The Eagles have had a few days off since their win over the New York Giants, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz spoke to the media on Monday to talk about some of the improvements he wants his group to make, and what makes preparing for the Panthers so challenging.
Here’s what the DC had to say:
On Avonte Maddox at safety
Schwartz noted that on a short week, the team did what they had to do in terms of personnel decisions. He went on to say that he should really tip his hat to Maddox, as he was the guy who probably had the most on his plate on Thursday, not just in terms of playing safety but also to move over into the nickel without taking any reps there.
He went on to say that Maddox’s flexibility there was a big reason the Eagles won that game. Schwartz then talked about the big tackle Maddox made to force the Giants to kick a field goal, and the DC noted that the rookie saved them four points, but that’s what a free safety is supposed to do.
He continued, “That’s one of the things we liked about him, his range, he’s tough. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he plays big.”
Schwartz was then asked what about Maddox off the field that made them so comfortable giving him so much responsibility as a rookie. He went on to say that Maddox is a smart guy and is mature beyond his years, and since he’s gotten to Philadelphia there hasn’t been a situation that was “too big” for him. Schwartz also lauded Maddox as having a great attitude, and when they asked him to take reps at safety he just said, “okay”.
He talked about players like that with low blood pressure, who just go about their business, and it serving them well on the field.
Schwartz was asked why they moved the rookie safety to the slot, as opposed to a veteran guy, but the DC noted that the rookie took all those snaps in training camp. He also pointed out that based on the corners they had and the matchups they were looking at, they thought Maddox at nickel made the most sense.
He continued to talk about how Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are both young players, but they do have a bit more experience, and so he tried to put the hat on those guys a little more. Schwartz did say they could get a little more help to the slot than they could on the outside.
Defense vs. the Giants
Schwartz was asked how they get production out of a very young group — noting that Malcolm Jenkins was the only defensive back over the age of 24 to play on Thursday. The DC wasn’t willing to give out any gold stars just yet, and noted that the group has plenty of things to work on still.
He did say that it’s a committed group of guys, and the veterans (read: older guys) who are sidelined with injuries are sure to help coach up some of their teammates and getting them ready. Schwartz emphasized, as he’s done in the past, that it’s a group effort moreso than based off of any one individual performance, and that the players among the group being so close helps drive that team mentality.
He was asked about some of the missed tackles on Saquon Barkley on Thursday night, but Schwartz wouldn’t be so quick to call them misses, but rather that Barkley is just an impressive player. Schwartz noted that their game plan going into the matchup was to limit Odell Beckham Jr.’s targets, which made them more vulnerable to the run game, but that was a calculated risk they were willing to take.
He said the most disappointing run from Barkley wasn’t any of those in which players “missed” the tackle, but the one where no one laid a glove on him and the rookie went for 55 yards. He continued to point out that with guys like Barkley, you just have to keep coming.
“He was outstanding in that game, he was certainly all that we could handle,” Schwartz said of Barkley.
On the roughing the passer calls
Schwartz was asked how he coaches his pass rushers to be aggressive, while also trying to avoid a roughing the passer flag, specifically pointing to Tom Brady almost being taken down on Sunday Night Football before being let go and eventually scoring. Schwartz noted that something like that isn’t entirely new, and talked for a bit about when he was in Tennessee and they lost to Vince Young after a defender tried to avoid drawing the flag.
On Carolina prep
He did go on to talk about specifically heading into the game against Carolina, and having to prepare to face a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback who’s hard enough to tackle alone, then to add in trying to avoid the roughing the passer penalties while also accounting for their designed runs, is challenging.
Schwartz went on to talk about Cam Newton and how he’s opened up just about every designed run possible, and how the Panthers offense has used more quarterback designed runs than they have in the past.
“To go Spinal Tap on you, they just turned their quarterback runs up to 11.”
He summed up that it’s difficult to avoid those penalties, but they just have to make sure they stay within the strike zone, you can’t hit late, can’t use their head, and now have to try and shift their weight to avoid coming down on the quarterback. Schwartz admitted in the heat of battle it’s a little easier said than done, but that’s the job they have to do.
Schwartz was later asked how the Panthers’ run game compares to others, and he noted that while a lot of teams are using zone reads, even in the redzone, that Carolina is a team that you can’t put constraints on based on down and distance.
He was asked if Carolina’s offense looks the same or different under new OC Norv Turner, and Schwartz thinks there were significant changes this offseason. He went on to point out that there were some familiar faces, but there were also a lot of changes along the offensive line and to some of the receivers.
Schwartz acknowledged that it’s not just a new offensive coordinator on the Panthers sideline, but also a lot of new personnel to account for.
Schwartz noted that the string of injuries to the defense this season is one of the reasons they emphasize cross-training and versatility in their players. He said injuries are nothing new, and it’s just a matter of when they happen and to how many people in the same position group that matter most.
He was then asked when he started putting such an emphasis on cross-training, and he pointed to when offenses started using three wide receivers and it sort of took the box safety out of the equation — somewhere around the early- to mid-2000s.