Philadelphia Eagles News

Jim Schwartz recaps the defense's performance at Washington

The Eagles' defense was on the field for 70 plays during Week 1 and the majority of them were positive, as the unit held the Washington Football Team to a mere 3.4 yards per play.

However, it only takes a handful of plays to put a damper on a good day. Regardless of allowing the fewest yards of any team in Week 1, the scoreboard read Football Team 27, Eagles 17.

So, what went wrong on that handful of plays? According to Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, two things stuck out: A lapse in communication and poor execution in the red zone.

The miscommunication was clearly evident on Washington's first touchdown, as quarterback Dwayne Haskins spotted tight end Logan Thomas all by himself in the end zone, making for an easy touchdown before the end of the first half.

The Eagles still held a 10-point advantage, but the score sparked Washington's momentum, which it carried throughout the second half on its way to victory.

"The way those go, you can be 95 percent, which pretty much any grading sheet is an A, but that one error at a critical time can be the difference between a win or a loss," Schwartz told reports Tuesday. "That's sort of the edge we had to play with in that game."

The breakdown in communication can be chalked up to a lot of new pieces in the secondary still figuring each other out. The hope is to clear that up in the meeting rooms and on the practice field this week and beyond.

A more alarming issue is the lack of execution in the red zone, which has been a pillar of Schwartz's defense over the years. Yes, Washington's offense was in the red zone because of turnovers giving it short fields, but at the end of the day, the defense was unable to hold Haskins and Co. to field goals. 

It's something that safety Rodney McLeod took personally.

"I think there's always room for improvement," McLeod said Tuesday. "We didn't play great because we didn't win, and we didn't find a way to prevent them from scoring in the red zone. We take pride in that."

Outside of that handful of negative plays, there were a lot of positives to take away from the defense's performance. First on the list has to be Darius Slay, who lived up to his billing as a shutdown cornerback after holding wide receiver Terry McLaurin to only two receptions, according to Schwartz, while covering him man-to-man.

"All our corners, playing that much man-to-man, put a lot of pressure on those guys," Schwartz explained. "Didn't give up a lot of big plays down the field, which I thought was encouraging. Doesn't change the result. Like I said, binary game. You don't get any bonus points for how one individual played or how one group played. But I was pleased with what he was able to do with some tough duty."

Another standout was defensive end Josh Sweat, who Schwartz praised for the strides he has taken as he enters his third NFL season. Sweat showcased that improvement Sunday with a strip-sack and six tackles.

"He's always had a lot of ability, but like a lot of other players, he just needed to refine his game a little bit more," Schwartz said of Sweat. "I think he's going to be a big contributor for us this year." 

As the Eagles turn the page to Week 2, there is another daunting challenge awaiting them in the form of Sean McVay, Jared Goff, and the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams bested the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, 20-17, thanks to a ground attacked that netted 153 yards.

"If you don't stop the run, they're going to keep on running it," Schwartz said. "They controlled that game on Sunday with about 150 yards rushing, all those attempts (40). I think a lot of that is in our hands. They're going to stay committed, but how committed they are is really going to depend on how well we're doing against it. If we're doing a good job on that, and also in conjunction with that not giving up big plays down the field." 

"It's easy to sell out on the run, but at what expense?" Schwartz asked. "Do you give up big plays down the field as a result? That's not a good formula either, so we have to balance both of those. If we're doing a good job stopping the run, I think that can sort of change their opinion of it a little bit." 

Emphasizing the run game has been a staple of McVay's offense since he has been in the league, as it sets up the play-action pass, which could lead to big plays down the field. The Rams also use a lot of pre-snap motion to keep defenses off balance.

The Eagles are one of the few teams that have slowed McVay's Rams down over the years, with wins over them in 2017 and 2018. But with no meeting between the two in 2019, Schwartz and McLeod are expecting a lot of new wrinkles in 2020.

"They took some steps," Schwartz said of the Rams' offense. "They expanded their options a little bit more in some of their run and pass game. We're going to have to make some adjustments based off of that. No different than any team. Probably a little bit more high profile."

"We're going to have to be real good with our eyes this week, take a real close look at the run as well as the play-action pass to see if we can get some early tells," McLeod said. "We got to find a way to make those plays. We have in the past and I think we will moving forward."

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