Plus: Thoughts on the cornerback rotation, Timmy Jernigan, Derek Barnett, and much more.
Tuesday is coordinator press conference day during the Eagles’ regular season schedule so Jim Schwartz stood in front of a podium earlier today to answer questions about why his pass rush wasn’t great against Washington. There were other questions, too, of course. Here’s a look at what Schwartz had to say, along with some thoughts on his thoughts.
COVERAGE IS THE CULPRIT
A lot of Eagles fans rightfully aren’t happy with the team’s pass rush after Week 1. Case Keenum was only sacked once despite the fact he had a 36-year-old Donald Penn and former Giants bust Ereck Flowers among those protecting him.
On Tuesday, though, Schwartz shifted some of the blame off the defensive line and onto the coverage.
Yeah, you’d like to [see more out of the pass rush]. They were doing a lot of double chipping and I think that really what we needed to do was cover better, to be able to get the pass rush home. Including blitzes. You know, blitzes that block ‘em up but you have guys that are adding the running backs and adding themselves to the pressure. I think it was more a case of that. Anytime somebody takes a max [protect] approach — which they did an awful lot, they kept a lot of tight ends in — it’s going to be hard to get there on the outside.
The thing I was probably most disappointed in with pass rush was the last series. You’ve got a two score lead. As long we don’t do something stupid, we’re going to win the game. By something stupid I mean a ball over our heads, keep it in front, let them bleed the clock. But those are good chances to get rush and I think at that point you saw it was the first game for us and a lot of guys were playing their first game of the year and our conditioning probably wasn’t where it can be and where it will be. There were opportunities to make some plays there because there we weren’t getting all those heavy play actions and heavy double chips.
We can do better, certainly, in pass rush but I think in coverage we can make the quarterback hold the ball a little bit longer and buy time for some of our guys to get home.
Keenum wasn’t getting the ball out super quick in Week 1. His average time to throw (2.68 seconds) ranked 28th fastest out of 37 quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Schwartz clearly believes his pass rush needs even more time to get home if his opponents are going to be max protecting.
Maybe it’s not so crazy that Schwartz wasn’t super disappointed in the pass rush? Something to consider:
“Despite bringing only four rushers 84% of the time, Pro Football Focus credited the Eagles’ pass rush with pressuring Keenum on 42.2% of his dropbacks, 7th best on the week.”https://t.co/VFeC8LmMdf— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) September 10, 2019
It sure didn’t feel like the Eagles got as much pressure as PFF suggests they did. They definitely need to do better moving forward.
A SASSY COMMENT ABOUT BLITZING
Yeah, that was another one. There actually was another pressure there, too.
Everybody always wants a blitz but nobody likes when those deep balls go up against blitz.
But, yeah, it was a very similar situation [to Rasul Douglas getting burned for a touchdown]. We’ve got to a little better job in coverage, a little better job in pass rush, and a little better in our overlapping coverage. We were lucky we didn’t pay the price for that one.
It’s true that the blitz wasn’t the Eagles’ solution to getting more pressure on Sunday. As BGN’s Michael Kist previously pointed out:
He blitzed only 16% of the time, but when he did the defense was torched for 12.8 yards per play and it should’ve been more if not for an overthrow from Keenum [to McLaurin]. Blitz effectiveness is something to keep an eye on throughout the season, because it sure didn’t work Sunday.
THE IMPACT OF LOSING MALIK JACKSON
Yeah, we’ll probably be without him for awhile. Malik’s an important part of what we do. We’ll certainly miss him when he’s [not] on the field but we’ve got plenty of guys who can step up and play and that’s nothing new in the NFL. It doesn’t change our task game-to-game and it doesn’t change our task over the course of the year. We’ll get him healthy and get him back. And if I know Malik, he’ll do a good job of staying engaged while he’s rehabbing. I’ve been really impressed with him as a professional, not just as a player but as a professional, I’m sure you guys have too.
