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How one false step in secondary proved costly for Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- Following a dominant performance against the Minnesota Vikings back in October, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz noted that the players were executing at such a high level that day it didn't matter what he called, it was going to be successful.

On Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, it went the other way on him.

"In this game, it didn't matter," he said. "Didn't matter what we were calling, it wasn't working."

Schwartz is a big proponent of trying to generate a pass rush with just the four down linemen, but that unit has not been getting home of late. Fletcher Cox has gone eight straight games without a takedown, Brandon Graham has just one in his past six and the team overall has one sack in its past three games.

The numbers are really beginning to stack up against the Eagles. During their three-game losing streak, opposing quarterbacks have completed 72 percent of their passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions against a standard rush, per ESPN Stats & Information. In Weeks 1-10, opposing quarterbacks completed 57.7 percent of their passes against a standard rush, lowest in the NFL over that span.

Given the recent struggles, it's no surprise that many are calling for Schwartz to blitz more. He said he actually dialed up a healthy amount of pressures Sunday -- he contends he called 19 blitzes, two of which were audibled out of -- but they didn't produce the desired results by and large.

That was particularly true on Andy Dalton's 50-yard completion to Cody Core in the first quarter.

"The issue for Philly starts at the line of scrimmage," said former defensive back and current ESPN analyst Matt Bowen. "The first thing you see from [Nolan] Carroll is he takes a false step ... that's when you take a step forward in press man. You never want to do that. You take a false step, it forces you to bring your feet together, it forces you to lean forward, it gets you off balance, and now instead of being able to slide with that inside release, Carroll's got to cross over. So basically he's giving him a free release, and it all started with that false step. So he can't get hands on him now, he can't jam, he can't reroute that inside step."

Carroll does a nice job of recovering, but Core appears to push off. Still playing catch-up, Carroll is knocked off balance. Rodney McLeod is the single-high safety. He hesitates for a split second and takes a bit of a flat angle, per Bowen, allowing Core to pick up valuable yards after the catch to set up a touchdown.

The Tyler Eifert touchdown in the second quarter, in contrast, came on a four-man rush by the Eagles. Bowen identifies that they're in quarters coverage. McLeod ends up on Eifert. Guarding against an inside route, McLeod ends up in a tough position as Eifert breaks for the back pylon. Though it was a tough assignment, McLeod acknowledged that there is room for improvement.

"I would say, possibly tighten up a little bit, try to get my hands on him and go from there," he said of what he could have done differently.

Bowen also believes that Carroll, instead of being so aggressive on the outside receiver, could have perhaps stayed back to be in position to help.

"On both of these plays, you're seeing guys that, their technique needs to be fixed in those situations," said Bowen. "You go into the film room on both of these plays and say, 'hey look, the coverages are fine, the calls are fine, we've just got to execute better.'"

The Eagles yielded 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air to a struggling Bengals offense, and one of the top defenses in the league in the early going has surrendered an average of 28 points per game during the recent three-game slide.

"You know, for nine weeks you probably could not mention best defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles. The last three, you probably can't mention worst defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles," said Schwartz, who believes the recent issues in the secondary come down to technique and confidence. "Hey, facts of life, man. That's what it is. Same scheme, same players. I mean, other than [injured cornerback] Ron Brooks, pretty much the same bunch. We're in a slump. You know? We have to own that."