Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz is ticking off the areas in which the Eagles had, in his previous four seasons here, excelled: Red zone defense, third-down efficiency, stopping the run, taking the football away. All are, of course, important defensive statistical categories. And all four are, right now, areas in which the Eagles are struggling.
Allowing 27 unanswered points in the span of two-plus quarters in the regular season opener at Washington was shocking enough, but then to come back and see the Los Angeles Rams shred the Eagles for 191 rushing yards, score touchdowns on four of five trips inside the 20-yard line, convert 7 of 12 third downs (as well as their lone fourth-down attempt), and protect the football without a giveaway was downright alarming.
But, Schwartz says, the woes from Sunday are not on his players. He's taking responsibility for a game plan that was just, um, too simple.
"The whole sort of theme was to try to make it as simple as we could. We've had success with that in the past. But in an effort to do that, also created a lot of conflict with what the guys were doing. It gave them a lot of stuff to look at," Schwartz said. "What I thought would make it easier didn't make it easier, it made it harder. Looking back at it, I came right in after the game and watched the tape. I really should have had a more complex game plan. It sounds funny to talk about, but a more complex game plan would have narrowed the focus of each individual player. Would have made it more difficult to execute, but it would have narrowed the focus. I think we could have done that. We went to that after about three series. We made a little rally, but it was too late. I take that on myself. It's my job to put the players in good positions. Particularly in the first three series, I didn't do a good enough job of doing that.
"It looked like we were having miscommunications or different things like that and that wasn't the case at all. It was just guys having too big a scope of what they had to do in a particular play and their attentions were divided. Playing a lot of that stuff the Rams do is a little bit like playing triple-option football. You need a person on the dive, a person on the quarterback, a person on the pitch, all those different things. And that's sort of what you had to do to them. That's where we got derailed. I take 100 percent responsibility for that."
Taking responsibility is one thing. Fixing the problems is another.
That's the next step for a defense that ranks 27th in the NFL in red zone play, 10th in third-down effectiveness, 22nd against the run, that has yet to produce a turnover, and one that has registered four quarterback sacks.
Yes, there is some work to do here as the Eagles prep for a Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) team that features No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow, a two-time 1,100-yard runner in Joe Mixon, and outstanding receivers like A.J. Green (still working his way back from an injury) and Tyler Boyd.
Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field (1 PM kickoff, CBS) won't be easy.
"I don't know where we are right now. I know last year at some time I had checked, we don't give up 30 points very much," Schwartz said. "At one point, again I don't know where it is right now, we were number one in giving up 30 points a game, meaning the fewest times we had given up 30 points. That sort of is my delineation of NFL and then a poor game. You give up 30 points, I don't think you can point to anything that you did well. You guys know, I always feel like if we can keep it under 20, we've really done a good job.
"A lot of that is not scheme, it's not anything other than just sort of knowing yourself a little bit and knowing where your problems are, how to bounce back from a bad game, how to also stop the bleeding during a game, those kind of things. Like I said in that other question, I think that's our biggest thing now. I think that's the biggest thing with coaching. I always felt like I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of our guys. I need to do a better job of that. I need to figure out what our personality is."
The defense has changed, no doubt. Jalen Mills is a starting safety, moving from cornerback. Darius "Big Play" Slay is the premier cornerback. The linebackers are largely new – T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley join Nathan Gerry as the starters. The defensive line has been bolstered by the addition of tackle Javon Hargrave. Maybe it's just a matter of time for all of the pieces to fall into place.
Mills thinks that is the case. As disappointing as the first two games have been, he has high hopes for what is ahead.
"Go out there and be ourselves. The biggest thing, this being my fifth year, we've always faced adversity and the way we handled that was that nobody would do anything uncharacteristic and we would just go out there and be ourselves and play our type of football," Mills said. "I think that's the perfect solution."