What’s Going On with Michael Bennett?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Michael Bennett is the best defensive lineman on the best defense of his generation. At 32, however, the three-time Pro Bowl selection has been asked to take on a more scaled-back role than he's used to in Jim Schwartz's rotational system.
On Sunday in Tampa that meant just 24 defensive snaps as the Eagles defense allowed over 400 passing yards and 27 points in a setback to the red-hot Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers.
On one occasion after generating a hurry of Fitzpatrick early in the game, Bennett was taken off the field and looked visibly upset while jawing a bit with defensive line coach Chris Wilson.
That came on the heels of NBC Sports commentator Cris Collinsworth mentioning that Bennett was "unhappy" with the reduced workload during the season-opening win over Atlanta.
Bennett could have quashed the whispers Tuesday in the Eagles' locker room. Instead, he insisted he was done doing media.
"I've been talking for 10 years, I don't want to do it anymore. Give the young guys a chance" Bennett said.
Bennett has always been willing to talk to me but only about the latest episode of "Ozark" or the new "Jack Ryan" offering on Amazon, not all that much about football.
He finished the Bucs game having played just 41 percent of the snaps in the oppressive heat of Central Florida, a number less than each of the other three ends in the rotation, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Chris Long.
Schwartz defended Bennett on Tuesday.
“I think he works hard and when he goes on the field, he plays hard and he’s been producing for us," the DC said. " ... We only had 58 or 59 true snaps in this game. I mean, it would be great [if] we played 120 snaps and everybody could play 60 snaps on the defensive line, but that wouldn't be good for our defense."
The disconnect seems to be a successful plus-30 player used to playing more not understanding that a pitch count could keep him from wearing down later in the season.
In Schwartz's mind, however, Bennett has been just as unselfish as any other of his D-linemen.
“I think our guys are unselfish, and you have to look at the production of our group," he explained. "I think we can be more productive than we were. When we started off, we got a lot of pressure on the quarterback early. As the game went on, we weren’t playing with the lead, the quarterback wasn’t forced to hold the ball and all of a sudden, we weren’t able to get the same pressure. Whether it's one person or not, what I see from Mike is when he goes on the field, he plays hard for us, and I appreciate that.”
Perhaps the dust-up with Wilson was just a heat of the moment thing regarding scheme, anger over something that happened on the field or what it looked like, a player unhappy about being pulled off the field.
As long as Bennett is silent we will never know.
Later in the first half against the Bucs, Bennett failed to play assignment football on one rush resulting in an 8-yard TD throw from Fitzpatrick to Chris Godwin.
“We had a lot of guys that were trying to make a play," Schwartz explained. "What happens is that sometimes rather than do your job, you press to try to make a play and all of a sudden you end up giving up plays. And what Mike was trying to do there, we’re backed up, he’s trying to make a play, get a sack, get a jump, get a tackle for a loss, something like that. He got too aggressive."
And maybe that's your answer. With fewer opportunities perhaps Bennett is pressing to make plays.
The problem here is the context has to be replaced by speculation because Bennett will not offer the former.
In his defense, however, season two of "Ozark" is streaming right now on Netflix.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen