After two games this season, the Eagles defense has played one very good game at home and one very poor game on the road. There is a lot more that goes into a performance than simply the location of the game, or the influence of the crowd, or the familiarity of the setting, but this is not a new trend for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
In the 34 regular-season games under Schwartz, the defense has given up an average of 13.9 points at home and 23.6 points on the road. That's quite a disparity, and one that can't simply be explained by the fact that the opposing offense can operate with the crowd's support and relative silence at home, while it must contend with the vociferous screams of Eagles fans in Lincoln Financial Field.
Two seasons plus two games is not necessarily a reliable sample, either, but until the Eagles break the trend, it's worth trying to figure out. Schwartz has looked at it, too, and he hasn't come up with the answer yet.
"I don't know. We don't change game plans when we go on the road. I don't think an airplane trip is going to affect our performance very much," Schwartz said. "Small sample sizes can change that, but I don't want to discount the data because I definitely think it's an advantage to play at home."
The Eagles offense has to contend with reverse conditions for each game, of course. It isn't as easy to audible on the road. It has to rely on a silent count, while at home, the communication is smoother.
"I think they call that the home-field advantage. We know our crowd is really loud. I know it impacted Atlanta's offense," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "You could see how tight they were in the huddle just trying to call the play. From that standpoint, it slows your operation down, and you've got less time when you get to the line of scrimmage to make the checks or get into the right play or out of a bad play."
And sometimes, you just can't get the message out.
"If you're changing a play, there [are] signals that are incorporated," Groh said, "but the line has got their heads down, they can't see the signals, so you have to be communicating those verbally to get plays changed, and things like that, and crowd noise can affect those things."
If all things were equal, which they usually are not, you would then expect the Eagles offense to have the same sort of disparity in its production at home and on the road. If the defense suffers so badly on the road and succeeds much more often at home, that should also hold true for the offense. In fact, however, that's not the case. There is almost no disparity in point production for the offense.
Since Doug Pederson has been head coach, with first Frank Reich and now Groh as his offensive coordinator, the Eagles offense has averaged 23.8 points at home and 22.7 points on the road. During that 34-game, regular-season span, the offense has scored 20 or more points on the road 13 times, and only 10 times at home.
It is a remarkably consistent output, and a testament to the firepower of Carson Wentz, who started 29 of those games, but it doesn't really explain why the defense is so hot and cold depending on where the game is played.
"You strive for consistency, home and away," Schwartz said. "And it's not like people are running different plays on the road. Generally, you're not playing different teams…we need to be more consistent on the road."
That will particularly be the case if the Eagles are unable to secure home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs, as they did last season when home wins over Atlanta and Minnesota got them to the Super Bowl. (Under Pederson, the team is 14-3 at home in the regular season and 7-10 on the road.)
Schwartz's defense will be tested this season by the schedule. The Eagles play five teams that had offenses in the Top 10 last year. They've already split with two of them, and face the other three all on the road – Jacksonville, New Orleans and the Rams.
At least there was one thing Schwartz took away from the loss in Tampa during which the Eagles allowed 436 net yards, and that was a doggedness not to quit.
"I'm not happy with the game…it was 27-7, we're on the road, we looked like crap, and it looks like it's not our day," Schwartz said. "And somehow, we found it in us to get a couple stops, [the] offense was able to get a couple scores, and at least we gave ourselves a chance. I've been on the other side of those that can easily turn into 42-7 and they're warming the bus up. Never finding silver linings in a loss, [and] again, not happy with it, but still proud of their effort and their resiliency. Those are things that will carry us a long way."
That's fine as far as it goes, but, for the defense under Schwartz, it hasn't always gone beyond the boundaries of south Philadelphia. Among the many things the Eagles need to figure out, that should be near the top of the list.