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Bowen: Schwartz tackles Eagles' poor defensive effort against Bengals

JIM SCHWARTZ'S name has always stood for an aggressive style of defense. But when you're losing and you can't get a stop, aggressiveness seeps away.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz addressed media on Tuesday.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz addressed media on Tuesday.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

JIM SCHWARTZ'S name has always stood for an aggressive style of defense. But when you're losing and you can't get a stop, aggressiveness seeps away.

That wasn't exactly what the Eagles' defensive coordinator said Tuesday about his group, which has given up more yards and points in each successive installment of the team's current three-game losing streak. But it was close.

Schwartz made several baseball analogies, talked about slumps, effort, energy and confidence. Some of it was spin, some of it made a lot of sense. He didn't really explain why his well-paid defensive line suddenly can't get decent pass-rush pressure, though he did talk about opponents max-protecting.

Schwartz defended the honor of safety Rodney McLeod, who didn't seem to make any move to try to stop Bengals running back Jeremy Hill on a 2-yard first-quarter touchdown run. Schwartz said McLeod's "fit" on the play was outside, and he was caught flatfooted when the run went inside.

"I'll put my name on Rodney McLeod any day," said Schwartz, who called McLeod "a warrior."

Schwartz said he tried everything, including blitzing Andy Dalton Sunday at Cincinnati, while the Bengals were scoring on their first six possessions. This brought Schwartz to what might be as close to a bottom line as we're going to get right now: his corners are playing so horribly, it's impossible to scheme around them.

"Facts were, in this game, we got beat in blitz, we got beat in zone, we got beat in Cover 2, we got beat in two-man, we got beat in six. We rolled through every one. We got beat in all of them," Schwartz said. "Facts of life, our corners aren't playing very well right now.

"It doesn't mean I've lost confidence in them, because that's the same bunch of corners that shut down some of the best offenses in the NFL. But we're in a slump, and it didn't matter what we were calling. A couple weeks ago when I was up here, we were talking about Minnesota and I said, 'It didn't matter what I was calling, they were all working.' In this game, it didn't matter. Didn't matter what we were calling, it wasn't working."

It wasn't working, in large part, because Dalton had receivers running free all over the field. They were open short, they were open long, they were open in-between.

It's a different coordinator and a different scheme, of course, but this looks a little like last season, when the defense enjoyed a solid first half, then opponents started game-planning the pass rush better and the corners turned into soggy tissue paper.

It's interesting that Schwartz mentioned Minnesota; the corners were effective in that game because the Vikings' o-line is terrible, the Eagles' pass rush was all over Sam Bradford, and Bradford can't move around the pocket well. This has not been the case with Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers or Dalton the past three weeks, and it isn't going to be the case with Washington's Kirk Cousins this coming Sunday, either.

The Eagles, with many needs and a lot of resources funneled into the Carson Wentz trade, didn't go heavy into the corner market last offseason. They signed McLeod at safety to replace Walter Thurmond (and that was a good signing, whatever happened last Sunday), brought back Nolan Carroll when his ankle injury kept him from getting the free-agent deal elsewhere he'd hoped to land, and took Schwartz's recommendation on Leodis McKelvin, who has been either injured or ineffective much of the season. They also drafted Jalen Mills in the seventh round, and were so impressed with his aggressive attitude that they jettisoned 2015 second-round pick Eric Rowe, a faster, smoother corner whose finger-wagging game apparently was lacking.

The thing about a 16-game NFL schedule is, eventually, your structural weaknesses are exposed. Carroll is a hard-working, decent guy, a C-plus corner, B-plus on a good day. McKelvin, at 31, is more of a C-minus/D, and he was an F against the Bengals. Mills is an eager rookie with an awful lot to learn, and what might be a fatal speed deficiency.

You can get by with that against some teams, and if you get on a roll, guys play with confidence, maybe overachieve. That's how it was in the early going. Exactly the opposite is happening now.

Schwartz was asked about Eagles coach Doug Pederson's admission Monday that "not everyone" gave great effort in Cincinnati.

"Any time things aren't going well, you're looking at everything you can, whether it's schemes, whether it's individual effort, whether it's collective effort - it's a tough situation," Schwartz said. "It's 29 to nothing in this game. Here's what I'd say about that, and I actually talked to the defense about that this morning: When it's all said and done, we have to take the most pride in our effort. And sometimes there might be a difference between effort and energy. It's hard to have energy when you're down 29 to nothing. It's not hard to have effort. And I think you saw us have effort" on such plays as the two fumbles the Eagles forced and recovered in the fourth quarter.

"You don't always play your best, but I'm encouraged by those kinds of things. I would agree we need to play with more energy."

But why was the defense's energy lacking during those six successive scoring drives that got the Bengals that 29-0 lead?

"If you could just put a formula on that, anybody in sports . . . you'd have a pretty good monopoly," Schwartz said. "There's human nature that goes into this game. We didn't start that game very well. We went three-and-out on offense, they got the ball at midfield (after a 30-yard Donnie Jones punt), we gave up a field goal, we had a chance to get an interception (when a Dalton pass bounced off Jaylen Watkins on the play before the field goal). Man, what a change that would have made . . . We need to play with more energy, whether it's at the beginning or at the end. That's a challenge every week."

His corners, Schwartz said, can work their way back to respectability.

"The only thing you can do in a slump is go back to basics, go back to technique," Schwartz said. "If you're a corner, it's about technique and it's about confidence. We're not playing with a lot of confidence at corner, and we need to tighten up our technique."