TO BLITZ OR NOT TO BLITZ? TOO OF­TEN THE QUES­TION FOR EA­GLES DE­FENSE

Schwartz shouldn’t have to rely too of­ten on blitzes be­cause they do back­fire

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Fierro

PHILADEL­PHIA — To blitz or not to blitz is a ques­tion that Philadel­phia Ea­gles de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz wres­tles with far too of­ten these days.

He may have called one too many Sun­day night against the At­lanta Fal­cons, turn­ing the game into a Shake­spearean tragedy for his squad, which bat­tled so hard to come back and fi­nally get a lead — only to lose it on the en­su­ing Fal­cons se­ries when the home team saw what was com­ing and the Ea­gles did not.

Fal­cons quar­ter­back Matt Ryan not only beat a blitz, he beat a zero blitz, in which there is no deep help, on a fourth-and-3 when he turned to his left and fired a screen to wide re­ceiver screen to Julio Jones in the flat. Left tackle Jake Matthews leaked out and buried tiny Avonte Mad­dox, who didn’t dis­sect the play un­til that ex­act mo­ment.

It was the same play, ac­cord­ing to Schwartz, the Fal­cons tried to run ear­lier, without suc­cess. But by the time they tried it again, they were a lit­tle wiser.

“This was the type of game where it’s prob­a­bly the most all-out pres­sure I’ve seen in my en­tire ca­reer, con­sis­tently through­out the course of the game,” Ryan said, “and so when you’re go­ing against that, there’s go­ing to be feast and famine. There’s go­ing to be some re­ally good stuff for us and then there’s go­ing to be some stuff that doesn’t go our way.”

The Ea­gles mostly feasted un­til that point, with three in­ter­cep­tions and a de­fen­sive ef­fort that lim­ited the Fal­cons to 17 points, which in­cluded a short-field touch­down after Corey Cle­ment fum­bled away the sec­ond-half kick­off.

That they were made to pay for that feast with a loss un­der­scores the weekly dilemma that Schwartz faces. Clearly he would pre­fer never hav­ing to send more than four pass-rush­ers at the quar­ter­back. So when he does, he wants a payoff.

Doesn’t have to be a pick, doesn’t even have to be a sack. It can just be an in­com­ple­tion or a com­pleted pass that’s stopped short of a first down.

“We took an ag­gres­sive ap­proach, tried to win the game right there. We could have sat back and said, ‘OK, let’s be safe here, let’s hold them to a field goal.’ I think part of it was know­ing that … we could win the game right there or go a long way to win­ning the game.” —Jim Schwartz, Ea­gles de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor on a late blitz against the Fal­cons

What it can’t be is a 54-yard touch­down, be­cause that leads to ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing at least one of his own play­ers, sec­ond-guess­ing his calls and to more blitz-themed ques­tions that he’d pre­fer not to have to an­swer at his weekly press con­fer­ence.

Here’s safety Mal­colm Jenk­ins, min­utes after the game: “It was a good ad­just­ment by them. I think we’ve seen one blitz a lit­tle too many, but that’s how it goes.

“A screen is what you want to run to a zero pres­sure. They checked to that, we didn’t have an an­swer, so he stepped back, they picked our guy and it was off to the races.”

Here’s Sch­warz on Tues­day af­ter­noon: “I don’t know that we re­ally blitzed a whole lot more than we did in the first week. It was maybe a lit­tle bit more all-out blitz. Just a cou­ple snaps here and there. I thought a cou­ple times, it was pretty well ex­e­cuted and we were able to get some key stops and get a turnover. But … we paid the price for it on that last play.

“Ev­ery game’s dif­fer­ent. They were pro­tect­ing their edges. They were chip­ping our de­fen­sive ends quite a bit. They were a lit­tle bit more vul­ner­a­ble to the in­side at times. Where you saw us get free, we were on the in­side. Ev­ery week it’s dif­fer­ent. Ev­ery week it’s a dif­fer­ent quar­ter­back, it’s a dif­fer­ent set of re­ceivers. I mean, you wres­tle with ev­ery part of the game plan weekly. No dif­fer­ent than that.”

Yet no mat­ter how much he tries to down­play it, the de­ci­sions get harder ev­ery week, and he shouldn’t have to face these cross­roads so of­ten.

But what’s be­come ap­par­ent is that op­po­nents are go­ing to keep all kinds of ex­tra per­son­nel in to block against the Ea­gles, fig­ur­ing their chances are good no mat­ter how Schwartz reacts.

If the Ea­gles are left with a num­bers ad­van­tage in cov­er­age, op­po­nents like their chances of hav­ing a re­ceiver pop open with the ex­tra time all their ex­tra block­ers give their quar­ter­back be­cause the se­condary can’t cover long enough.

If they send ex­tra rush­ers, they of­ten don’t get home any­way, and the ball just comes out quicker any­way, like it did on the game win­ner.

The Ea­gles have just two sacks in their first two games. One was on a blitz by safety An­drew Sen­dejo. The other was by Tim Jerni­gan, who now is out in­def­i­nitely with a foot in­jury. None have come from Fletcher Cox or their de­fen­sive ends.

So with all of this swirling in Schwartz’s mind on fourth-and-three with just over two min­utes re­main­ing and the Ea­gles try­ing to pro­tect a three-point lead, he pushed all his chips to the mid­dle of the ta­ble.

The Fal­cons called.

“We took an ag­gres­sive ap­proach, tried to win the game right there,” Schwartz said. “… We could have sat back and said, ‘OK, let’s be safe here, let’s hold them to a field goal.’ I think part of it was know­ing that … we could win the game right there or go a long way to win­ning the game. Or even if we gave up a play, we had con­fi­dence our of­fense was go­ing to get the ball back and have a chance to play, too, so that goes into it.”

Given his per­son­nel and the sit­u­a­tion, Schwartz made the only call he could make, but a call he also should not have been in po­si­tion to make in the first place.

In­jury re­port: It ap­pears the Ea­gles will be without wide re­ceivers Al­shon Jef­fery and DeSean Jack­son for at least the next two games.

Jack­son, ac­cord­ing to ESPN’s Tim McManus, is ex­pected to miss two weeks with an ab­dom­i­nal strain. Jack­son played only 11 snaps in Sun­day night’s loss to At­lanta. He had eight catches for 154 yards and two touch­downs — both over 50 yards — in the Week 1 win over Wash­ing­ton.

The Ea­gles have yet to make an an­nounce­ment re­gard­ing any of the play­ers in­jured Sun­day against At­lanta.

Jef­fery, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Net­work, has a strained calf, and his sta­tus for the next two games is “in some doubt.”

Rapoport also re­ported run­ning back Corey Cle­ment (shoul­der) likely will miss a week or two, and de­fen­sive tackle Tim Jerni­gan (foot) will be out about a month.

The Ea­gles face the Li­ons on Sun­day at the Linc and head to Lam­beau Field for a Thurs­day night game against the Pack­ers.

JOHN BAZEMORE/AP

At­lanta wide re­ceiver Julio Jones couldn’t be caught on this game-win­ning touch­down against the Ea­gles, who gam­bled with all-out pres­sure on the play.

MATT ROURKE/AP

MICHAEL PEREZ/AP

DeSean Jack­son, left, and Al­shon Jef­fery will each miss at least the next two games with in­juries.

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