This offseason has been an explosive one for the Eagles defense. The secondary has seen a total overhaul, the defensive tackle group may be among the best in the NFL, and despite a lack of depth at linebacker, there does seem to be a plan based on speed, speed, and more speed. Howie’s work is done. It’s now down to Jim Schwartz to pick up where he left off and make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
It’s not just players, either. New coaches for the defensive line, defensive backs, and even a defensive run-game coordinator, were all added into the mix this offseason. The front office had seen enough and have now surrounded Schwartz with more versatility than he may know what to do with, and a new group of coaches to get the best out of those players. But will Schwartz really make sudden adjustments to his defense?
Like any good NFL Coach, Schwartz lives by the sword and dies by the sword. He has a certain ideology around his scheme and it’s all-in every single time. Sure, there have been times he’s made subtle tweaks in the past, but it’s often taken a big chain reaction for those to occur.
The Jim Schwartz defense has always placed stopping the run at the forefront of its priorities at the sacrifice of a lot of passing yardage. It begs quarterbacks to sit back in the pocket while a ferocious front four comes barrelling down. This isn’t new. In fact, out of the 18 years he’s coached in the NFL, his run defense has ranked inside the top 10 on 9 separate occasions. His pass defense has ranked inside the bottom 10 in each of those same seasons.
That parity is no clearer than his tenure with the Eagles. The pass defense has suffered mightily in recent years. Injuries play a part, but so does a lack of cornerback talent. So do miscommunications on the back end, and between coaching staff and front office.
From the reported push to sign Zach Brown over Jamie Collins, to Rasul Douglas being drafted and simply being pushed aside time and time again, there have been several instances where there appears to be a disconnect not only on the field between pass defense production and run defense production, but also between the faces off the field. Throughout all of that though, the pattern has remained.
This may be the biggest change the Eagles defense has seen in this entire era. Malcolm Jenkins, a stalwart of the group, has returned to New Orleans. In his place, a versatile group of Safeties in the way of Will Parks, K’Von Wallace, and Jalen Mills, will try to fill the void. Darius Slay reunites with his former Head Coach, giving the secondary a shutdown corner for the first time in forever, and although the linebacker position went largely overlooked, names like Davion Taylor will inject a skillset previously unseen at the position to this level.
Outside of depth at defensive end and arguably at linebacker depending how they deploy the secondary, we haven’t seen a defense undergo this kind of transformation since the arrival of Schwartz. But if the narrative stays the same and the pass defense falters once more, the corners are burned alive playing in off-coverage, a lack of tackling security haunts them in the open field, and offenses just chip away underneath, barring an exceptional circumstance or another injury bug, the excuses would’ve run thin.
Howie Roseman did a masterful job in buying the materials for a defensive renovation this offseason. It’s now time for Schwartz to lay new foundations, adapt his scheme to one that fits an ever-growing mold of versatility, and finally deliver a defense that’s as dominant in the air as it is on the ground.
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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