Rush order: Jim Schwartz’s Eagles defense needs to get after the QB more consistently this week
Last week the pass rush started out as dominant as it has been all season, but wasn't heard from at all in the second half.
A man descends into his basement to dig out the Christmas lights and, when he attempts to emerge, finds the door stuck. This happens Sunday morning. For three days, he subsists on water from the laundry tub tap and some fruitcake from last year he found accidentally shoved into a dusty box of decorations. (At least, he wants to think it was from last year. The decorations don’t look terribly familiar.)
Tuesday, finally, a neighbor hears him yelling for help through the dryer vent and frees him.
Basement guy: “Thank heavens! I was almost out of fruitcake, and I don’t think I could’ve waited any longer to view the highlights of the Eagles game. Don’t tell me, I have a pretty good idea of what must have happened – the offense still struggled a bit, but the defense, which pretty much shut down Tom Brady and Russell Wilson the past two weeks, well, (chuckles knowingly), I guess poor old Ryan Fitzpatrick is on crutches by now, right? How many times did they hit him? Brandon Graham was getting close to his career high in sacks, bet he got at least a couple on Fitzpatrick, right?”
Basement guy: “No, really, you can tell me now, I don’t mind knowing what happened before I wat…”
(Neighbor takes out phone, wordlessly hits Eagles tab on Inquirer.com, holds screen up to basement guy, who sighs, curses vehemently and shakes his head.)
Basement guy: “OK. Well, do you mind if I use your phone to check something? My battery died and I want to make sure the Kamala Harris presidential campaign got the donation I sent in Saturday … ”
So, Jim, about that second half...
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn’t talk to reporters after games, and this week, with the schedule pushed back a day because of the upcoming Monday Night Football game against the Giants, Schwartz’s usual Tuesday news conference will take place on Wednesday.
Here’s a guess that the 37-31 Sunday loss to the Miami Dolphins will still be a relevant topic.
The game started with Schwartz’s unit dominating. The Eagles got a first-play interception from Ronald Darby after Kamu Grugier-Hill accidentally collided with intended receiver DeVante Parker. (Unfortunately, Grugier-Hill was unable to reprise this feat, and Parker finished with a career day – seven catches, 159 yards, two touchdowns.)
The next two Miami possessions ended in sacks of 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick. Eagles pass rushers were blowing through a Dolphins offensive line that looked completely helpless, and in fact has played that way, over and over again this season.
The Eagles added a third sack in the second quarter, but Fitzpatrick stayed clean for the entire second half, while Miami completed an unbelievable run of five straight touchdown drives.
“We just didn’t finish the way we wanted to,” Graham said. “We just weren’t consistent. … They started max protection and they were getting the ball out quick. They were just dinking-and-dunking down the field, and throwing it up when they did get max protection.”
Rewatching the coaches’ tape of Miami’s second-half possessions, the Dolphins did a good job of moving Fitzpatrick around early in the third quarter, when the Eagles’ pass rush was still steady. There was no pressure on the 17-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass to Parker, though.
The next drive, Fitzpatrick was throwing quickly and sensing pressure well. On the next touchdown, Fitzpatrick sprinted right and found former Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki in the end zone from 14 yards out, with Graham chasing Fitzpatrick but still a few steps away when he threw.
On the 34-yard heave to Parker that set up Miami’s final touchdown, Fitzpatrick was not under duress. Fletcher Cox was double-teamed, but elsewhere, the defensive linemen just didn’t get off blocks. Against an extremely unaccomplished offensive line.
For reference, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the Eagles’ swing lineman who isn’t good enough to start for them anywhere, has a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 58.7 this season. Of the five Miami offensive linemen who started against the Eagles on Sunday, only center Daniel Kilgore grades significantly better than Vaitai – 73.2. Left tackle Julien Davenport, from Paulsboro, N.J., and Bucknell, has a 45.4 pass-blocking grade. The other tackle, Jesse Davis, is at a Big V-esque 60.0. Guards Michael Deiter and Deion Calhoun are at 39.1 and 36.9, respectively – grades any O-lineman on any NFL practice squad could achieve, if you put them out there on Sunday.
So, getting past these guys was a problem because they max-protected?
As you no doubt have heard and will hear a whole bunch more before Monday, the Eagles can still make the playoffs if they win their final four games, starting with this visit from the 2-10 Giants, losers of eight in a row.
The Giants’ offensive line is no more credible than the Dolphins’, and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has not shown Fitzpatrick’s ability to read defenses and make quick decisions. Jones has a PFF grade of 49.0 under pressure, and he has lost 10 fumbles to go with his 11 interceptions. If the Eagles are to keep alive the fading embers of their season, they’ll need to knock down Jones a lot, regardless of the protection scheme or how quickly the ball comes out.
Schwartz might be much more eager to talk about that, than what transpired last weekend.