Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz often says that he cares about two stats – whether the team won, and then, much less urgently, how many points his defense allowed. Don’t bother Schwartz with details.
Crouched behind that scorched and battered shield, Schwartz has tiptoed past some situations that would send many coordinators into therapy, including watching his unit give up a record 505 passing yards in Super Bowl LII. But hey, the Eagles won, and it was one of Schwartz’s guys, Brandon Graham, who sealed the deal.
The Eagles did not win Sunday afternoon at the Giants, though, and when Schwartz met with reporters Tuesday via Zoom, he was not looking to shrug off the way his defense failed to rise to the occasion.
In particular, Schwartz hated the Giants' first two drives, both of which resulted in touchdowns, creating a 14-3 deficit that the Eagles' anemic offense couldn’t erase, en route to a 27-17 loss.
“The way we started that game had a lot to do with the final result of that game,” Schwartz said. “Rallied a little bit, but it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t overcome those first two drives. There were so many plays that we were an inch away from making a play, an inch away from getting a sack strip, or a pass knocked down, or something like that. We didn’t make those plays in this game, and we paid the price for it with a loss.”
The Giants' first series ended with quarterback Daniel Jones taking off around left end on a read option and sprinting 34 yards for a touchdown. It looked just like Jones' 80-yard run during the Eagles' 22-21 victory over the Giants on Oct. 22, except Jones didn’t fall down eight yards short of the end zone this time.
“The defense broke down on that play,” said Schwartz, who said he wouldn’t discuss which players were to blame. “First game, it was a little bit of a surprise. They ran out of a formation we hadn’t seen before. But it was embarrassing in this game because they ran out of the exact same formation, and we fit it wrong. The guy that is supposed to be there for the quarterback wasn’t there. Nobody else got off any blocks, and he made us pay with a touchdown.”
Replays showed that the defensive end on that side, Josh Sweat, went charging past Jones into the backfield, under the impression that the quarterback had handed off. Linebacker T.J. Edwards was walled off by a block, and there was a huge hole. No one in the secondary reacted quickly enough as Jones sped past.
“Yeah, recognized it, repped it in practice, and things like that,” Edwards said Tuesday. “I got inside the block. I should have been outside squeezing that ball back and making it cut back inside. So I fully take responsibility for that. It was one of those things where I wish I could have it back, and we saw it again later in the game and knocked it out, but … you got to be ready the first time.”
Schwartz was alarmed that “we just couldn’t get to third downs” on the eight-play, 85-yard first drive. The only third down went from third-and-8 to third-and-3 when Malik Jackson was called for encroachment, though Schwartz said Giants center Nick Gates rocked back and moved the ball. The Giants faced only two third downs on the second drive, third-and-2 and third-and-1. The Eagles actually stopped the third-and-1, from their 2, but Wayne Gallman leaped over the pile on fourth down and scored.
Why would a defense look so unprepared, coming off a bye week, facing a division opponent it had played three weeks earlier?
Safety Rodney McLeod said the Giants' use of tempo put the Eagles back on their heels. Subbing players in and out was harder; the visitors had to stay in base more than they wanted.
“They did a lot of hurry-up, tempo-style offense. I think a lot of it was to get us out of whack, create miscommunication, create distractions ... to kind of get us off our game,” McLeod said.
The Giants' run stats were strange – 12 carries for 92 yards in the first quarter, then 24 carries for just 59 yards in the other three quarters. The Jones run didn’t fully account for the difference.
“I think it was just the pace,” McLeod said. "The up-tempo style of offense that they came out in … got us out of our game a little bit. You know, we’re running guys on and off the field.
“I think once we understood how they were going to attack us, we settled in a little bit and were able to get some stops and do what we do best, and that’s stopping the run.”
The Eagles face five games in succession in which every opponent has a winning record, starting at 6-3 Cleveland this Sunday. Those five teams – the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals – are a combined 32-13. The Eagles need to improve drastically to survive this stretch with any sort of playoff hopes, even in the forlorn NFC East.
“We have to practice the way we’re going to play and treat every day of practice like it’s a game,” McLeod said.
Schwartz said the Browns represent “our biggest challenge of the season in the run game.” Cleveland ranks fourth in rushing, averaging 159 yards per game, and its 5.13 yards-per-carry average ranks third. The Eagles rank 26th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 133 yards per game. At 4.35 yards per carry, they rank 15th. The common theme all season has been misdirection, particularly on runs by quarterbacks, tight ends, or wide receivers.
“We know we’re gonna see it from the teams that we’re playing, and it’s just about reading keys and everyone doing their job,” Edwards said, when asked about misdirection. “No one trying to do anything that’s outside of the scheme.”
McLeod was asked the mood of the locker room.
“We’re angry, frustrated, not only with our record but how we now started this second half of the year. Right? And a division opponent, we understood what that game meant to us and what we wanted to do, and we didn’t get it done,” he said. “There’s so much inconsistency going on across our team in all three phases right now. But what’s encouraging is that no one’s pointing the finger. Everyone’s looking at themselves in the mirror and saying how they need to improve.”