What if I told you before the game the Eagles defense would hold Drew Brees and the potent Saints offense to 20 points? We all would have thought Philadelphia would be booking a trip to Los Angeles to battle for the NFC Championship.
It wasn’t meant to be, but did anyone think Jim Schwartz and the Eagles defense were to blame for this season-ending setback in New Orleans? Apparently the guys manning the studio for NBC Sports Philadelphia thought differently.
Michael Barkann, Seth Joyner, and Barrett Brooks led their postgame analysis by piling on Schwartz for employing a “passive” game plan. Joyner didn’t hold back, pinning the loss squarely on the defensive coordinator:
The Eagles’ secondary, quite possibly, stinks. And somehow Eagles held Rams, Texans, Bears and Saints in check and Seth Joyner calls Schwartz “inept.”
— Kyle Scott (@CrossingBroad) January 14, 2019
Joyner has always been a Buddy Ryan acolyte, and it’s clear he prefers the aggressive blitzing style of his former coach. Schwartz has embraced a different philosophy, preferring to generate pressure from his front four. His tendency to drop the remaining seven defenders in coverage has only hardened as the secondary ranks have thinned.
The Eagles arrived in the Big Easy without their top cornerbacks, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, who were both lost for the year. Starting safety Rodney McLeod tore his MCL back in September and landed on the IR. Reserve corner Sidney Jones has not been able to stay on the field, either, and did not dress for the game. The Eagles were forced to defend Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints defense with Rasul Douglas, Cre’Von LeBlanc, and Tre Sullivan. Douglas dealt with an injury throughout the game; he was replaced by special teamer Josh Hawkins.
BTW Josh Hawkins is the 10th corner the Eagles have used this season. Not counting Malcolm Jenkins, who sometimes plays a slot-like role
— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) January 13, 2019
What was Schwartz to do with a paper-thin secondary? He played zone, and he forced the Saints to earn every yard by keeping the play in front of his unit. It was successful for a time, but the gambit only works if the offense holds up its end of the bargain.
Nick Foles and company were not up to the challenge. After a 14-point first quarter barrage, the offense could not sustain a drive. Last I checked, Schwartz is not involved in developing the offensive attack.
It’s easy to dial up exotic blitzes when you have Eric Allen patrolling the secondary, or the Bobby Taylor-Troy Vincent-Al Harris triumvirate, with Brian Dawkins hovering in centerfield. Schwartz does not have the luxury of a healthy secondary, let alone a defensive backfield stocked with All-Pro and Hall of Fame talent.
As Ray Didinger pointed out during the show, Schwartz blitzed more during the Saints’ Week 11 dismantling of the Eagles than he had at any point during the season. Brees picked the defense apart. He had to protect his inexperienced corners, particularly Avonte Maddox.
Malcolm Jenkins playing deep is a very new thing. Philadelphia is really trying to protect Maddox rn.
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) January 13, 2019
Would the Eagles defense have been better off with one of the unemployed Ryan twins orchestrating the defense? Maybe they should have trotted out the 46 defense. I’m sure Josh Hawkins would have magically tranformed into Darrelle Revis and shut down Michael Thomas.
It’s nonsense. The Eagles defense played incredibly well given the circumstances, and the front four dominated in the trenches when Fletcher Cox was able to play. Schwartz stuck with a game plan that gave the team the best chance to win, and the opportunity was there with 2:00 left in the game.
If you’re seeking to blame someone for this loss, look elsewhere. This one isn’t on Jim Schwartz, no matter what Seth Joyner and company would have you believe. The Eagles won more playoff games this season with less talent than they did in the entire Buddy Ryan era. They battled through injuries and adversity. They fought like champions.
They came up short. It happens. On to 2019. With Jim Schwartz returning to coordinate the defense, preferably.