Allies to enemies: Jim Schwartz faces former OC in showdown with Dallas


The Eagles meet the Cowboys this week in what promises to be an explosive Sunday Night Football matchup. But while the spotlight will naturally be drawn to two of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league, an exciting running back and a vicious defense..behind the scenes there are two people who will be instrumental to the result of the game. Two people who were former colleagues..and will now meet again as fierce rivals.

Before becoming the Defensive Coordinator in Philadelphia and helping reshape the Buffalo Defense, Schwartz enjoyed a five year stint as Head Coach of the Detroit Lions. His Offensive Coordinator in each of those five seasons? Scott Linehan. The man who will be drawing up plays on Sunday for the Cowboys, to try and outsmart his former superior.

Schwartz announced that Linehan would be his Offensive Coordinator in the early stages of his Lions tenure and the duo went on to achieve a 29-51 record, making the 2011 WildCard game, where they eventually lost to the Saints.

It could be argued that it simply never came together as a complete package for the duo, who were able to transform a 0-16 Lions team into a playoff contender..but in their new roles, a hot start has greeted both Schwartz and Linehan.

The Eagles rank third in the NFL in sacks and lead the league in sacks per game..hitting quarterbacks on 10.1% of defensive snaps. Given that only 14% of Defensive plays were blitzes against the Vikings, a high for the season, the effect of the four man rush has been astronomical.

Philadelphia has compiled 20 sacks, third in the NFL, and lead the league in sacks per game (3.3) and sacks per pass attempt (10.1 percent). Of those sacks, 10 have come on first down, which leads the NFL, and 15 have come in the second half.

Coming off of their best showing this year, a game in which they manhandled Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, the Eagles Defense will be facing a very tough Offense..that’s been crafted largely by Scott Linehan.

Dak Prescott has set the NFL on fire, just as Carson Wentz has..but outlasted the rookie in the “no turnover” race. Ezekiel Elliott has five touchdowns and 703 yards rushing and the O-Line has only allowed nine sacks so far this season.

Linehan arrived in Dallas in 2014, a year after leaving the Lions. In his first season as a passing coordinator, the Cowboys ranked 5th in points and 7th in yards. After ranking 4th and 5th in these categories during the 2011 season, it’s clear that with a competent quarterback, Linehan is deadly..and that can still be seen this season. Dallas currently rank 4th in points and 9th in yards. It’s more than just a coincidence.

The same trends can be seen with Jim Schwartz however. After inheriting the 0-16 Lions, Schwartz’s Defense rank continued to rise throughout his tenure..but more notably, against the pass.

2009: 32nd
2010: 18th
2011: 22nd
2012: 14th
2013: 22nd
2014: 3rd (Buffalo)
2016: 3rd (current/ Eagles)

Defending against the run was a more gradual incline..but still one that has followed him in his career after Detroit.

2009: 25th
2010: 24th
2011: 24th
2012: 18th
2014: 11th (Buffalo)
2016: 8th (Eagles/ Current)

The pairs success away from Detroit is commendable..but how much of it is down to the relationship they built up during those five seasons?

“I learned a lot about football and defenses from him.” Linehan told Dallasnews. “He would say one thing that hurts this coverage or this defense is this — and that really was a huge help..”

A particular highlight of the Cowboys Offense has been their success in the red zone. Dallas rank ninth in scoring when inside the 20, converting on 65% of their trips. The Eagles Defense however, has also come up big. The Eagles allow an average of just 1.6 red zone touchdowns per game..allowing them less than 50% of the time and ranking fifth in the league.
The clash of success could see yet another catalyst thrown into the mix, given how close Schwartz was to his former Offensive Coordinator in Detroit..and how much they discussed red zone situations. 

“We spent a lot of time talking to each other about what we liked to do in the red zone both offensively and defensively. So I’m pretty sure that kind of offsets itself right there.”

This is the first time that the two will directly square off in a coordinator vs coordinator matchup..and the tension could not be greater. On the biggest regular season stage, in the heated atmosphere of AT&T Stadium, with new young and emerging teams looking to clench the NFC East in what is their first year of what could be a long Coordinator career with their respected teams. It promises to be one of the most exciting and intense matchups of the season..but has the apprentice outgrown the master?


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports