The sight of DeSean Jackson's strutting into the end zone on an 80-yard touchdown pass Sunday was familiar to Eagles fans who have watched him make those kinds of plays for nine seasons. Those same fans are also familiar with seeing the Eagles defense fall victim to big plays.
Jackson's reception was the 12th passing play of more than 40 yards against the Eagles this season. That's the second-highest total in the NFL, trailing two teams that have allowed 13. Their 50 passing plays of 20-plus yards allowed are tied for the most in the NFL. Since 2010, the Eagles have allowed 81 passing plays of 40-plus yards - tied with New Orleans for the most in the NFL.
Jim Schwartz has been the defensive coordinator only this season, but the big play was part of the Eagles' undoing in the their eighth loss. "I think that was the tale of this game," Schwartz said.
It was a better day for Schwartz's defense against Washington on Sunday than in previous weeks. That didn't make it any easier to take Jackson's 80-yarder or a 33-yard reception by Jae Crowder in the final minutes, when the Eagles nursed a one-point lead.
"The plays we didn't make [canceled out] the plays we did," Schwartz said.
The Eagles limited Washington to the fewest yards (334) of any game in their four-game losing streak, had two sacks after going three weeks with only one, and returned an interception for a touchdown. But one-third of Washington's yards came on two plays, and the defense could not hold a lead with five minutes remaining.
"When it came time to make that play, we gave up that one in the fourth quarter," Schwartz said. "For us, we get a fourth-quarter lead, we've got to hold on to it. That's our job. We can't blame anybody but ourselves for that."
The big plays will again be a factor Sunday, when the Eagles visit the Baltimore Ravens. With strong-armed Audubon, N.J., native Joe Flacco at quarterback, the Ravens like to stretch the field. Flacco has nine completions of 40-plus yards this season, which ranks seventh in the NFL. He has completed four passes of more than 40 yards to speed receiver Mike Wallace, who rivals Jackson as one of the NFL's elite deep threats.
Players who have been in Philadelphia for a few years, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins, cannot escape the questions about big plays.
"Some of them, you just get beat on the point of attack," Jenkins said last week. "Most of them haven't been blown coverages. You just get beat. You give up plays. . . . We ask a lot from our corners. We put them one-on-one a lot, so you're going to have some of those plays."
On Jackson's 80-yard reception, the receiver beat cornerback Leodis McKelvin. The Eagles were in cover-four coverage, with four defenders across the back line of the defense. The Redskins occupied all the defenders with their routes. Schwartz said McKelvin was in "good shape early in that route" and "bad shape late," which is a polite way of saying Jackson burned him. Safety Rodney McLeod could not catch up to Jackson, although he appeared resigned to the receiver's finding the end zone.
"That's a play that we talk all the time about, times you can be aggressive and times you can't," Schwartz said. "DeSean is fast and took over. The way Rodney was playing on the backside, he has the vertical of number three, so if he tries to overlap Leo, he's going to give that up."
Asked if he was OK with the way McLeod finished the play, Schwartz said he "wasn't OK with anything about those plays." He said the play had nothing to do with McLeod and there was not a lack of effort, but he added that the Eagles need to "give ourselves a chance to make another play." If they could have made it a 60-yard gain instead of an 80-yard gain, they might have been able to hold Washington to a field goal.
Schwartz blamed himself for a 15-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon on second and goal earlier in the game, when, the coordinator said, he did not give cornerback Nolan Carroll enough help with the play call.
Schwartz said he thought the Eagles handled the run except for a "couple plays." Of Washington's 107 rushing yards, 47 came on two touchdown runs.
"Unfortunately, you can't wipe those plays off," Schwartz said.
The Eagles had personnel changes on defense, including finding Steven Means more playing time at end. Jalen Mills played slot cornerback, with Jenkins remaining at safety. The Eagles might need to keep that coverage Sunday if Jaylen Watkins is out with a finger injury, although Schwartz could also use reserve safety Terrence Brooks in Watkins' spot. They also added veteran cornerback Dwayne Gratz to the roster Monday.
There were good signs Sunday from the defense, but they were not enough. The Eagles will need a better game against Baltimore, and preventing big plays will be a good place to start.
"We can't judge ourselves on anything other than winning or losing the game, and we've got to make sure that that doesn't happen," Schwartz said. "Stats don't mean anything. Wins or losses mean something. We didn't do enough to win the game."
The Eagles promoted running back Byron Marshall from the practice squad. Marshall takes Wendell Smallwood's spot and provides insurance in case Darren Sproles does not play Sunday. . . . The Eagles signed tight end Anthony Denham to the practice squad.