For the Eagles’ defense, a hallmark of this 3-8-1 season has been stopping the run reasonably well, then giving up the huge, back-breaking run play.
This happened in Sunday’s 30-16 loss at Green Bay, after Jalen Hurts’ 32-yard touchdown pass and Jalen Reagor’s 73-yard punt return touchdown brought the Eagles back from a 23-3 deficit to 23-16 in the fourth quarter.
The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers handed off to Aaron Jones, who burst through the left side of the line against what Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday was a run blitz. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was in the backfield, behind Jones, by the time the runner reached the line of scrimmage, as was blitzing safety Jalen Mills, coming from the other side.
They watched linebacker Alex Singleton, caught on a shallow angle, dive in vain for Jones. Then rookie safety K’Von Wallace, in front of Jones, seemed to have the runner lined up but missed his shot badly.
After that, it was off to the races, down the left sideline, in front of the cheering Packers bench. Rodney McLeod managed to miss Jones twice as Jones stopped and started. The pause necessary for this maneuver did not bring a host of pursuing Eagles down on Jones. Rookie corner Michael Jacquet managed to get in front of the play eventually, but he was blocked by Marques Valdez-Scantling.
Avonte Maddox made his way over, seemed to think McLeod was going to bring down Jones, and ultimately ended up holding onto the tail of Jones’ jersey as Jones crossed the goal line.
That was the game, with 2 minutes, 36 seconds remaining.
The Eagles have given up eight runs of 30 or more yards this season, which is less than ideal. Often the opponent sashaying through the secondary has been a quarterback (Daniel Jones, 80 yards, Lamar Jackson, 40) or a wide receiver (Ray-Ray McCloud, 58 yards, Brandon Aiyuk, 38). But not always (Nick Chubb, 54 yards).
“I’ll just say this: Our defense in that situation is one of our best run-stopping blitzes that we have. It’s been tried and true over the last five years, and it broke down at a number of levels, basically just missing tackles,” Schwartz said Tuesday. He declined to identify offenders.
“We had them in a situation where we felt like they were going to run the ball. Had that dialed up, and even if we miss tackles in there, we still got to get that thing down for 10 yards. It can’t turn into a touchdown.”
Schwartz agreed it was “very disappointing.”
But then, in 2020, what isn’t?
Linebackers? What are those?
Rookie linebacker Davion Taylor left the Packers game with a knee injury that coach Doug Pederson said would keep him out a while, and T.J. Edwards had to leave with the hamstring injury that had limited him in practice.
Looking ahead to this weekend and the Saints, that leaves Alex Singleton, Duke Riley, rookie Shaun Bradley, and a guy named Joe Bachie, whom the Eagles signed from the Saints’ practice squad after they released offensive lineman Jamon Brown Monday. There is also practice squad linebacker Rashad Smith, whom the Eagles protected Tuesday for this week’s game.
By the way, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Derrick Gunn’s report that Brown was escorted out of the Eagles’ team hotel Saturday night for violating team rules.
Schwartz was asked about going up against the 10-2 Saints with his less-than-stellar linebacking group further depleted.
“That’s life in the big city. That’s what happens. But it’s nothing we haven’t been through before,” Schwartz said. “We’ll have a good plan and confidence in the guys that we have when we get to Sunday, and we’ll just see where that takes us this week.”