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