It’s hard to say what might seem less fun right now, being Carson Wentz, at the bottom of the NFL quarterback rankings, or being part of the Eagles' defense, ranked 26th in points allowed and 27th in red-zone touchdowns after two weeks.
The defensive gig might be easier to handle. Blame gets spread around, and no one has suggested Jalen Hurts should step in. Well, not yet, anyway.
On Tuesday, coordinator Jim Schwartz declared he was to blame for the defensive part of Sunday’s 37-19 debacle, for sending his befuddled troops into battle against the Los Angeles Rams with a game plan that required too much analysis of a fast-moving, complex offense.
Schwartz said he did this with the best of intentions, figuring he would cut down on the physical demands, like having to fight through picks. He said he realized after the third Los Angeles touchdown that he had given his players too much to keep track of, leaving them flatfooted, as the LA offense shifted and motioned and misdirected. Fighting through picks might have been easier than flipping through options.
“Chase two rabbits, catch none,” Schwartz said.
Meanwhile, cornerback-turned-strong-safety Jalen Mills seemed tired of chasing -- not so much rabbits, or the Rams, but the ghost of his predecessor, Malcolm Jenkins.
One reason posited for the Eagles' problems following Schwartz’s game plan Sunday, and for their having allowed seven touchdowns in nine opposition red-zone trips this season, is the loss of Jenkins' leadership. Jenkins, who turns 33 in December, might have looked creaky for the Saints in their Monday Night Football loss to the Raiders, but for six seasons here, he was a coach on the field.
On his podcast this week, former Eagles defensive end Chris Long said “there’s a void” at safety, with Jenkins gone, “and there’s a void in leadership, and right now, at 0-2, they really need leadership. I am wondering about their window, and if they lose to Cincy [Sunday], it’s going to get ugly.”
We don’t know if Mills knew Tuesday about Long’s podcast remarks. We do know when reporters asked a couple of probing questions about Jenkins, Mills wasn’t happy.
A reporter brought up something Schwartz had mentioned about the red zone, that teams are running the ball effectively there, running it over the goal line on the Eagles, three times in two games. Jenkins played a strong run-stopping role, not just in tackling but in getting players aligned.
“Malcolm doesn’t play for us, so people can get that out of their heads,” Mills said. “So much respect for him and what he’s done, for not only me but this team and this organization. But I mean, as far as [stopping the run] goes, that’s just us as a defense. Get those kinks, fix 'em, and get over it.”
Another reporter asked if Jenkins might have tried to rally the troops on the sideline Sunday, as the Eagles struggled.
“That happened. That happened on the sideline,” Mills said. "Malcolm did a lot here. Could never take that away from him. Like I said, that’s my big brother. I texted him before the Washington game, then I talked to him before we played the Rams.
"But at the end of the day, I feel like we got to get that out. People got to get that out of their heads. Like, everybody watched the game [Monday] night; 27 was playing for the Saints. At this point, this is the Philadelphia Eagles. So as far as questions with Malcolm … that’s my brother, all due respect for him, but can we please stop doing that?
“This team, we have enough leaders, we have enough captains. There is no void as far as our leaders and our captains on this team. And guys are doing their part. We’ve had a rough patch these past two weeks, and we’re gonna get 'em fixed.”
Schwartz wasn’t blaming Mills, or any specific Eagles, not even an inexperienced linebacking group that spent Sunday waving at the backs of receivers and ball carriers as if they were trying to flag down a departing bus.
Schwartz said he needed a game plan that “narrowed the focus of each individual player. … We went to that after about three series. We made a little rally, but it was too late, and I take that on myself. … I take 100% responsibility for that.”
Schwartz said that over the years, he has learned the difference between having players who can’t get the job done, and players who aren’t being put in a position to get the job done. This was the latter, he said.
“We had very experienced players make uncharacteristic mistakes. Rodney [McLeod] talked about himself. Guys like Brandon Graham, who is one of the best backside run defenders I’ve ever been around, we got gashed on a couple runs because Brandon didn’t close the way he normally closes. Avonte Maddox, who is a young vet but an experienced player, looking in the backfield, letting a guy run past him. Jalen Mills playing the run when it was a pass,” Schwartz said.
"When too many of those things happen, I don’t blame the players, I blame myself. You have one missed assignment, or you have one tough matchup, or a guy physically gives up the play … you can’t blame yourself for things like that. But when you get experienced players that start making those kinds of mistakes, then you’re like, ‘OK, we’re on the wrong track here.’ "
The larger issue, though, is that there are important things we haven’t seen from this defense in either game this season. Like stops in the red zone. Schwartz, who said he isn’t considering personnel changes right now, said this, too, is a matter of him and his assistants figuring out how to get this group playing cohesively, minimizing the problem areas, and maximizing the strengths.
“I don’t really care about a lot of stats, I care about points allowed, takeaways, red zone, third down, and stopping the run in order to have that physicality, and being able to control the game,” he said.
“What’s been good for us in the past has not been good for us right now. It’s up to us to figure out what our formula is, and get back to those things because they’re all key.”