Through the Eagles’ first five games of the season, if a complaint was to be levied against Jim Schwartz’s largely impressive defense, it was that the blitzes were few and far between.
Schwartz’s scheme operates from the standpoint of relying on your four men up front to generate enough pressure on the quarterback, without dipping into blitzes too often. But in the Eagles’ two games before Sunday, both losses, the pressure was nearly non-existent against Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford.
Doug Pederson was peppered with questions during the week about Schwartz possibly needing to change things up. Pederson said he wouldn’t bother his defensive guru after just a down game or two. He still had faith in Schwartz’s ability to draw up the right game plans.
Turns out, Schwartz was already dreaming out a blitz-filled Sunday.
The Eagles’ defense went scorched-earth on Sam Bradford, blitzing him early and often and taking advantage of a beleaguered offensive line missing its starting tackles. Bradford was sacked six times, fumbled twice, and never looked comfortable in the pocket.
“[The defense] got it in their mind to play better than last week,” Pederson said after the game, “and obviously it starts up front. It starts with both sides of the ball, offense and defensive lines, and our defensive line really came off the ball today, kind of took it upon themselves to just attack the line of scrimmage and play on their side.”
Sunday’s game presented Schwartz and the Eagles’ defenders with an interesting dynamic, facing a quarterback they knew so well in Bradford because they had just nine weeks ago played on the same team.
The Eagles knew Bradford’s tendencies, and they knew he didn’t excel under pressure the way a guy like Carson Wentz does. So Schwartz decided to tweak his approach to pass rushing and bring legions of rushers.
“There were some curveballs that Jim [Schwartz] put in, to get on the quarterback and blitz a little more,” Fletcher Cox said. “I think we did a great job of timing the blitzes out. I think the four man pass-rush got to everybody.”
Rodney McLeod, who racked up his first sack as well as an interception and a forced fumble, echoed Cox’s sentiments.
“We wanted to bring a little more pressure on [Bradford],” McLeod said. “We’re familiar with him, so knowing that he kind of struggles a little bit when there’s pressure in his face, and once you get a good pass rush on him, you see he’s very effected once we started getting after him. He starts staring down his throws, or having his eyes on the rush more than on his guys down field.”
Bradford finally threw a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but he did it while limping in the red zone after yet another bruiser of a hit. Otherwise, his outing was listless, handicapped by a line which couldn’t keep him upright and a lack of pocket mobility and confidence necessary to combat such deteriorating protection.
It was just the performance Schwartz’s defense needed after two rough outings in a row.
“The mindset all week has been, ‘Let’s get back to playing the ball we know how to play,’” Cox said. “Basically, everyone being where they’re supposed to be. The number one thing we saw today was we got back to where everyone was having fun.”
Jim Schwartz’s defense proved Sunday it can still be the dominant unit it was through the first three weeks of the season. And, just as importantly, it can win the Eagles a few games all on its own.