Defending the indefensible: Eagles’ Jim Schwartz has a lot to answer for, but not a lot of answers
It isn't clear how Zach Brown went from starting one day to released the next, or how much Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby will be able to help a struggling group against the Cowboys.
Jim Schwartz couldn’t defend much of anything that happened Sunday, which gave him something in common with his players.
The Eagles are preparing to head to Dallas this weekend with their defense in crisis. They’re allowing 24.8 points per game, the league’s 23rd-best figure, and they’re only doing that well because they can stop the run (72.8 yards per game, second-fewest in the NFL).
Only the Cardinals, Giants, and Bucs are giving up more passing yards than the Eagles’ figure of 280.2 yards per game. They’ve allowed seven 40-plus-yard passes in six games, which ties them for second-worst in that category, and is one more such completion than they allowed all last season, when they famously ended up playing 10 different cornerbacks.
Asked why the Eagles are so susceptible to deep balls, at his weekly defensive coordinator’s news conference Tuesday, Schwartz said: “In this game we were, and I think every single one of them was a different coverage. If the offense is trying to attack, you need to be able to make plays.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things … The bottom line has been the same: the ball has been going over our heads, but they have all been different. If it’s one thing, it’s a little easier to put it in a box and be able to deal with it, but we’ve been battling inconsistency.”
Asked if Sunday’s starting corners, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, have been able to put bad plays behind them and refocus, as cornerbacks always seek to do, Schwartz said: “Inconsistently. There have been times they have, but like a 3-3 team, we're all striving for consistency. I think that those guys are striving for that.”
There is a chance corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby will see action at Dallas, though Mills (foot) is set to come off the physically-unable-to-play list having not seen action since last Oct. 28, and Darby wasn’t playing great before missing the last three games with a hamstring pull.
On Monday, the Eagles released starting linebacker Zach Brown, who wasn’t playing well, but who also helped make Sunday’s 38-20 loss at Minnesota just a bit more humiliating by exclaiming a few days beforehand that quarterback Kirk Cousins was the worst part of the Vikings’ offense, and that other teams wanted him to throw the ball. Throw it, Cousins did, for 333 yards and four touchdowns.
The timing of the release was curious, given that linebacker is one of the Eagles’ thinnest positions, and starter Nigel Bradham left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.
Schwartz said general manager Howie Roseman and Eagles coach Doug Pederson were the people to ask about personnel moves. He indicated that Kamu Grugier-Hill’s return to form following a preseason knee injury factored into Brown’s fate.
“I will say this: We need more production from our linebacker position in general … Kamu is coming off of his preseason, so to speak,” Schwartz said. “We’re excited about getting him back in a role that he had done a good job in through the spring and summer, until he got injured.”
Schwartz was asked if there might have been some sort of incident with Brown -- a guy who played 82 percent of the defensive snaps in a game might conceivably get benched the next day, but rarely does he get exiled from the team. Schwartz again deferred to Roseman and Pederson.
“Yeah, I’ll leave that to those guys. They can address those roster decisions,” he said.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins -- one of a tiny handful of players who faced the media horde Tuesday -- was asked what he thought happened with Brown.
“He got cut,” Jenkins explained.
Was Jenkins surprised?
“Not necessarily. There are things that happen from personnel every day that we have no control over, that we see the notifications on our phone just like everybody else,” Jenkins said. “We don’t focus on things that we don’t control ... I’m focused on the Dallas Cowboys, not on personnel.”
Has play at linebacker been a big issue for the defense?
“Not to my knowledge,” Jenkins said.
Brown’s overall Pro Football Focus rating this season is 55.3, the lowest of his eight-year career. PFF considers anyone rated 60-69 to be playing at a backup level, and anyone below 60 gets the designation “replaceable.”
The 4.5 speed in the 40 Brown showed coming out of North Carolina as a second-round pick of the Titans back in 2012 was not evident during his Eagles tenure.
Jenkins said getting Mills and Darby back in the flow will help the defense, but won’t fix all its problems.
“At the end of the day, we also have to execute. It’s just not like we put Jalen Mills in, or Ronald Darby, and all of a sudden, things that we’ve done to hurt ourselves are cured. We’ve got to play a little bit more disciplined brand of football,” he said.
“The talent’s not the issue, scheme’s not the issue, it’s just about executing. It comes down to each individual player. I think we have a prideful group that wants to feel good about whatever it is we put on tape. I don’t think anybody feels good about what we put on tape [at Minnesota].”
Jenkins was warned that Dallas, having lost three in a row after a 3-0 start, is going to be a desperate team Sunday night.
“It’s not like we’re sitting here undefeated,” he said.