They’ve always been resilient.
If there’s one hallmark of a Jim Schwartz-coached defense, it’s that they’ve always had the ability to shrug off bad plays, bad series, bad games and turn things around in a flurry of big plays.
So when Schwartz is asked now about the biggest challenge his group faces right now, he doesn’t talk about red zone or third down or tackling or takeaways or pass coverage.
He talks about figuring out how - or if - this unit can carry on that proud tradition of resilience.
“The area that I'm more on high alert for is our response to adversity,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “Typically, in the past, we've been a team that can weather through a lot of different things. We can set our jaws and make a play. A turnover happens, we get out and get a stop, we can change the momentum of a game with a takeaway or a sack or something like that. I think even though we're struggling in a lot of those other areas, the area I'd really like to see the most improvement is that. That ability to set our jaws and go out there regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, go out there and get those things stopped. Because we're failing in that regard right now.”
Fans turn on Schwartz every chance they get, but his record speaks for itself.
Since he became defensive coordinator in 2016, the Eagles have allowed the 8th-fewest points in the NFL. And that’s with really just two elite players – Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins.
During that span, they’re No. 3 on third down, No. 2 in first downs allowed, No. 1 in rushing yards allowed.
With a Super Bowl championship.
And that trademark resilience.
The Super Bowl is the best example of that. You give up over 600 yards but still make a historic play in the final seconds against the GOAT to win the game?
Or look at the 2018 season, when the Eagles allowed 48 points in a mid-November Superdome catastrophe and then allowed just 18 points a game the rest of the year.
Look at their second halves – they’re the 4th-best second-half team in football since 2016.
Schwartz’s biggest challenge today is to get his battered unit back to the point where they believe in themselves enough to be that unit again.
“I think that's the number one hallmark of coaching,” Schwartz said. “Anybody can go on Madden and copy schemes, go to Wikipedia, do that kind of stuff. That's not coaching. Coaching is understanding your players, what they do well, adjusting to the ebbs and flows of the season, those kind of things. I don't know where we are right now.”
The Eagles have allowed 30 or more points only eight times since opening day of 2016, the fewest in the NFL.
That’s a stat Schwartz likes because it shows a level of consistency over four years, something this year’s team has yet to show.
“A lot of that is not scheme, it's not anything other than just sort of knowing yourself a little bit and knowing where your problems are, how to bounce back from a bad game, how to also stop the bleeding during a game, those kind of things,” he said. “I think that's our biggest thing now. I think that's the biggest thing with coaching. I always felt like I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of our guys. I need to do a better job of that. I need to figure out what our personality is.”
So far, this has been a unit that hasn’t fought back.
They blew a 17-0 lead in the opener in Washington, allowing 27 points in the final 31 minutes.
They allowed 37 points Sunday against the Rams, and the 64 total points allowed is the most any Eagles team has given up through two games since 1971.
This isn’t the most talented defense, so Schwartz knows his group has to out-fight and out-battle and out-grind everybody it faces.
“Every year is going to be different,” he said. “You're going to have a different personality, things that you're really good at, things that maybe you thought you were going to be good at that you aren't.
I think that's probably more of a hallmark of coaching rather than scribbling on a piece of paper and coming up with a blitz or coverage scheme that does something. It's more on a personal level, more on a human level.
This coach, this defense, they’ve found ways for several years now to navigate their way through adversity – blowout losses, double-digit deficits, non-stop injuries.
Even Tom Brady with the football in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl.
The challenge right now may be the biggest yet.