CONFIDENCE IN TIMMY JERNIGAN
With Jackson out, Jernigan is in line to start at defensive tackle next to Fletcher Cox. Jernigan had a real good summer; he looked back to his 2017 form, when he was starting for the team. The Eagles really need Jernigan to step up.
It was a tough year for Timmy last year. Coming back from an injury, working hard to get back on the field. It’s tough for any player. But he’s a good player. And we saw that in the plays that he played on Sunday and we’re going to need him to get back to that, which I think he is. He made a lot of plays in training camp practices, maybe some that you guys saw, maybe some that you guys didn’t. But we have a lot of confidence in him, not just against the run but against pass also. That sack that he had was a really, really well-executed stunt between him and Vinny [Curry]. And Vinny was a guy that was good to get back out there, making a contribution to us too. He played physical, brought us some energy. We’re glad to have that back with us. Timmy does the same thing. It was a hurry up situation so you weren’t able to get Timmy’s shimmy, so to speak, after he makes his play, but that brings us energy, anytime he makes a play, it brings us energy on defense.
THE CORNERBACK ROTATION
Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas were the Eagles’ starting outside cornerbacks in Week 1 until Sidney Jones eventually replaced Douglas. Some took that to be a benching for Douglas but Doug Pederson denied that was the case. Schwartz expounded on the Eagles’ corner situation on Tuesday:
It really wasn’t pitch counts as much as Avonte [Maddox] went down cramping, [Ronald] Darby went down cramping at one point, we were mixing and matching, [Sidney Jones] was playing the slot. The rotation really didn’t work out that the way we wanted to because of Sid going down and playing the slot then moving outside.
It’s not ideal long-term but, right now, we’ll do that until we settle in at the position and then see where that takes us.
I think we’d like to get it settled. But we’ve got a lot of guys that can go out there and can contribute. And I think we probably prefer to have different packages for different matchups and things like that.
But when you do have guys who haven’t played in the preseason, guys coming back from injuries and things like that, I think it’s just sort of a fact of life. You get long drives, you get different things. We’re prepared to play it any way. But I think when it gets settled down we’ll be in a good spot because we have a lot of guys that have got experience.
Sure sounds like the Eagles would prefer to find a more permanent cornerback setup that they can stick with at some point as opposed to rotating throughout the entire season.
DEREK BARNETT ASSESSMENT
Sunday was Barnett’s first game played since October 2018. Schwartz was encouraged by what he saw.
Played hard. He always played hard and gives us good energy. There’s some things he can do better. He was playing tough, he was playing physical. He affected the game. He did a good job against the run. Rather not get those two penalties that he got. Those are good learning experiences for him. That one, that guy was going to make that field goal, if he was going to miss it he wasn’t going to be short. But if that had put him close enough that he had barely crossed the bar, that would’ve been a dear penalty in the first half. We have to learn from that, we can’t put ourselves in that position.
Brian Baldinger did a nice job of highlight Barnett’s efforts.
Here’s how Barnett and the rest of the Eagles’ edge rushers ranked in PFF’s pressure rate stat.
Yeah, certainly room for improvement.
A HUMBLING FIRST GAME MIGHT BE GOOD
Schwartz suggested that it might be good that the Eagles didn’t so sharp in Week 1.
I was really proud of the team, not just the defense. I was really proud of the team to come out of halftime the way we did, played a really good third quarter. And everybody always likes to have those games where everything’s going right and you’re doing the Electric Slide and everybody’s into it. And it feels great.
But sometimes long-term it’s better to have a game like we had. And to look bad in the first half. And to get booed off the field. We deserve that. I’d have been booing, too.
But it was interesting because we just weren’t playing good. It wasn’t anything that we needed to particularly address. It really wasn’t a whole lot of changes we made. We really didn’t make a ton of changes at halftime. The guys came out and played with more resolve and played the way that they can. We got third down stops, we played tight coverage, stopped the run, forced some penalties. Our pass rush wasn’t the great as far as sacks and things like that but we forced a lot of holding penalties, which stopped drives or put their offense in tough positions. We’ve just got to get to where we’re coming out and playing that way [from the jump]. No excuses, we didn’t start that game the way we needed to.