Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was just about five months shy of his 9th birthday when first baseman Lee May was traded from the Houston Astros to the Baltimore Orioles in 1974.
By the time May arrived in Baltimore, he had already made the only three All-Star appearances in his career. But he had something left in his bat, knocking in at least 80 runs in his first four seasons with the Orioles.
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Growing up in Maryland, Schwartz was a baseball fan and for the next six seasons watched the Big Bopper go through his ups and downs in a No. 14 Orioles uniform.
But one thing about May really stood out.
“He was a streaky hitter,” Schwartz said on Tuesday. “He was that guy that when he was hot, it didn’t matter, you could throw him an eye-high fastball and he was hitting hit, change-up, curveball, the ball was probably a beach ball to him and he was just stroking.
“But he could also go into some wicked slumps. Just some awful slumps. … When it’s not going good, it looks like a seed. You’re not hitting it. He had a famous quote one time. They wanted him to take extra batting practice. He said, ‘who’s going to be pitching?’ They said ‘the pitching coach.’ He said, ‘I’m not having a problem hitting him. I’m having a problem with those other guys.’”
For the sake of this analogy, the Eagles are Lee May. And for the last three games, they haven’t been able to hit anything.
There was a time this season – although it feels like forever ago – that the Eagles’ defense was the strength of the team. Schwartz’s unit wasn’t just doing its part, it was carrying the Eagles to what looked like a playoff season.
“For nine weeks, you probably could not mention the best defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles,” Schwartz said.
“The last three? You probably can’t mention the worst defenses in the NFL without mentioning the Eagles. Hey, facts of life, man, that’s what it is. Same scheme, same players, other than Ron Brooks (who’s on IR). We’re in a slump. We have to own that. We’re in a three-game slump.”
Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Eagles had a 5-4 record, which isn't great, but at least had them in the playoff hut. During those nine games, the Eagles allowed 17.8 points per game on 323 yards per game.
In the three games since -- all losses -- they've given up 28.3 points per game on 412 yards per game.
There are plenty of reasons for the demise of the Eagles’ defense. On Tuesday, Schwartz pointed at third-down defense, penalties and the struggling cornerbacks.
“Facts of life, our corners aren’t playing very well right now,” Schwartz said. “Doesn’t mean I’ve lost confidence in them. That’s the same bunch of corners that have shut down some of the best offenses in the NFL.”
The Eagles haven’t yet been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but hoping for the playoffs now would be a fool’s dream. With the last quarter of the 2016 left on the schedule, the Eagles’ defense just has to find a way to be respectable down the stretch.
They have to find a way to break out of this slump.
“Every single guy that I’ve ever heard about getting themselves out of a slump,” Schwartz said, getting back to his baseball analogy, “it had nothing to do with burning his bats or changing his sweatshirt or changing his whole approach. It was always about going back and watching himself be successful.”
Schwartz said his players will spend this week – much like other weeks – looking back at film of what made them so successful early in the season, although he admitted they can’t completely “shy away” from the bad plays either.
“I think in this case, it has a lot to do with confidence,” he said. “We need to get back to that. And they need to know that the first nine weeks, they were respected for what they put on tape and the last three, we’ve been in a slump and we need to get back to those first nine.”