Given the way the Eagles’ offense has struggled with Nick Foles, it’s very possible Philadelphia will need a big day from their defense to beat the Falcons this weekend. Jim Schwartz is really going to have to earn his paycheck.
But Schwartz knows he can’t do it alone. The Eagles defensive coordinator is calling on the Philly fans at Lincoln Financial Field to make noise in order to make life even more difficult on Atlanta’s offense.
Q. We always factor in home-field advantage. How much of an effect can this crowd have on your defense?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, I mean, I think you look side-by-side. Our home games and road games, we’re significantly better at home. That’s why it was important for us to get home-field advantage. You take the travel out of the equation, it’s tough on opponents when the fans are loud. I know our fans will be loud. It’s tough on the opponents in a hostile environment, and that’s what Philly is. That’s what the Linc is. It’s been a great home-field advantage for us over the course of the season, and it’s not just the players on the field. The fans in the stands are going to mean an awful lot to coming out with a victory on Saturday.
The fact that the No. 1 seed Eagles are underdogs at home should serve as a reminder that this team needs all the help they can get. It’s on you, the fans, to show up and be as loud as you possibly can. Force the Falcons into some false starts. Make Matt Ryan call a timeout on the first series.
Be in your seats in time for Saturday’s 4:35 PM kickoff and be as disruptive as you possibly can.
Check out the rest of Jim Schwartz’s press conference below. Eagles-Falcons preview quotes and more.
Q. The switch from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian [as offensive coordinator], is their offense much different under Sarkisian as far as what they are trying to do and everything than it was under Shanahan?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I mean, there’s going to be changes to every team every year, so it’s hard to say which changes would have been made even if their offensive coordinator had stayed the same. But they are a little bit different than last year. Every team’s going to be a little bit different from year-to-year. There’s going to be some things you do well, some things that you put in in the off-season, some things that maybe fit your personality a little bit more.
There’s still a lot of challenges with that team. I mean, it goes well beyond a player like [Falcons WR] Julio Jones. It goes well beyond the quarterback [Falcons QB Matt Ryan]. Their tight end [Falcons TE Austin Hooper] is having a great year. Their running backs [Falcons RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman], if you combine the running back stats, you’re talking about a first-team All-Pro – 1,500 yards, I think 12 touchdowns. So we have to look at it that way. There’s going to be a lot of challenges this week.
Q. One of the keys to stopping Julio last year – at least slowing him – was you guys didn’t allow him to do much after the catch and kind of played him soft. You really didn’t double him a lot. Was that just one way to beat him, or is that the only way?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think here’s the point: The point is to try to win the game. I think that we have to keep our eye on that. If Julio Jones has 350 yards receiving and we win the game, that’s what it took to win the game. If he has 10 yards receiving for the game-winning touchdown, then that wasn’t enough. So I think you have to look at it that way and say, how do you stop their offense, how do you minimize their scoring, and not just concentrate on one player, because like I said before, they do have other players that are threats. [Falcons WR Mohamed] Sanu has been a consistently good player for a long period of time. Their tight ends really developed. Both backs can catch the ball out of the backfield. Pro Bowl quarterback. It’s not just a one-man team.
Q. Where do you feel like your run defense is? I know the numbers are up a little against you but you faced obviously some really good backs later in the season. How much do you kind of need that aspect?
JIM SCHWARTZ: We always want to stop the run, but again, I sort of refer back to what I said before. If a team puts 350 yards rushing on us and we win the game…
Q. That’s not likely though.
JIM SCHWARTZ: But that’s, again, that’s our No. 1 goal is to win the game, whatever it takes. This game will stand on its own. We are not going to get graded on the curve because we were good stopping the run in a previous game or we were poor stopping the run in a previous game. It’s a new season. Playoff games stand on their own. It’s a single-elimination tournament. I use a lot of analogies, but you can be the best free-throw shooting team in college basketball and you get into an NCAA game and you can’t hit the iron or you hit too much iron and you have a bad day, you lose the game.
You can’t say, ‘Well, we were good during the regular season.’ I mean, it puts urgency on us. I like that. We’re going to have to do a good job stopping the run, mainly because of the talent they have there, but again, it has nothing to do with last week. It has nothing to do with two weeks ago or three weeks or whatever. It’s about this week and this opponent.
Q. As far as last week, what was the balancing act like having head coaching interests elsewhere and preparing here?
JIM SCHWARTZ: There was no balancing. We have enough work here. There were three teams that we could play and we prepared for all three of them.
Q. What happened with the Giants interview? Apparently that didn’t happen?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I appreciate your guys need to ask stuff like that but I’m just going to answer questions about the Falcons.
Q. You mentioned the change in the coordinators. Is it fair to say that they tried, at least, to be more run-heavy this year as one of the changes?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I don’t know. I really don’t know the answer to that because I don’t … I mean, you’d have to ask them that.
Q. Well, I meant as far as what you’ve seen on film, has it been more of a run-heavy offense, as opposed to pass-heavy?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I don’t know what the numbers say. Like I said, you combine both of those running backs … Now, Tevin [Coleman] was hurt a little bit last year, so I don’t think we saw him in our game here … But again, combine both of those guys [Coleman and Devonta Freeman]. If we were getting ready to play a running back that was 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns … I hope I’m right on that. I think it’s like 5 and 7, I think, on those two guys for touchdowns. But if we were getting ready to face that guy, we wouldn’t have got one question about Julio Jones. It would have been all about that. That’s sort of the only thing I can take … What approach they have taken, I don’t know what approach they are going to take, [but] we need to be ready for it and we need to come up with a good performance in order to get the win.
Q. In that game last year, I think they were two of 11 on third downs, and their third-down average-to-go I think was 9.9 yards. What did you do on the early downs that allowed you success in third-down situations?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I don’t know. We were just trying to win each series. Try to find a way to force a stop. They came in as a really high-scoring offense. They were No. 1 in the NFL in scoring. That was really our only focus, is try to limit scoring. I’ve said this a million times: Only two things really mattered to me as far as stats and that’s points allowed and takeaways. Because points allowed obviously you’re trying to minimize scoring, and takeaways, you can help your offense by either giving them a short field, giving them the ball back or even scoring on defense. So those are sort of the only things. We’re a pretty good third down team. Some of that will have to do with being third-and-long. When it’s third down and three, it opens up an awful lot of their offense. Third down and 9.9 – you didn’t research that, it was – you said you thought it was 9.9. It was researched.
Yeah, if it’s 9.9, obviously you can eliminate a lot of routes and that’s a lot of what third down. You don’t defend the same routes on third-and-12 as you do on third-and-two. But that doesn’t mean on third-and-two they can’t throw the ball 12 yards. But third-and-12 … you just have to make a tackle and you’re going to be off the field. So it does benefit us to have teams third-and-long. I think you’ve seen that a few times this year. When we put teams behind the chains, we can make it tough for them. We’re a good pass rush team. We’re a good tackling team. When we do those things, it’s going to be hard to convert third-and-long.
Q. To follow up, too, also on some of those third-and-longs you had an opportunity to blitz. I think last year you blitzed right around 33 percent of the time when Matt Ryan was in there …
JIM SCHWARTZ: Oh, I thought you said over the course of the year, I was going to say, wow, that’s like way high.
Q. How is he against the blitz typically?
JIM SCHWARTZ: He’s a smart guy. They are a very good offensive protection team as far as picking up blitzes. Blitz is not a whole lot different than pass rush. You can’t expect to have guys free. If you’re expecting to get guys free, you’re in the wrong business because the only way you can really get a guy free is to bring more than they can block and there’s some risk inherent to that. But blitz is really all about guys winning one-on-ones, and when you do that, then your blitz game is going to be effective and I’m not just talking about one-on-ones in pass rush, but I’m talking about one-on-ones in coverage, too. Both of those go hand in hand.
Q. What kind of freedom do they give Matt Ryan? At the line of scrimmage, how much does he check out of plays or change things up based on the defense?
JIM SCHWARTZ: All quarterbacks have a lot of different ways to check run-pass and run the run, make protection changes. He’s a veteran quarterback. That offense has been in his hands for a long time. I don’t think any of that’s changed.
Q. What’s it mean to you as a coach to coach in the playoffs, to get to the playoffs?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think we have to keep our eye on the fact that it’s the next game to play. Rules aren’t going to change. The only thing that changes is it’s single-elimination, but it’s still going to be a 60-minute game. Still going to be 10 yards for a first down. I mean, we can get Gene Hackman to come in and measure and make sure it’s 10 feet. There’s a reason that that scene in Hoosiers runs so true to people because the point was, hey, this is the same as the other games that we’ve played. You can’t play out of character. You can’t try to do too much both as a play caller and as a player. You have to trust what got you there. But there is an urgency to playing and knowing that if you don’t win, you’re not going to be able to continue ahead, and that dynamic isn’t there during the regular season.
Q. Was that an experience that you had to go through the first time to truly appreciate it? (Dave Spadaro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: No, I think we always knew that if we lost, that we were out. (laughter)
Q. The first time that you did it, was it a natural experience for you, something that you grew from?
JIM SCHWARTZ: I really don’t know how to answer that question. The playoffs are a thing that you work for all season. I’m sure every team in the NFL, their beginning goal is to be able to make the playoffs because it’s the only way that you can … To punch a ticket for the playoffs gives you a chance to play for a championship. So I think everybody understands the urgency of it and everybody … I don’t think it catches anybody by surprise, whether it’s the urgency, how hard it is to get here, and also, you’re playing good teams when you’re in the playoffs. Sometimes over the course of a season, you might play a team that’s struggling or a team that might be out of it or something like that. When you get to the playoffs, it’s all the good teams that are left and all the teams that earned it. I think that’s what’s special about it.
Q. This is not a specific question about the Giants or anything, but just in general, is there a challenge inherent in this time of year? Just compartmentalizing your future, obviously a lot of big things happening, and maintaining the focus you need on the task at hand?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, nice try. (laughter) Only Atlanta. I think it’s not fair to our players or anything else to talk about anything else. I mean, we just talk about how urgent this is and everything else. I think that that’s the respect that that game has from my point of view.
Q. What did last year’s game mean for CB Jalen Mills in terms of his development? It was the first time you really … He started and played a lot on Julio.
JIM SCHWARTZ: I don’t know, you’d probably have to ask him that. Our confidence in Jalen started in OTAs and rookie camp and training camp, just seeing how competitive he was and knowing that there weren’t situations that were too big. And when you had a marquee receiver and marquee team come here to Philly last year, he was ready for that challenge. And it wasn’t because he was up that week or something somebody said to him that week. It was because the way he prepared over the course of the year and over the course of training camp. He’s an improved player this year. I know that. His technique is better. He’s more consistent. Every corner is going to have to battle through rough spots. It’s just inherent to the position. You’re going to give up a completion. You’re going to get beat. And I really like Jalen’s ability to respond to that. I think that’s something that’s in him, and that wasn’t new last year and that wasn’t new this year. I think he’s probably always been that way.
Q. You guys are underdogs. It’s the first time a No. 1 seed is an underdog in a Divisional round. Can you use that?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Unless we start the game down, no. I mean, the game’s going to start 0-0. I mean, that stuff makes for good talk and TV, and a lot of people have a lot of programming to fill, but all year, I have no idea if we’ve been favorites or underdogs the whole year. It’s not going to change now. It really doesn’t change the game. The game is going to be about preparing well. The game is going to be about executing on Saturday. I have to get used to saying Saturday. But executing on Saturday, and the teams that do that, the best are going to win. Not the team that got picked by the most number of analysts or experts or what the simulation games say or any of that stuff. That has zero bearing on the game for us.
Q. Matt Ryan did a good job the last game of escaping the pass rush by stepping up. Will it be more important to have a push up the middle in the pass rush?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, push up the middle is huge because it keeps your outside pass rushers alive. So it’s always important to us. I think Matt Ryan goes a little bit under the radar as far as having escape-ability. People really don’t think of him the same way that you would think obviously of some of the more mobile quarterbacks but he’s good at feeling spots in the pocket and being able to step up and slide one way or slide another. He scrambled for a couple big first downs late this season.
It’s always something that we have to do, No. 1, putting pressure on the quarterback, but also putting pressure on that keeps everybody alive, so to speak. You can have the great pass rush outside, [but] if the quarterback can step up, you are not going to get him. You can have great inside pass rush; if you don’t have any edge pressure, he can escape outside. It’s a four-man group when it comes to four-man rush; it’s a five- or six-man group when it comes to blitz. Every man needs to do his job for it to be effective.
Q. Back to Jalen Mills – he’s been aggressive, maybe overly aggressive at times late in the season, how much have you had conversations with him about knowing when to be aggressive and knowing when to be smart and that kind of stuff?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, that goes to it. That goes to the cornerback position in general. You can go overboard either way. You can play too conservative and look terrible. You can play too aggressive and look terrible. I think there’s a lot of experience that goes into it and Jalen has got a little bit of that. We’re excited to have him on the field. He’s done a good job for us this year and I think will continue to do a good job.
Q. With DE Chris Long, how has his play on defensive line impacted what that unit can do?
JIM SCHWARTZ: Chris is a veteran player. You talk about playoffs [and] you field questions about the urgency of playoffs and things like that. Chris is a guy that didn’t have that through most of his career, and then last year he got to experience that. Last year he got to make it all the way through and win a championship. We have a couple other guys that have been there, guys like Malcolm [Jenkins] and guys like Patrick Robinson, Torrey Smith, [Dannell] Ellerbe, trying to think of some other guys. I’m sure there’s some other ones that I’m missing. But that experience means an awful lot to a team because there’s a lot of other guys in the room that haven’t been through that. So I think that perspective can help, but what helps the most is Chris is a good football player. He’s been active in the pass rush. He’s caused some big turnovers for us this year. Those are the things that are going to mean something in this game. It’s good to help your experience and help your locker room and everything else during the week but when we huddle, when Atlanta breaks the huddle, he’s not going to whisper anything about his experiences last year or anything else. It’s going to be him putting his hand in the ground and rushing the passer and playing the run and those things. Chris has done a good job for us this year doing those things.