BALTIMORE - Once again, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was nowhere to be found inside the losing locker room. He has declined all season to present his defense of the defense immediately after games and it is certainly within his right to do so. We'll just have to wait until Tuesday to find out what he thought about the overall performance and the coverage on one particular play that tilted the game in the Baltimore Ravens' direction.
We did not have to wait for feedback from Schwartz's players Sunday after a 27-26 defeat at M&T Bank Stadium. As always, Malcolm Jenkins and his defensive mates stood and talked about a wet and windy game that had wild shifts of momentum, none bigger than the one at the end of the first half that allowed the Ravens to regain the lead for good.
Thanks to a gritty 17-play drive that included 10 runs against the best rushing defense in the NFL, the Eagles took a 14-13 lead with 1 minute, 39 seconds left in the first half on a field goal by Caleb Sturgis. At that point, the Eagles overall and the defense in particular had a lot of reasons to feel good about their performance. They had withstood an early onslaught that included a Ravens touchdown following a Carson Wentz interception early in the first quarter and recovered a fumble early in the second quarter inside the Baltimore 10-yard line after a Nigel Bradham sack of Joe Flacco. That turnover led to a touchdown and gave the Ravens notice that the Eagles had indeed shown up to play even if their pride and paychecks are the only thing they have left to play for.
Now the defense had an opportunity to come up big just before the half.
Stop the Ravens and the Eagles had all the momentum, not to mention the lead, going into the locker room.
Instead, Baltimore went from its own 35 to the Eagles' 34 on six plays, including a pass-interference call on rookie Jalen Mills.
With the wind at their backs, this was already field-goal range for the Ravens because Baltimore has the NFL's best kicker in Justin Tucker. With the wind in his face, Tucker had nailed a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter to tie an NFL record with 10 field goals of 50 or more yards in a season. He has not missed from that distance this season.
Apparently Schwartz at least wanted to increase the degree of difficulty for Tucker, so he sent six pass rushers after Flacco on a second-and-10 play, leaving Mills alone to cover veteran Steve Smith Sr. We'll never know if Tucker could have kicked another 50-yarder because Smith ran by Mills and caught a perfectly thrown pass from Flacco for a 34-yard touchdown with nine seconds left in the half.
"For sure it wasn't the coverage I wanted," Mills said. "But players play and coaches make calls and I have to make the play."
Asked what coverage he'd have preferred, Mills would not go there.
"I'm not going into that," he said. "Throw, catch, touchdown. I was locking dudes down there until that one play. Was it a call I wanted to be in? No. But regardless, plays have to be made in a game like this."
Second-year safety Jaylen Watkins was late in getting over to help Mills, but three guys were running deep on the play so he had to pick his poison. Veteran safety Rodney McLeod described the decision to rush six as "kind of a tough call."
Jenkins, who was on the other side of the field when Smith scored, elaborated on why he thought it was a difficult defensive call.
"It was kind of a tough call that we were kind of in," Jenkins said. "We were being aggressive, trying to put them into a long field goal, so we played a little more man-to-man. Usually we make them check down right there and allow them to kick the field goal."
Schwartz promised an aggressive defense upon arrival and there are pros and cons to that philosophy. The hope is that it creates lots of sacks, turnovers and momentum-changing plays. The Eagles went into Sunday tied for 11th in the league with 19 takeaways and tied for 12th with 31 sacks. They got two more takeaways and three more sacks Sunday.
On the flip side, the Eagles are prone to big plays, a recipe for disaster, especially when you rely on a dink-and-dunk offense with no deep receiving threat. According to CSN Philly, they had allowed 26 plays of 30 or more yards this season, which was the third most in the NFL. They allowed three more in this game.
"If there is one place we can improve . . . it's in the big plays," Jenkins said. "That's in the run game and the pass game. It's not just one group that we have to fix. It's our defense as a whole. One of the things that come are big plays when you play an aggressive style of defense."
One came at the end of the first half and another came in the fourth quarter when the Ravens used a misdirection flip play to take advantage of a hard-charging rush on first down by defensive end Brandon Graham. Running back Kenneth Dixon rushed for a 16-yard touchdown on the play after blowing past a retreating McLeod at the goal line.
For the fifth straight game, the Eagles had allowed 26 points or more. Tune in Tuesday to find out how Jim Schwartz felt about it.