Two weeks ago, Jim Schwartz answered questions about whether the Eagles defense belonged in the conversation with the NFL's best. On Thursday, Schwartz needed to answer for a defense that allowed the Green Bay Packers to convert 10 of 14 third downs and served as extras in an Aaron Rodgers highlight reel.
Opinions change that quickly in the NFL. For an Eagles defense that has allowed 826 yards and six touchdowns in two weeks - and has recorded just a single sack and no turnovers during that span - there's a game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals and a chance at some redemption.
But on Thursday, Schwartz still needed to answer for an outing that contributed to the team's plight. At 5-6, the Eagles' postseason hopes are slim.
"We didn't do anything to help our team win," Schwartz said. "You could probably make a case in our other losses that we did something to try to put us in position to win. We didn't always play our best, we might not have played well enough to win, but we did something. Particularly this last game, we were poor on third down, we didn't get turnovers, we allowed long drives."
The reason it remained a topic of conversation three days after the game is that's how long it takes for Schwartz to answer questions. He is not required to speak after games, so Schwartz does not. He believes that only the head coach should speak. But with a structure in place in which Schwartz is in charge of the defense, coach Doug Pederson is not the decision maker for that part of the game. Pederson and the players were left to answer why the Eagles couldn't get off the field on third downs.
"I'm certainly not . . . getting away from accountability," Schwartz said. "There is absolutely no question about that. We are all accountable. I take incredible pride in what we do defensively, and I take ultimate responsibility for what we do on defense. But I'm the defensive coordinator."
The issue of when Schwartz speaks pales in comparison with how his unit plays. Schwartz must determine how to improve the pass rush. His attack-style defense is built around pressuring the quarterback with four linemen without needing to rely on the blitz. The Eagles have invested in their defensive line for this purpose. But in the last five games, the Eagles have only six sacks. In the first six games, they had 20.
Schwartz does not think anything has changed since those first six games. Some of the credit goes to the opponent, Schwartz said. Quarterbacks have made a deliberate effort to throw the ball quickly against the Eagles. That leads to fewer sacks, but also to fewer passes of substantial yardage. So the defense could compensate by getting opponents off the field on third downs, which didn't happen against the Packers.
Schwartz also said the point differential can lead to more to sacks. He noted that "it's easy to rush the passer when you have a good lead," and during the last five games, the Eagles fell into early deficits against every team except Atlanta.
"Regardless of how you get it done, we've got to keep the points off the board," Schwartz said. "Our goal isn't to get sacks, even though sacks help us accomplish that. Our goal isn't to stop rushing yards or stop passing yards. Our job is to keep points off the board, and particularly in these last couple weeks, I don't think we've done a good enough job of that."
The topic of points is relevant because the defense isn't given much of a cushion. The Eagles have not scored more than 24 points since Week 3. Schwartz didn't mention the offense's woes, but it's not as if the defense is losing in shootouts. In fact, the Eagles haven't allowed more than 29 points this season. The 27 points the Packers scored would not have been enough for them to win in their previous four games, when teams scored at least 31 points against Green Bay. If the Eagles offense played better, the talk about the defense this week might be different.
The offense's problems Monday were related to the defense's problems on third downs, because the Eagles had only seven offensive possessions. But the Eagles' 19.4 points allowed per game still ranks fifth best in the NFL. Schwartz said he doesn't have a reasonable objective for the amount of points the defense should allow - "less than what we score," he said - although the Eagles don't have a losing record because of Schwartz's unit. That's why he fielded those questions two weeks ago about whether they should be considered among the NFL's best.
"Our job is to minimize scoring," Schwartz said. "We've been a decent red-zone team. We've been a decent third-down team until this last week. We've got to get back to doing that. . . . I think the big thing that's been missing last couple weeks have been the takeaways and the ability to create lost-yardage plays to put teams behind the chains."
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Matthews, who has a sprained ankle, is expected to play Sunday. Running back Ryan Mathews (knee) and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) did not practice. Tackle Matt Tobin missed practice for the birth of his first child.