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Eagles’ four-man rush frequency was tops in the NFL

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This is my surprised face...

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Philadelphia Eagles v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2018 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

This is going to shock you, but... the Philadelphia Eagles don’t blitz much. We knew that already, but as Football Outsiders has pointed out, they brought a four-man rush more than any other team in the league last year. There’s several reasons for it; one being their effectiveness at creating pressure without extra help.

“The Eagles were the most frequent user of a four-man rush in 2018 and have been among the leaders each of the last three years. In that time, they have consistently generated pressure without a blitz on about one-third of their opponents’ pass plays.” - Scott Spratt

This confirms what we suspected regarding Schwartz’s blitz rate, which has always been below league average. It also shows his game-plan against the Los Angeles Rams to be that much more of an outlier.

Schwartz has found himself in a couple situations throughout his career that led to less blitzing. Those occurred when he had a stocked cupboard of pass rushers on the front-line. That was the case during his stint with the Tennessee Titans and also for his time with the Eagles.

“[The Eagles] have done a tremendous job of building and replenishing quality defensive line depth by signing players such as Chris Long, trading for players such as Michael Bennett, and drafting players such as Derek Barnett to complement their core duo of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. In 2018, the Eagles were the only team with three players -- Cox, Graham, and Long -- with 30 or more hurries.” - Scott Spratt

The problem for the Eagles was that even when they did get pressure, it wasn’t as effective as it should have been. Ranking 17th in pressure rate on the year is solid considering the lack of extra heat (they rank 8th when bringing only four), but a 23rd ranked DVOA with the opposing quarterback under duress is a poor performance. That highlights an issue with the secondary. I don’t need to tell you, gentle reader, about the week-to-week carousel in the defensive backfield. Still, it’s worth noting because lack of trust from the cover-men hyper-activated Schwartz’s conservative approach.

It wasn’t just Schwartz; another team in the NFC East saw a similar trickle-down effect. New York Giants’ defensive coordinator James Bettcher is known for frequently deploying extra men in the pass rush as part of his creative blitz packages. His blitz rate dropped to 19th - possibly due to a lack of trust with the secondary - and the defense ranked 27th in DVOA with pressure.

Schwartz’s defense ranked 30th in DVOA when coming with a blitz, further causing him to slam the seesaw down on the conservative side. This held true in the playoffs, where he only brought four combined blitzes in two games on third down. One of those was a simulated pressure-turned-spy-turned-green-dog with Nigel Bradham, so it’s hard to even call that a blitz.

There’s one more factor in all of this and it’s something Schwartz has talked about in the past. When the defense doesn’t get home enough over the life of a game, one of the first reports he wants on his desk the next morning is “time-to-throw”. According to PFF, the Eagles didn’t see a single quarterback over a 2.40 time-to-throw average until Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Blake Bortles. Only two ingrained starters out of thirty qualifiers averaged less than 2.40 seconds time-to-throw on the season.

It was around that early-to-midseason period that local media starting picking apart the pass rush while lacking the necessary context of how offenses were avoiding it. That, however, comes with a whole new set of criticisms and context needed concerning Schwartz’s coverage schemes, but that’s another article for another day.

Improved health in the defensive backfield and a step up from one or two of the gaggle of young players at the cornerback position could shift these numbers in 2019. Regardless, the defense has to show improvement in being effective when blitzing and also holding up in coverage when the defensive line creates pressure. Without those two pieces working together at a respectable level, neither matters much.