Jim Schwartz might be the defensive coordinator the Philadelphia Eagles need. After years of fielding less-than-satisfactory defense, the Eagles might have finally landed a defensive coach who can lead his group to being a top unit in the league. So why the optimism for a guy who was out of the league entirely last year? In order to better get to know Schwartz, here's some interesting perspective from writers of the last three NFL teams he's spent time with.
1) What was your general impression of Schwartz’s time with the Bills? How much credit does he deserve for Buffalo’s strong performance in 2014? Did the Bills miss him in 2015?
He deserves a lot of credit for Buffalo's defensive efforts in 2014, even though a lot of it had to do with the team fielding a lot of talent and, for the most part, staying healthy throughout the year. People forget that that defense made huge strides under Mike Pettine the year before, and the Bills didn't want to lose him. But after he went to Cleveland, the Bills moved quickly to sign Schwartz, and he came in and fine-tuned everything within his system to make it work. Buffalo's defense was excellent that year.
2) To what extent did Schwartz scheme to the strength of his players versus force them to play in his specific scheme?
Pettine ran a 4-3 Under base with a lot of complicated blitz schemes in 2013. Schwartz didn't blitz much in 2014, basically lining up in standard 4-3, nickel, and dime packages throughout the year with very little variance. I would say that Schwartz ran his defense, and was fortunate that the Bills' personnel was better suited for it than their previous system.
3) Did Schwartz use the wide-9 alignment a lot?
A lot. A. Lot. And it worked out quite well. Jerry Hughes, a lighter speed rusher, had a career year as a pass rusher, and also improved dramatically against the run. The Bills led the league in sacks, and they were the best pass-rushing unit in the league simply by letting their front four go to work. The wide alignment of the ends helped them win one-on-ones on a routine basis, and not only did the run game not suffer because of it, it actually improved.
4) Which unit was the strength of the defense under Schwartz and why?
Definitely the defensive line. Of the four starters, two were first team All-Pros, a third went to the Pro Bowl, and the fourth had 10 sacks and picked up a $45 million contract because of it. But the defense also saw the secondary grow into a strength, and the linebacker play was well above average, as well. It all starts up front, though.
1) What’s your lasting impression of Jim Schwartz as a head coach?
Jim Schwartz was not a very good head coach with the Detroit Lions. My lasting impressions are memories of him yelling at Jim Harbaugh to "learn the ****ing rules," while subsequently throwing a challenge flag on an automatically reviewable touchdown that costed the team later that year.
I like to think that, in hindsight, Schwartz was the perfect hire to dig the Lions out of their miserable 0-16 season and make them sort of relevant again, but he just couldn’t take that next step and make them contenders.
2) Do you think he can be a successful defensive coordinator again? Why or why not?
I think he’s already proven that he’s a top-notch defensive coordinator in this league. In each of his last three seasons as a DC, he’s had a top-5 defense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. To many Lions fans’ chagrin, Schwartz is a damn good DC and proved it by shutting the Lions’ offense down in 2014. He then asked his players to carry him off the field in Detroit to chattering "boos." If it wasn’t Jim Schwartz, I would have respected the trolling.
3) What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Lions’ defense under him?
The defense never really had any consistency under Schwartz. The run defense was never any good, which probably had a lot to do with implementing the Wide-9 (I’m sure Eagles fans are very familiar with that term). The pass defense also struggled for the most part, but then again there wasn’t a whole lot of talent to work with until the later years of his stint. I also have to wonder whether most of the defensive responsibilities were Schwartz’s or Gunther Cunningham’s (our DC at the time). Regardless, the defense was not very good under Schwartz.
4) Did Schwartz have a good relationship with his players?
I can’t remember whether the offense even cared about Schwartz’s departure, but he definitely commanded the defense’s respect. I specifically remember several D-linemen talking him up after his firing when they didn’t have to. Our current coach, Jim Caldwell, is a much more respected coach in the locker room, but I don’t think that was ever really Schwartz’s downfall. He’s no Chip Kelly in that regard.
1) What’s the lasting impression of Jim Schwartz’s tenure as defensive coordinator of the Titans? Have they missed him since he left?
The thing that stands out to me about Schwartz was his rebuild after the early 2000s. He got what was left out of that group that went to the Super Bowl but then he went through a total overhaul.
2004-2006 was rough, but in 2007-2008 the defense was the catalyst for those two playoff appearances. He got the most out of guys like Haynesworth, Vanden Bosch, Starks, Tulloch and Finnegan. It was a tough, nasty group that had a reputation for playing dirty at times.
2) What were the strengths and weaknesses of his defense?
His defenses were built around the line. It worked best when Albert was eating up double teams and freeing up Vanden Bosch and an old Jevon Kearse on the edge. That 2008 group had it all.