When the ball is snapped in a football game, there are 22 players exploding into action with 11 players trying to advance the line of scrimmage, the other 11 guys trying stop that effort.
All kinds of strategies are in play for those frantic few seconds and mistakes are going to happen. Some are obvious – usually a turnover or defender getting beat. Some mistakes are subtle, like with the interior line or a bad call by the coach.
This week, Eagles Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked some questions about the position where players are exposed the most, the secondary.
During the Eagles dramatic 23-17 overtime win of the New York Giants, Malcolm Jenkins made some outstanding plays that were easy for fans and observers to see: four solo tackles including one for a loss. The Pro Bowl safety also forced a fumble and batted down two passes.
Schwartz was asked to talk about Jenkins performances and his role in a run of five good defensive efforts from his defense over the last six games.
“Just very consistent,” Schwartz said. “And that's a hallmark of Malcolm: consistency. Going back to Sid (CB Sidney Jones), that consistency isn't by accident. [Malcolm’s] approach is the same every week. He's a very resilient player, he's a very disciplined player, takes care of his body, takes care of his mind, practices hard, studies hard, he's smart, he's multi-dimensional. All that leads to consistent performances from week-to-week.
“He wears a lot of different hats for us,” he continued. “He's always been a strong tackler. We didn't blitz him a lot in this game -- we didn't blitz a whole lot in this game -- but the one time he did [blitz], he went up and really affected the quarterback; he flushed him out of the pocket and we were able to get a big stop backed up and get the ball back for our offense in that situation. So there's not much on the football field that you don't have confidence giving Malcolm to do and he's proven that over the course of not just this year but over his long career.”
Schwartz was asked if he has seen the same kind of consistency he sees in Jenkins from cornerback Ronald Darby. Darby was the defender of record for both long touchdowns to Darius Slayton - from Eli Manning - in the first half of the Eagles come-from-behind win over the Giants.
“They play different positions,” Schwartz started. “I think that when you say Darby, Darby plays corner. He doesn't play nickel and safety and linebacker and all those things. But there are similarities: his approach is very similar, and he studies the game. All those different things go into it. I think one of the big things you see with corners and when you guys talk about consistency, or we talk about consistency, the corners live in a world that if they make a mistake, it's there for everybody to see.
“Kickers are the same way,” He continued. “Quarterbacks are the same way. Quarterback throws an interception or fumbles the ball, it's there for everybody else to see. He made an error on that play. Defensive tackle makes an error on the play and maybe the run goes for five yards instead of for zero. Or maybe a quarterback buys time in the pocket and completes a first-down and maybe you think that the coverage wasn’t very good.
"But the corners live with that kind of scrutiny and it takes a special kind of guy to be able to do that. And Darby didn't start off that game well. But I will say this, that first touchdown is 100 percent on me. It's not on him. We had a third-and-13, I'm trying to keep him out of field goal range there. It looks like it's going to be a low-scoring game, we have some weather situations coming in and maybe points are going to be at a premium. I don't want to let them get five yards or seven yards to get into field goal range. Generally I don't really care too much about field goals.”
Schwartz was just getting warmed up.
“But if we're in zone defense there and we have more guys at that thing, they make a 10 yard gain and kick a field goal, and all of a sudden we lose by three, you're sitting there saying, ‘Man, we should have been more aggressive to try to get them out of field goal range in that situation,’” Schwartz said. “But that's where we were. We blitzed, we played man, the field was slippery and he's coming for the interception. Eli made a really good throw throwing to the backside hip there because Darby is driving to the break point of that route and Eli saw him, threw the back hip, he was able to make the catch, and then spin out of that tackle and we paid for the touchdown. But I don't view that at all on Darby. I view that 100 percent on me.
“There’s a risk-reward when it comes to being aggressive and trying to keep people out of field goal range and we paid for it with a touchdown there. But I did like the way he bounced back from that first half, when you talk about consistency, it's not just in your play, but in your mindset. He went out and made some big plays for us in the second half and we needed it. We lost J-Mill (Jalen Mills) in that game and lost Rasul (Douglas) on a play later. I don't know that we could have won it if Darby didn't bounce back in that second half.”
You may disagree with him, but you can't say Schwartz doesn't have his players' back. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii