rams and the offensive damage dealt.

I think right now I’m not thinking about different personnel, I’m thinking about getting the guys we have executing better. I think that’s my job. That’s our coaching staff’s job. 

Players play, coaches coach. I think we can help that execution with a better effort from the coaches. 

This is at least a good sign considering a duel with Joe Mixon is on the horizon. He may only have 115 yards through 2 games, averaging 3.3 yards per carry, but we all know how physical the 24-year-old with back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons can be…leaving Schwartz with his work cut out.

I think any time you’re talking about the red zone, the first thing is stopping the run. Traditionally the teams that are the best in the red zone on offense are teams that can run the ball. Traditionally the teams that are best on defense are teams that can stop the run. Both of those things have correlated with us over the years.

If it’s all on Schwartz to draw up a better game plan and the past two games have been nothing short of anomalies, then the week 3 matchup against a rookie QB and a fairly weak offensive line has to be the game that the defense finds its feet once again, especially down in the red zone where so many drives are reaching with ease due to short-field starts.

If the mentality of ‘bend but don’t break’ remains, it’s time to see how close to breaking point this defense is.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire