Darius Slay, Jim Schwartz, Jalen Mills and the D-Line: The Eagles’ defense is a mirage | Marcus Hayes
A cover corner who can't cover, a safety with which little is safe, a rich defensive line that plays poorly, and a coordinator whose best coordination happens when he chooses his game-day attire.
Can we all just stop pretending?
Pretending the Eagles have an elite defensive line?
Pretending Darius Slay is a lockdown cover corner?
Pretending that the Jalen Mills Experiment wasn’t a bust?
Pretending that Jim “Hollywood” Schwartz is some sort of defensive Jedi?
His defense is relatively healthy and whole, and it is surrendering 25.5 points during the Eagles’ four-game losing streak. The latest lousy outing, in Green Bay, might otherwise be overshadowed by the dramatic (if inevitable) benching of quarterback Carson Wentz in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. Fear not. This defensive debacle deserves a spotlight all its own.
This defense features a cover corner who can’t cover, a safety with which little is safe, a rich defensive line that plays poorly, and a coordinator whose best coordination happens when he chooses his game-day attire.
The line gets credit for the only reasonably impressive statistic the defense has: 36 sacks, which was No. 2 in the NFL before Sunday evening’s 30-16 embarrassment. So what? That’s a mirage. Fletcher Cox, once the No. 2 tackle in the NFL, turns 30 next Sunday, and looks it: He’s having his worst season in six years. Brandon Graham, 32, hasn’t had a sack in more than a month. Free-agent outlays to tackles Malik Jackson and Javon Hargave now seem excessive, and 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett disappears more often than Mike Pence.
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If the defensive line did, in fact, consistently pressure the passer, the rest of the defense would have more than three interceptions, tied for the fewest in the league.
You know who else has at least three interceptions? Twenty-four other individual players.
You know who has zero interceptions? Darius Slay.
Darius Slay, on whom the Eagles spent third- and fifth-round 2020 picks to pry him away from the Lions — picks that might have been used to either land a viable linebacker or safety or used as draft capital to trade up for one. Darius Slay, whom the Eagles then signed to a three-year, $50 million contract, with $30 million in guaranteed money.
Darius Slay, who, before he left Sunday’s game with a leg injury, gave up eight catches, 111 yards, and two touchdowns to Packers receiver Davante Adams. On Monday night, D.K. Metcalf cooked him for 10 catches and 177 yards. Yes, both receivers are stars, and yes, both play with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks — but Darius Slay’s gets aid to dull those knives, not to be filleted by them. He doesn’t earn his money locking down Daniel Jones and Golden Tate.
Which Schwartz’s defense proved unable to do. Twice. That, simply put, why the Giants are in first place in the NFC East: Because Schwartz’s scheme couldn’t handle an offense that, entering Sunday, ranked fourth-worst in average yards and third-worst in scoring; even Nick Foles’ Bears were better. They couldn’t contain an offense run by Cowboys failure Jason Garrett.
Because Daniel Jones, a quarterback with no real moves and notoriously poor balance, ripped off a run of 80 yards in the first game, which was an Evan Engram drop away from a Giants win; and then, in the second game, Jones trotted in from 34 yards out. If any plays were a metaphor for the Eagles’ defense 2k20, those are them.
And if there was a metaphor for Eagles’ 2k20 season as a whole, this is it.
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The Eagles decided to not extend the contract of safety Malcolm Jenkins, now playing for the first-place defense of the first-place New Orleans Saints; rather, they released him and signed Mills with the plan of converting him from enthusiastic, slow Eagles cornerback to cerebral, slow Eagles safety. They got half of what they paid for. But they always got effort.
Until 2 minutes, 51 seconds remained in Sunday night’s game. The Eagles trailed by 7. A stop there, and they’d have a chance.
On second-and-7 from the Packers’ own 23, as Mills blitzed on the right side of the offensive line, running back Aaron Jones burst through the right-center of the line, a mere 2 yards from Mills. Mills turned and pursued … with the urgency of a masticating sloth.
Mills began 4 yards ahead of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Nine seconds and 50 yards downfield, Rodgers was blocking for Jones, who had, by then, slowed, put on moves, evaded and run through several other Eagles defenders. Mills? Nowhere to be found. This was profoundly out of character for Mills, a seventh-round pick in 2016 whose effort and character carved him an unlikely place in the NFL. Well, we all have our moments.
Asked after the game about his effort, Mills replied, “You can’t ever question my effort.”
Sure we can.
“Next question,” Mills continued.
This Eagles defense has answered all of the questions.
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