With his back against the wall and depleted resources at his disposal, did Jim Schwartz save the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles season late in the year? A polarizing figure amongst Eagles’ fans, Schwartz isn’t perfect, but he might not get enough credit for one of the best gameplans of his career.
Here’s how I arrived at that conclusion... I started a project after my talk with Matt Manocherian and Bryce Rossler of Sports Info Solutions on Fireside Chats #12. I charted every third down pass and scramble the Eagles’ defense faced in 2018. I’m still sorting through that data to assemble concrete theories on Schwartz’s blitz tendencies, but I did notice something irregular. It had to do with how Schwartz attacked the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15.
Here’s what I found via a loose transcript of The Kist & Solak Show #103:
“On third down against the Rams, Schwartz brought more pressure than he ever had, 50% of all third downs, he brought heat. That’s significant because there were six plays that were third and ten or more, he blitzed on none of those.
Which means, if I’m mathing good, that’s six out of six times that less than ten came up, in fact you can make it 5 yards or less since they all came in that range, Schwartz brang dudes, and not simulated pressure like when a guy acts like he’s coming then after engaging he bails out which occupies a blocker, I’m talking sending pure heaters, two five-man blitzes, six, six, six, and a seven-man blitz in all.
Did it work? Against blitzes, Jared Goff was 3 for 5 with an interception, took a sack, averaged 4.75 yards per play, 50% success rate because they converted two third and ones and a third and three. They also failed with one yard to go, two yards to go, and five yards to go, I’ll take that, it’s right at the league average for passing defenses in that situation in terms of conversions, you throw in a sack and an interception and I’m taking that one-hundred times out of a hundred.
Jim Schwartz blitzed Goff 6 out of 6 times on 3rd & 5 or less, a huge outlier for him. It worked.— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) June 30, 2019
Schwartz supporters should point to W15 as the game he saved the season. His doubters should at least give him credit for adapting w/an excellent plan. pic.twitter.com/64P1kcdvDr
Now here’s the main takeaway I got from that game just as a whole, and props to Schwartz to letting ‘em hang in a big spot, but the main takeaway was that without Schwartz taking in the lessons from the two weeks prior from Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions and Vic Fangio and the Chicago Bears, this game looks very very different and in turn the season too.
I remember writing an article for Bleeding Green Nation before that game, and I mentioned what defenses were doing to adapt to the Rams to slow them down shut them down. And I questioned if Schwartz was flexible enough with his scheme, now keep in mind, this is two weeks after Malcolm Jenkins came to him in the middle of the New York Giants game and told him the simplify things.. he has no Jordan Hicks so he really can’t run nickel as much, he has Avonte Maddox on the outside, Cre’Von LeBlanc in the slot, Corey turtle Graham playing centerfield a lot of the time, no Ronald Darby or Jalen Mills, rocking with Rasul Douglas…
All those factors working against the possibility of a flexible gameplan, and I remember the comments at the time from the BGN Community, it was no way Schwartz could adapt, absolutely not a chance. But he did. And the Eagles in turn controlled a lot of that game when they were fighting for their playoff lives.
So if you’re a Schwartz supporter, this is the game you point to. If you’re a detractor, well, I just handed you some doubt, because that game, in my eyes, was one of Schwartz’s best as a coordinator. The importance of it, the opponent, the constraints placed on him via injury, all those factors, overcame all of it.
And it helped the offense, in a huge way, average drive started on the 39-yard line, best in the league on the week, you have to go back to Week 10 to find a single offense league wide with better field position than that game, best of the season for the Eagles, so if you want to credit that to Nick Foles magic, you’re really mistaken, because they had their first three drives go inside the 50-yard lione, throw in a red zone trip, they scored 6 points, 24% success rate on the first 21 plays, 40% after that.
Was Schwartz great all year? Probably not, and I had my moments of being incredibly critical of him as well, but you get further from the emotion of it and re-examine the linear progression of things and how it transpired, I have more appreciation for him, even if I still have some doubt about him. But really, I do feel like he’s not given enough credit when he crafts something like this and that’s why I wanted to highlight it, because it’s not as black and white as any of us make it out to be and we should be able to talk about both the good and the bad honestly.”
It wasn’t just the increased blitzing that led to success against the Rams. Schwartz also played more quarters and middle-of-the-field-open coverages than he had during his time in Philadelphia. There’s much more, including his typical cushions in coverage actually playing well and playing more even formations to combat having to shift against motions.
We discuss how much we have to weigh the Rams game against the rest of his track record on The Kist & Solak Show #103! PLUS we get into a discussion about MVP odds and what bets we’d pound the table for and against. Listen to that conversation on the media player below or click here if the player doesn’t load. New to podcasts? Check out our guide on how to listen to BGN! FLY EAGLES FLY!