Jim Schwartz met with his defensive players on Tuesday morning like he does each week. But the context was different after the Eagles' 32-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. He addressed the lack of effort and energy that coach Doug Pederson criticized the Eagles for one day earlier, and he needed to infuse confidence in a unit Schwartz conceded has been among the NFL's worst in recent weeks.
"For nine weeks you probably could not mention best defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles," Schwartz said. "The last three, you probably can't mention worst defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles."
The Eagles allowed an average of 323.1 yards and 17 points in the first nine games to go with 2.7 sacks. In the previous three games, they have allowed an average of 412.7 yards and 28.3 points, with 0.3 sacks.
"Same scheme, same players," Schwartz said. "We're in a slump. . . . We have to own that. We're in a three-game slump."
The scheme is built around pressuring the quarterback with four pass rushers. That is why Pederson hired Schwartz. But with the pass rush ineffective in recent weeks, Pederson said they would discuss the possibility of blitzing more. Pederson also worried that would leave the Eagles further exposed in the secondary.
Schwartz said he called 19 blitzes on Sunday but audibled out of a few of them because of the protection. The Bengals were going to make it hard to blitz at times, Schwartz said, and had protection that would have been "malpractice" to call blitzes again. But even when they blitzed, it didn't work. The Bengals' longest gain of the game came against the blitz.
"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," Schwartz said. "We rolled through every one. We got beat in all of them."
One problem, Schwartz acknowledged, is that the cornerbacks "aren't playing very well right now." That makes blitzing even riskier, especially when the quarterback can throw the ball quickly.
Slumps might happen, but a lack of effort is less tolerable as online commenters and talk-radio callers have politely discussed this week. Schwartz wanted to distinguish between effort and energy. When a team is down, 29-0, it can be difficult to have energy. It's not difficult to have effort. Schwartz insisted the Eagles showed effort, pointing to Bennie Logan and Nigel Bradham forcing fumbles and the way Mychal Kendricks returned a fumble return.
"You don't always play your best, but I'm encouraged by those kinds of things," Schwartz said. "I think that I would agree that we need to play with more energy, and that's a hard thing sometimes, too."
Schwartz gave the example of a player recording a sack when they are trailing by 29-0 - the Eagles didn't have that problem - and performing a sack dance. That player is criticized for celebrating with a lopsided score. But if he's emotionless, he's accused of not being into the game.
"I just told the guys, 'Let the chips fall where they may. Play with some emotion. Be willing to put yourself out there, and don't worry about anything else,' " Schwartz said.
However, there were questions about the Eagles' effort even before they fell in a 29-0 hole. One came in the first quarter, when safety Rodney McLeod did not dive at running back Jeremy Hill at the goal line. Schwartz defended McLeod, saying that McLeod's responsibility on the play was for the outside run, and he was caught flat-footed when Hill ran inside. Schwartz compared it with a baseball player who looks confused on a change-up after expecting a fastball.
"I'll put my name on Rodney McLeod any day," Schwartz said. "That guy plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. . . . That wasn't his best presentation. He didn't look good on that play. But I think that had a lot more to do with where he was expecting that ball than anything else."
Schwartz added that some of the penalties the Eagles were charged with were the result of too much effort. Brandon Graham was flagged for roughing the passer when he hit the quarterback's knees while trying to make a play. Safety Jaylen Watkins was charged with unnecessary roughness for helmet-to-helmet contact when he tried to close on a tackle.
"You'd never be able to step out for pizza in South Philly if he hadn't tried to make that play," Schwartz said.
So Schwartz seemed less concerned about the effort and more with his defense's slump. He compared it with a baseball hitter who can see pitches that look like beach balls during a hot stretch and a seed during a cold stretch.
And the way to break a slump isn't "burning his bats or changing his sweatshirt or changing his whole approach" but rather focus on what worked during a successful stint. So Schwartz's emphasis this week is on technique, energy and somehow returning to what worked earlier this season.
"It has a lot to do with confidence, and we need to get back to that," Schwartz said. "They need to know that first nine weeks, they were respected . . . for what they put on tape, and the last three, we've been in a slump, and we need to get back to those first nine."