The Eagles hit the road this week to Detroit to face a very familiar foe for some — the Lions. One of the biggest factors in this Week 5 matchup will be the Lions former head coach, and current defensive coordinator for Philadelphia, Jim Schwartz returning to the Motor City.
Schwartz spent five years in Detroit trying to find success at head coach to no avail; from 2009-2013, the coach went 29-51 with only one winning season in 2011. That year the Lions went 10-6, and despite making it to the postseason, the team lost to the Saints in the NFC Wild Card game. After his half-decade stint as the head coach, he was let go after the 2013 season, and was relegated to a defensive coordinator position for the Buffalo Bills.
He was only with the Bills for the 2014 season, but during that year, Buffalo’s defense led the league in sacks and was one of the top groups in the NFL. Schwartz had a chance to face off against all his former NFC North opponents his first year out of Detroit, and went 4-0 against them.
In Oct. 2014, Schwartz and his new team traveled to his former home in Detroit, where the Bills went on to win 17-14. Not without ruffling some feathers, Bills players carried Schwartz off the field after the win, which didn’t sit well some of the coordinator’s former players. It was his first and only return trip (until now) to the team that gave him his only head coaching gig.
Regardless, he was able to bring a team that had less than a year under his defensive scheme into Detroit and come away with a win. Schwartz has the ability to completely revamp defenses, and can do so within a very short time. His presence has already energized that side of the ball in Philadelphia, making them much more exciting to watch — not to mention much more effective.
In addition to being familiar with the Lions’ offensive personnel, Schwartz also understands the nuances of Ford Field and the facilities. With full control over the defense, thanks to minimal input from new head coach Doug Pederson, the defensive coordinator has the ability to adjust throughout the game, and give the Eagles the best chance to win.
The Lions have yet to build enough protection around quarterback Matthew Stafford, despite their first-round draft pick Taylor Decker. The rookie has allowed several defenders to break through the line resulting in a Stafford sack. In addition to his protection, the Lions’ offensive weapons have been reduced significantly with Calvin Johnson’s retirement and slew of injuries through the preseason.
No Calvin Johnson on Lions: “i’ve become a big fan of Dancing with the Stars,” Schwartz says. Easier to play defense against Detroit.— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) October 6, 2016
Schwartz and the Eagles defense should have no problem barreling through the Lions’ offensive line and putting pressure on Stafford. Should they do that, they can almost all but guarantee the rush will limit the team’s overall offense. Which is good considering the Eagles are still acclimating a rookie quarterback into the NFL.
In only three games so far this season, Schwartz’ Philadelphia defense has amassed 129 total tackles, 16 passes defended, 10.0 sacks, four forced fumbles — three recovered —, three interceptions and a blocked kick. All of that lands the Eagles with the No. 3 total defense in the league, allowing only 274.3 yards per game, while also boasting the NFL’s third best rush defense. Not surprising, the secondary falls a bit further down the list, but still lands in the Top 10 at No. 6.
Defense has also been a proud spot for the Eagles, with legends like Brian Dawkins keeping that memory alive. During the Chip Kelly-era, the team was much more offense-minded -- an offense that put immense pressure on the defense. They’ve now switched schemes completely under Schwartz, which thankfully for a lot of players meant their contributions would increase, and bought them another year on contract.
It’s no secret that the defense this season is much improved. Players are literally flying all over the field to make open-field tackles or block a pass, and have a renewed energy on that side of the ball. They are primed to make an example out of Stafford, regardless of how much Schwartz may like him.
Schwartz on DET:"I think you guys would be surprised how much I root for the Lions, as long as it’s not in direct conflict with the Eagles."— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) October 6, 2016
Schwartz: "I’ve got too much blood and sweat in that building. There’s a lot of guys there that mean an awful lot to me.”— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) October 6, 2016
It might be a conflict of interest when Jim Schwartz takes to the sideline at Ford Field, Sunday, but ultimately if he wants another shot at being a head coach in the future, he will need to produce results for whatever team he currently is on staff. Although, I’m sure he’ll spend some time after the game catching up with a few friends.