Lack of Size on the Outside is Hurting Eagles Defense
PHILADELPHIA - Jim Schwartz dropped some knowledge earlier this week that helps explain why the Eagles are struggling on both sides of the football.
"There's an old saying in the NFL that if it's man-to-man, the receiver's open," the Eagles defensive coordinator said.
For this exercise, we'll leave Carson Wentz's struggles with chemistry and trust in his young receivers for another time but for Schwartz's defense, the sentiment explains what's going on at cornerback, particularly opposite of Darius Slay where the Eagles have been trying to get by with 5-foot-9 Avonte Maddox.
More so, when Maddox was down with an ankle injury for three games in October, Schwartz and secondary coach Marquand Manuel rolled through a host of options, most of them better suited for slot like Nickell Robey-Coleman (5-8) and Cre'Von LeBlanc (5-10).
The issue showed up against the New York Giants in last Sunday's 27-17 setback just when the Eagles seized momentum on a long Boston Scott touchdown run.
In theory, a young team like the Giants who hasn't figured out to close games all that well was on the ropes. In practicality, Daniel Jones went after the Eagles' undersized CBs for back-to-back big plays. On the first Sterling Shephard beat Maddox on a slot fade and the next saw Golden Tate rise above NRC to snare a 50/50 ball.
Order was restored and the Giants went on to win and halt their eight-game losing streak against Philadelphia.
"That was huge (in the game)," said Schwartz. "We had gone to more man-to-man because there were a lot of those plays (Jones) was fitting into some of those windows and we were inches away from making those plays.
“We started playing more man-to-man to tighten those things up and when you do it makes you a little bit more vulnerable down the field and we need to respond in those man-to-man situations."
Making matters worse is how former Eagles' CBs, who match up better from a physical perspective outside the numbers, have been playing in other places.
Of the 120 corners who've played enough to be ranked by ProFootballFocus.com Sidney Jones (6-foot) is No. 11 with Jacksonville, Ronald Darby (5-11) is No. 15 with the Washington Football Team, and Rasul Douglas (6-2) has fallen off a bit in Carolina at No. 55.
For comp purposes, Slay (6-foot) at No. 40 and his complements are all near the bottom of the list: NRC (94), LeBlanc (107), and Maddox (112).
Schwartz, though, doesn't think size, or lack thereof in this case, is the issue.
"All our shorter guys have outstanding leaping ability and they have all made plays on contested throws down the field and it really hasn't been a 6-5 guy that out jumps a 5-9 guy or something like that," he said. "I wouldn't really put it up there. We just put it down to technique and finish, and we've had shorter receivers make plays on us.
"I don't think that size mismatch has had a thing. It's been more just execution of a scheme or execution of technique and it also comes from battling, a little bit like the NBA and you can play great defense. They still - the guy hits an 18-foot fall away turnaround and you've just got to say, ‘Hey, great play,’ comeback and defend the next play."
And the teaching points to players who quite frankly aren't producing?
"Getting him covered isn't enough," said Schwartz. "You have to finish with those plays. I thought Golden Tate made an outstanding play. You're not going to make every one of those, but it's a contested play. Their other receivers sort of the same thing. But one little misstep, a slip, allows a second and long play to become a first down or a ball that just gets over our head or something like that.
"Close isn't good enough in this game and we have to win our share."
Close also isn't good enough in evaluating personnel as well and the elevation of 6-1 undrafted rookie Michael Jacquet from the practice squad this week highlights that the Eagles believe they needed a little more size on the outside.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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