MINNEAPOLIS - Bill Belichick gave Jim Schwartz his first job in the NFL, hiring the man who’s now Eagles defensive coordinator to be a research assistant and scout. It was hardly glamorous, didn’t pay a damn thing and meant Schwartz’s life was no longer his own. He’s not complaining.
“I owe just about my entire NFL career to him,” said Schwartz last week, recalling his three years with Belichick.
Belichick has long lauded his former assistant. In the aftermath of Schwartz getting his first head coaching job back in 2009 with the Lions, Belichick showed up at the NFL scouting combine and offered this gem.
“Schwartzie was probably the smartest guy [we had],” he told Michigan Live. “Georgetown graduate. Schwartzie is one of those guys who you could give him 10 different things to do, and at any point in time you could ask him, 'Where are we on this?' And he'd have it for you in a second, and then you'd throw two or three more things at him, and say, 'Hey Jimmy could you take care of this, could you take care of that?' Half of the time he would say, 'Hey coach I've already started on that.' He was part mind reader. Tremendous work ethic and really just extremely intelligent."
While it’s a nice, tidy thread for the media covering Super Bowl 52, Schwartz laughs when asked if it has any impact on game-planning for the biggest game of the year.
“You think any of our players care that in 1993 I got hired as an unpaid intern? They are just going out and playing,” he said. And he’s right. It means very little. What matters most is how Schwartz has his defense playing and what it is capable of doing to the most important player on the Patriots, Tom Brady.
Schwartz has come a long way since those days in Cleveland fetching coffee for Belichick and his paid staffers. He rose to defensive coordinator in Tennessee, earning him those five years as the head coach in Detroit. After the Lions fired him, Schwartz revitalized the Bills defense a year later and now has done the same in Philly.
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He inherited a mess. The Eagles were bottom four in yards three straight seasons. That’s hard to do in an NFL that encourages parity. In year one, that number improved to the low teens. In this, year two, it’s now fourth best. Same for points allowed. And no team is harder to run on. Inspired by Schwartz’s schemes, Philly has allowed fewer than 80 yards per game. That’s a league best.
“He always puts us in the best position to make plays,” said Malcolm Jenkins.
“He demands a lot of us, but knows how to get the most of each and every guy,” said Fletcher Cox. “How can you not love playing for a coach like that?”
As we get closer to Super Bowl Sunday, you’ll hear more and more about how Schwartz and the Eagles might have the perfect recipe to slow down Brady and this Patriots’ offense. Maybe they do. There are certainly plenty of elements in place, but past history hasn’t been as kind to Schwartz vs Brady as you might think.
Schwartz’s teams (as the head coach or DC) have faced the Pats QB seven times. They’re just 2-5 and one of those wins came in the 2014 regular-season finale at New England where Brady was pulled after one half (The Pats had already locked up the No. 1 seed).
The last two full games of Schwartz vs. Brady were squarely in Tom Terrific’s favor. On Nov. 10, 2010, Brady led the Pats to a 45-24 victory over the Lions in Detroit. TB12 went 21-of-27 for 341 yards and four touchdowns. His quarterback rating - if you’re into that sort of thing - was 158.3 Perfect. Brady was sacked just once.
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Their next meeting didn’t come until almost four years later. Oct. 12, 2014. The Pats visiting Buffalo to play Schwartz’s defense. All Brady did was complete 27 of 37 for 361 yards and four more touchdowns. He did get sacked twice. That proved a minor irritant. Brady’s QB rating was 139.6.
Schwartz won’t avoid looking back at those matchups but doesn’t expect to find too much there.
“You always look at other games that you’ve played but he’s playing with a different cast of characters and were playing with a different cast of characters,” said Schwartz. “And the game changes so much. What we did in 2003, the game’s a lot different now. You always want to go back in the files and look at things that have been successful and maybe things that haven’t been, things they’ve had success with.
But you also want to stay current and stay with how they’re handling things. They’re going to look a lot different with number 87 [Gronk] out there than not. They’re going to look different with Brandin Cooks out there then with Cooks not out there. Same can be said for us. We play a little different. We’re different this year from last year. We’re probably a little bit different now than we were at the beginning of the season.You need to keep your strengths in mind as well as the opponent.”
The 2017-18 Patriots aren’t without weaknesses. The same holds true for 2017-18 Brady. The Pats interior offensive line has had issues with bigger, more powerful interior defenders. That’s a strength for the Eagles, with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan both handfuls. And Cox is a three-down player as capable of harassing the passer as he is off stuffing the run. Center David Andrews and left guard Joe Thuney, in particular, will have their hands full. Right guard Shaq Mason also surrenders a fair amount of length if he finds himself lined up across from Cox. Cox could be a one-man wrecking crew.
And guess where Brady has had some of his biggest difficulties this year? When teams have managed to pressure him from the inside out. Actually, that’s long been the way to unnerve the now 40-year QB. Hell, it’s that way for just about any QB. It’s far easier to step up against the outside rush then it is to get flushed left or right because of interior pressure. And with Chris Long, Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett coming off the edges, Brady may find a front four capable of squeezing that pocket and sealing off any escape routes. Of course, it’s not that easy. Against Brady it never is. Schwartz says that’s because the Patriots are about more than one player.
“You have to put that challenge to playing the Patriots offense,” he said. “No player stands on his own. I’ve mentioned Gronk, Cooks, Amendola, Hogan, White, Lewis - there are a million different guys in there. I’m sure someone [he didn’t mention] will feel slighted… In the NFL in general, but particularly the Patriots, you can’t scheme for one player. If you do, they have plenty of other players that can make plays. You have to do a good job against their entire offense.”
That was evident in the AFC title game. Jacksonville was focused on limiting Rob Gronkowski’s impact. But once he went out with an injury, the Patriots scored 21 of their 24 points in a little more than two quarters. In theory, the Jags task should have gotten easier. Instead, it was just as difficult. So, while the Eagles, like the Jags, prefer to use just a four-man rush to get after the quarterback, this QB still almost always finds a way.
“We have to play a 60-minute game,” said Schwartz. “We can’t think because we get a couple three-and-outs that we’ve solved the riddle. With them, they’ll keep adjusting. You have to adjust with them, ahead of them. However it works. Just keep at it because he sure as hell will.”
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