McMullen: Jenkins Saves the Eagles with Pragmatism
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - If you're looking for a theme to the 2018 NFL season it's probably going to be the explosion of offensive numbers and the blown coverages that helped create them.
The Eagles defense has had many of those kinds of moments this season and more were expected on Sunday against the New York Giants with the top five cornerbacks on the opening-day roster down because of injury.
One moment forced Malcolm Jenkins into action, however.
It was when blocking tight end Rhett Ellison leaked out and was left alone to streak down the right side of the field for an easy 20-yard gain right before Saquon Barkley exposed what has been the little-used ole defense for a 51-yard touchdown run.
It was the low point of a 346-yard half for the Philadelphia defense and if the opponent was the Saints again bet your bottom dollar the damage would have been far worse than 19-3.
The Giants, however, are bad for a reason and the tale of two halves ended in a 25-22 Eagles win as our old friend Pat Shurmur seemed to forget Barkley existed in the final 30 minutes while Eli Manning didn't exactly turn into a pumpkin but he did revert back to being Eli Manning, a supposed future Hall-of-Fame QB who now dropped 18 of 22 against the Birds.
Simplifying things for the youngsters like Chandon Sullivan, who ultimately left with injury, Cre'Von LeBlanc, De'Vante Bausby and Tre Sullivan turned out to be the answer, a common-sense one that probably should have been in the game plan to start.
Earlier in the week this reporter even asked Doug Pederson if expecting players with little experience in the defense to communicate like the starters was the proper path to walk down.
"Well, I mean, you expect them to play well," the coach said. "The expectation is, yeah, because they've been here and they've been in those meetings, and they've heard [Defensive coordinator] Jim [Schwartz] talk about defensive calls, they've heard [Defensive backs coach] Cory [Undlin] or [Safeties coach] Tim [Hauck] talk about defensive calls, alignment, assignment. The expectation is they have to go and do their job. They have to embrace that."
The whiteboard isn't the playing field, though, and when the bullets were firing the squad leader on the front line was imploring the higher-ups to take a more pragmatic approach.
“Yeah, just from a secondary standpoint," Jenkins said of his request. "You know, help us get lined up, give us something simple to play, our base bread-and-butter stuff that everyone knows. And it just gave us a little bit of a boost because guys could settle down, could communicate, get lined up and at least be in position to make plays.”
The tweak worked, particularly, for Bausby and LeBlanc, who looked like competent options on the outside down the stretch.
“That’s exactly what happened," Bausby said when asked about the change. "We stuck to our championship defense stuff in the second half and you saw the protection second half versus the stuff we were doing in the first half that was kind of out of whack. Their tempo was kind of fast so we couldn’t really make adjustments. They were breaking from the huddle and saying ‘hike’ so the second half we just stuck to our basics and got the job done.”
Simple isn't always better and if the Eagles are able to get Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas back in the lineup in the coming weeks, Schwartz can get back to being more multiple.
For one Sunday in November, though, scaling it back was the only way and you have Jenkins to thank for opening the eyes of the coaching staff.
"I tip guys in the secondary being able to communicate and get settled down to [get] more emphasis and pressure on our front four to kind of take over the game that took an adjustment from Jim Schwartz to change the game plan to put us in some calls that allowed us to play fast and at least get lined up," Jenkins explained. "We were having a tough time there. So all of those things together, we were able to get back to the style of defense we like playing. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but we just have guys that continue to believe and continue to fight.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen