When Howie Roseman was asked on Saturday what changed in the franchise’s plan of having Carson Wentz sit this year out, his first instinct was to cite Jim Schwartz’s defense.
"Circumstances change," Roseman told reporters, "and you’ve got to take things one day at a time and see what goes on with your football team.
"And for us, when we look at our football team and how they performed in the offseason [and] during training camp, seeing how our defense has performed in a new scheme with Coach [Eagles defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz, [and] obviously the special teams has been a strength for us, we felt like this was an opportunity for us – not only now, but going forward – that we had to take advantage of."
For the majority of the offseason, the narrative driving the team’s reboot has been a return to the Andy Reid years. The hiring of Doug Pederson, a Reid disciple. The drafting of a quarterback at No. 2, just as they did with Donovan McNabb in 1999. The return to the West Coast offense after three bender-like years running tempo.
And this weekend, as the Eagles marched toward the future by putting Wentz in the driver’s seat, Roseman’s decision to highlight the defense felt, to me, like the most pronounced step yet in the throwback movement.
I’ve written about how I think having Pederson try to carbon-copy the Reid era, while understandable, probably isn’t the greatest strategy of all-time.
But if the Eagles are going to try and become a defense-first team once again? That’s a throwback effort I can get behind.
Under Jim Johnson, the Eagles’ aggressive, blitzing defense was the pride of the team’s fans. Donovan McNabb had an up-and-down relationship with the fans. Johnson didn’t. He was beloved, as were the staple players in those units. They were dominating, and they defined the team.
And that’s what made the last handful of years, and especially the Chip Kelly era, so hard to watch.
Over the last four years, the Eagles finished an average of 24th in the league in points allowed. The slide they saw in the past three seasons was severe, from 17th in points allowed in 2013, to 22nd in 2014, all the way down to 28th last year.
It was just ugly football.
This offseason, the team has managed to snag Jim Schwartz, a defensive mastermind with a bit of a mean streak. He seems like someone Philadelphia will enjoy. More importantly, he seems like someone who can help Philadelphia fall back in love with its team’s defense.
In the prime of those McNabb years, with Johnson at the helm of the defense, the secondary was king. Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis guarded the top, while Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard shut down the outside. At one point, the team’s starting secondary had three Pro Bowl starters. That was pretty impressive.
This year’s unit certainly isn’t at that level, but with two bona fide studs in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, and sturdy enough corners on the outside, Jim Schwartz’s first secondary feels a whole lot better than anything Billy Davis had to work with over the last three years.
Throw in two stud defensive tackles in Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan, and a potential decade-long leader in linebacker Jordan Hicks, and you’ve got the necessary anchors for a potent, attacking defense for the first time in years.
And if that’s not a true throwback to the glory days, I don’t know what is.
Welcome to 1999, Eagles fans. Maybe this time around they’ll finally make good.