Jim Schwartz, Eagles defense will be just fine


That loss was on the defense.

That is definitely a statement that can be made after the Eagles’ 38-29 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, a loss that dropped them to 1-3-1.

Another statement you can make? Not often does a loss fall solely on Jim Schwartz’s defense — and as frustrated as fans might be right now, history shows you likely won’t be blaming the defense for many more losses moving forward.

Since 2016, and prior to this season, the Eagles’ defense had given up 30-or-more points just eight times in 64 games. If you include the playoffs, that number goes up to nine times in 70 games. Schwartz's defense has allowed 20-or-fewer points 31 times since 2016, over three-times as often as they have allowed over 30.

The simple fact is that for all of the personnel issues the defense has had since 2016, rarely do they play as poorly as they did on Sunday, and the majority of Sundays Schwartz’s defense turns in a winnable performance.

The current concern is that Schwartz’s defense, which has never given up over 30 points more than three times in any of the last four seasons, has already done it twice in 2020.

They looked lost against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2. On Sunday they looked overmatched. They aren’t the main reason the team is 1-3-1, but they are the reason they aren’t 2-2-1 coming off of a win over the Steelers.

With plenty of good offenses remaining on the schedule, including next week vs. Baltimore, it is fair to have some concern about the Eagles’ defense and whether it will keep them out of the playoffs.

History shows, however, Schwartz should be trusted to fix the defense — and there is plenty of reason to believe the defense will end up being just fine.

One of the top reasons? The pass rush.

The Eagles went into Sunday with one of the top pass rushes in the NFL. They were No. 1 in the league in sacks before the Week 5 games. That pass rush looked great to start the game, and as a result, the defense did as well. They forced a punt on the Steelers first drive. The Steelers needed 14 plays to go 49 yards on the next drive, and the drive might not have ended in a touchdown if not for a questionable pass interference flag thrown on Darius Slay.

Then, as the pass rush disappeared, the defense fell apart. After coming away with a sack on the opening drive of the game, the Eagles weren’t able to bring Roethlisberger down again the rest of the way. The front four not getting pressure forced Schwartz to try to get creative, and his attempts to blitz didn’t work, which isn’t surprising against a veteran quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger.

Without a pass rush, the back seven couldn’t hold up against Roethlisberger and a very talented group of Steelers’ receivers. That isn’t great, but it is understandable.

If the pass rush turns around, the defense should as well. There is plenty of reason to believe it will. Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham have all been better rushing the passer than expected this season. Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave have done a good job exploding the pocket up the middle. That didn’t happen on Sunday, but there is enough proof over the five five games to believe that it will happen far more often than not the rest of the way.

Although he didn’t have his best game on Sunday, Schwartz also has something he hasn’t had before as he tries to rebound the defense — a No. 1 cornerback.

The Steelers went after Darius Slay often on Sunday, but didn’t have much success doing so. Slay was targeted eight times on Sunday, but allowed on five catches for a total of 47 yards -- and zero touchdowns.

Slay has been outstanding the first five weeks of the season and seems to be the shutdown cornerback the Eagles hoped for. That might not have shown itself on Sunday, but it will be important as the Eagles take on top receivers like Amari Cooper, DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas the rest of the season.

If the pass rush returns and Slay remains at the level he has been this season, it is safe to assume Schwartz can do the rest. After the Eagles' defense allowed 37 points to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2, they rebounded by allowing 23 (in overtime) to Cincinnati and then just 20 the San Francisco 49ers.

This defense won’t be perfect. They might not be a top-five unit.

But they will almost certainly, like they have been each of the last four seasons, be in the top-half of the league in points allowed. They will have stretches where they consistently hold opponents to around 20-points for weeks in a row. They will pressure the opposing quarterback. They won't be lit up many more times like they have twice this season.

And they almost certainly won’t be the reason the Eagles miss the playoffs — despite how ugly Sunday might have looked.

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!