Add Accountability to Eagles’ Problems
By Rob Maaddi
Jim Schwartz went from pointing the finger at himself after his defense was terrible against the Rams to deflecting blame following another dismal effort at Pittsburgh.
The Eagles have plenty of problems. Add accountability to the list. Schwartz’s defense wasted a 29-point outburst by the offense and a breakout game by Travis Fulgham in Sunday’s loss. The Steelers had their way against the Eagles, racking up 38 points.
The defense’s biggest mistake was a coverage that left linebacker Nate Gerry on wide receiver Chase Claypool, a rookie who already accounted for three touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger saw the mismatch, changed the play, and tossed a 35-yard TD pass to Claypool on third-and-8 to seal the win.
Pittsburgh used a formation with four wide receivers and one tight end that it hadn’t tried before. Tight end Eric Ebron normally lines up inside, but Claypool was there instead and Gerry was the guy trying to stop him. It didn’t work out for the Eagles. It usually doesn’t when Gerry is in coverage.
Afterward, safety Rodney McLeod said: “Ideally, would we like Nate to be on a receiver? No. We would prefer a defensive back. But that was the call that was made defensively and they checked to a good play.”
Claypool said he had to ask Roethlisberger what to do at the line of scrimmage after the veteran QB called an audible so Big Ben essentially told him and the Eagles the route to run. Gerry still couldn’t stop it.
Schwartz insisted he called the right coverage.
“What we had called was good against what they had called, but Ben recognized it,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “It’s probably inside of the 15 seconds for being able to change the call. I think that it just turns into every defense has a strength and they also have spots that aren’t as strong. Ben went to the spot right there, they made the play.”
Schwartz said he was “being aggressive” and “trying to stop the first down” to hold the Steelers to a long attempt at a field goal.
Aggressive would’ve been a blitz. Roethlisberger said he expected the defense to come after him on that play. Instead, he saw coverage with a slow LB on a speedy WR.
“There are probably different things we can do, but what that does is that puts the stress on other people on the defense,” Schwartz said. “You blitz, you put the pressure on the corners, you play man, you have pick problems and you put the pressure on those guys. There’s no magic answer for any of those situations, but I think the bottom line is, we’re playing aggressive.
We’re trying to keep them out of field-goal range right there. They made us pay for that aggressiveness.”
Then Schwartz passed the buck onto coach Doug Pederson when asked about calling a time-out in that spot to reset the defense.
“That’s always been the head coach’s responsibility here,” Schwartz said. “There’s been a couple times over the years that we’ve had 10 guys on the field and that’s up to Doug. Doug has to weigh that with saving time-outs for if we get them stopped and we’re trying to go down and kick a game-winning field goal. You look at the end of our first half, boy, what a difference one time-out would have made for us in kicking a field goal at the end of the first half. That really never enters our thought process on defense.”
To sum up, Schwartz insists he had the right coverage and calling a time-out isn’t his responsibility. What about using Gerry for every snap when he’s clearly a liability? Schwartz put that on Pederson and GM Howie Roseman.
“I’ll leave team building stuff and roster management to Doug and Howie,” he said. “I’m confident in the guys we have. We’re getting the young guys up to speed. I think our emphasis is on 11 guys playing better, not any one position.”
Pederson gave Schwartz full control of the defense. He should have say in defensive personnel. He should have say in calling a time-out near the end of a game to try to prevent a loss.
More issues are piling up but the NFC East is so weak the Eagles should stay in the race until the end.