The simple answer to the above headline: It was all of the above that led the Dolphins, who had previously averaged only 14.8 points a game, to score 37 points on Jim Schwartz’s defense.
The Eagles defensive coordinator took it on the chin Wednesday, the first time he met with reporters since Sunday, when he spoke broadly about his unit’s performance in the 37-31 loss.
“That game is 100 percent on the defense,” Schwartz said. “We always feel if you give us 20 points we should win the game, and we certainly got more than 20.”
But Schwartz didn’t point out many mistakes when asked about individual plays or what he and his players could have done differently against Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, receiver DeVante Parker and company.
Defenses have bad days. And even an offense that had been as unproductive as Miami had been through the first three-fourths of the season is capable of having a good game. There were some plays when the Eagles just had to tip their caps to the Dolphins.
But the fact remains that Schwartz’s defense – which had played so well over the previous four games -- was a step behind a first-time offensive coordinator, a journeyman quarterback and an offense that was among the worst in the NFL.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, though, did not question his coordinator’s game plan or play calling.
“It’s not the calls. It’s not the effort of the team. It’s not any of that,” Pederson said Monday. “We’re in position. They made the play; we didn’t. That’s really what it comes down to.”
The only other part of the equation Pederson didn’t mention was personnel, but when asked about it specifically, he said, “It’s not a talent thing.”
It was unlikely that Pederson or Schwartz would call out players, scheme or the personnel department, but the film doesn’t lie, and blame can be placed on all areas. Here’s a closer look at key plays that went against the Eagles defense, along with Schwartz’s assessment of said play:
The Eagles carried their recent defensive success into the start of Sunday’s game. Cornerback Ronald Darby picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick’s first pass and the Dolphins were forced to punt on their next two possessions. But trailing, 10-0, they ran the Wildcat, something Miami had shown on film many times.
But the Eagles were late to react and didn’t get set.
Running back Kalen Ballage took the direct snap and handed off to receiver Albert Wilson, who ran around the edge through an unaccounted gap for 28 yards. The Eagles stopped Ballage in the Wildcat on the next play, but the Dolphins suddenly had life.
Schwartz: We’re generally a really good Wildcat team. That might be the most yards we’ve given up on a Wildcat play since I’ve been here. But the way Wildcat works is if one guy is out of position, then all of a sudden there is going to be an empty spot because you have to account for every single person on the offense.
Penalties were an issue all game. The defense was flagged eight times, six of which were accepted. Cornerback Jalen Mills was called for pass interference twice, the first after Miami successfully challenged a no-call in the end zone.
Schwartz: One of the things with that replay stuff, you slow anything down in the super slow motion you could make a case for anything being PI. I liked his position there. He has eyes for the ball. He’s inside out on the quarterback.
Mills had one of his worst games as a pro. By the time the Dolphins had this third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, he seemed to not know when to play up at the line or off. Miami needed only a few yards here, and yet, Mills was playing off in man coverage and was easily rubbed out as tight end Mike Gesicki picked up 21 yards.
The turning point of the game came on this fourth-and-4 just after the long Wildcat gain. The 6-foot-3 Parker was lined up opposite the 5-11 Darby and Fitzpatrick threw it up for grabs.
Schwartz: The quarterback threw a 50/50 ball up there. They made it; we didn’t. But not only they made it, but they scored a touchdown. That gave them life to get back into the game.
Schwartz said the Eagles had stopped two-thirds of 50/50 balls over the previous five games. He said he considers a 50/50 ball a pass when a guy is covered but the quarterback still throws it.
Schwartz: I counted 13 50/50 balls and we only won four of them. … Some of those 50/50s were man, some were zone, some of them were blitz, some of them weren’t. We didn’t make the plays.
Schwartz called a quarters zone here and the 6-foot Mills for some reason let Gesicki get behind him. The 6-5 tight end easily climbed over him for a 14-yard touchdown grab.
Schwartz didn’t question Mills’ technique on the play.
Schwartz: He’s a zone corner and the guy runs a wheel. You just run with him right there and he just lost a step.
On the drive following Parker’s 43-yard touchdown, the Dolphins faced third-and-13. Schwartz called a soft zone that looked like the picket fence coverage he’s called before in similar situations. But it wasn’t.
Fitzpatrick threw a jump ball again, but Darby’s coverage wasn’t as sound this time and he lost his footing.
Schwartz: He didn’t even bite at all in the double move, and he has zone eyes. I think he just stumbled a little bit on that one. That guy went up and he sort of lost his foot a little bit and went up.
Schwartz was asked if he considered pulling either Darby or Mills for the 6-2 Rasul Douglas.
Schwartz: There are tall receivers in the league. Our corners can jump. Sometimes you get a ball caught over you and you come back and you play the next one. You’re not going to win 100 percent of those all the time.
But it wasn’t just the 50/50 balls the Eagles’ outside corners lost. On this third-and-7 play inside the red zone, Mills appeared to bite on the inside route and got turned around as a wide-open Wilson caught a 9-yard out for a first down.
Mills is typically strong in the red zone. His return in October had helped turn the Eagles’ fortunes. But he struggled inside the 20 all day Sunday.
Schwartz: Darby and Mills had made those plays. I think as a coach, you have to give those guys a chance to be able to get out of that and be able to make those.
But they just couldn’t. Mills was also victimized by Parker. On this 17-yard touchdown grab, his technique was sound, but he, too, fell.
Rodney McLeod was the single-high safety. He didn’t take a direct line to the ball, but he had a lot of ground to cover. Schwartz was asked if he needed to call more Cover 2 with Parker dominating outside deep. He did something similar with some success in the win over the Packers in September.
Schwartz: When we went to it in this game, the quarterback moved the ball down the middle, which is where you’re weak. Again, we sort of decided to go with our strength. What has been our strength over the last month have been our corners defending one-on-one on the outside part of the field and playing tight coverage and playing penalty free.
But the corners were getting killed. Schwartz called a few doubles on Parker, but obviously not enough. On this fourth-quarter play, Parker easily got behind Mills and with only a single-high safety, made the 34-yard grab.
A series later, the Dolphins went for it again on fourth down. They had only a yard to go. Parker lined up outside opposite Darby, who lined up about five yards off. The receiver ran an inside route and made a great snag vs. Darby’s tight coverage.
But could Schwartz have called a coverage that took Parker, who had caught nearly every previous pass thrown his way, out of the play?
Schwartz: We could have. That’s what we had done on some of the other third downs. We were talking a yard there and [Fitzpatrick] had just run a quarterback sneak on the play before. We had to take that away. We were blitzing up front. Darby was up pressed and competing and going, and they made the play; we didn’t.
Almost nothing worked. Late in the third quarter, Schwartz said he switched to a basic defense – “training camp-type stuff.”
But on this key third-and-6 later in the drive, Schwartz called a zone blitz that had safety Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker Nigel Bradham rushing. Defensive ends Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett dropped, but receiver Allen Hurns found a hole in the middle for a first down.
Schwartz: I think the quarterback went 6 for 6 and they scored a touchdown on that drive. So whether it was blitzing, whether it was playing zone, or whether it was playing sort of ‘bread and butter’ stuff for us defensively, it wasn’t our day.