Schwartz Expects More From Eagles Secondary
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Only a Case Keenum overthrow stopped rookie Terry McLaurin from trumping DeSean Jackson on Sunday and Jim Schwartz is aware his secondary needs to improve if the Eagles plan to go on the road this week and beat the Atlanta Falcons.
As good as McLaurin looked in his NFL debut, he's not exactly Julio Jones, while Trey Quinn isn't Calvin Ridley and Paul Richardson can't match the skill set of Mohamed Sanu. To make matters worse the typically high-powered Falcons will come into their home opener cranky after being shut down by Mike Zimmer's perennial top-five defense.
That means if Philadelphia plans to start 2-0 the coverage needs to improve, something Schwartz acknowledged on Tuesday.
"We can do better certainly in pass rush but I think in coverage we can make the quarterback hold the ball a little longer and buy time for our guys to get home," the Eagles defensive coordinator admitted.
The entire defense was a little disjointed against the Redskins with players on all levels returning from offseason surgery with little summer work. On the back end, it was Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod both ramping up after ACL repairs.
At corner, there was a rotation on the outside with Darby and Rasul Douglas starting and Sidney Jones mixing in. Schwartz insisted Darby wasn't on a pitch count but cramps to both Darby and slot corner Avonte Maddox caused some juggling. In the end, Darby played 48 snaps (72 percent of the defensive total), with Douglas getting the most work with 56 (84 percent) and Jones toiling in 34 (51 percent).
"There’s no excuse [with the rotation], our guys have all played a lot of football," Schwartz explained. "And it really wasn't pitch counts as much as it was [CB] Avonte went down cramping, Darby went down cramping at one point. We were mixing and matching. Sid was playing the slot. Rotation really didn't work out the way that we wanted to because of Sid going down and playing the slot and then moving outside. But 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."
Keenum piled up 380 yards passing, including a 69-yard touchdown to McLaurin while just missing another long one. Douglas was beaten on the first and Jones the second.
"That was a pressure. Didn't get home on the pressure," Schwartz said of the long TD. "Didn't cover very well. Every play there's a combination of a million things. If a guy doesn't cover well, you can cover it up sometimes with somebody winning in pass rush or somebody winning on the blitz. If a guy covers really good, like we talked about before, sometimes you can cover up a guy not winning in pass rush. That one we had a combination of a lot of different things and we paid the price for it."
In the near-miss Darby failed to drop off into deep coverage and help Jones after McLeod dropped down to check the motion man.
"That actually was another pressure there too. Everybody always wants a blitz, but nobody likes when those deep balls go up against blitz," Schwartz said. "But, yeah, it was a very similar situation. We have to do a better job in coverage, a 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."
There is plenty to clean up as preparation starts in earnest for the Falcons on Wednesday.
"I think you have a tendency when you give up a play to get a little less aggressive in coverage and then we gave up some underneath things," Schwartz assessed. "But there was a lot of different things. Overall, we just didn't, particularly in that first half, didn't have a lot of sync. Our zones weren't good, our man wasn't good, our blitz wasn't good -- we were still stopping the run pretty good -- but whether it was a combination of tackling or angles going to the ball or defending deep to short or playing tight coverage, it just didn't look like us and didn't look like what we'll look like."
According to Schwartz, there is a silver lining to early-season struggles?
“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 - and we deserved that,” said Schwartz. “I would have been booing too.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen