Jim Schwartz uses heavy dose of blitz to help Eagles beat the Jaguars
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz went out of character Sunday and used a heavy dose of blitzing against Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. The strategy helped the Eagles earn the win.
LONDON — Jim Schwartz makes no secret of the fact that he doesn't have a huge appetite for blitzing.
The Eagles defensive coordinator prefers to rely on his front four to get pressure on the quarterback and drop his other seven defenders into coverage.
In last week's ugly fourth-quarter collapse against the Panthers, Schwartz blitzed just four times on 41 pass plays. The week before, against the Giants, he blitzed Eli Manning only once in 47 pass plays.
The Eagles' 16.8 percent blitz rate in their first seven games was one of the lowest in the league.
But on Sunday, in a game the Eagles needed to win in the worst way, Schwartz underwent a dramatic metamorphosis.
He became Blitzin' Jimmy.
"That might be the most he's blitzed in his career," safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the Eagles sacked Blake Bortles four times in a 24-18 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"But it worked. Guys were getting to the quarterback. Especially early. Bortles eventually started stepping up and avoiding some of the rushes, so we had to take our foot off the gas a little bit. But especially early, it worked really well for us.''
Bortles completed just 24 of 41 passes and threw for only one touchdown, an 11-yard third-quarter score to wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who beat Jenkins on a double move.
Jenkins got his revenge early in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were trying to protect a five-point lead and the Jaguars had the ball in the red zone. He knocked away a second-and-10 pass for Westbrook in the end zone. The Eagles ended up forcing Jacksonville to settle for the third of four Josh Lambo field goals.
"I was supposed to be blitzing on that play,'' Jenkins said. "We got misaligned and I saw that nobody was covering [Westbrook]. I figured they'd try to throw that ball with that matchup. Fortunately, I was able to get a hand on it."
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Schwartz doesn't talk to the media after games, so he wasn't available to tell us exactly why he decided to go out of character and blitz so much Sunday.
Bortles is a mobile quarterback – he rushed for 43 yards on eight carries and twice converted a third-and-7 with his legs.
But the Panthers' Cam Newton also is mobile, and Schwartz didn't blitz him much. After watching Newton light up his depleted secondary in the fourth quarter last week, maybe he thought he needed to be a little more aggressive.
Whatever the reason, the strategy worked.
"When we were getting the [defensive] calls in, I'm like, 'Huh? Huh? Huh?' " said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
"We did blitz a lot today. But guys got home when we did it. We always talk about blitzing on our terms. Today, I think we did that."
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The Eagles sacked Bortles three times in the first half, including two on blitzes. Linebacker Jordan Hicks had the Eagles' fourth sack on another blitz late in the third quarter. Before Sunday, the Eagles had had just three sacks all season on blitzes, and only one since Week 1.
Jenkins forced Bortles into the arms of defensive end Chris Long on a third-and-8 blitz late in the first quarter that forced a Jacksonville punt.
On the Jaguars' next possession, Jenkins collaborated with defensive end Michael Bennett on a second-and-9 sack that helped stall another drive and force the Jaguars to settle for a field goal.
"At the end of the day, we knew that the way Bortles was as far as improvising and trying to use his feet, that we were going to be able to get home on a few of those [blitzes],'' Hicks said. "You saw it early. We were able to get home and affect his first read, affect the way he wanted to throw it.''
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Schwartz was criticized the week before for not blitzing Newton more in the fourth quarter when he sliced and diced the Eagles, completing 16 of 22 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers scored on three straight possessions and came back from a 17-0 deficit to hand the Birds their fourth loss in seven games.
"Jim blitzed a lot today,'' said Long, who finished with two sacks, his first ones since Week 1. "He must've been angry.
"He called a really good game. At the end of the day, sometimes, as rushers, you want to rush [without blitzing]. But you trust your DC when he knows the calls to make. And he did that today."
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Schwartz's message to his defense going into Sunday's game was "finish." The Eagles shut down Newton and the Panthers for three quarters last week and ended up blowing the game in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, they built a 17-6 lead on a Jake Elliott field goal and a pair of Carson Wentz touchdown passes to rookie tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Wendell Smallwood.
But then the Jaguars battled back. First, Bortles hit Westbrook with the 11-yard TD against Jenkins. Then another field goal made it a two-point game with 13 minutes left.
But Wentz engineered another touchdown drive, and the defense held the Jags to just one more field goal.
"After that loss last week, we knew we didn't finish that game,'' Cox said. "We knew we had to go out there today and finish. Rally together.
"There was no way we were going to let it happen again. We knew what it felt like last week when it happened. We didn't want that feeling again in this locker room.''
The Eagles already were missing safety Rodney McLeod (out for the season with a knee injury) and nickel corner Sidney Jones (hamstring). Then cornerback Jalen Mills injured an ankle early in the third quarter and didn't return.
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The injuries have forced Schwartz to dig deep for replacements. He moved rookie corner Avonte Maddox to safety to replace McLeod. He struggled last week against the Panthers but had a solid game against the Jags.
The 5-9, 190-pound Maddox made a big drive-stalling third-and-1 stop on 235-pound Carlos Hyde on the Jags' first possession, and forced a momentum-changing fumble late in the second quarter when he dislodged the ball from wide receiver Keelan Cole's hands. It was recovered by Jenkins and led to Wentz's touchdown pass to Goedert.
"I knew I was going to go across his body,'' Maddox said. "I just dived down and tried to hit him my hardest. The ball popped out."
Jenkins said the biggest difference between the defense this week and last week was "our demeanor."
"Except for blitzing more, we didn't really do a lot of things different,'' he said. "We actually played more zone in the fourth quarter today than we did last week, when we played a lot of man.
"But the execution – guys flying to the ball, the emphasis on getting guys on ground – we treated every yard as important. The entire game, there was an emphasis on playing a full four quarters."
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