Eagles' Schwartz addresses McLeod's soft play, Mills' second-guessing
Jim Schwartz took to the podium Tuesday morning at the NovaCare Complex to discuss his defense's erratic play in Sunday's 27-26 loss to the Ravens and respond to being second-guessed by his seventh-round rookie corner, Jalen Mills, and yet another passive-aggressive play by his once aggressive-aggressive safety, Rodney McLeod.
The Eagles gave up five double-digit-yard runs to the Ravens, and those accounted for 121 of their 151 rushing yards. They also were burned for two more 30-plus-yard pass plays, including that lead-changing, momentum-swinging, 34-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to wide receiver Steve Smith late in the first half.
Schwartz, who blitzed on 10 of the Ravens' 33 pass plays, sent six rushers after Flacco on the second-and-10 play and had his corners, including Mills, play man coverage with over-the-top help from McLeod and the other safety on the play, Jaylen Watkins.
Mills let Smith get past him a little too easily, but Watkins was the main culprit, failing to get over in time to provide assistance.
"We should've been over the top on that,'' Schwartz said. "That wasn't very good. I never like to blame execution on a play. But I know Watkins would like to have that one back. He made a rookie mistake. The quarterback pumped and was able to make a big play on us.''
After the game, Mills second-guessed Schwartz, saying, "it wasn't the coverage I wanted'' on the play. When asked what coverage he would have preferred, he responded, "Just cover the guy that was in front of me.''
Asked Tuesday about Mills' comments, Schwartz, who said he had a conversation with the rookie on Monday, said: "We have a new system. I'm going to take the earpiece out of (middle linebacker) Jordan Hicks' (helmet) and put it in Jalen Mills', so Jalen can approve every call we make from now on.''
Schwartz likes Mills' on-field tenacity, but he made it clear he wasn't happy with him second-guessing the play call. You can bet he made that clear to Mills on Monday as well.
"I love the hell out of that kid,'' he said. "He is a competitor. People talk about speed. People talk about ability to play the ball. To me, the No. 1 criteria to playing corner is you have to be a competitor. And he is.
"He's given up some plays this year. He's made some plays and given up some. But he's never let it affect his psyche.
"At halftime, I told those guys, 'Blame me for that call.' The reason I said it was because I didn't want them to play conservative in the second half. But the call wasn't the issue there. It was the execution of the call. He understands that. He knows. We've talked. But I'll stand behind Jalen Mills.''
Then there was McLeod. He drew criticism two weeks ago in the Eagles' loss to the Bengals when it appeared he didn't try to make a play on Jeremy Hill on a 2-yard touchdown run.
On Sunday, he seemed reluctant to make a play on a 16-yard touchdown run by the Ravens' Kenneth Dixon. Unblocked, McLeod retreated from the 9-yard line to the 1 before finally trying to stop Dixon.
"That's another guy I had a conversation with yesterday,'' Schwartz said. "I spent my whole day having conversations.
"Here's my take on that, and talking to Rodney, I have a perspective on that also. Rodney was doing the wrong thing for the right reason. He's trying not to allow a big play right there. But as a result, we end up giving up a big play.
"I told him, I would rather you shoot your gun, I would rather you take that shot than shoot at chickens and give ground and give ground and hope that you can buy time for other people to make the play.
"There's times that you have to do that. It's tough being a middle-of-the-field defender and a run breaks. There's a big difference between being a safety and – I like to tell those guys – being risky. You don't want a safety that's ready, fire, aim. And you don't want a safety that's ready, aim, aim, aim, aim and never pull the trigger.
"I told him that in my opinion, that's where he's gotten to these last couple of games. I want him to get back to early in the season where that 23 (his jersey number) was a blur everywhere on the field.
"You don't want to be risky. You don't want to take chances sometimes when you're the post player. But you have to pull the trigger when it comes. And I have enough confidence in him to trust his judgment to pull the trigger.
"Rodney knows about big plays. He knows big plays have affected us. He's trying not to allow big plays. Sometimes that's the wrong approach to take. Hopefully, we can get him back to being the blur on the field he was the first half of the season.''