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Eagles' pass defense needs to be better against Jared Goff, Rams

Jim Schwartz notes that giving up 24 points isn't the end of the world, but also says his group is wary of the high-powered Rams.

Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYong Kim

COSTA MESA, Calif. – The official high was 70 degrees under bright sunshine here Tuesday, but the Santa Ana wind was gusty. People were walking around in full winter coats. By Orange County standards, it was kinda chilly.

Jim Schwartz didn't mention this point in talking Tuesday afternoon about his defense's performance in Seattle, but he could have. Relatively speaking, an Eagles defense that hadn't allowed a touchdown in more than two games, that allowed exactly one in the entire month of November, had a terrible night, helping the Eagles stumble to a 24-10 loss.

"We didn't play our best game. I think that was pretty obvious. In all three levels of the defense … I don't know if we had one person on the field who would have considered the game one of their better performances, and quite honestly, we had a lot of guys that it was probably one of their worst performances," Schwartz said.

"I do like this sort of portion of it: To a man, we all recognize we played a poor game, and I'll include myself in that, too. And we gave up 24 points. … Please don't misconstrue that, because we don't take any pride in that, but it shows you a little bit about where our guys are that that's considered a bad performance."

Schwartz was not saying 24 points was OK. He was saying the mistakes were fixable, that Seattle didn't show the NFL some magic formula for beating the Eagles. But he also emphasized that the mistakes have to be fixed, as the team prepares for this Sunday's visit with the 9-3 Rams.

"We have to get back to playing our style of football because the Rams can hang 40 and 50 on people," said Schwartz, who credited the Rams with "the league's highest-scoring offense" though in fact they are tied with the Eagles, each team having scored 361 points in 12 games. (It's possible the Rams' total includes fewer points scored by their defense, but the league ranks them as tied for first.)

Rams quarterback Jared Goff has the league's second-leading rusher, Todd Gurley (939 yards on 223 carries), and Goff commands a diverse passing attack that Schwartz noted also includes Gurley as a significant weapon. (He has 48 catches for 563 yards). Carson Wentz gets a lot of praise for spreading the ball around, but the Rams have four 500-yard-plus receivers — Robert Woods 47/703, Cooper Kupp 51/665, Gurley and Sammy Watkins 31/528, to the Eagles' three – Alshon Jeffery 47/680, Zach Ertz 57/663, and Nelson Agholor 40/599.

This is troubling in light of the three passing touchdowns the Eagles allowed against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Of course, though Goff is having a great year in his second NFL season, he doesn't run around and then find receivers downfield the way six-year vet Wilson did Sunday, in one of the signature quarterbacking  performances of the campaign.

Schwartz indicated that while Wilson is difficult to defend, he shouldn't have been all that much tougher to handle than Carolina's Cam Newton was, had the Eagles played as well as they did at Carolina on Oct. 12.

"We didn't play the pick routes very well. We knew they were coming; we got 'em last year," Schwartz said, referring to Seattle's 26-15 victory against a much less accomplished Eagles defense. "We didn't do a good job, particularly that first drive [on which Seattle took a 3-0 lead], we didn't give up any big plays, but they were methodically moving down the field. We didn't anticipate those well enough.

"After the first series we did a better job, we still didn't do a great job of responding to them. It's built in; when you play man-to-man, you're going to get those kinds of rubs and picks and all those things. There are things we can do with alignments, [playing] up vs. off, press vs. off in some of those situations, and we weren't in the best positions on some of those plays.

"After that, a great deal of it had to do with Russell Wilson extending plays, not only putting pressure on the coverage but also forcing some penalties that were a little bit out of character for us. We gave up [four]  first downs with penalty. On the road, against a really good team and a good quarterback, that's a bad formula … that kept some drives alive and probably had a lot to do with us losing that game."

Defensive end Brandon Graham said Schwartz blamed himself as much as his players when they went over the loss. Asked Schwartz's message, Graham said the coordinator was "challenging himself, saying what he can get better at, and then we're talking about what we can get better at as a team. … Everybody respects that. …. He said he's going to do better and we promised we're going to do better, and move forward."

Graham allowed that Wilson is "one of the greats," but also said: "We can't put a performance out there like that. … It was just little things that we didn't do. … Somebody lets one guy go, that turns into a first down. So many different things that we didn't do that weren't our characteristics. We wanted to make sure we got back to [that] this week."

Though they find themselves in a foreign environment, a different weekday routine, Graham said there is no confusion or wandering focus.

"Everybody's focus [is] locked in. We want to get back to that feeling of, you know, winning. I really believe that everybody took that loss and knew that we went out there and we gave 'em one," he said. "We gotta make sure we're at our best at all times."

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